Finding my happy place in the Dutch Caribbean

There is no doubt that our current political climate will be remembered as one of the most divisive and polarizing chapters in American History. With unprecedented happenings emanating from the White House and protests taking place all over the country, I decided to unplug and flee to the Caribbean.

I chose the island of Bonaire, situated less than 100 miles from Venezuela off the northern coast of South America. Bonaire is often described as the freedom diving capital of the world due to is endless array of designated dive sites accessible from shore. It is just one of a trio of islands commonly known as the Dutch ABCs. Bonaire offers a relaxed pace as opposed to the party atmosphere of Aruba and Curacao.

In times of stress I use a helpful meditative tool — focus on a positive memory…re-living the feeling that I felt at that moment. Remembering a blissful point in time helps me reunite with my “happy place.” One of my most reliable positive memories is my first scuba dive in Bonaire, which I experienced years ago, after a particularly stressful juncture in my life. I remember the relief of finally getting into the water, feeling weightless as I took in the beauty of the corals and sea life all around me. I listened to my breath steadily inhaling in and out. As the bubbles from my regulator rose to the surface, a sense of tremendous peace took hold and my worries washed away with the rising bubbles. A sea turtle cruised by me — nothing else mattered — this was my bliss. I have learned to access this memory during high stress situations with positive results.

Photo by Richard Bilow

Bonaire has always been a perfect place to relax for me. It has become a special municipality of the Netherlands since I last visited. Many upscale restaurants have popped up and the population has grown. Fortunately, the island still offers a laid back restorative vibe. Back in the nineties there were not many lodging options. Now there are a plethora of dive resorts and upscale restaurants along with some longtime local owned eateries, such as Babbejan’s and Karel’s Beach Bar. The indigenous language is Papiamentu, but English and Dutch are both widely used. It’s an easy place for Americans to visit with the US dollar as the primary currency.

My travel companion and I stayed at Buddy Dive Resort, just north of Kralendijk, the capital city. Buddy has been a go-to resort for scuba divers from around the world offering full amenities and easy access to a lush coral reef. The sizable grounds are beautifully landscaped, with two sandy beach/cabana areas, two pools, and eleven modest-sized buildings, allowing for a spacious tropical feeling. All of the rooms provide full kitchens, cable TV, air conditioning, and private balconies.

Buddy Dive Resort Photo by Richard Bilow

Bonaire was ahead of its time in terms of conservation. Early on, the government identified the value of its environmental treasures and chose to make conservation a number one priority. All divers are now required to attend a brief lecture where they learn the rules of diving before beginning their adventures in the sea. For those who are not scuba certified, snorkeling around the island is also amazing, especially up north at Karpata and around the small island called Klein Bonaire, a short “water taxi” ride off shore. If you’d like to know more about the diving in Bonaire and the restoration projects of the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), Click Here.

Hiking is also a big attraction on the island. We enjoyed a magical day of hiking in Washington Slagbaai National Park, with its dense and stunning cactus clusters. Although we did not choose to climb Mount Brandaris, the tallest peak, our time in the park provided a rejuvenating day of outdoor activities. We made it a point to visit the graceful and sublime flamingos at Gotomeer Lake. They are easily found but a little shy, so bring your telephoto lens if you want the best photos. Wind and kite surfing are a huge attraction on the windward side of the island with consistent strong winds providing action for those who seek an adrenaline rush.

Photo by Richard Bilow

As much as I love hiking and diving, dining is a passion for me as well, and I was particularly excited to experience a dining option that lots of people were raving about. Ingridients is an open air restaurant situated just above the Buddy Dive dock. It offers spectacular coastal views to both the north and to the south. The menu features specialty items such as Parmesan Truffle Pasta and Sea Salt crusted “Dorade.” The pasta was prepared right at our table with flaming brandy in a large wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Photo by Richard Bilow

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to take some time and just lounge by the pool or ocean front with a margarita and watch the clouds roll by. On the last morning, I ducked out of the hotel room at 9:30 am to enjoy a coffee and one final moment in my favorite lounge chair by the water. I took in the view and felt the caress of the sun. Slowly, I stood up, all the while keeping the horizon line in my view as I reluctantly walked towards our room to finish packing. I spotted a crowd of people near the dock and heard the familiar sound of an instructor initiating a new group of divers. My heart skipped a beat and I thought — I want to start the week over again. Yes, I was sad to leave, but relieved to have had experienced this much needed serenity and balance in my life. I felt revitalized and blissful and it made me smile knowing that a whole new group of visitors would soon be on their way to finding their own bliss.

Photo by Richard Bilow

Photo by Richard Bilow

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  • Kathy Leonardo

    Founder of and, Kathy has been a freelance writer for fifteen years. She writes about art, food, travel and entertainment

    Kathy Leonardo is the founder of (2010) and (2018). She has been a freelance writer for the past fifteen years, writing for Los Angeles newspapers as well as national and international print and online publications. is an arts and entertainment website featuring events taking place all over Los Angeles. Each month, it spotlights all types of events, art, music, theatre, dining, local businesses, some travel, plus weekend getaways. is a food and travel site with an art twist. Leonardo's articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Argonaut Newspaper, LA Weekly, Santa Monica Mirror, Downtown News, Santa Monica Daily Press, Artillery Magazine, and WhiteHot Magazine, among others.