Harbor Village Beach Resort
Text and Photography by Walt Stearns
Just north of the Equator, Bonaire is a dry, arid island, with little rainfall. Bathed by steady breezes, it is always pleasant, even on the hottest summer days. Then again, nearly every day is summer here.
In the lee, west facing side of this boomerang shaped island, diving could not be more agreeable or inviting. With a plenitude of healthy corals, colorful sponges and small reef fish, Bonaire's marine world offers an environment graced, year-round, by warm and lucid waters (some of the clearest in the Caribbean, with visibility averaging 90 to 100 feet plus). Here, the possibility of rough seas and/or strong currents is virtually nonexistent. Even planning a multi-level dive requires little thought. Drop-offs begin close to shore, customarily just beyond a short, shallow coral terrace 5 to 30 feet deep. At the edge of this plateau, the reef descends on a 75 degree angle to depths of 150 to 300 feet or more.
Easily accessible, premier shore diving is abundant. The truth is, Bonaire is home to the largest, hottest selection of shore diving in the Caribbean. Just about anywhere you stop along the island's coastal road there will be a terrific dive site a short distance offshore. Thus, most divers come here to spend as much time as possible underwater. To them, activities such as eating, sleeping and residual nitrogen off-loading are inconveniences that stand in the way of the next dive. However, not all divers are alike.
Today, with newer, more luxurious all-inclusive establishments, a more discriminating traveler comes to Bonaire's shores. This discerning class of diver needs a great infrastructure providing dedicated diving as well as the luxuries and ambiance of a first-class resort.
Harbour Village Beach Resort's two story villas occupy a four acre peninsula. Surrounded by elaborate tropical foliage, the 72 guestrooms and suites are graciously appointed in a style that can only be described as Caribbean chic. In addition to stylish tile flooring and beautiful wood and wicker/rattan furnishings, decor details include ceiling fans, terra cotta urns and French doors opening onto balconies and terraces with colorful foliage.
While one-third of the villas overlook the property's private, quarter mile, white sand beach, the rest overlook the Harbour Village Marina. The only one on Bonaire, the marina accommodates vessels as long as 200 feet among its 60-odd slips. The atmosphere created by this setting is reminiscent of a Mediterranean seaport villa of the rich and shameless.
Harbour Village also offers first-class restaurants and spa treatments. The three restaurants offer local and international cuisine, each in an intimate, yet open-air atmosphere. The tri-level Kasa Coral Restaurant overlooks the resort's sparkling pool, lush gardens and white sand beach. For those seeking to set anchor in a nautical setting, there is Captain Wook's Marina Bar & Grill. With a view of the marina, it serves a lighter selection, including 'catch of the day' specials. Similar fare for both lunch and dinner is also provided at Harbour Village's casual beachside bar and grill, La Balandra, a popular happy hour hangout for divers.
On Bonaire, room service is somewhat of a rarity. Fortunately, Harbour Village room service features an enticingly extensive menu, should a romantic dinner on your villa's terrace capture your imagination.
Serious pampering can be found in the resort's wealth of guest services. In addition to a private salon and tennis center, Harbour Village also features a Roman-style pool, spa-cafe and fitness studio equipped with a variety of free weights, fitness machines (which can include a personal trainer) or aerobics classes. Health services even include indoor and outdoor massage therapy, Tai Chi and health management technique classes. Little extras such as kimono-style robes and personal amenity packages further a guest's feeling of being pampered. Plus, Harbour Village's conference facilities and meeting rooms are suitable for anything from business meetings and medical conferences to wedding receptions.
What makes Harbour Village all the more attractive is that, while it's a sanctuary of style and comfort, it focuses on the visitor's primary reason for visiting Bonaire the diving.
Catering to the specific needs of both divers and snorkelers, Harbour Village's Great Adventures is a fully staffed PADI and NAUI dive operation. Occupying a corner of the grounds overlooking the north end of the beach, Great Adventures offers a retail dive shop, photo center and rental facility (featuring Sherwood BCs, regulators, masks, fins, etc.). Two Bauer K-14 compressors keep the 140 aluminum 80s pumped and ready for the next dive. The operation was designed to provide the same commitment to high level services as the resort. It caters primarily to small groups, which allows customized daily dive itineraries and scuba instruction courses. Besides offering instruction with either PADI or NAUI, courses from open water to divemaster can be taught in English, Spanish, German and Dutch.
A typical run from Great Adventures' dock to a dive site is 15 minutes. The custom built, fiberglass dive boats include a 32 foot Island Hopper (14 divers maximum), 28 foot Delta (12 divers), 32 foot, outboard power Cata-maribe (designed for private charters to small groups of eight) and a new 36 foot Newton Dive Special for larger groups of up to 20. Besides being quick, all four are comfortable and dry, with plenty of seating, tank racks and wide dive platforms with extended ladders. All carry radios and DAN oxygen kits on board.
When the boats return from a dive, the facility sets out a couple of freshwater rinse tanks for dive gear and cameras. Afterward, guests can stow their dive equipment in private storage lockers by the shop or make a shore dive less than a stone's throw from the dock.
In light of Harbour Village's level of amenities and services, you might assume it would be considerably more expensive than the competition on the island. Surprisingly, its dive packages customarily run only 10 to 15 percent higher than those of other resorts. For example, the seven night Dive into Luxury vacation costs $1,683 (January to April) or $1,399 (April to December) per person, including roundtrip airport transfers, beachfront accommodations, daily buffet breakfast, rental car for one day, use of the fitness center, sea kayaks, Sunfish and laser boats. Tanks and weights are provided; the dive program includes six day boat trips with one night boat dive, along with unlimited shore diving. (This is where a rental car comes in handy.)
For an update on specials or standard package rates call (800) 424-0004. To reach the Harbour Village reservations office call (305) 567-9509, fax (305) 567-9659 or dial Harbour Village direct at 011 (599) 7-7500.