Who Do the BES Islands Belong To?

Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius (usually called Statia) are the Caribbean Netherlands, although the term 'Caribbean Netherlands' is sometimes used loosely to refer to all of the islands in the Dutch Caribbean. They're also known as the BES Islands, for obvious reasons. The islands are classified as 'public bodies' in the Netherlands, overseas countries and territories of the European Union; so, European Union law does not automatically apply.

Bonaire (including the islet of Klein Bonaire) is one of the Leeward Antilles and is located close to the coast of Venezuela, along with the other ABC Islands. So, Bonaire is geographically part of South America and part of another island group, as well. Sint Eustatius and Saba are in the main Lesser Antilles group, south of Sint Maarten ( a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands).

Saba and Sint Eustatius are (there is some debate about this) part of the Windward Islands and are volcanic and hilly, with little ground suitable for agriculture. The highest peak is Mount Scenery, on Saba. (At 887 metres this is the highest point in all the Kingdom of the Netherlands).

A Brief History of Saba and Sint Eustatius (See ABC Islands for Bonaire)

Saba is thought to have been inhabited by the Ciboney people as early as the 1100s BC and then, later, circa 800 AD, Arawak peoples from South America, whilst Statia was first inhabited by Caribs.

Christopher Columbus is said to have sighted Saba in 1493, but he didn't land. He didn't like the look of the impenetrable cliffs. That didn't stop him naming it St Cristobal, but his name didn't last very long. He possibly also saw Statia, but the first firm sighting was made by Francis Drake and John Hawkins. A tussle for both islands then developed between the Dutch, the English and English pirates, From the first European settlement in the seventeenth century, until the early nineteenth century, St. Eustatius changed hands twenty-one times between the Netherlands, Britain, and France.

Over this time, Saba became a key refuge for smugglers and pirates. Fishing was also a major source of revenue and the women learned to make lace ( introduced by a nun from Venezuela).This became the primary source of revenue and Saba became known as 'The Island of Women'.

When they were under Dutch control (as of 1678), the islands of St. Eustatius, Sint Maarten and Saba fell under the direct command of the Dutch West India Company, with a commander stationed on St. Eustatius to govern all three. The Dutch eventually gained full control in 1816, still generally ruling from Sint Eustatius, where the main plantation owners (sugar, tobacco, indigo and rum) were housed. But the main incentive and profit came from slavery. Statia was well positioned in the middle of the islands and it had a good harbour, which was a freeport. It also sold arms and ammunition to anyone willing to pay and used these to support the American War of Independence. (That led to one of the occasions when it was captured by the British).

The BES Islands were part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country's dissolution in 2010, when the islands became special municipalities, within the country of the Netherlands.

Facts and Factoids

  • English, Dutch and Spanish are spoken alongside the local tongue, Papiamento, in Bonaire.
  • Dutch and English are spoken in Saba and Sint Eustatius
  • The currency in all three islands is the US dollar.
  • In 2012, the islands of the Caribbean Netherlands voted for the first time, in the 2012 Dutch general election. due to now being special municipalities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands,

Which BES Island is the Best?

  • Bonaire is very small and dry, and is much further south, but has real character and is thought to have the best snorkelling and diving.
  • Saba is the smallest special municipality (officially "public body") of the Netherlands and consists mainly of Mount Scenery. It is the smallest territory by permanent population in the Americas. It's very pretty with steep roads, chocolate box houses and forested slopes
  • Sint Eustatius is less attractive, but still has picturesque areas. Some flatter walking, and plenty of history. Statia, as it is known locally, was dubbed The Golden Rock as it was, for some time, the most prosperous island in the Dutch Netherlands

St Kitts and Nevis - A Brief History

Saint Christopher (more commonly known as Saint Kitts) was subject to more than the usual colonial intervention. It was initially claimed by Christopher Columbus in 1493, but it became the site of the first British and French colonies in the Caribbean, in the mid-1620s. This gave it the perhaps unenviable title of  'The Mother Colony of the West Indies'. Its position meant that it was easily reached on the sea currents and it soon became the first port of call for transatlantic expeditions. The English took up the middle, with the French at the top and the bottom. The Spanish arrived, in 1629, but left again a year later.

The island alternated repeatedly between English (then British) and French control during the seventeenth and eighteenth, until 1783, when the British finally seized absolute power. They already had control of Nevis, which had become a huge centre for the import and export of slaves. St Kitts and Nevis became the richest islands in the Caribbean, mainly because of the sugar plantations. Antigua, Barbuda, Montserrat, Saint Christopher, Nevis, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands together were initially dubbed the British Leeward Islands, part of the British West Indies. In 1816, they were further subdivided into two separate administrative colonies (Antigua–Barbuda–Montserrat and Saint Christopher–Nevis–Anguilla–Virgin Islands.) St Kitts and Nevis finally gained independence in 1983 as a federation, though the British monarch remains the titular head of state.

A Glorious Confusion of Names

There's considerable confusion over names. It was thought that Columbus named the island of St Kitts, St Christopher (Cristobal in Spanish). 'after his patron saint'. But it transpires that he actually named it St James and the nearby island of Saba, was supposed to be St Christopher. Similarly, Nevis was supposed to be St Martin. but the Dutch/French Caribbean island was mistakenly called that instead. So, Nevis was named after the cloud around its mountain - Nieves - Our Lady of the Snows in Spanish.

Facts and Factoids

  • Today, St Kitts and Nevis is the smallest sovereign state in the Western Hemisphere, in both area and population, as well as the world's smallest sovereign federation. The country is a Commonwealth Realm, with the British monarch as head of state.
  • St. Kitts is famous for its green vervet monkeys - they pop up everywhere, often on the shoulders of young men, trying to get you to take a (paid) photograph with them. They’re not actually native to the islands, of course. French settlers brought them to the islands in the seventeenth century, to keep as pets
  • Nevis was the birthplace of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, the protagonist of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s hit Broadway show.

What To See on St Kitts and Nevis?

The two islands are separated by a two-mile stretch of sea known as ‘the narrows’. To get between them, you can hop on a five-minute water taxi, to Charlestown, Nevis. Every year, thousands flock here for the Channel Swim, joined by kayaks and fishing boats to keep a lookout for sharks. Or:

  • Take a round the island tour of St Kitts and make sure to see the views from Brimstone Fort and Lookout Hill.
  • Wander in Basseterre
  • Enjoy the beaches (Cockleshell is the prettiest) and variety of water sports.
  • Stay in a plantation house.

A Brief History of Antigua and Barbuda

  • Antigua was first settled by the Ciboney. Native American hunter-gatherers around 3100 BC. They were followed by the pre-Columbian Arawak-speaking Saladoids and then the Caribs. Antigua is known as Waladli (or ‘Our Own) by the native population, but was named Antigua (Spanish for ancient) by Christopher Columbus, after an icon in Seville Cathedral, "Santa Maria de la Antigua" - St. Mary of the Old Cathedral. Apparently, he made a vow to name many islands after aspects of St Mary that year.
  • Barbuda is Spanish for 'bearded'. It's thought it might refer either to the male inhabitants of the island, or the bearded fig trees found there.
  • Antigua was colonised by the British, from St Kitts, and became Britain's 'Gateway to the Caribbean' in 1632. Barbuda followed, in 1678. Christopher Codrington settled on Barbuda in 1685 and was handed control of the island. at this point the island was known as Dulcina. Tobacco and then sugar was grown, on both, worked by a large population of slaves transported from West Africa, who soon vastly outnumbered the European settlers.
  • After prolonged wrangling both internal and external. Antigua and Barbuda gained full independence on 1 November 1981; Vere Bird became prime minister of the new country.

Facts and Factoids

  • Antigua and Barbuda consists of two major inhabited islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and a number of smaller islands. including Redonda, Guiana Island, Bird Island, and Long Island
  • Antigua measures around 108 square miles (280 square km). It is mostly low and undulating, but in the west there are volcanic rocks that rise to 1,330 feet (405 metres). There are no rivers.
  • Barbuda, formerly called Dulcina, sits 25 miles (40 km) north of Antigua. It is a flat coral limestone island and it receives less rainfall than Antigua. Codrington is the only settlement and it sits on a lagoon to the west.
  • Redonda is an uninhabited volcanic rock, home to many seabirds. Redonda means round. Apparently, this tiny island is actually its own kingdom with its own king. A Montserratian trader called Shiellin announced this (he was the king, he said) in 1865. The island is inaccessible except by boat in the right sea conditions. It's actually closer to both Monserrat and St Kitts, than to Antigua.
  • The economy relies largely on tourism and the country is trying to position itself as a luxury Caribbean escape.
  • However, there's been a more recent income stream, as tech companies vie for addresses using the country's internet domain -.ai
  • Barbuda also exports a lot of fish, especially lobster.
  • The permanent population is approximately 100,000, with 97% residing in Antigua.
  • St. John's, Antigua, is the country's capital, major city, and largest port.
  • Mount Obama is the highest point. The name was changed from Boogy Peak (sometimes written Boggy) on 4 August 2009, when it was renamed after Barack Obama, who has his birthday on this day. The former title, Boogy Peak, came about because slave masters told the slave stories about the Boogie Man who took spirits and lived on the mountains. Their attempts to dissuade escapees weren't always successful.
  • Fungie, pronounced foon-jee is the national dish. It's cornmeal with a vegetable mash, sauce and saltfish (usually).

What To See on Antigua and Barbuda?

  • This is an economy that is very dependent on tourism, especially in Barbuda.
  • The climate, again, especially in Barbuda, is classified as tropical marine, which means that there is little seasonal temperature variation. In January and February, the coolest months, the average daily high temperature is 27 °C (81 °F), while in July and August, the warmest months, the average daily high is 30 °C (86 °F).
  •  Antigua and Barbuda claims, conveniently, to have 365 beaches, many of them beautiful. Barbuda's coast is virtually lined with beaches. 'Pink sand' and karst rock formations are found on both. Water sports abound and Stingray City is a popular excursion from Antigua. Antigua is also home to historical sites, most notably Nelson's Dockyard and old sugar mills.
  • Barbuda’s Codrington Lagoon National Park has the largest frigate bird colony in the western hemisphere. More than 2500 roost in the mangroves every year. The best time to visit is mating season, from September to April.
  • Read about my trips to Antigua here and cruising when I called into Antigua here.
  • Read about my visit to Barbuda here.

The Best Beaches in the Caribbean?

Anguilla boasts that it has the best beaches on the Caribbean. And that’s a mighty boast. It has 33 of them. So my task is to check out this claim. I'm coming from Puerto Rico, which makes this territory number 234 and the last country in the Caribbean, that I haven't visited.

Getting into Anguilla

I’m beginning to think that Anguilla doesn’t want me. Talk about going down to the wire. Visit Anguilla explains that you need a permission certificate to enter. You should email in plenty of time before your visit to obtain initial approval and then get a Covid test and upload it to their portal. After you have got initial approval. They will check this, confirm you have final approval and you pay 50 dollars for yet another test on arrival. You can take a PCR up to five days beforehand or a rapid antigen test 48 hours before the plane lands.

But you’re not allowed to get a PCR on Puerto Rico, where I am, without a doctor’s referral. Receptionists hint that this can be bought. But I'm not up for bribery. I get my antigen test 47 hours and 55 minutes before my scheduled arrival time. And upload it to the visit Anguilla portal. But I haven’t even had my initial approval yet. You certainly can’t wait to book flights until you’ve got that. My flight is on Sunday. Moreover, it’s closing time on Friday and the tourist office online says it doesn't operate on Saturday and Sunday. This is going to be interesting - and stressful.

My initial approval arrives at noon the next day, Saturday. Followed by a final approval at 3 pm that afternoon. I suppose it could have been worse.

Getting to Anguilla

The traditional route used to be to fly to Sint Maarten (which from the UK usually involves Antigua first) and then get the ferry over from outside the airport. I was going to make a day trip to Anguilla from Marigot Bay, when I was in St Martin. But the ferry was cancelled, due to bad weather. So here I am trying again. But now they’ve extended the runaway on the tiny airport (Clayton J. Lloyd International Airport - AXA) and jets, carrying up to 80 or so passengers, can fly in. But most of the traffic is smaller passenger flights from neighbouring islands. Or private planes. This is, for the most part, a clientele with money. My flight from Puerto Rico is with Tradewind Aviation. We have our own lounge, with food and drink, and our own departure channel. They’ve even given me a beach bag to use on board. It’s an eight passenger Pilatus 12- everyone gets a window seat. The other seven seats on my plane are taken up by a New York family. And we zip over the US Virgin Islands and then the British Ones. Very nice.

Anguilla, Tranquillity Wrapped in Blue - in a Nutshell

  • Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, which consists of the main island of Anguilla, just 16 miles long by three miles wide, at its widest point, together with a number of much smaller islands and cays, with no permanent population. It lies directly north of Saint Martin and I almost made it there on a day trip, when I was on Saint Martin. Bad weather put a stop to that. Anguilla is Italian for eel - supposedly referencing the shape of the island.
  • The population is 15000 (mainly African descent).
  • There are six sets of traffic lights on the roads.
  • There are no chain restaurants, and no casinos. This is definitely not Cruise Central. And, this is why Anguilla is known as 'Tranquillity Wrapped in Blue.' That doesn't mean its cheap - and there are some very large, exclusive hotels, beginning with the Four Seasons.
  • In theory, Anguilla uses the East Caribbean Dollar in currency. In practice, all the restaurants and bars price everything in US dollars. Though the lady in the supermarket did quote my bill in both currencies.

The Valley

The territory's capital is The Valley. Right in the centre of the island, it’s home to about a thousand of Anguilla’s’ 15.000 people. There’s not much to see, because Anguilla was administered by St Kitts for much of the colonial period. There are the ruins of the Old Court House on Crocus Hill, the island's highest point (there’s very little left.) and The Wallblake House, a plantation home built around 1787, that is now owned by the Catholic Church (the parish priest lives there). However, next door’s St. Gerard's Catholic Church and chapel, with its unusual façade: pebbles, stones, cement, wood and tile is extremely photogenic.

A Very Brief History of Anguilla

Anguilla was first called Malliouhana, meaning rainbow, which was what the Carib Indians called the isle before the Spaniards visited. It's thought that Anguilla was first colonised by English settlers from St Kitts in 1650, who grew tobacco. There were the usual skirmishes with the French, who took control a couple of times. Tobacco was supplanted by sugar and then by cotton and slaves were imported from Africa to work the crop.

During the early colonial period, Anguilla was administered by the British through Antigua;. But in 1825, it was placed under the administrative control of St Kitts and eventually, Anguilla was federated with St Kitts and Nevis in 1882. The Anguillans were very unhappy about this and remonstrated forcibly over succeeding decades. There were marches- apparently, with women and children at the front, to deter retaliation. At one point a republic was even declared. The rebellion was quelled by British troops in 1969, concerned that the other alternative was government by the USA. Anguilla was finally allowed to secede and became first a colony and then a British Overseas Territory.

Sandy Ground Bay

My hotel has a great location, above Sandy Ground Bay. It’s a fairly flat island and this is one of the higher points. I can see south across the sea to St Martin and north to Road Bay, more hills separated from us by the sandspit that is Sandy Ground Beach, backed by a large salt pond.

The rooms are lovely and the staff ultra friendly. The restaurant meals are exceptionally tasty – grouper, snapper, shrimp with creamy mashed potato. But there is no menu, no pudding and only a few guests dining. All very strange. I think everyone is coming to terms with Covid. The island has only been re-opened for a month or so.

The Beaches of Anguilla

The first beach, Sandy Ground, is just below my hotel. It involves a scramble down a sand and gravel path, to a gorgeous stretch of sand, azure water and no-one else at all .....just two wrecked boats clinging to the bottom of the cliffs. The isolated part of the beach is divided from what seems to be a much busier section of bay by two piers.

Access beyond a new, large concrete jetty, is barred by barricades and signs telling me that this area is under development and I may not enter. So I sneak through a gap, on the bulldozed hard hat area, and wonder what’s going on. I do hope it’s not a cruise boat terminal. Onto the road the other side and saunter the long way to the rest of the beach. The bay here is covered in bobbing boats and there are several shacks and bars alongside the water. Some of them are even open.

Exclusive and Expensive Anguilla

Many of the locals’ houses are in the same condition as the roads. Most of them look unfinished, with cables protruding from the roof. Maybe that’s to avoid tax on completed buildings. They’re in contrast to the secluded modern plate glass apartments and carefully blended in resort style hotels. Anguilla is expensive, despite the fact it’s so low key. All the food has to be imported and it attracts a high end clientele. St Barths is where you go up you want to be seen and Anguilla is where you go if you want to hide away. Apparently.

Driving on Anguilla

The remaining 32 beaches necessitate a car. ‘Hurrah’, I think I’m back to driving on the left. Except they’ve given me a car with an American configuration. The roads are narrow, quiet and in bad condition. There are nevertheless traffic lights and roundabouts. I’m navigating with my phone on my lap, again. Google isn’t up to Anguilla at all. The lady who tells you what to do thinks I’m driving on the right hand side of the road and the roundabout instructions are consequently all back to front. But not always, just to be totally confusing. She can’t tell the difference between unmade roads, which disappear into scrub and tarmacked routes and she’s certainly not up to date with the one way streets. And there are no signposts at all. Catastrophe.

Crocus Bay Beach

Crocus Bay Beach, below Crocus Hill, is the nearest beach to the Valley. It’s picturesque, with more of the gorgeous soft white sand and ultra clear water, but this time the cliffs form more of an arc. There’s an upscale hotel restaurant, Da Vida, that lets you use the beach beds free if you eat there. The staff are attentive too. But I’m not going to recommend it, as I got very nasty food poisoning, after partaking of ribs and a pina colada. It wiped out the rest of my time in Anguilla. And cost me 825 US Dollars.

Shoal Beach

Shoal Beach, on the north east coast, pushes the accolades even further. It’s billed as one of the best beaches in the world. Perhaps it deserves a place on my top 20. It is stunning. The softest of white sand and swirling turquoise and sapphire seas . But the ocean hasn’t quite the same magical quality as the Bahamas. Not too crowded, a few beach bars. Some high end hotels. A five dollar car park. If I knew the roads better I would have found the little free park the locals use.

What better way to spend a day? I’ve found a shady nook and thrown my towel and sarong onto the grass to stop them getting too sandy. Sadly, this is no ordinary grass. It’s armed with wicked little burrs that attach themselves to my garments and are utterly tenacious. They impale my feet if I step on them and cling to my hands as I attempt to remove them. It takes an hour. And now my fingers are sore and full of splinters.

Island Harbour Beach

Next up on the East End is Island Harbour. This is a fishing village and the bay is dotted with colourful small boats. Palm trees line the shores and provide atmospheric shade. It’s compact and neat and in the background the Scilly Cay – a small resort island.

Captain’s Bay Beach

Captain’s Bay Beach is also recommended as a perfect curve of sand. This is where Google really lets me down. I follow the north east coast road until it becomes a dirt track and then a very rocky potholed dirt track. Google exhorts me to turn right, but there is nothing to the right, except a rocky bush covered hill. I’m not risking that, and I’ve come to a dead end. I can see Captain’s Bay in the distance and beyond that the whole of the eastern tip of the island. That will have to do. It’s extremely perilous, trying to turn the car on the sloping track.

Meads Bay

A trundle three miles west from Sandy Ground to, appropriately enough, the West End and Meads Bay. It’s an even wider version of Shoal Bay, with no shacks (except for posh restaurants with Shack in their name) a line of expensive villas, restaurants and resorts set well back from the water, so that they don’t intrude. More prominent, right on the headland, is the Four Seasons Resort. The west end is definitely the poshest part of town.

I’m ensconced on a sunbed right by the water that belongs to the Straw Hat restaurant in the Frangipani Resort. They’re free if you eat there. I’ve been given a flag to signal with if I desire anything. Paradise. My servant is, appropriately, named Angel.

Barnes Bay

The Four Seasons monopolises Barnes Bay, on the other side of its headland. This has slightly more golden squishy sand, but with rocky islet interest. Further west it’s quiet, though there are several more fancy resorts and villas.

Maunday’s Bay

South now. The crescent of white sand that constitutes Maunday’s Bay is exquisite. Possibly a contender for best beach in Anguilla. Except that it’s completely overtaken by the very swish Cap Juluca Resort. All beaches in Anguilla are free and they’ve let my car in on the resort road when I say I’m going to the beach. But I don’t suppose the sunbeds are free and it all looks very manicured and exclusive. I feel I’m intruding. It’s not for me.

Cove Bay

The other side of the Cap Juluca Resort is Cove Bay. This is a total contrast. Sheltered, but wild and uninhabited. No buildings, just a broken concrete pier.

Rendezvous Bay

Beyond Cove Bay is Rendezvous Bay. This one is the longest Anguillan beach. It faces the island of St. Martin, nine miles away, and Grand Case, where I stayed when I was there. White sandy shores surrounded by palm trees, coconut trees and wild sea grape trees. Lovely, but lined with tastefully whitewashed villas and resorts and with slightly less character. There’s a fun bar, Dune, a labyrinth of decks, live music and a boat called Ganja.

Lone Female Travellers in Anguilla

The men in Anguilla are sadly still living in a different century. I’m hit on from the moment I get into the taxi from the airport. ‘Hi lovely.’ wafts down the street after me and the chef in the hotel restaurant won’t leave me alone. He pulls up a chair and rattles on while I’m eating, telling me how wonderful he is and what a shame I have an (invented) husband. It’s definitely a shame, as the food is delicious. But I’m going to have to find somewhere else to have my dinner.

Snorkelling

I’ve read that the snorkelling in Anguilla is not great, but there are trips on boats on offer and some bays are said to be worth exploring. However, there’s a relatively strong easterly throughout my time here and excursions don’t seem to be running. So I’ve given snorkelling a miss.

Best Beaches in the Caribbean?

I’ve managed to cover all the main beaches on the island. Best beach in the world or even the Caribbean? I’m not so sure. But best beaches, as a collection, in the Caribbean, undoubtedly. They’re all utterly gorgeous.

Leaving Anguilla

I’m very sad to leave this beautiful and friendly island. Especially, as my beach time has been cut short by my illness. This time it’s an 80 passenger E170 back to Miami and home.

A Car, A Car, My Kingdom for a Car - in Puerto Rico

From San Juan, to the opposite - south west - corner of Puerto Rico. I'm searching for the scenery that gives Puerto Rico the nickname of The Enchanted Isle. I'm particularly excited about hunting down some gorgeous beaches.

I’ve booked a hire car through an agent in the UK and I order an Uber to take me to the pick up office, opposite the air port. It’s a seedy dilapidated area. And I’m deposited, after some difficulty in finding the address, outside a shuttered building. The Uber departs and it quickly becomes obvious that thus branch of SIXT is no longer functioning. There’s even a post lady with a little van complaining that she has no forwarding address. Several phone calls later, another Uber is summoned and I’m off to the other side of the airport and the new office. They’ve been there four months they say. You would think they would have told people, including the post office, by now.

The toilets for clients aren’t working and they haven’t picked up the flashing tyre pressure indicator on my Nissan Versa either. There’s no GPS and no GPS connection with my phone. So I’m having to navigate with my mobile balanced on my knee. I’m not in the best of moods.

(Trying to) Drive Across Puerto Rico

I’m taking the toll highway. I’ve been warned that Puerto Rican roads through the mountains are narrow and precipitous, with no guard rails. I don’t think they sound like a good idea, as I’m GPS lap driving. Fortunately, Google’s directions are easy to follow. The road surface is mainly good, but even the toll road is subject to the odd pothole.

And the measuring systems here are even more confused than those in the UK. Speed signs and speedometers give miles per hour. The distance makers alongside the roads are all in kilometres.

The mountain scenery down to Ponce (guess who that’s named after) is stunning. Though there is no stopping place en route as far as I can see, so no chance to enjoy it or take photos. And all the signposting is in Spanish. Maybe there are directions to filling stations and rest areas. As far as I can see you just have to go exploring down a slip road if you need something.

La Parguera

My hotel is on the outskirts of La Parguera, a port to the south of Lajas. There’s much more of a colourful Caribbean vibe down here. The town is dotted with brightly painted timber bars and booths. But it’s quiet. Much is still closed. The supermarket has little of interest. No fresh fruit or vegetables. Or fresh deli for that matter. So it’s ice cream for dinner. And breakfast. The hotel restaurant is closed two days a week as well. But the bar is open, so I can still get cocktails to go with the ice cream.

La Parguera Bioluminescent Bay

There are a line of boats on the pier at La Parguera, waiting to sail visitors through the mangroves to the reefs and little cays dotted off shore. Snorkelling off one of the cays is on offer, as are trips to the nearby Bioluminescent Bay. So a combination of the two seems like a good idea. The snorkelling isn’t magnificent, but there is some fan coral and a smattering of fish. The other 19 folk on the boat are all Americans with no idea of snorkelling etiquette. I’m battered and bruised.

The Bioluminescent Bay is warm, but still moonlit – and pitch dark is required to see the glow properly. Boats are moored alongside each other to try and create some cover. We swim though, in our masks. Funnelling around 40 folk, with no sense of decorum is fraught. but there are green firework like specks to be seen radiating through the water and filmy swirls around hands and feet.

Beaches of La Parguera

There’s no beach though - even though the hotel blurb says it’s near one. I’ve read that Playita Rosada is a six minute drive away. But no, this man made pool and decked area is closed off. The nearest decent seashore is a 30 minute drive away.

Playa Buye

So, I’m off searching for the elusive sand. I’ve looked up the best beaches in Puerto Rico and headed for Boquerón, on the west coast. As usual, I’ve forgotten that I’m driving on the right this morning, until I spot a car coming towards me on the same side of the road. But, in my defence, the Puerto Ricans don’t seem to drive on any particular side of the road for the most part. In their defence, the country highways are narrow and drivers have to be constantly vigilant for the potholes, taking last minute action to avoid them.

The drive is worth it. Playa Buye, just to the north of Boquerón, is deservedly on the list. White sand, dappled turquoise water, patchwork casuarina trees and iguanas. Utterly gorgeous. And it deserves more than one visit. Except the restaurant here is closed on Tuesday too. What is it with Tuesdays and eating?

It seems that beaches here tend to be accessed via paths through beach resorts. A captive clientele. Except that most of the visitors in this part of the island are locals. They’ve brought picnics in cool boxes. There’s even a guy with a trolley who helps roll the picnics and deckchairs down to the beach from the car park.

It’s 26 degrees Celsius. Perfect for me, though the locals think it’s cold. Blissful sunbathing, except for the mosquitoes. All my hotel rooms here are plagued with the tiny no-see- ums. I’m covered in bites by Day 2 and stuffing antihistamines. The day on my beach begins in relatively tranquil fashion. But others obviously rate the beach highly too. There’s a steady procession of sun worshippers and the sand fills up. The locals kindly share their soundboxes. And behind me there’s the relentless squeaking of a metal detector.

Playa Boquerón

Next on the list, Boquerón town beach. This too is accessed through a resort . Though the gates are barred to cars and guarded. It’s a long strip of golden sand, but it’s browner, a little more concretey, backed by a few buildings. Nowhere near as pretty as Buye.

Playa El Combate

Further south still, El Combate. Another small town and another long stretch of pretty sand, softened by low bushes. I’ll rate this one number 2.

Playa Sucia

Down to the tip of Cabo Rojo (Red Cape) area, crossing a wild life refuge. On the way, Las Salinas de Cabo Rojo. Heaps of salt, alongside flat rectangular evaporation lakes. The salt pans beautifully reflect the clouds in rosy hued seawater. The route follows a narrow spit down to the lighthouse, El Faro Los Morrillos. Here the land widens into a small horseshoe at the bottom of the peninsula. This is called, slightly confusingly, Rojo Cabo. It’s a rough ride. Increasingly huge potholes more like craters, along the spit eventually give way to a horribly bumpy stretch, with no surface at all. It’s like being in an earthquake.

The lighthouse is closed, of course, but the scramble, up to the top of the cliffs forming the horseshoe, delivers a great view down the 200 foot cliffs to the jagged stacks and pillars beneath. To the east, an impressive headland and the long curve of white sand that is Playa Sucia. The sea inlets behind have turned it into a tombolo, almost surrounded by water. It’s a good place to go if you want seclusion. Initially, I bump El Combate down to three and make this number two. It’s lovely, but it’s a ten minute hike from the car park. No men with trolleys here. And definitely no restaurants.

But after spending all day on Buye, perhaps it should be promoted to number one.

A PCR test in Puerto Rico?

Trying to track down a covid test is tricky. And I need one to get into Anguilla. It seems that you can’t get a PCR for travelling at all on Puerto Rico. They are only done on a doctors referral. Antigen tests have to be done no more than 48 hours before arrival. It’s all very disconcerting.

So, Puerto Rico is surprising and very rewarding. Anguilla next. If the test results come through…(And read more about Puerto Rico here.)

Describing a beach as best in Australia is audacious. It’s tantamount to saying best in the world – or equivalent of. This is Cossie’s Beach claimed to be the best in Australia, It’s been named after Peter Cosgrave, a recent governor. It’s a classic arc of pale white sand backed by palm trees (not bendy), giving way to clear azure water. I’ll mark it eight, or maybe nine, out of ten. And there are those little reef sharks. whizzing about in the shallows.

Here are my best 15 beaches in the world - I couldn't cut it down to 10 - it's really hard to choose; there are also strong contenders in Africa (Sierra Leone and South Africa) and South America (Brazil and Uruguay). But I'm inevitably drawn to the turquoise waters, white coral sand and bendy palm trees on tropical islands. I’m not going to rank them, though Australia’s Whitehaven Beach, with its basking rays, has a pretty strong case for best in Australia at least. You’ll note that Cossie isn’t on the list…

Whitehaven, Whitsunday Islands, Australia

White Bay, Jost Van Dyke, BVI

The Baths, Virgin Gorda BVI

Tropic of Cancer, Exuma, Bahamas

Aitutaki Lagoon, Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Praia dos Tres Castelos, Portimao, Algarve

White Beach, Boracay, Philippines

Funafuti Lagoon, Tuvalu

Porthcurno, Cornwall

Horseshoe Bay, Bermuda

Matira, Bora Bora, French Polynesia

Myrtos Beach, Cephalonia, Ionian Islands, Greece (and plenty of others in Greece, including Balos Lagoon in Crete)

Blue Lagoon, Yasawa Islands, Fiji

Grace Bay, Providenciales, Caicos

Anse Source D'Argent, La Digue, Seychelles

Best Collection of Beaches? The Island of Anguilla.

Too Many Adventures

- The Most Wonderful Time of the Year...

I've flown in from East Timor via Perth. I'm very apprehensive, after all my injunctions against exploring Christmas Island, (see Christmas Island in a Nutshell) but I set off towards Ethel and Lily beaches (Five of the six main beaches have women’s names. Winifred is the one where the tourists disappeared. But they’ve closed that track now.) I’m feeling more upbeat. I’ve been reading about all the amazing wildlife on this Australian Galapagos and the scenery improves the moment I get out of town. I’m already captivated by the tropic  birds wheeling, seabirds popping out of holes and little scarlet Tao temples.

The coast is a winding line of volcanic and coral crags, very spiky, with blowholes that are spectacular today, as the sea is rough. There’s no-one else around and I navigate slowly to a limestone grotto, replete with stalactites and bright vermilion crabs, cautiously waving their claws from beneath the rocks. The island is renowned for its crabs and the vivid red (with an angry face cunningly drawn on the carapace) and pastel blue crabs are endemic.

The red crabs undertake a massive annual migration across the island to spawn and the moving sea of bodies at that time is sufficient to close some of the roads (again). There are numerous yellow road signs warning of crabs on the highway and requesting that they are driven round and not over. The huge robber crabs (largest invertebrate in the world, at up to a metre wide including the legs), have a tendency to latch onto the chassis.

- Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

It’s been suggested that I swim at the grotto, but the swell is making a great deal of angry noise, as if the cave god requires propitiation, so I decide not.

The trees along the route  are inhabited by a profusion of red footed boobies, at least one on each branch, supplemented by sunning frigate birds, as I descend a steep hair-pinned hill. The frigate birds are stretching their dark wings on the branches (for a moment I think they’re bats) and even squat on the tarmac. It’s a little precarious stopping for pictures, but I haven’t seen another car at all.

Eventually, Lily and Ethel Beaches, both small, one golden sand, one shingle and both beset by a great deal of surf. There’s a slatted boardwalk between them with more spray and cliff views and numerous adorable fluffy booby chicks; paths are carved between the coral pinnacles for easier observation.

- I'll be Home for Christmas

I change my camera battery and am  happily watching, until I’m attacked by a brown booby mother, who deems me to be too close to her chick. (I read afterwards you’re supposed to stay 10 metres away from these - but they seemed so unconcerned). She has a long sharp beak and, thoroughly startled and more than a little afraid, I pitch over onto the coral. The booby’s now standing guard over my sunglasses and I have to wander away until she’s lost interest and I can venture in and retrieve them. That’s when I notice all the blood running down my leg.

Back to my vehicle then, so I can  go back to town and deal with my wounds. Except that I’ve lost the car keys. Panic. Retrace steps - can’t see them. and I’ve been walking a long way, scrambling over rocks. I’m searching near the booby with trepidation and no enthusiasm. And my leg hurts. There’s no-one to ask for help and I have no mobile signal except for emergencies. So, I call the police.

Two cars arrive complete with flashing beacons and three officers. They’re very kind (I think they’re glad of something to do) and take me to hospital. They also find the car keys - just up the boardwalk. The nurse cleans me up and says I’m not to get the wound wet under any circumstances. Somebody up there is very much against me snorkelling on this trip. And I bought that new camera.

Today was much too exciting. And none of my pictures of Lily Beach have been saved – the battery obviously malfunctioned before I noticed. I shall have to go back…

The Dales

- Merry Christmas, Darling

The Dales misleadingly sound like bucolic Yorkshire. They are a series of   inlets in the jungle carved by rainforests, important wetlands, the sign says.  Hugh’s Dale has a waterfall. I fondly imagine ( I shall have to stop doing this) parking up and eating a pleasant lunch by the waterside. I can’t go in the water now as I’ve been forbidden.

The approach is well inside the national park , on dusty sealed roads and then steeper bumpy tracks, the rainforest closing in dramatically on all three sides, fronds brushing the windscreen. The waterfall is a half hour trail, mainly on boardwalk, through Tahitian chestnuts with tentacles for roots. There are plenty of blue crabs, enjoying the stream, claws flailing in an attempt to look fierce, as they scuttle away and sink into their mud burrows, some distant robber crabs in the gulley and too many mosquitoes.

Up the steep steps to a trickle of water over an escarpment and a naked man standing underneath, splashing. It seems there are two other tourists on the island – Sonal and Chris from Sydney. They assure me that Anderson’s Dale is also easily accessible, with robber crabs to be seen, though the sign said moderately strenuous, and I set off hesitantly down another track.

- Lost Christmas

The path is more level, but not flat. It’s a scramble over lumps of coral and under branches and there aren’t enough of the red arrow markers. The jungle is very dense (and tall  here). At one point I can’t see the way ahead at all and wander around lost and starting to panic - again. Perhaps I should carry my Rescue Remedy with me while I’m out exploring here. Then I notice an arrow and relieved, follow the signs once more. Ending up back where I started. Anderson’s Dale is not meant to be.

More dusty roads down to South Point, through mining country with ‘road trains’ full of rock roaring past. There are three Tao temples, each having ownership of the best sea views.

This island is a curious fusion of oriental and western culture, perched between Asia and Oceania. I eat kung pow chicken and salt and pepper prawns with my new Australian friends (Chris has put his clothes on now) – it’s one of the best Chinese meals I’ve had.

Dolly Beach

- Driving Home for Christmas (Island)

I’ve decided I have to stop worrying about the perils on the island and enjoy its natural wonders. So, I’m driving to Dolly Beach, which is at the end of  a steep and stony 4 WD track. My destination is famous for its beauty and its robber crabs. After a little slithering, and one or two nasty sounding bangs, I arrive. It’s a two kilometre jungle walk this time, but it’s a relatively straightforward one, with a plethora of pink ribbons on the trunks to guide me.

Dolly is indeed gorgeous. If you discount the rubbish lodged all around the edges, piles of bottles, rope and flip flops (or thongs as they say here) drifting in from Indonesia. It’s a stretch of  silvery beach, backed by bendy palm trees and cliffs. There are basalt peaks and rock pools and the sea is surging in and around them, huge waves throwing up waterfalls of spray. It’s a great spectacle and a good place to spend a couple of hours lazing.

- Blue Christmas - Robber Crabs and Blue Crabs

The famed robber crabs nest around the streams behind the beach, their carapaces a striking psychedelic mish-mash of purple, blue and red. They would fit in very well on Doctor Who. They’re called robber crabs because they do indeed scavenge and steal and are not averse to shiny objects, like saucepans. Unlike the blue crabs, they stand their ground, as I approach, brandishing feelers and claws threateningly. Their alternative name is coconut crab, because they can crush and feed on these fruits. After my previous experience I have no intention of initiating a skirmish with an armed  member of the animal kingdom and I lurch round the trees and across the many husks on the damp ground in order to evade close contact.

- Do They Know it's Christmas? - Another Jungle Emergency

After this and another uneventful return walk (it goes without saying I’ve met no-one) I’m very pleased that I’ve managed to use the correct gear mode and gain enough traction to return back up the almost vertical hill and to the main unsealed road. My worries are over. Until I smell burning rubber and the car bumps ominously. One very flat tyre. This time I have no mobile signal at all, not even for emergencies only.

Fortunately, the seventh cavalry arrives in the form of Kenny, a Chinese-Australian mine worker from Perth. He’s a practical sort, who decries the poor equipment in my car (sad to say there’s not much hope of me being able to use it correctly on my own anyway) and cheerfully sets about changing my wheel. ‘Your tyre is wrecked,’ is the diagnosis. No other vehicles have passed by; it’s Saturday afternoon. How lucky am I?

The evening is spent watching the new version of The Lion King at the open air cinema with Sonal and Chris. He buys us Choco-pots. There’s almost enough (hard bench) seating for the whole of the island. And most of them are there.

The Golf Course Lookout on Christmas Island

- So Here It Is, Merry Christmas, Everybody’s Having Fun

As I have no spare tyre I decide to stick to the paved roads on Christmas Island and return to Lily Beach in search of replacement photos.

The golf course lookout en route seems like a good idea. But nothing on this island is straightforward. The lookout path is a skiddy 15 minute descent on gravel. The lookout carved out of a towering clifftop gives way to a panorama up the coastline, palm trees and azure sea. It’s very blustery today. The blowholes are burgeoning down below and the sea birds wheeling frantically above. I’m clutching the rails. It’s uphill all the way back.

There are fewer frigate birds roosting; it doesn’t seem to be their allotted day of rest. Most of them are down at picturesque Lily Beach instead, chasing the smaller birds round the cove, until they drop their catch and the frigates can scoop it up. They are well named. There are five trucks parked at the beach this afternoon and a family enjoying the waves. Sunday is obviously the day to lose your car keys.

Christmas comes but once per life time - if that - so I’ve decided to go snorkelling at Flying Fish Cove. I’ve bought  waterproof dressings. They weren’t cheap. The snorkelling is more scenic than the surroundings and there are some very unusual fish. My dressing comes off almost as soon as I enter the water.

Poon Saan

- I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day

My last full day on Christmas Island and I’ve errands to do: buy more dressings and get a new tyre. The Chinese owner of the car hire gives me a dressing down. ‘You shouldn’t drive on a puncture’. No good trying to explain that I couldn’t even hear that I’d got a problem on a road that bad. He’s more affable after I’ve paid the 265 dollar bill.

No more dodgy roads for me then. I explore the inhabited areas: Poon Saan, Kampong, Silver City, Drumsite. There are pretty bungalows on the winding roads beneath the apartment blocks. Nearly all of them have a boat in the garden. There are worse ways to live. There are more temples and this, more Chinese residential area, also boasts restaurants and a row of modern(ish) cafes and shops with a coconut crab sculpture alongside.

Through Settlement, round to Smith Point, past Christmas Island's only traffic light. This is because it’s a one way road constructed  on the edge of the cliff. There wasn’t a road here at all when the governor’s house (called Tai Jinn but known as Buck House) was built at the end.

More snorkelling. The fish are plentiful this afternoon and I stay in the water so long I resemble a prune.

I’ve been cooking most evenings, buying from the supermarket, but I’ve nothing left in the fridge and I decide I must  eat out. Nothing is open. I suppose I should have expected that on a Monday, but there are some odd opening times. Friday night’s Chinese restaurant doesn’t open on Saturday evenings and most of the cafes close after lunch. Or earlier. Gin and salt and vinegar crisps for supper

Ethel Beach Revisited

- Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

A final snorkel - Flying Fish Cove is so accessible, and so rewarding, and a last visit to Ethel Beach. The frigates are back on the road today. This is a weird, unique and wonderful place. Christmas Island has grown on me, the shabbiness diminished with familiarity. It’s not a place for the faint hearted and not really a safe destination for the solo traveller. But I shall be sorry to leave. Next stop, the Cocos Islands.

Getting to Curaçao

The flight from Bonaire to Curaçao only takes 15 minutes – 46 miles. We’re up and we’re bumping down again. All of these islands have the same prevailing winds. First impressions of airport organisation aren’t encouraging. They’ve just introduced a fancy self-scanning booth system for chipped passports, but the signs say that you have to complete an online embarkation form before you arrive if you want to use them. Nobody told us about that, so no-one is entering the shiny new booths, despite the fact that two large planes have just arrived from Amsterdam.

As the immigration queues build up the officials decide to waive this rule. They call us up one by one and  scan our passports for us. In the baggage hall the handlers have totally ignored the screens telling us the carousel at which our luggage will arrive. They’ve decided to make life interesting by mixing up bags from the four arriving flights on all the belts.

Curaçao

Despite the inauspicious beginnings it’s already obvious that Curaçao is very different again, from Bonaire and Aruba, with much better infra-structure and, dare I say it, sophistication. It’s also much more Dutch. My boutique hotel is a picturesque converted town house, by the sea, in the Pietermaai district, of the capital Willemstad. I’m delighted to find it has an excellent restaurant, which serves possibly the best caipirinhas I have ever tasted.

Willemstad, the Capital of Curaçao

Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, is a UNESCO heritage city, so I have high expectations. There are clusters of bright pastel painted Dutch colonial houses. It’s most colourfully picturesque along the banks of the canal like opening which leads to the sea-water-lake-cum-harbour around which Willemstad is built. There’s a wobbling pedestrian pontoon bridge across this, which swings open with very little warning, to let boats through. A buzzer sounds, but it moves almost immediately, no flashing lights, resulting in hordes of suddenly running people, leaping across the steadily decreasing overlap, as the pontoon slides away. I'm one of them.

There are a couple of forts and a ‘floating market’, which is not really floating, as all the goods have been taken off the boats and displayed on stalls along the roadside. It’s also a busy cruise ship port. The west bank, especially, is crowded with escapees from the liner on the dock. ‘Where did ya get your map love?’ It goes without saying that the route from the quay to the fort is lined with so called high end shops - Tiffany, Gucci, Prada, gaily decorated, in an attempt to blend in with the local architecture.

Pietermaai

Pietermaai feels more authentic to me. The gabled buildings have not been over-restored and are generally more shabby chic. Some are so crumbly they have been rescued with hoardings and vibrant street art. There are plenty of murals. I spend the afternoon on a tiny man made ‘City Beach’ here. And I’ve sampled another good restaurant this evening. Really tasty Asian/Caribbean food. Really expensive too.

Westpunt

I’ve opted for car hire today. This is something I usually avoid: driving on the wrong side of the road, unfamiliar cites and stick shifts (as the Americans call them). But it’s cheap here and they have automatics and it’s the most convenient way to tour the beaches. My car is a dinky little Nissan Micra and, as it turns out, driving on the right is a doddle, even in all the traffic. Maybe it’s like riding a bike-once you’ve done it before adequately  you’re okay.

The road signs and the GPS are a different matter altogether. I’ve downloaded an app called maps.me, as it works offline and the phone signal is erratic. I’m directed to ‘slide left’ and also to ‘exit, then turn left’, which apparently means, just turn left. ‘Turn right and then left’ means goes straight on, according to the road markings. I’m forever in the wrong lane and thankfully the locals are reasonably patient. They overtake me as soon as they can, but no-one toots at me.

It’s definitely an island of two halves. Willemstad seems to be surrounded by a huge industrial estate and I’ve explored most of it by the time I’ve misunderstood all the ambiguous commands I’ve been given. The island is orientated more or less east-west and I’m heading west, where all the best beaches are. The traffic peters out eventually and I can potter along. As in Bonaire, (though that’s north-south) this end is pretty limestone hills, but this time covered in shrubs, as well as the ubiquitous finger cacti.

The Beaches of Curaçao

I visit five beaches, Playas Lagun, Jeremi, Grote Knip, Kleine Knip and Fortis. I snorkel at Lagun, where the publicity says the fishermen’s gutting of their catch brings in turtles. It’s a small sandy cove that’s pretty enough, though spoilt by ugly concrete constructions on the beach. No fishermen, (but some boats upturned on the beach) and no turtles, but plenty of unusual fish along the rocky headlands.

Playa Jeremi is a larger cove, but not as pretty. I talk to two South Africans relaxing on a bench on the cliff above. The guy used to live in Brighton near me, it so is a small world. Three Dutch divers tell me that the only decent snorkelling here is right out on the reef and there’s no-on else that distance away in the water. I decide to move on.

Grote Knip is another beach that features on the best beaches in the world lists. (See my own list of best beaches.) It’s longer than the others on the island and the sea really is an amazing blue. I’ve read that Curaçao liqueur is that colour because it’s supposed to represent the sea around Curaçao. Possibly, but I’ve never seen anything in nature that’s quite that lurid.

Grote Knip is also famous for rock bombing. Visitors queue up on top of a crag to jump into the crystal-clear waters (this bit sadly is true). However, the stretch of sand, though wide, is horribly crowded. There are tour buses parked up for heaven’s sake. So, I depart for Kleine Knip, which I’ve read also has good snorkelling. It does. And there are turtles.

I spend some happy hours in the small bay at Kleine Knip, swimming, snorkelling (there is a turtle here) and eating delicious, (at a price), fried snapper and banana, bought from the local entrepreneur. She has the monopoly on this beach.

Fortis, at the top of the island, brags that it has the best view in the west, all down the cobalt coast, but it’s shingly and definitely not the nicest place to snooze. There’s a bar there advertising iguana curry. I don’t think I’ll risk it.

Circumnavigating Curaçao

Next decision: a circumnavigation of  the island, visiting viewpoints on the way back. This is definitely a mistake. The GPS can’t cope and keeps diverting me down unmade roads, where I end up in people’s backyards. Their dogs aren’t too happy about it. I also need fuel - from what the locals call a pomp station. It would also have been good if someone had told me that you have to pay for petrol before you fill up here, in cash. Fortunately, it’s cheap - a dollar a litre - and I emerge from the whole day happy and unscathed. So does the car.

Endpunt

A last stroll east along the coastal road. More man-made beaches, more restored colonial gables, lots of bars, cafes and dive shops. A sign boasting 'Cold beer, Hot instructors' probably wouldn't pass muster elsewhere. A final fresh lime drink sitting on the rocks by the sea.

Then I’m braving Curaçao Airport again. It’s even worse than on the way in. The check-in queue curls half the length of the departures area and then turns to double its size. It’s a challenge trying to work out where to join it, as it’s unintentionally merging into the queue for security and immigration, which runs the whole length of the hall, before twisting back on itself. One thing about travelling – it’s taught me patience, to a certain extent. An hour and a half later, when I finally get to passport control and another line, there are three of those spanking new little e-passport booths illuminated, but roped off. ‘Can I use those?’ I ask, waving my little wine-coloured book. They nod and I’m through. Danki Dios, as they say in Papiamento.

Goodbye Caribbean, I’m heading home.

(Read more about the ABC Islands here.)

Getting into Bonaire

The flight from Aruba is only half an hour, crossing Curaçao on the way. The ABCs are not arranged in alphabetical order, in the ocean. A late arrival in Bonaire, but a happy one. ‘Have a good stay,’ beams the efficient lady on immigration. The reception at my new hotel, a dive resort is less effusive. They’re making me pay to rent the safe in my room. I’ve never come across that one before, when the safe is already in the room. 'Otherwise we will lock it up…'

Watching Wildlife on Bonaire

I’ve been having another quiet day in the sun, while I suss out the locality. I’ve been to the local Chinese supermarket (expensive). Like Aruba, the island is flat and arid, but without the wide sand beaches. The area around the hotel is hardly scenic. There is a water processing plant, cactus fencing and a view across to an even flatter, smaller island, Klein Bonaire, half a mile away. Instead, Bonaire has a reputation for the best diving in the Caribbean. It's known as "Diver's Paradise",(or falling that "The Velcro Island", and "Dushi Bonaire".

I’ve tested the snorkelling off the hotel jetty. There’s a drop off to a reef five metres out, but the wind and boats have kicked up sand and visibility isn’t great. There are pair of tarpons - enormous - under the pier though. They lurk around, as the hotel kitchen tips the scraps of fish into the sea for them.

I wind up the afternoon with a massage. In between, I’ve been watching the lizards and iguanas scurry round the pool and teeny humming birds sneaking nectar from scarlet tube-shaped blossoms. Those birds move fast. They might need to, as there’s also a black and ginger cat, who has taken possession of my patio.

Klein Bonaire

Snorkelling at Klein Bonaire. I spend an hour and a half happily drifting along drop-offs which start opposite my hotel. Like all coral in the Caribbean this is not particularly colourful, but at least it’s alive and there’s plenty of interesting animal life: eagle rays, angelfish, barracuda, turtles, eels, varieties of parrotfish and the usual assortment of striped sergeant majors and shoals of minuscule blue flashes. The stoplight parrotfish is common here. It’s one of those fish that changes sex, in this case from female to male. It must be an interesting life.

My very organised Dutch boat hosts say that Klein Bonaire used to be owned by Harry Belafonte. It’s where he wrote Island in the Sun.

Round and About Bonaire

I find the most rewarding travel often happens when I get a local to take me round. Today, Oy (short for Gregorio) is taking me on a figure of eight tour round Bonaire, in his Kia. He is quietly knowledgeable and goes out of his way to stop for photos. It’s a surprisingly interesting and diverse place.

The reef runs right round the island, which is almost entirely coral and limestone as a result. The entire coastline of Bonaire was designated a marine sanctuary in 1979. with more than 350 species of fish and 60 species of coral. There are more than 400 caves hiding here too.

The drop-off is really close to the shore, all up the western coast, so divers can access without boats. All of the sites are marked with yellow stones. ‘Thousand Steps’ (there’re really only 67 Oyo says), though access looks rather too adventurous, across slippy rocks in some. There’s a stripe of turquoise running along the coast, immediately turning cyan at the reef, so it’s very easy to see where it is.

The land rises to 2000 metres in the north, where there are some small mountains, lakes and a few flamingos. The limestone hills and cliffs are entirely finger cactus covered. It’s the only thing that grows (they make liqueur and slimy ‘healthy’ soup from it). All the food has to be imported. There are tall metal windmills running pumps (this is the Netherlands after all), numerous small ranches and some goats scattered across the countryside. Road signs also warn of wild donkeys and sure enough we encounter a small, shy group, grazing in the scrub

Kralendijk

Rincon, famous for its annual festival, visited by the king and queen, is the only town outside the capital, Kralendijk (Dutch for coral reef). The latter sits at the centre of our figure of eight, so is encountered twice. It’s unsurprisingly, a smaller version of Philipsburg, in Sint Maarten, with brightly painted shops cafes and bars and Dutch gables, geared up to cater to the cruise ship market.

South Bonaire


There’s a different sight around every corner. In the south are commercial salt pans, more lakes, some very pink, flamingos and a lighthouse. Apparently Bonaire has one of the largest flocks of flamingos in the world. To the west, more diving sites, sea bird covered rocks, restored slave huts and a bay where the sky is dotted with the bright sails of kite surfers. To the east, sea grass lagoons in a sheltered sandy bay, this one swarming with windsurfers. Colourful and fascinating. (Bonaire has produced several world champion wind surfers and kite surfers.)

Rudy

This hotel is a little hit or miss. The staff are mostly very friendly and work hard, though not very efficiently. However, one man who operates the late shift around the office has had a distinctly off tone of voice whenever I’ve dealt with him. When I inquire about my return transfer to the airport, which I’ve already booked by email, he reprimands me: ‘You’re supposed to give us the information’. So, I ask for his name, thinking I will mention it on Trip Advisor. ‘Rudy’ he replies. I can’t help smirking.

Canadian Club

I’ve been hanging out with two friendly Canadian couples, Dave and Barb and Bob and Sharon (sounds like a film) at my hotel. I met them first on my trip to Klein Bonaire and all four, although now retired, are in education too, so we’ve plenty to talk about, as well as the usual topics, Trump and Brexit. They invite me snorkelling on the local reef this morning – we’re all leaving this afternoon. Dave is so keen not to be mistaken as American that he even wears a Canada T shirt while he’s in the water.

Leaving Bonaire

I sit with them again at the airport this afternoon, recovering from today’s disasters. I lost my passport and boarding pass after I checked in. It was eventually handed in to the airline. Heaven knows what happened. But in the kerfuffle of searching for the passport I then lost my Maui Jim sunglasses. They don’t turn up. It’s an expensive and stressful day, especially as Insel Air are back to normal. The illuminated sign at the gate says ‘On Time’, but my flight to Curaçao is really running an hour late.

(Read more about the ABC Islands here.)

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