Guided Kayaking and Snorkeling in Bonaire's Mangroves
There's no doubt that scuba diving is the main activity for tourists visiting Bonaire. But maybe you want to take a break or are just looking for some fun during the 24 hour no-dive period before your flight back home. In either case, I recommend kayaking through the mangroves at the southern end of the island. There are some private operators you can go with or you can go with the Mangrove Center — I opted for the 2 hour morning kayak.
The excursion starts with a briefing about the mangroves and their importance to the island and reef. It's informative and not overly long. You'll also be told that bringing sunscreen and bug spray into the mangroves is not permitted — so use what you need beforehand. On a related note, I'd recommend quick drying long pants and a long sleeve shirt as added protection against the sun. If you've got them, wear water shoes too. I was lucky that there weren't mosquitoes. Of course, your experience may vary.
In no time you're clambering onto your kayak (mostly likely a two-person) and paddling into the mangroves. The trip includes paddling through very narrow channels and across open areas. There was wind which caused some drifting, but it wasn't strong enough to create significant waves.
This was actually my second time in a mangrove — the first was in the Everglades of Florida in a canoe. Bonaire's mangroves are just as beautiful, but they don't have alligators, crocodiles, or snakes. While that may disappoint you, the good news is that the lack of dangerous animals means you can snorkel amongst the roots. If you take the snorkel option, try to be the first in the water and remain ahead of everyone else. Despite instructions from the guide to not stand so as to keep the sand from being kicked up, some bozo will do just that. Also, while swimming through the mangrove, be sure to stick your head amongst the roots as that is where the fish are.
On my trip, I had the extra treat of watching a small barracuda feeding on even smaller fish. There was a lot of splashing and fish jumping out of the water during the hunt. At one point a lone fish swam towards me and was chomped in half by a barracuda. The barracuda then ate the bits. Gruesome, but cool!
Overall this was a great way to spend a couple of hours and I recommend it. A minor downside was that the group was big making for a less personal experience.
Second Visit to Bonaire
On my return trip to Bonaire, I signed up for the Mangrove Kayak and Scuba Tour again. Same as last time, we reserved the 2-hour guided kayak tour with mangrove snorkeling at 8:30am. (We wanted to limit sun exposure by going out as early as possible.) I was again in a 2-person kayak with my wife.
We were dressed in our swimsuits with quick dry shirts/shorts/pants and large hats. Since sunscreen bottles aren't permitted in the mangrove, we were sure to apply before the tour began. We only brought plastic water bottles and masks with snorkels into the kayak.
The weather conditions were quite favourable and while kayaking we saw various herons, ducks, and flamingos. We also saw turtles coming up for air as we crossed Lac Bay and we enjoyed spotting them.
The snorkeling was done at the same spot as before. The mangrove roots had colourful sea sponges attached to them. We saw a range of fish – smooth trunkfish, needlefish, grey snapper, parrotfish, etc. It was an incredible experience and a testament to the great work by local environmental organizations and the centre.
Overall the visibility was even better the second time and I'm glad I did the tour again.