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Bonaire carte
Drapeau de Bonaire

General presentation

Bonaire carteBonaire is an island that was once part of the Netherlands Antilles along with Curaçao, Aruba, Saint Maarten (Dutch part), Saba and Saint Eustatius. Together with Aruba and Curaçao, Bonaire forms a group of islands known as the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao).

The origin of the name "Bonaire" is derived from the Caquetio word "Bonay" which means "low land". The early Spanish and Dutch would have transformed its name in spelling to Bojnaj and also to Bonaire. Other sources state that the name comes from the French "bon air". Finally, the last theory dates back to the Spanish colonization of the island and that the name would come from the Spanish "buen aire" which also means "good air".

It is located in the southern part of the Antilles near the Venezuelan coast (only 80 km (50 mi.)!). The island of Curaçao is located to its east.

It is a relatively flat island with the highest point of the island being the Brandaris hill which rises to 241 meters. Bonaire is best known for its seabed and a coral reef surrounding the island. All the waters surrounding the island are classified as a marine sanctuary and allow a discovery of the underwater fauna and flora with a mask and a snorkel or diving tanks.

A small island Klein Bonaire (Small Bonaire in Dutch) located just in front of the main town Kralendjik is part of the island while remaining uninhabited. Bonaire's particularity is that the Dutch island has only two cities: Kralendjik, its capital, and Rincon.

Drapeau de BonaireThe population was estimated to be 22,573 in 2022. The population density is relatively low with only 77 inhabitants per square kilometer.

Since the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010, the island is a Dutch municipality with special status since October 10, 2010.

The currency is the US dollar.

Its head of state is the King of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander and the Lieutenant Governor in charge of law enforcement on the island is Edison Rijna.


The oldest known settlement of the island is that of the Archaic Indians who arrived in the island around 3300 BC. Subsequently, the Caiquetios Indigenous people, a branch of the Arawaks, came from Venezuela around 500 AD. The Caquetios were a very large people, so much so that when the Spaniards arrived on the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao), they nicknamed the islands "las Islas de los Gigantes" (The Islands of the Giants).

In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda, Amerigo Vespucci and Juan de la Cosa arrived in Curaçao and in the neighboring island which was certainly called Bonay (bonay in caiquetio means "low land") by the Caiquetios. Bonay became Bojnaj under the Spaniards and then Bonaire under the Dutch. The island was nicknamed "Isla do Palo Brasil" (Island of Pernambuco, the pernambuco is a wood native to the North-East of Brazil whose red dye like the ember is used today in the textile industry).

The Spaniards, aware that they could not develop the island because of its dryness, deported all the Amerindians who were there to the island of Hispaniola from 1515. About 500 to 2,000 Caiquetios were deported to work in the copper mines of Santo Domingo. Bonaire was deserted but remained a Spanish possession. It was occasionally used as an outpost.

In 1526, Juan de Ampues, the governor of Bonaire, had livestock (sheep, goats, pigs, horses and donkeys) left to roam freely and exploited more for their skin than for their meat. The island was also a place of deportation for convicts from the Spanish colonies in South America.

The Spanish inhabitants lived in the town of Rincon inland to protect themselves from pirate attacks.

In 1621, the Dutch created the Dutch West Indies Company to get their share of the Caribbean at the same time that the Spanish and the Dutch were at war over what is now known as the Four Years War (1568 to 1648). In 1623, the ships of the Dutch Company called on Bonaire for meat, water and wood. The Dutch also abandoned Spanish and Portuguese prisoners who were to found the town of Antriol.

In 1633, the Dutch who had lost Saint-Martin to the Spaniards fell back on the southern islands of Aruba, Curaçao and Bonaire. Bonaire was conquered in March 1636. The Dutch built Fort Oranje in 1639. The purpose of this fort was to protect the salt mines. Indeed, at that time, salt was a very coveted product because it was used to preserve food.

Later, Bonaire welcomed slaves from Africa to work in the corn plantations and salt works of the Dutch West Indies Company. As evidence of this period, small houses where slaves were housed are now a historical site.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the Dutch lost control of Bonaire to the British twice, between 1800 and 1803 and again between 1807 and 1816. During this period, many white merchants settled in Bonaire and built the colony of Playa, now Kralendijk in 1810.

Between 1816 and 1868, Bonaire continued to be under the plantation system. In 1825, there were about 300 slaves. Gradually, some slaves were freed and became free with the obligation to render services to the government in exchange for their freedom. The remaining slaves became free on September 30, 1862 when slavery was abolished on the island. A total of 607 government slaves and 151 private slaves were freed at that time.

The consequence of the abolition of slavery will be the loss of manpower in the salt mines, an industry that will then be in decline.

During the Second World War and the occupation of the Netherlands by the Germans, Bonaire was a protectorate of the British and the United States. The Americans built the Flamingo airport which served as a military air base. After the invasion of the Netherlands by Germany on May 10, 1940, the authorities declared martial law and many Germans and Austrians as well as Dutch sympathizers of the Nazi regime were interned in a camp Bonaire. They remained there until the end of the war. Some will be transferred to new camps that were built in the mainland during the first year of the war.

In 1944, Princess Juliana of the Netherlands and Eleanor Roosevelt visited the troops on Bonaire. A total of 461 people were interned without trial even though most of them were innocent.

At the end of the war, the former camp became a hotel.

The economy continued to develop, the former military airport became a civilian airport, a clothing factory was established, a radio station was founded, a second hotel, the Bonaire Beach Hotel was built in 1962. Salt production resumed in 1966 and the salt works were modernized by the International Salt Company of the Antilles. In 1975, an oil refining company was created.

Bonaire, which was part of the Netherlands Antilles from 1954 to 2010, became a municipality with special status in the Netherlands in October 2010.

In 2011, the U.S. dollar was adopted as the national currency.


Tourism is the major sector of the economy of an island that also has oil and produces salt. Tourism became increasingly important after the end of World War II. The colorful flocks of birds that gather on the salt flats are one of the many attractions of the island. The brilliant pink flamingos, a protected species, are the pride of the island and inspired the name of the local airport (Flamingo Airport).

The arid soil does not allow to feed the population, so Bonaire exports mainly for its food needs. The only crop exported is aloe vera because it does not require irrigation.

Drinking water is supplied by the government desalination plant. Tons of salt from the vast salt pans are exported each year from the port of Kralendijk.

About 70% of the island's surface is coral limestone, from which Kralendijk, which means "coral dike", takes its name. Kralendijk is a quiet little town with some fine examples of Dutch colonial architecture.

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