On this off-road Bonaire tour, it was us against the road, or the dirt path that occasionally substituted for a road, as The Princess and I, along with some fellow Canadian cruisers, traveled throughout the island on the back of a 4×4 Land Rover. We would have buckled up, if there were seat belts!
Boarding our 4×4 for the off-road Bonaire tour
Besides some snorkeling or scuba diving excursions, which are not really up the wife’s alley, this tour was one of few other options available during our impromptu stop in Bonaire during our Adventure of the Seas cruise. So, we were ready for a bumpy ride as we set off to explore the island!
Off-road Bonaire Tour
Exiting the City
Luckily, the weather was sunny and warm, making it a perfect day for a ride in this open air vehicle. The Princess, her sister, and I filed into one side of the vehicle, while our new found friends took ownership of the other side of this off-road truck.
Before we departed, our roughly three hour off-road Bonaire tour was laid out by our guide using a tourist map. Our explorations would take us to some of the most scenic points on the island, with a beach break more than half-way through the tour.
Aerial View of Kralendijk, Bonaire
Before we could test the shocks on this vehicle, we had to escape the confines of the capital city, Kralendijk. Among the points we passed on this short stretch included the oldest catholic church on the island (San Bernardo), the post office, and even the local prison (glad we did not stop at this site) as we headed north and east from the city.
Throughout our off-road Bonaire tour, Gigi, our guide and former police officer, used a small microphone to provide narration of some of the sites we were passing. While hard to hear at times, he tried to keep us engaged by telling jokes and trying to point out the island’s natural landscapes and wildlife.
Leaving the City
Further Removed from Civilization
Leaving the city, the roads became less developed, and there were fewer fellow travelers on the roadways.
Traveling on the secondary road of Kaminda Lagun, we made an impromptu stop at what was a small local “farm”. The fence lined yard was the home to an array of animals including donkeys, goats, pigs, and chickens. The guide’s introduction indicated we would be seeing animals during our tour, but this isn’t exactly what we had in mind.
Our first “stop” on the Off-Road Bonaire Tour
While it felt like we were traveling further away from civilization, the surrounding landscape of cacti and sand was occasionally disrupted by a homestead, or the oddly placed Fatima Snack bar, complete with a walled fence of beer boxes. There was also this unexpected castle of sorts, which our tour guide joked was the castle from Harry Potter. From what I can recall of the explanation, the current owner is hoping to turn the building into a museum.
A Castle in the Middle of Nowhere Bonaire
It wasn’t long until we traversed the island to our first official stop at Washikemba. A very scenic vantage point, perfect for taking pictures, the lagun is also home to some popular hiking and biking trails that hug the rugged coast of the island. Locals too come to the area to collect mementos which are believed to bring good luck. Taking in the views for a few moments, we were ready to head back west, and now south, as the off-road Bonaire tour was about to get a little bumpy.
The Washikemba Waterfront
Where We’re Going, We Don’t Need Roads
Venturing back down the Kaminda Lagun, the 4×4 took an abrupt left, onto a dirt road and this is where the true off-road Bonaire tour began. This shortcut was definitely not on the map, and the hilly, bumpy, terrain provided a bit of an adventure in the back of the Land Rover.
Now, completely off the grid, at least according to Google Maps, we continued south, as we headed toward the mangroves and beaches on the southern tip of the island. Along the way, we passed private farms lined with cactus fences, but we did not cross any other vehicles or notice any other islanders. Without much to see, Gigi was quiet, whether he was focusing on the uneven terrain or just tired of talking, we were not sure.
Off the Beaten Path in Bonaire
As we rounded a bend, white hills could be seen in the horizon-our guide was adamant that they were hills of snow. Of course, we all knew it was salt, one of the island’s primary exports. Through the twists and turns, we eventually found ourselves back onto a secondary road, heading toward Sorobon Beach.
Our off-road Bonaire tour took us past the Wanapa Lodge, a full resort that is located within walking distance to the beach.
Completing our Island Tour
Passing the mangroves, we did a quick loop around the public beach area and stopped in a parking lot across from Jibe City, a Windsurfing and hangout located right on Lac Bay.
With a high tide and crowded beach, there was not much room for us to enjoy the location. With a local beer at the bar and a quick survey of the coast, we were ready to leave in half the time allotted for us to experience the beach break. Luckily, our fellow travelers agreed, and we were able to convince our tour guide to resume the off-road Bonaire tour early.
Limited Shoreline at Sorobon Beach
For the remainder of the ride, we were back on paved roads, although they were not the smoothest. More short photo ops were in store for this last leg of the tour, including a brief stop on the side of the road to see some flamingos at the flamingo sanctuary. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed in the sanctuary, and these pink birds were quite far away given the tide conditions. Binoculars would have been a bonus here.
We also passed the Willemstoren Lighthouse. A 75 foot tall lighthouse that has been active since the 1830s and still to this day sends a beam of light (which is now solar powered) out into the Caribbean Sea every 9 seconds. This lighthouse is not open to the public but does make for a nice photo op.
Nearby, we made another official stop at the infamous yellow slave huts. With the colonization of the island, many native people were put into slavery working the salt flats. Tiny “huts” were constructed during the 18th century for the slaves, with these small homes often housing 6 slaves at a time. While the roofs have been restored, some of the original huts still exist on the west coast of the island across from the salt refinery.
Now a modern operation, the salt mines on the island are still a worthy visit during an island tour. The contrast between the various hues of pink colored salt pans and the large mounds of white dry salt is quite a sight. The last official stop on the tour, we pulled off the main road to grab some photos and learn about the history of the salt trade on the island and the modern transportation of the commodity.
Having trekked throughout the island for most of the afternoon on the off-road Bonaire tour, all 7 of us were ready to head back to the ship. The short ride back to the port included passing a few of the island’s beaches and the small airport.
We had come full circle from the city center, through the interior of the island, and back to the comforts of the ship. Luckily, we all made it back in one piece.
Overview of 4×4 Off-road Bonaire Tour
We booked this tour with our cruise line, Royal Caribbean. The tour was entitled 4X4 Island Exploration with the total tour lasting approximately 2.5 hours. The tour was run by Bonaire Offroad Adventure Tours and included only a few stops-including a beach break at Sorobon Beach.
The Terrain of the 4×4 Off-road Bonaire Tour
During our cruise, this tour was offered with two different time slots- a morning and early afternoon departure. We opted for the afternoon (1:30pm), so we could sleep in a bit then explore the surrounding port area. Being one of the more popular tours in Bonaire, we lined up with other cruisers in preparation for the arrival of the 4×4 Land Rovers about 15 minutes prior to our meeting time. The Land Rovers for the off-road Bonaire tour hold about 8 people, so our party of three was joined with another group of four from Canada for the duration of the tour.
Highlight: Our tour guide, Gigi, was very friendly and wanted to make sure we saw everything and had a good time. Given the condition of the roads (basically dirt paths), traveling in a 4×4 is really the best way to see the island!
What’s Missing: Most of the “adventure” included us stopping at the side of the road to see “sites”, but we never stopped for long or explored many of these attractions. There were also long stretches where there was not much to see or take pictures of during the tour.
Given that our stop in Bonaire was not part of the original itinerary, we booked our excursion directly through the cruise line, but there are a few different options for off-road adventure tours in Bonaire. The local tour company that provided our excursion also offers quad ATV tours in the eastern part of the island, but you will need to find your own transportation to the starting point. Royal Caribbean also offered a similar 4×4 off-road tour of the northern part of the island, to the Arawak Indian caves-this tour appears to be run by Bigfoot Bonaire Tours. We might try that off-road Bonaire tour the next time we visit the island in hopes of a bit more excitement and sightseeing.
Have you ever taken an off-road Bonaire tour? What do you like to do while you are docked in this Southern Caribbean port? Drop us an anchor below to help your fellow travelers find the right shore excursion for their stop in Bonaire.