But Bonaire may be the most unique. A Caribbean dry-forest desert island about 50 miles north of Venezuela, Bonaire's famous treasure is a long stretch of coral reefs along the western shore, close enough for easy shore-diving. And because Bonaire preserved them as a marine park more than 30 years ago, underwater life is abundant.
Even so, you don't have to be a diver to enjoy the island. My husband Denny and I went to Bonaire to dive during the New Year's holidays. And dive we did. But above the waterline we found beautiful sunsets, an appealing town with delicious dining, daredevil sports, mysterious caves, historical monuments and more.
Photo courtesy of Bonaire Tourism; photographer Zsuzsanna Pusztai of Flow Bonaire.
Green turtles eat algae among the reefs, delighting snorkelers and divers.
Driving south along the shore, stark white hills of salt rise from pink evaporation pools. Salt has been produced there for centuries and is still a major export. The production is also a contributor to the island's breeding population of flamingoes, which feed on rosy shrimp in some salt pans.
Until 1862, slaves worked the salt, sleeping 6-8 in tiny huts.
Windsurfers and kiteboarders fly with the year-round trade winds.
The island's dry-forest desert includes kadushi cactus. Bats eat nectar from the flowers; native parrots and lizards eat the fruit; and the local Cadushy Distillery makes a liqueur from the dried pulp of young branches.
Photo of Washington Slagbaai National Park courtesy of Bonaire Tourism; credit Flow-Bonaire
After which, visitors toast the sunset with a Cadushy cocktail.
Photo courtesy of Bonaire Tourism
Going underground takes visitors to a new dimension. In one "dry cave", myriad stalactites surround age-old impressions of brain coral heads. And in the Hilltop Cave, a rigorous trek leads to snorkeling among stalactites and stalagmites in crystal-clear water.
The caves are protected, with visits limited to guided tours of no more than six people. Currently, two companies are authorized to conduct the tours. Our tour with Flow-Bonaire was an extraordinary experience.
At the end of the day, we might not all be lucky enough to dine beneath a full moon, but anyone can reserve a patio seat overlooking the Caribbean at the 4 Seasons Restaurant, for a meal served with cheer and island spice.
Copyright 2009-2015 Kathleen Scott, for Hill Country Mysteries. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.