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A week at the Divi Flamingo on Boanire
Posted by Elle
We recently spent a week at the Divi Flamingo on Boanire and really enjoyed it. We flew ALM from Miami to Curacao, took a $50 two-hour taxi tour of the city and surrounding area, then went on to Bonaire. We would like to spend 2-3 days in Curacao next time.

ALM offers a space-available upgrade to first class for $100 each at check-in. Coach seating is 5 across (good news) on a MD-80/DC-9 (bad news). All our flights were within hour of on time and our luggage arrived with us, inspite of the war stories. You gotta expect delays and screwups if you're traveling in winter - what we heard was US airline problems, big time. ALM is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy and we hope they survive... Nice people who really went out of their way to help.

The Divi Flamingo hotel is still being remodeled no matter what they say, and will be for a couple of years, but the heavy construction is done so you don't hear machinery any more. Most of the grounds have been replanted and look great. The hotel staff was professional, helpful and friendly; the casino staff was a bit stand-offish; and the restaurant staff needs to be replaced - or maybe just their management(?) does. Food was OK but very expensive, even for Boanire. If you want a drink poolside, you go get it from the bar if the bartender happens to be around. Their dive shop has a top reputation; we are beginners and really can't comment on competency, but we were well-treated and very satisfied with our resort dive course and subsequent reef dives.

To be fair, Divi Resorts just brought in a new manager and changes are underway. The new guy ran Divi's resort on Cayman Brac for a while and has 25 years in Caribbean resort management experience. I understand that the resort staff just got it's first new labor contract in 13 years as a result of his efforts. The casino was robbed while we were there, which might partially explain the up-tight casino staff issue.

Bonaire is a small island with little scenery of note. Basically, if you're not excited about snorkle or scuba, go elsewhere. Donkeys run loose all over the island; goats are mostly tended, and there are lots of lizards and iguanas one you're out of town. The entire coast is one big national park, with some nice beaches and beautiful snorkle and dive spots. Dive boats often go to Klein Bonaire, a small, undeveloped (and apparerntly never will be) island 5 miles off shore. Population is minimal and poor. Bonaire people are universally pleasant and smile pretty much all the time. With the exception of (imported) tee shirts, retail competition is non-existent and the prices reflect it.

Bonaire taxis are $7 daytime, $8 after 7PM, for the three block ride to/from downtown; $10 for the mile ride to the airport. There is no island bus service. We asked about renting a taxi for a guided island tour and got sticker shock at the $200 quote for four of us ("plus tip", he said). There again, at $35 a day for a motor scooter...

Restaurants are OK, but certainly nothing special. Restaurant prices are pretty high for what you get. "Service" at 15% is included, so they don't have to work at it. Nicest restuarant decor was at the Plaza; nicest food and service was Richard's. We ate at a different restaurant every night and the folks we were with did even more at lunch, so got a good feel. The only no-no was the Divi Flamingo, but there was nothing special about any of the others. There was a management change underway at Amadeus - we met the new people - which will be all to the good... they're offering good food and service at a reasonable (for Bonaire) price.

We were there for New Years, which was kind of special in a couple ways. The 31st is our anniversary, which makes it even more special. Be aware the all the restaurants and bars close by 10:00PM(!), and that about half close after lunch on New Years Eve. The up side of this fiasco is the largest fireworks show we have ever seen. We chartered a sail boat (typical Bonaire charter- 4 life jackets for 9 people, one out of the required five running lights actually working, and a non-licensed "captain") and had the pleasure of seeing a 5 mile-long coastline absolutely ablaze in big, bigger, and oh-my-god! fireworks for about 30 minutes, tapering off for another 30. The show was sepctacular. One of the downtown bars re-opened at 1:00AM and closed at 2.

These folks have a neat little thing called bangers - roll of medium-sized (" x 1") firecrackers that you light at one end and, if it gets to the end of the roll you have good luck. The "small" rolls are two feet in diameter and contain up to 30,000 firecrackers... the object is to bring good luck to the whole block you live on!

Tropical birds were non-existent around our hotel for the above reason. We did some touring on January 1st and noticed a lot of apparrently non-native birds in the few trees up in the few hills. They started to return to their homes on January 2nd, and by the 3rd we were back to standard-issue tropical paradise.

Shopping is pretty much way you'd expect for a duty-free port. Lots of cameras, perfume, and jewelry but, surprisingly, not a lot of quality clothing. Not much of anything else, and no local anythings. All the dive shops sell quality products that cost more than you pay here in the US - even dive watches. Tourist stuff is typically imported from China and Indonesia.

The people we were with went on to Aruba for another week when we left for the US. They report great service and much-reduced, compared to Bonaire, prices island-wide. Apparently, there is a whole lot more of everything on Aruba, so competition helps a lot. They were able to fly ALM direct to Miami from Aruba for their return.

Overall, we had a good time, got a good winter tan, and learned about yet another culture. We learned that Air Jamaica also serves the ABCs, so maybe a few days on Jamaica could be worked into your travel plans at little to no additional cost. While Bonaire is probably not for us, I think we would enjoy a few days in Curacao and we just might take our friends' recommendation and visit Aruba.
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