Where Is Bonaire?

The port of Bonaire.

Bonaire is a Caribbean island that occupies an area of approximately 111 sq mi and has an estimated population of 20,104. The island measures 24 mi long from north to south, and its width ranges between 3 mi and 5 mi. Politically, it was previously part of the Netherland Antilles, which was a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and later became a special municipality of the Netherlands following the dissolution of the Netherland Antilles in 2010. While part of of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the special municipality is not included as part of the European Union (EU), but is instead classified as an overseas country and territory of the EU.

Bonaire, together with Aruba and Curaçao, form the ABC islands, which are situated 50 mi from the Venezuelan coast. Additionally, Bonaire is one of three islands that make up the Caribbean Netherlands, which also includes Sint Eustatius and Saba. Unlike many parts of the Caribbean region, Bonaire is located outside of Hurricane Alley in the Caribbean Sea. 

History of Bonaire

The original inhabitants of Bonaire were the indigenous Arkaiko people, whose history on the island can be traced back to 2500 BC. The Caiquetio people arrived on the island in 1000 AD, coming from Venezuela by canoe. European explorers Alonso Ojeda (Spanish), together with Juan de la Cosa (Castilian) and Amerigo Vespucci (Italian), arrived in the region in 1499. The Spanish initially considered the ABC islands to be worthless, and instead deported the native population to the island of Hispaniola in 1515 to work its copper mines. The Dutch took control of Bonaire from Spain in 1636 following the Eighty Years War. The Dutch attacked Bonaire, partly as retaliation for Spain conquering St. Maarten, and converted the island into a government plantation between 1816 and 1868. The Dutch lost control of the island to Britain twice during Napoleonic Battles. The ABC islands were returned to the Dutch under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. Bonaire was a protectorate of the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) during the Second World War.


As part of the Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire was governed by a parliamentary democracy, with free elections held every 4 years. The governments of the Netherlands, the Netherland Antilles, and Aruba held a conference in 2005 to discuss the future of the Netherlands Antilles. Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba opted to remain part of the Netherlands, while Curaçao and St. Maarten chose autonomy in 2006, which required a constitutional referendum. During the referendum, over 84% of voters favored becoming part of the Netherlands. However, the results were declared invalid due to low voter turnout. The Netherlands Antilles was dissolved on October 10, 2010, after the Netherlands began to govern the Caribbean Islands, which consisted of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba, and are also referred to as the BES islands. The government of the Netherlands gave each of the three islands the status of special municipality, and are governed by the Dutch laws. Each special municipality has a municipality council, an aldermen, and a mayor. In 2011, the Caribbean Netherlands replaced its currency, the Netherlands Antillean guilder, with the US dollar instead of the euro. The decision to adopt the US dollar instead of the euro was based on the island’s trade and tourism.


As a special municipality of the Netherlands, the official language of Bonaire is Dutch, and it serves as the sole language for all legal and administrative matters. However, Dutch was the primary language of only 8.8% of residents in 2001. Instead, the most widely spoken language on the island is Papiamentu, which is spoken by over 74.7% of the population, and is recognized by the Dutch government. English is spoken by 2.8% of the population, while Spanish is spoken by 11.8% of residents. The island has a polyglot society, as a considerable percentage of the population can speak at least two languages (English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamentu).


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