The small Caribbean island Bonaire is one of the Netherlands Antilles. Possibly discovered by Amerigo Vespucci, the Paradise Island with its flamingos now lives off tourism.
According to contradictory sources, the first European to set foot on the landmass was either Amerigo Vespucci or Alonso de Ojeda in 1499, but Indians already inhabited the island. Especially in the north of the island, their inscriptions can be found nowadays.
After the ‘discovery’, the Spaniards established a colony on Bonaire in 1527, staying there over a century. The Dutch arrived on nearby Curaçao in 1636 to start a war against the Spanish. The South-Europeans were never really interested in the Antilles, which they called "Islas Inútiles", or islands without value, because they found no gold. In The Dutch managed to chase their adversaries within the year. The salt industry became important, for which the Dutch transported slaves from Africa.
The profitable salt, grain and cattle commerce on the island attracted French and British pirates, who occupied Bonaire for sixteen years from 1800. The Dutch managed to regain control in 1816 and the economy blossomed like never before. Clearly, the engine behind the flourishing commerce was slavery. After the abolishment in 1863, Bonaire’s wellbeing descended quickly. Many inhabitants fled the recession and started working in the oil industry on the neighbouring islands Curaçao and Aruba.
The recession was worsened when the monster of unemployment hit the oil refineries in the 1950s and many Bonaire people returned home without a penny to spend. Fortunately in the 1950s Bonaire was discovered by tourists, who fell for the beauty of the unspoiled Caribbean island. The first hotel was opened in 1951, soon after which tourism was the number one source of income for Bonaire. Despite the increasing attention, the government decided to restrict the number of tourists to protect the island’s resources.
Still a part of the Netherlands kingdom, Bonaire was the first of the Antilles to create a National Park to protect its wildlife, especially the notable colony of flamingos.
Bonaire is an island in the Caribbean Sea, belonging to the Netherlands Antilles, a colony of the Netherlands. The most eastward island of the southern Netherlands Antilles, it measures 40 by 5-12 kilometres. Highest point on the island is the Brandaris (241 metres). The capital on the west coast is called Kralendijk, with an immense population of 1,000 people.
Scientists call the Bonaire climate tropical arid, which means dry as a bone. The average temperature is 27,5°C, with hardly a difference between either day or night, and summer or winter. The coldest month January has an average day temperature of 29°C and a night temperature of 25°C. In the hottest month September it’s two degrees warmer. Bonaire does not know tropical storms and the seawater temperature lies around 27°C.
Although Bonaire almost literally means good air in French, the name probably stems from another word. The Caribbean word banare, which stands for lowlands. The Indians thought Bonaire was quite flat compared to their homeland, the mountains of South-America.
The Spanish thought the Indians called the island Boynay, which was later curved to Bonaire by the Dutch.
Another (less accepted) theory on the name Bonaire is the history of Nayil. He was the son of the God that was shaped like a silver serpent. According to the theory, the Indians believed the snake housed on the island, calling it Boy Nayre: “house of the silver serpent”.
At the moment, Bonaire has around 15,000 inhabitants, which makes it one of the lesser densely inhabited Antilles. The people of Bonaire are ethnically diverse, with the Negroid element as a common component. The average Bonaire citizen is remarkably young: less than 30 years.
Although Dutch is the official language, Papiamento is the commonly used tongue on the island. The official Papiamento of Bonaire is a unique mixture of Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and African dialects. It even differs from the nearby Aruba Papiamento. Thanks to the adaptation of the Dutch educational system, illiteracy is practically non-existent.
The treasures of the Bonaire Marine Park are all under water. The coastal coral reefs belong to the most beautiful in the world, making Bonaire a hugely popular diving destination for tourists from all over the world. The Caribbean Sea is very clear here, enabling divers to catch sight until 30 metres depth.
The Brandaris is the highest peak of the island with its 241 metres height. The top provides an astonishing view over the whole island. On cloudless days one can even see the Christoffel Mountain on Curaçao and the mountains of Venezuela from here.
Bonaire also possesses a number of caves which have meaning because of their drawings and marks. These date from far before the Spanish occupation, made by the earliest inhabitants. The drawings have no recognisable shapes, but scientists think they had a religious meaning.
The Museo di Bonaire (Museum of Bonaire) is small but interesting. The collection includes archaeological discoveries, like urns, a 760-year-old skeleton, and prehistoric daily-life objects. Visitors can also admire art works by modern Bonaire artists, cannon balls, antique firearms and a special shell collection.
The southernmost tip of Bonaire is occupied by the Willemstoren (the William Tower, named after Dutch king William I), the oldest lighthouse of the island. It was constructed in 1837-1838 in the shape of a Doric column.