Discover Bonaire With SAND DOLLAR DIVE AND PHOTO
Stephen Frink, Sep. 1997
The island of Bonaire is justifiably famous for its scuba diving. By far, the highest percentage of visitors come here to sample the warm, clear tropical waters, swim amid myriad and diverse fish populations, and enjoy the most effortless and hassle-free diving in the Caribbean. It was a bit of a surprise then to see the most popular dive operation on the island so excited about activities other than scuba diving. At Sand Dollar Dive and Photo, scuba is still (and always will be) the number one priority. But, as owner Andre Nahr explains, 'There is life beyond the scuba experience and we would like to share the many wonderful adventures of Bonaire with our guests. We call our new programs Discover Bonaire.'
Discover Bonaire: There are basically five separate components to the Discover Bonaire adventure programs: scuba, guided snorkeling, kayaking, nature tours and mountain biking. During a typical one week Bonaire holiday, Sand Dollar Dive and Photo makes it easy to do as much (or as little) as you desire.
Scuba: Obviously, scuba services are where Sand Dollar Dive and Photo excels. Its extensive infrastructure and outstanding staff makes it a perennial favorite of visiting divers.
The dive center is built on a stone peninsula jutting into the blue Caribbean. It was purposely kept low in profile in order to leave an unobstructed ocean view for the condominiums on the bluff behind it but still contains all the essential elements of a state of the art dive facility. A heavy duty airfill station pumps hundreds of 3,000 psi tanks each day and there is always a ready supply of fresh cylinders for boats and beach dives.
This operation is dedicated to delivering unlimited diving and facilitates both boat and shore diving. The guest gear storage room eliminates the need to carry dive gear back and forth to the rooms and a unique sign-up board allows guests to choose among a number of boat departures daily. Most dives are scheduled as one tank trips at 8:45 am, 10:30 am, 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm, allowing for a great variety of destinations and departure times. The fleet of four, fiberglass V-hulled boats is powered by twin outboards to assure a fast, comfortable ride to the sites along the main island and nearby Klein Bonaire. Even the more distant Washington Park excursions are practical aboard the speedy Sand Tiger, which has twin 200 hp outboards. There is ample storage space for tanks, allowing two dives per person on this special, one-half day outing.
Instruction is a big part of the Sand Dollar formula and, to that end, there is a spacious classroom amid the waterfront dive complex. Resort courses, open water certifications and completions, advanced certification and a wide range of specialty courses can be booked at any time. As further testament to its commitment to instruction, even divemaster and instructor programs are offered at Sand Dollar Dive and Photo.
As an underwater photographer, I am especially appreciative of the photo facilities at Sand Dollar. Managed by long time photo pro Jim Brandon, with the able assistance of Julie Morgan, Ralf Astrom and Denise Keller, this photo center offers a wide range of services, including highly professional underwater videos, slide and print film processing, underwater camera rentals and all levels of photo instruction. Jim and the staff are familiar with virtually every amphibious camera and housing ever made and can customize a photo course to whatever equipment or level of competence is required.
For those looking for their first underwater photo ops, there may be no better place in the world. Not only is there a great wealth of subject matter, the staff is very generous with its time and expertise. With rental gear that includes disposable underwater cameras, underwater video systems, Sea & Sea MX-10 with YS-40 strobe, Nikonos V cameras with SB 103 or 105 strobes and a Nikonos RS, both novice shooters and seasoned pros can find competent assistance at the Sand Dollar photo department.
Guided Snorkeling: The specific needs of a snorkeler are different than those of a scuba diver and Sand Dollar Dive and Photo has dedicated itself to providing the optimum freedive experience for its guests. This includes choosing shallow sites rich with coral and marine life so maximum beauty may be experienced with minimal effort. It also includes an extensive pre-snorkel briefing, complete with a one-half hour slide show that explains the specific reef to be visited and its inhabitants. In depth explanations of fish identification, the coral reef, marine invertebrates and the mangrove community are all part of the Bonaire Guided Snorkeling Program. Of course, the star of the show is the coral reef itself. Calm seas revealing forests of Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals punctuated by giant Brain and Star Corals form a stunning backdrop for a wealth of colorful marine tropicals.
Kayaking: The ocean kayak programs at Sand Dollar have been running for nearly two years now. They offer a means to privately explore the scenic Bonaire coastline or enjoy more extensive programs, such as a guided tour through the mangroves. To fully enjoy the freedom of ocean kayak diving, I recommend trying Sand Dollar's unique PADI Kayak Dive Specialty. This two day course offers two kayak dives. The prerequisite is an open water dive certification. The course teaches basic kayak techniques, stowing dive gear in the kayak, using the mooring buoys within the Bonaire Marine Park and tethering the kayak in a drift dive scenario. There is some classroom time spent with this specialty but most of the instruction happens along the sheltered dive sites of Bonaire and Klein Bonaire. For those seeking an intimate one on one encounter along Bonaire's coral reef, the kayak dive specialty may be the ultimate opportunity.
Nature Tours: Led by a naturalist well versed in the local flora and fauna, the Sand Dollar Nature Tours introduce a paradise as unique above the water as it is below. Nearly 200 species of birds, including flamingoes, and two species each of parrots and hummingbirds, iguanas, wild donkeys and a rich diversity of plants provide the combination of beauty, entertainment and education for these tours.
Mountain Biking: There are more than 300 kilometers of unpaved roads ideally suited to mountain bike exploration. (Not to mention the many quiet paved roads perfect for biking). Individual bike rentals or guided excursions may be booked. Imagine biking along the seaside, stopping to snorkel at your own pace, grabbing a snack and a cold drink in the historic town of Rincon or quietly watching the flamingoes at Gotomeer.
Sand Dollar Condominium Resort: The home base for all of these activities, as well as for those who wish to simply relax, is Sand Dollar Condominium Resort. Situated on nine landscaped acres of scenic Caribbean waterfront, the resort consists of 73 individually owned condos, either studio, one, two or three bedroom units. All of the units offer an ocean view and feature full kitchens with microwave, ceiling fans, air-conditioning in the bedrooms and a patio or balcony. The entire complex functions like a fine hotel, with a front desk, maid service, tennis court and freshwater swimming pool.
There is even a terrific restaurant on the premises, the Green Parrot. Owned and operated by Jim Hough and Sara Matera, the Green Parrot is obviously a favorite for Sand Dollar guests but it is also frequently visited by both locals and guests from other resorts on the island. Right on the water, and featuring an extensive breakfast, lunch and dinner menu (including some of the finest tropical drinks on the island), the Green Parrot is a wondrous blend of cuisine and tropical ambiance.
To learn more about the adventure packages at Sand Dollar Dive and Photo or to book a vacation at Sand Dollar Condominium Resort, call (800) 288-4773 or fax (407) 774-9322. To reach Sand Dollar directly on Bonaire from the U.S., dial 011 (599) 7-8738 or fax 011 (599) 7-8760.