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Boneiru  (Papiamento)
Public body of the Netherlands
Skyline of Bonaire
Flag of Bonaire
Coat of arms of Bonaire
Coat of arms
Anthem: "Tera di Solo y suave biento"
<span style=Location of    (circled in red)

in the   (light yellow)

" src="" width="250">

Location of  Bonaire  (circled in red)

in the Caribbean  (light yellow)

Country Netherlands
Incorporated into the Netherlands 10 October 2010 (dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles)
(and largest city)
Government (see Politics of the Netherlands)
 • Lt. Governor Edison Rijna [1]
 • Total 294 km2 (114 sq mi)
Population (2013[2])
 • Total 17,408
 • Density 59/km2 (150/sq mi)
 • Official Dutch
 • Recognised regional Papiamentu[3]
Time zone AST (UTC−4)
Calling code +599-7
ISO 3166 code BQ-BO, NL-BQ1
Currency US dollar (USD)
Internet TLD .an,[4] .bq,[5] .nl

Bonaire (; Dutch: Bonaire, Papiamentu: Boneiru) is a Caribbean island which, together with Aruba and Curaçao, forms the group known as the ABC islands, located off the north coast of South America near the western part of Venezuela. Bonaire's capital is Kralendijk. The island has a permanent population of 17,408 and an area of 294 km² (together with nearby uninhabited Klein Bonaire).

The name Bonaire is thought to have originally come from the Caquetio word 'Bonay'. The early Spanish and Dutch modified its spelling to Bojnaj and also Bonaire, which means "Good Air".

Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country's dissolution on 10 October 2010,[6] when the island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands.[7] It is now considered the Caribbean Netherlands, or BES Islands comprising three special municipalities located in the Caribbean: the islands of Bonaire, St Eustatius, and Saba.


Original inhabitants

Traditional old houses with cactus fences, preserved in the outdoor museum in Rincon

Bonaire's earliest known inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians, a branch of the Arawak who came by canoe from Venezuela in about 1000 AD. Archeological remains of Caquetio culture have been found at certain sites northeast of Kralendijk and near Lac Bay. Caquetio rock paintings and petroglyphs have been preserved in caves at Spelonk, Onima, Ceru Pungi, and Ceru Crita-Cabai. The Caquetios were apparently a very tall people, for the Spanish name for the ABC Islands was 'las Islas de los Gigantes' or 'the islands of the giants.'[8]

European arrival

In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda arrived in Curaçao and a neighbouring island that was almost certainly Bonaire. Ojeda was accompanied by Amerigo Vespucci and Juan de la Cosa. De La Cosa's Mappa Mundi of 1500 shows Bonaire and calls it Isla do Palo Brasil or "Island of Brazilwood." The Spanish conquerors decided that the three ABC Islands were useless, and in 1515 the natives were forcibly deported to work as slaves in the copper mines of Santo Domingo on the island of Hispaniola.[8]

Spanish period

In 1526, Juan de Ampies was appointed Spanish commander of the ABC Islands. He brought back some of the original Caquetio Indian inhabitants to Bonaire and Curaçao. Ampies also imported domesticated animals from Spain, including cows, donkeys, goats, horses, pigs, and sheep. The Spaniards thought that Bonaire could be used as a cattle plantation worked by natives. The cattle were raised for hides rather than meat. The Spanish inhabitants lived mostly in the inland town of Rincon which was safe from pirate attack.[8]

Dutch period

Fort Oranje in Kralendijk, built in 1639.

The Dutch West India Company was founded in 1621. Starting in 1623, ships of the West India Company called at Bonaire to obtain meat, water, and wood. The Dutch also abandoned some Spanish and Portuguese prisoners there, and these people founded the town of Antriol which is a contraction of "al interior" or "inside." The Dutch and the Spanish fought from 1568 to 1648 in what is now known as the Eighty Years War. In 1633, the Dutch, having lost the island of St. Maarten to the Spanish, retaliated by attacking Curaçao, Bonaire, and Aruba. Bonaire was conquered in March 1636. The Dutch built Fort Oranje in 1639.[9]

Slave huts

While Curaçao emerged as a center of the slave trade, Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. A small number of African slaves were put to work alongside Indians and convicts, cultivating dyewood and maize and harvesting solar salt around Blue Pan. Slave quarters, built entirely of stone and too short for a man to stand upright in, still stand in the area around Rincon and along the saltpans as a grim reminder of Bonaire's repressive past.

British period

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Netherlands lost control of Bonaire twice, once from 1800 to 1803 and again from 1807 to 1816.[10] During these intervals, the British had control of the neighboring island of Curaçao and of Bonaire. The ABC islands were returned to the Netherlands under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. During the period of British rule, a large number of white traders settled on Bonaire, and they built the settlement of Playa (Kralendijk) in 1810.


From 1816 until 1868, Bonaire remained a government plantation. In 1825, there were about 300 government-owned slaves on the island. Gradually many of the slaves were freed, and became freemen with an obligation to render some services to the government. The remaining slaves were freed on 30 September 1862 under the Emancipation Regulation. A total of 607 government slaves and 151 private slaves were freed at that time.[8]


Salt piles

In 1867 the government sold most of the public lands, and in 1870 they sold the saltpans. The entire population became dependent on two large private landowners, and this caused a great deal of suffering for many people. Many inhabitants were forced to move to Aruba, Curaçao, or Venezuela.[8]

World War II

During the German occupation of the Netherlands during World War II, Bonaire was a protectorate of Britain and the United States. The American army built the Flamingo Airport as an air force base. After Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940, many Dutch and German citizens were interned in a camp on Bonaire for the duration of war.[11][12] In 1944, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Eleanor Roosevelt visited the troops on Bonaire.[8]


After the war, the economy of Bonaire continued to develop. The airport was converted to civilian use and the former internment camp was converted to become the first hotel on Bonaire.[13] The Dutch Schunck family built a clothing factory known as Schunck's Kledingindustrie Bonaire. In 1964, Trans World Radio began broadcasting from Bonaire. Radio Netherlands Worldwide built two short wave transmitters on Bonaire in 1969. The second major hotel (Bonaire Beach Hotel)[14] was completed in 1962. Salt production resumed in 1966 when the salt pans were expanded and modernized by the Antilles International Salt Company, a subsidiary of the International Salt Company.[15] The Bonaire Petroleum Corporation (BOPEC) oil terminal was opened in 1975 for trans-shipping oil.[16]


Parliament and Council house in Kralendijk

Referendum 2010

Prior to the 2010 referendum, the Netherlands Antilles comprising the islands of Curacao, Bonaire, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Saba, were governed as a parliamentary democracy based on the Dutch system of government with free elections held every four years. Dissension about the political future resulted in four of the five islands advocating for separation from the Netherlands Antilles. Some of the island residents wanted autonomy while others wanted more integration.[17] In 2005, a conference was held by the governments of the Netherlands, Aruba, and the Netherlands Antilles to discuss future constitutional reform and dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles. In 2006, Saint Maarten and Curacao chose autonomy, and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba opted for a closer relationship with the Netherlands. Constitutional referendums and dismantlement of the Netherlands Antilles was scheduled to take place in 2010.[18][19]

Bonaire's announced referendum scheduled for 26 March 2010 was cancelled in February 2010. The Governor of the Dutch Antilles, Frits Goedgedrag, decided to cancel it because it probably contravened international law, since part of the population is barred from voting. European Dutch nationals are only allowed to vote if they arrived on the island before 1 January 2007.[20][21] The referendum was postponed to September and then October 2010.[22] Eventually the referendum was held on 17 December 2010, with 84% voting in favour of becoming part of the Netherlands. However, as the 35% voter turnout rate was below the required 51%, the results of the referendum were declared invalid.[23]

Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles

On 10 October 2010, the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved. As a result, the government of the Netherlands assumed the task of public administration of the Caribbean Netherlands or BES Islands comprising Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba. The three islands acquired new status as "special municipalities", making them part of the Netherlands itself (bijzondere gemeenten), a form of "public body" (openbaar lichaam) as outlined in article 134 of the Dutch Constitution.[12] Special municipalities do not constitute part of a province.[13]

As a special municipality, Bonaire is very much like ordinary Dutch municipalities in that it has a mayor, aldermen and a municipal council, and is governed according to most Dutch law. Antillean legislation remained in force after 10 October 2010, with the exception of those cases where Antillean law was replaced by Bonaire's municipal law. It was believed best for the island to not introduce the entire body of Dutch legislation at one time as it would cause confusion. Therefore, Dutch legislation is being introduced in stages. Bonaire retained its own unique culture while residents enjoy the same rights as Dutch citizens, including the right to vote in Dutch parliamentary elections in the Netherlands. Residents also have access to new or improved facilities and government benefits including, but not limited to, universal health care; improved health care facilities; better educational facilities with additional training for teachers, new teaching methods, and new school buildings; social housing for low-income individuals and families; a centrally dispatched single police force, fire department and ambulance service.[24] While the three islands are considered to be land of the Netherlands, they are not a part of the European Union, therefore not subject to European Union Law. They are considered to be an overseas country and territory and will remain as such until at least 2015.[25]

However, Bonaire's non-governmental organization, "Nos Ke Boneiru Bèk” (We Want Bonaire Back), is against the current constitutional relationship with the Netherlands. With reference to Bonaire's 2004 referendum, the organization is of the opinion that such an arrangement was never the choice of the people. The Dutch Minister of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations, [26]


On 1 January 2011, the BES Islands replaced their currency, the Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG), with the US dollar rather than replacing it with the euro which is used in the European Netherlands. The decision was based primarily on the islands' needs in relation to tourism and trade. Most countries and territories in the Caribbean use the dollar as their currency or have a currency linked to the dollar as legal tender. The guilder (ANG) has been linked to the dollar for decades with an exchange rate of ANG 1.790 = USD 1.00. Adopting the dollar put an end to the dual-currency payment system, and foreign exchange charges.[27]


The Netherlands is responsible for levying taxes on the BES Islands. Therefore, on 1 January 2011, a new tax system was introduced which lowered tax rates as well as the number of taxes levied. Tax authorities have expressed a desire to levy more indirect taxes rather than impose taxes directly. It is believed that by imposing too many direct taxes, such as income taxes, businesses are less profitable. Also, when employees are forced to pay a higher wage tax, it usually results in the demand for a higher before-tax wage, which puts pressure on the economy. There is an increasing number of governments making the transition from direct to indirect taxation. In the past, the wage tax was the largest source of tax revenue in the Netherlands. Today, it is the value-added tax (VAT).

The separate tax regimes for Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba presents a greater risk of double taxation or double exemption from taxes. In an effort to remove the risk, two plans were introduced. One plan prevents double taxation between the Netherlands (Europe) and the BES Islands while the other prevents double taxation between the BES Islands and third countries. The new regime will generate a total annual tax revenue estimated at $52 million which is equal to the current tax revenues on the three islands. The combined population of the three Islands is approximately 20,000 with about half that many being taxpayers.[24]


Diver on the "Hilma Hooker" ship wreck

Bonaire's economy is mainly based on tourism. The island caters mainly to scuba divers and snorkelers, as there are few sandy beaches, while the surrounding reefs are easily accessible from the shore. Bonaire is world renowned for its excellent scuba diving and is consistently rated among the best diving locations in the world. Bonaire's license plates carry the logo Divers Paradise (in English). Bonaire is also consistently recognized as one of the best destinations for snorkeling. Wind surfers also make a strong group of island tourists, as the east side of the island (facing the Caribbean Sea) has the large waves and wind gusts needed for windsurfing. Lac Bay, in the south east, is shallow, yet windy, and hence is considered an excellent place for intermediate sailors to improve their skills. Tourism infrastructure in Bonaire is contemporary and based on time-share resorts. There are a few small bed and breakfasts. Most resorts have an on-site dive shop. The rest are affiliated with a dive operation.


American flamingos at the sanctuary at the southern end of Bonaire

The island is fringed by coral reefs which are accessible from the shore along the lee side of the island facing west southwest. The entire Bonaire coastline was designated a marine sanctuary in an effort to preserve and protect the delicate coral reefs and marine life dependent on those reefs. Montastraea annularis was the most common coral during a recent 2011 survey.[28]

The coral reef around uninhabited Klein Bonaire is particularly well preserved, and it draws divers, snorkelers, and boaters.

Bonaire also has several coral reefs where seahorses can be found.

Donkey colony

Bonaire is also famed for its flamingo populations and its donkey sanctuary. Flamingos are drawn to the brackish water, which harbours the shrimp upon which they feed. Starting in the 16th century, the Dutch raised sheep, goats, pigs, horses and donkeys on Bonaire, and the descendants of the goats and donkeys roam the island today, with a small population of pigs roaming as well. Bonaire is also home to the ecologically vulnerable Yellow-shouldered Amazon.

The island of Bonaire has always been at the forefront of nature preservation and conservation and was ecologically responsible long before the mainstream efforts found today. With the Bonaire Marine Park and the protective status of the Washington Slagbaai National Park, it was only logical to further explore optimal ways to deal with waste and recycled products.

Green Initiatives

Due to a public-private sector partnership, programs are being developed to advance the local awareness and attitudes toward conservation and habitat preservation in order to proactively protect Bonaire's ecosystem. A new sewage treatment plant will contribute to protecting the reefs and the seawater quality. In March 2013 Selibon NV, the national garbage-processing plant, opened an environmental court where the general public can bring glass, cans, paper, scrap metal, cardboard, batteries, motor oil, cooking oil, electronics, mobile phones and textiles. BonRecycling BV is committed to recycling waste products in Bonaire and to create awareness among the people of Bonaire about the importance and benefits of recycling. Dive Friends Bonaire started a Debris Free Bonaire program that emphasises collecting debris washed ashore and delivering it to the dive shop for separation in preparation for handling by BonRecyling.


Flamingo Airport

Bonaire's first airport was located near Tra'i Montaña Subi Blanku and walked across the current path of Kralendijk to Rincon and was built in 1936. The airport proved to be too small when American soldiers arrived on Bonaire in the second half of 1943. The commander stated that a new airport had to be built. In December 1943, construction began in the vicinity of where the present airport now stands. The new airport, named "Flamingo Airport", was put into use in 1945. A small terminal was built that was suitable for the number of passengers at the time. This building was used until mid-1976. The airport had received many extensions of both the runway and the terminal itself.

Today, the airport is known as Flamingo International Airport and is served by a variety of both domestic and international airlines. Services from the US include United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and Insel Air. Airlines providing European service include Arkefly and KLM. Consistent air service from Curaçao is available through Divi Divi Air, EZAir, and Insel Air, also direct service from Aruba to Bonaire is provided by Tiara Air.

The airport is equipped with a fire station, control tower, and hangar. Plans are underway for modifications to the current airport facilities, runway and the fire station.


Satellite photo of Great and Small Bonaire

Bonaire, as well as the rest of the ABC islands and also Trinidad and Tobago, lies on the continental shelf of South America, and is thus geologically considered to lie entirely in South America.

Bonaire has a land area of 288 km² (111 sq. miles), while Klein Bonaire is a further 6 km² (2.3 sq. miles). Bonaire's Afdeling Bevolking (census) office reported that the population was 14,006 inhabitants in December 2006,[29] which gives Bonaire island proper a population density of 49 inhabitants per km².

Bonaire lies outside the hurricane belt, and is served by Flamingo International Airport.

The Old Malmok lighthouse is in Washington Slagbaai National Park.

Washington Slagbaai National Park, located at the north side of the island, is an ecological preserve. The highest point of Bonaire, the mountainous Brandaris, 240 m (784 feet) high is located within this preserve and has a complete view of the island.

Lac Bay, (also known as Lac Cai or Lac Cay) on the eastern side of the island, is a windsurfer's paradise. Locals Taty and Tonky Frans in 2004 were ranked in the top five of the world's freestyle windsurfing professionals.

Atlantis Beach, on the western part of the island, is the local kitesurfing spot.


Bonaire's educational system is patterned after the Dutch system. Early grades are taught solely in Papiamentu, with more and more Dutch being introduced as the grade level progresses.

There is also an offshore American Caribbean Medical Schools in Bonaire called Saint James School of Medicine.


Church in Rincon

The only generally recognized towns on the island are Kralendijk (the capital) and Rincon.

Kralendijk has many suburbs/neighbourhoods, although on an island with such a small population, the distinction is not always clearcut. Kralendijk's suburbs/neighbourhoods include:

  • Antriol
  • Belnem
  • Hato
  • Lima
  • Noord Salina
  • Nikiboko
  • Republiek
  • Sabadeco
  • Sabana
  • Santa Barbara
  • Tera Cora

Other smaller settlements include:

  • Fontein
  • Lagoen
  • Sorobon
  • Spelonk
  • Wanapa

Labra, Ishiri, Kokorobi, Jan Doran, Vlijt, Rigot, Porto Spano, and Kunchi were several smaller towns that had existed in the national park, but were later abandoned.


Dutch is the official language of Bonaire, as it is part of the Netherlands. According to the 2001 census, it is the main language of 8.8% of the population.[30] The most widely spoken language is the creole language Papiamentu, which is the primary language of 74.7% of the populace and is recognized by the government.[3][30] Spanish is the main language of 11.8% of the people, English is the primary language of 2.8%, and other languages account for 1.8%.[30]


Bonaire is a popular tourist destination for both recreational diving and shore snorkeling.

Trans World Radio relay station

Trans World Radio operates a radio relay station (PJB3-AM) on Bonaire with a mediumwave transmitter and several shortwave transmitters at . The mediumwave transmitter is the most powerful mediumwave transmitter in America, having operated with as much as a half megawatt (500 kilowatts). The antenna of the mediumwave transmitter consists of four 231.6-metre-tall masts arranged in a parallelogram.

Radio Netherlands relay station

Radio Netherlands Worldwide operated a shortwave relay station at .

Because of widespread availability of Internet links providing higher audio quality and more flexibility, shortwave broadcasts by RNW from Bonaire were discontinued and at the end of October 2012, the radio station was closed and installations dismantled.


The most popular sports on Bonaire are baseball, athletics, association football, tennis, and volleyball. The Bonaire Football Federation is a member of CONCACAF and the Bonaire Volleyball Federation is an associate member of NORCECA. The Baseball teams play in the Caribbean region of Little league and Pony league. Bonaire was also confirmed as the 218th Table Tennis National association.[31]

See also


  1. ^ Edison Rijna Sworn in as New Lieutenant Governor
  2. ^ "Bevolkingsontwikkeling Caribisch Nederland; geboorte, sterfte, migratie" (in Dutch). Central Bureau of Statistics. 2012. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  3. ^ a b Papiamentu can be used in relations with the government
    "Invoeringswet openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba" (in Dutch). Retrieved 14 October 2012. 
  4. ^ The domain for the  ) An Internet ccTLD has been reserved by the IANA, but no registrar has been assigned.
  5. ^ "CcTLD — ICANN Wiki". Retrieved 25 Nov 2014. 
  6. ^ "Antillen opgeheven". NOS Nieuws. 18 November 2009. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  7. ^ (Law on the public bodies of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba)"
    "Wet openbare lichamen Bonaire, Sint Eustatius en Saba.  
  8. ^ a b c d e f Van Der Helm, Rien (1987). Traveler's Handbook Bonaire. Rijswik, The Netherlands: Elmar Media Service.  
  9. ^ "Fort Oranje(Bonaire)". Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  10. ^ "The Map Room: Caribbean: Bonaire". British Empire. Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  11. ^ Anonymous (15 June 2007). "Imprisoned Innocents". Bonaire Reporter. p. 7. Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  12. ^ Sint Jago, Junnes E. (2007). Wuiven vanaf de waranda (in Dutch). Utrecht: Gopher.  
  13. ^ "Divi Flamingo Beach Resort Bonaire". Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  14. ^ "Bonaire Beach Hotel". Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  15. ^ "Cargill Salt Company". Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  16. ^ "Bonaire Petroleum Company". Archived from the original on 2007-03-01. Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  17. ^ Martin W. Lewis (March 22, 2011). "The Little-Noticed Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles". Geopolitics (Caribbean). GeoCurrents. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  18. ^ Frank Kunneman, Mark Kater (May 2009). "Guide to Doing Business on Bonaire". Doing Business Guides. VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  19. ^ Barry Guimbellot, Ruth Guimbellot. "Exploring Bonaire: Adventure From Sea to Shore". Dive Training. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  20. ^ Uncertainty about Bonaire referendum – Radio Netherlands, 2 February 2010
  21. ^ "Bonaire referendum cancelled". Retrieved 10 October 2010. 
  22. ^ Bonaire referendum postponed again – Radio Netherlands, 10 August 2010
  23. ^ The Referendum that wasn't – Bonaire Reporter, 24 December 2010
  24. ^ a b "New Constitutional Order". Caribbean Parts of the Kingdom. Government of the Netherlands. April 22, 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Bonaire, Saint Eustatius and Saba". DS World's Lands. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Dutch Minister Plasterk: Constitutional Referendum BES is Island Affair". Government News. Bearing Point Caribbean. August 18, 2014. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  27. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions: Why Have the BES Islands Decided on the US dollar?". Caribisch Nederland. De Nederlandsche Bank. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 
  28. ^ Jekielek, P (2011). "A 'BLAGRRA' Assessment of Coral Bleaching and Disease in Bonaire". In: Pollock NW, ed. Diving for Science 2011. Proceedings of the  
  29. ^ Anonymous (9 February 2008). "Flotsam and Jetsam". Bonaire Reporter. p. 2. Retrieved 19 February 2009. 
  30. ^ a b c "Households by the most spoken language in the household Population and Housing Census 2001". Central Bureau of Statistics. 
  31. ^ "Sharara Re-elected as ITTF President" (Press release). International Table Tennis Federation. May 15, 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2014. 

External links

  • – official website of the government of Bonaire
  • – Department of Economic & Labour Affairs (DEZA)
Island Information
  • – The Official Bonaire Tourism Site
  • BONHATA – Bonaire Hotel and Tourism Association
  • Lonely Planet – Bonaire
  • Bonaire website with panorama photos
  • Bonaire National Marine Park
  • Bonaire Nature
  • Washington Slagbaai National Park
  • Bonaire Reporter – English language weekly newssheet about Bonaire
  • Breathe Bonaire – Live webcams from Bonaire (including the first megapixel underwater webcam)
  • – Live webcams from the island of Bonaire

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