Karnaval (Carnival) in Bonaire, the Caribbean Netherlands
By Gail Clifford
When you think of the Netherlands, you probably don’t think of Carnival, the annual festival held in several countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the days before Ash Wednesday.
But if you love the safety and easy access of Bonaire, in the Caribbean Netherlands, you should consider visiting next year when the event returns.
From the diving depths of the azure seas (typically 60 to 90 feet but lower in some spots for expert divers) to the lofty mountain peak in Washington State Park, you will see beauty.
From the dramatic vistas along the stony coast by the Punt Vierkant Lighthouse to the historic salt mines and slave huts, the varied terrain on this island will surprise you at every turn with its diversity.
Traveling here is an adventure you will find nowhere else – especially during Karnaval.
(This year’s Karnaval is canceled due to Covid – but let’s look back at last year’s as a reminder of things to come!)
Karnaval activities span between the two island towns, Kralendijk and Rincon. Events easily accessed by car or moped each day of the celebration.
There’s a week-long celebration with a lineup with parades and activities for kids and for adults leading to Ash Wednesday.
At the culmination of the kids’ celebration, on Monday… fireworks.
On Shrove Tuesday, “Mardi Gras” … an adult parade, similar to the daytime parade on Sunday, but with lights that make everything that much more magical.
This port town has all the souvenir shops and seaside paths you’d expect.
The larger Karnaval parades are held here – with 40 to 50 floats driving through town over the course of two hours.
Its laid-back flair contrasts well with the energetic dancing of the GEAUX cup-carrying dancers of the parade.
Live music or DJs on floats add to the party atmosphere.
With breaks between floats during the day, stop at one of the excellent gelato shops (we like Luciano’s flavors a little better, and Gio’s only accepts cash [USD]).
“Town” is a great place to walk around, meet the locals, and shop at the pop-up market the artisans put up when the cruise ships are in town and Karnaval is in progress.
When the end of the parade, though, it’s peaceful and lovely and not so crowded that you can’t enjoy the artwork scattered throughout.
There’s a flamingo feeding her baby, made completely from recycled materials.
Or walk along the seawall and down to the Divi Flamingo Resort. Our favorite remains the Chibi Chibi Restaurant at the Divi Flamingo Resort.
The variety and quality of items at this restaurant and the attentive service (ask for Edwin) make us want to return often.
And it’s always great to visit the local churches. Bonaire is 75% Catholic, according to the Tourism Bureau, and has a lovely little church in town as well as several others on the island.
The Dutch are predominantly Protestant, which accounts for the majority of the other houses of worship.
Stop by the Tourism Bureau with any travel-related questions.
They’re lovely people who know how to help. And there is a two-hour self-guided walking tour of Kralendijk monuments. Ask them for more information.
Then, after dark, return to the center of town, enjoy food from the pop-up stands, and mingle with the other parade viewers.
Or walk right through the parade for your favorite photo opportunity.
Karnaval Parades wind past the Cadushy Distillery, the graveyard and through town. It has much more of a New Orleans vibe to it.
The parade floats move at a slower pace, past residents and visitors lining the parade route sitting in lawn chairs and enjoying their barbecue.
During the week, stop at the Cadushy Distillery. It’ll be a highlight of your trip.
Have you ever tried to drink a cactus? These people have perfected it will happily prove their point.
We stopped for photos but were invited in and offered a taste of their green spirit. “Try it. If you like it, buy it.”
And, of course, diving in Bonaire is consistently the greatest available – whether you dive from the shore or from a boat. Karnaval in Bonaire is safe, fun, exciting, and colorful.
Bonaire is blessed with two National Parks – one on land, one at sea and monuments laced with scenic byways and dotted with archeological wonders.
As you tour this wonderland of scenic attractions, both ancient and modern, rejuvenate yourself in this welcoming community and get outdoors for some exercise and adventure.
So, after you think of Carnival for 2022 when the pandemic has been safely contained, consider the Netherlands.
You’ll be glad you did!
Gail Clifford, MD, a physician for more than 25 years, has traveled to five continents and all 50 United States. An avid traveler, she happily goes on new adventures, especially on birthdays. She divides her time between Ireland and the U.S. www.ABLETravelPhoto.com