Budget Trip Challenge - Bonaire

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drrich2

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What's your best budget trip plan (e.g.: airfare, room, rental truck, shore diving) for Bonaire? I hope this thread will help budget-minded divers plan a Bonaire trip. Best doesn't mean cheapest, but let's strive for cheap.

A frequent lament in the rec. dive hobby is the cost of dive trips, a barrier to recruiting and maintaining divers. A separate issue is the need for solo options; not everyone travels with a dive buddy, and some places one can dive alone. Here are some figures from my past solo trips (with airfare, tips, pretty much everything):

7-Day May 2021 Cocoview Resort (Roatan) Trip: $3,600 (roughly).
8-Day Oct. 2019 Bonaire Trip: $3,000 + food & a few miscellaneous costs, figure $3,500 total to be on the safe side. 30 Dives.
8-Day Sept. 2018 Cozumel Trip: $3,250 with food. 26 Dives.
7-Day April 2018 Turks & Caicos Aggressor II Trip: $3,350 (would’ve been ~$4,255 without 34% off Aggressor Fleet sale). 27 Dives.

I researched Bonaire options with a new emphasis on budget with the option for a longer stay (both due to retirement), and started this thread to share my findings and gather other forum members' impressions and advice. If this goes well, maybe we could try it for Cozumel, Roatan, etc... One thing at a time.

I'll lead, and go in-depth on my reasoning and cost analysis. I aimed for a 2-week stay (like 2 dive trips for the price of 1 airfare), non-oceanfront (tends to be cheaper), automatic transmission truck (I don't drive stick), unlimited nitrox tank shore diving (no boat dives), solo traveler and diver (with SDI Solo Diver cert.) and prefer big (100-cf) tanks if possible. I used Feb. 2 – 16, 2022 where possible; I gave Aqua Viva Suites Feb. 16 – Mar. 2 due availability of their cheapest room category. I chose Wed. - Wed. rather than Sat. - Sat. (or Sun.) due to @tursiops post on another thread the former tend to be cheaper. He was right! On 9-21-21 I’d decided on Wed. - Wed. so on Orbitz I booked an AA round trip flight Feb. 16 - Mar. 2 for $566.36. Then I wondered what a similar Saturday - Sat. trip would’ve run, so I ran Feb. 12 - 26. The cheapest flight was on AA, yes, but for $1,388.86 - 6 a.m. departure, 1 hour 12 min. layover in Miami, arrival 2:24 p.m. in Bonaire, so practically the same flight…at well over double the cost. Delta, with 6 a.m. departure, 1 hour 37 min. layover in Atlanta, 2:45 arrival - $1,576.36! Wow!!!
 

drrich2

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I stayed at Dive Hut in 2012 and liked it; it had a nearby building with tanks or I could drive to Eden Beach Resort for WannaDive’s main location. I sent one e-mail that got no answer, and had already zeroed in on 2 new contenders.

Tropical Divers Resort – I learned of them from @USC8791 (Post #33), who wrote they had both steel 80 and steel 100-cf tanks, one of the main reasons they’re his ‘go to’ shop on Bonaire. I e-mailed Prisca Deutsch about it; she said mainly their tanks are 80-cf. I messaged USC8791 on Scuba Board; he responded that reviewing his video from July 2021 he clearly counted 11 steel 100’s (or whatever they were) and was pretty sure he saw a bunch of AL 100’s as well; he uses steel 80’s (or whatever is close) unless diving the east coast with Bas Tol. He said Prisca runs the place and would know better than he. He said they’re a great shop with great rinse tanks and storage, small and quiet and cater mainly to Dutch divers but he drives out of his way to use them. He said their tanks have DIN valves but they offer inserts for yoke reg.s, which can get a bit beaten up – he uses his own with an Allen wrench to transfer tank-to-tank.

USC8791 and his wife spend time on Bonaire making ‘how to’ dive videos on YouTube, so his endorsement counts, and they get good reviews online. They’re at the south end of Kralendijk, not too far from the road with Warehouse Bonaire and Van den Tweel supermarkets, and an ‘all in one package deal’ operation offering room, rental truck and shore diving package.

I reached out and described my needs, noting they had a ‘Book by the end of Oct. 2021 and buddy dives half-price special,’ asked if I could get a price break coming solo (she did, offering to charge me for 8-days of a 12-day shore diving package). I was told as I have a certification to dive alone, that’s no issue. Here is the package Prisca Deutsch put together for me:

Dates: Feb. 2 – 16, Wed. to Wed.

Base Package Price: $1,850 (includes tourist tax and airport transfer). Add CDW insurance $10 x 14 days - $1,990. I don’t know the upcharge for an automatic pickup, but for Aqua Viva it was $145, so if the same here, it’d be $2,135.

Room – all have AC and no extra charge for that. The Tropical Hotel Room has mini-fridge and coffee maker; step up to the Sunset Apartment and you get kitchen and microwave.
12-Days unlimited air/nitrox shore-diving package.
Manual transmission pickup truck (automatic available; I never got what the upcharge would be).
CDW insurance – an extra $10/day.
They’re not ocean front, but she said the closest dive site is 30 seconds drive away, by Sebastian’s Restaurant, where guests do night dives and there are always a lot of tarpon to watch hunting.
Breakfast is available next to them at Joe’s Restaurant for $14/day.

I asked Prisca what happens if I am unable to come due to COVID-19 (such as if Bonaire closes to visitors or I test positive on a required screening test a couple days before my flight); she said if for any reason I’m unable to come because of COVID they offer rescheduling of my trip without any additional costs.

One big plus for Tropical Divers Resort – it’s a one location, all-in-one package deal. Their website claims they have the deepest pool on Bonaire.
 

drrich2

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Aqua Viva Suites – I learned of them in a very round about way. I stumbled across VIP Divers looking for 100-cf tanks…which they have, and good reviews on Scuba Board (where they’re known for guided dive service) and elsewhere. But VIP Divers is not a one location, all-in-one package provider. They are a strongly reputable dive services provider associated with many partners for other services – including 25 accommodation providers most of which I’m unfamiliar with (or consider too expensive) that aren’t broken down by category (e.g.: budget, mid-range, luxury) or location. I went down the list – too expensive, too far away, etc… And e-mailed asking who’s close; I was told Kas Chuchubi, All Seasons Apartments, Djambo, Blachi Koko Apartments Bonaire and Aqua Viva are relatively close.

Aqua Viva Suites offered me this package:

Dates: Feb. 16 – Mar. 2.
Base Package Price: $2,140 with Comfort Room Suite (they’ve got nicer rooms at extra cost), airport transfer, all taxes on room/diving/vehicle, manual rental truck, 12-days unlimited air/nitrox shore diving package. Add $145 for automatic rental truck and CDW insurance was already included in the package price, so $2,285.

I asked how they’d deal with it if I couldn’t come due to COVID (e.g.: + screening test result 2 – 3 days before arrival). Michael Martis responded “All rates listed are non-refundable, but for your peace of mind, we however honor cancelations made one week before arrival time, giving you the flexibility to rebook for another time during one year.” Nice, but if I have to cancel within a week due a positive test result? We worked something out, and you may want to do the same.
 

drrich2

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VIP Divers – I e-mailed back and forth with them. I was told when I show them my SDI Solo Diver cert. I can get tanks from them when diving alone. They fill tanks to about 3,200 PSI and offer 63, 80 or 100-cf tanks and always plenty ready, but air and nitrox.

Great news…a low-price leader with good reviews is right next door to VIP Divers Dive Shop…Aqua Viva Suites, with a Comfort Room Suite that should serve fine – AC, wifi and mini-fridge. And Aqua Viva Suites can put together the all-in-one room/rental truck/unlimited shore diving air/nitrox package I want. It would’ve been really nice and saved me a lot of hassle to know all that from the start.

And get this…VIP Divers/Aqua Viva Suites are on the same road as Tropical Divers Resort, just closer to the ocean.

Note: I suspect Dive Hut could’ve offered a sweet package price (you can add breakfast for $7.50/person), but I question whether WannaDive would’ve offered many 100-cf tanks (good luck figuring it out from their website!), I’ve stayed there before, and having always stayed to the north of town (e.g.: Dive Hut, Eden Beach Resort, Sand Dollar Condo.s, Buddy Dive Resort), I’d like to try the south end of Kralendijk.

Note #2: Waiting on e-mail responses back after contacting various entities on Bonaire, I ran into 'island time.' You know that, er, 'laid back, it could take awhile' style of service in restaurants that sometimes grates on American consumer sensibilities? Well, it ain't just restaurants...

So I took the Aqua Viva Suites deal. I felt bad about not picking Tropical Dive Resort because I was so pleased with Prisca and they had a solid value offering, but I’m a big, chubby guy, I like big tanks and I cannot lie…and for that small extra package cost on a 2-week trip, I went big.
 

drrich2

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Here’s what I estimate this 14-day trip will cost (I’ll round up to dollar costs):
  • Package Deal - $2,285.
  • Airfare - $567.
  • Round Trip Baggage - $120.
  • Marine Park Tag - $45.
  • Estimated grocery budget: $60/day x 14 days = $840 (Note: food on Bonaire tends to be expensive, eating out is common, I can’t cook much, and I drink a lot of cans of Coke Zero. A big burger, chips or fries and a soda can handily clear $20). This is likely an underestimate! Don’t forget airport food going and coming.
  • Gas – 2 tanks (really expensive in Bonaire) - $140.
  • Airport Parking at Nashville Airport (economy or long-term): $180 (unless wife takes me to/from).
  • Estimated Total: $4,177. By the time I eat airport food, an easy $4,200.
Disclaimer: If I were back home, I’d eat and burn gas, but at much lower cost. On the other hand, I’ll blow money on souvenirs for our kid.

P.S.: For comparison, I e-mailed Sand Dollar for a 14-day package deal; their cheapest room is a studio. I was told for a studio they could do 2-weeks starting Feb. 23, it’s $20/person/6-day package to upgrade to nitrox, I was told the quote uses Avis which doesn’t offer any insurance to go to Washington-Slaagbaai Park, and that my quote was for a manual 4-door Avis truck (but what was written in the description table was ‘Avis, Automatic.’ Package with 14-days studio, government tax, 12-days unlimited shore diving (Air, not Nitrox), Avis (let’s assume that is automatic); Studio $2,170, Gov. tax $91, shore-diving air package $360, truck rental $756.

-----Sand Dollar /Dive Friends Package: $3,377.00.

So, an oceanfront resort with a nice house reef would cost nearly $1,100 extra for the week?

So, what can the rest of you come up with? Whether solo or with a buddy, what do you suggest? (I know groups may be better off booking a villa, or 4 person occupancy room, etc...).
 

tursiops

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Your prices can be reduced considerably if you can find one other person to go with, or better, 3 other people. You tend to pay a premium for single housing, plus you are paying the total cost of the truck. Quick example: A one-week 1BR apartment for two people at Buddy Dive during High Season (like your examples) is $1471 including 6 boat dives, or just $1261 with no boat dives. That includes truck, Nitrox, full breakfast and being on the water with a great dive off the dock.
 

drrich2

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Your prices can be reduced considerably if you can find one other person to go with, or better, 3 other people.
Good points. Buddy's breakfast buffet is good, and I really like their house reef (especially heading north past Captain Don's Habitat). And many divers most apt to benefit from our number crunching are early enough in their diving they're not solo-certified or inclined at this point. The 2+ person 'buddy diving' paradigm is pretty ingrained in recreational dive culture. Most people who stand to benefit from this thread aren't solo travelers or divers. I get the sense the shore diving package providers like to see a solo cert. for solo divers...I haven't challenged them on that, I mention I've got the cert. to avoid potential friction.

Low season prices are often lower...but not that much, and trading a couple weeks worth of KY winter for Caribbean tropics appeals to me (if an ice storm doesn't keep me from reaching the airport...). But to really pinch a penny, yeah, low season. I really liked Buddy Dive Resort (even if their grounds are like a maze to me and parking was a bit crowded).

One drawback...deciding when and where to take the truck diving becomes a negotiation.
 

tursiops

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Good points. Buddy's breakfast buffet is good, and I really like their house reef (especially heading north past Captain Don's Habitat). And many divers most apt to benefit from our number crunching are early enough in their diving they're not solo-certified or inclined at this point. The 2+ person 'buddy diving' paradigm is pretty ingrained in recreational dive culture. Most people who stand to benefit from this thread aren't solo travelers or divers. I get the sense the shore diving package providers like to see a solo cert. for solo divers...I haven't challenged them on that, I mention I've got the cert. to avoid potential friction.

Low season prices are often lower...but not that much, and trading a couple weeks worth of KY winter for Caribbean tropics appeals to me (if an ice storm doesn't keep me from reaching the airport...). But to really pinch a penny, yeah, low season. I really liked Buddy Dive Resort (even if their grounds are like a maze to me and parking was a bit crowded).

One drawback...deciding when and where to take the truck diving becomes a negotiation.
LOL. Two Solo divers can room together too...not all dives have to be in buddy teams.
I've been going to Bonaire for over 20 years (this December will be my 35th trip), and have never been asked on a shore dive if I had a buddy. Even on boats, the question is often, "Does everybody who wants a buddy have a buddy?" The on-line waiver that Buddy Dive is using now doesn't even ask about Solo certification.
 

drrich2

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I decided to compare some package prices for 2-person dive travelers staying and diving together, aiming for low season 2022, 7-day stays, shore-diving only, rental truck (left it manual, which is the default), going by posted rates (not sales or individualized quotes). Where I know an offering to have something 'special,' I aim to mention it. So, 7-day package price per person for 2 with cheapest accommodations I see offered, a manual transmission pickup and unlimited shore diving with nitrox (since Dive Friends charges $20 extra over the air package for this).

1.) Dive Hut: $680 (includes room max and CDW insurance and tax on truck). Option to add breakfast for $7.50/person/day.
2.) Tropical Divers Resort: $770 (Includes CDW insurance, tourist tax and late check-out).
3.) Aqua Viva Resort (using V.I.P. Divers, which has 100-cf tanks, a big advantage for some of us): $590 (includes airport transfers, taxes on room/diving/vehicle; I think CDW insurance on truck included but not certain).
4.) Hamlet Oasis: $760 (price 'per unit,' Studio, 1 - 2 persons; does not include $6.50/person/night tax, I did a fake booking 2-9 to 2-16-22 and got $924 for 2 people staying in a Studio). But all I see are accommodation offerings; no dive packages with rental truck! Not even as an add-on. Maybe I'm missing it. I know Dive Friends has a location there. But you might have to put your package together a la carte.
5.) Buddy Dive Resort: 2 People in a Studio: $1,124.35 per person (includes airport transfers and government taxes). Includes breakfast! This is a big deal; in the past I've seen it claimed at $15/day value, and some other places cost near that to add breakfast. I liked Buddy's breakfast buffet. I don't see mention of CDW insurance included.
6.) Sand Dollar Condo.s: Ride to the Reef Package with Nitrox add-on: $905 (but excludes $45.50/person government tax or recommended truck insurance), so with tax, $950.50 per person + CDW insurance on truck.

*In the spirit of not being 'penny wise, pound foolish,' a moderately more expensive room with full kitchen for those who cook and eat in can save some money.

A big issue in pricing packages is whether accommodations are priced per person (often assuming 2 people in the room) or per unit (in which case there may be a tax on extra people, but packing them in is still much cheaper). Each diver has to buy a $45 marine park tag to dive, at week's end filling the rental truck with gas is expensive (maybe $60+ IIRC), and food on Bonaire tends to be expensive.

Not all providers have a house reef, which if good makes for higher trip dive counts as diving, especially night diving, is so convenient. I tried to get these packages equivalent, but it's inevitably apples-to-oranges (e.g.: studio here, hotel room there, house reef vs. no house reef, location-location...), and I may've screwed up and made some mistakes.
 

Ken Kurtis

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5.) Buddy Dive Resort: 2 People in a Studio: $1,124.35 per person (includes airport transfers and government taxes). Includes breakfast! This is a big deal; in the past I've seen it claimed at $15/day value, and some other places cost near that to add breakfast. I liked Buddy's breakfast buffet. I don't see mention of CDW insurance included.
Price this as four people in a 2-bd. Much better deal because for the "studio" many times it's just half of a 2-bd, but you don't get access to the living room. With the 2-bd, each 2 people get their own room, there's a common living room and full kitchen, and then a smaller full kitchen off of the larger bedroom. En suite bathroom in the larger bedroom and a second full bathroom usually opposite the smaller second bedroom. Ground floor units will have a large patio and a smaller one. Upstairs units will have a large balcony.
Low season rates - 2 people in a studio w/6 boat dives: $1,324/pp
Low season rates - 4 people in a 2-bd w/6 boat dives: $1,209 plus you have about double the space
(The reason I would suggest you want to do boat dives is that's the only way to have access to Klein Bonaire dive spots, some of which are quite good)
 
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