Think carnivals are only for adults who want to drink, dance and party the night away? Think again! The carnival on the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire is a celebration lasting an entire month. Locally known as Karnaval, the island’s must-see events includes colorful parades, pageants, tumba music, and family friendly parties.
Surrounded by turquoise blue waters, the tiny island of Bonaire is located near Aruba and Venezuela. It’s famous for colorful homes designed in Dutch Caribbean architecture, white sand beaches, salt hills, a charming downtown with a cruise port, a national forest, and lots of sunny days!
On a bright warm Sunday afternoon, the city’s residents gather on the main streets of Centrum of Kralendijk (capital of Bonaire). They spread out on beach chairs and unpack their picnic baskets with beer, sodas, BBQ ribs, and pastechi (pastry turnovers). Entire families wait for the parades to begin. The only other city on the island is Rincon, which was once the original home for the slaves that were brought to work the salt fields. It’s largely residential and offers a more neighborhood ambiance for the kick off parades.
Separate parades are held for kids in different age groups, and some only for adults. The Children’s Karnaval Parade is a national holiday on the island and families gather with food and drinks along the streets cheering on the crowds. The Grand Karnaval Parade is the last of the parades and is held right before Lent, to end the festivities for the season. This is also when King Momo, the iconic king of carnivals, is burned at midnight.
The opening of carnival period begins with kids and adult competitions of Tumba, a form of music that is native to the ABC islands (Aruba – Bonaire – Curacao). The music on the floats includes live musicians as well as DJ’s playing hip-hop, calypso, soca, kompa, zouk, bouyon, reggae, and merengue. The crowds join in and reset their dance moves every few minutes to the rhythm of the music.
The island’s residents form committees and work together for months to design floats and costumes for the carnival. Funky dresses, bright colored wigs, feather hats and jazzy pieces made their way into the parade. The little kids’ carnival is adorable to see with flocks of baby clowns, bumblebees, ladybugs, sunflower, mermaids and little princesses.
While the carnival festivities last only on weekends, there are other activities to explore on the island. Bonaire’s coasts offer some of the best diving and windsurfing spots in North America. A fifth of the island of Bonaire is covered by Washington Slagbaai National Park, where you can hike, snorkel, dive, swim, watch pink flamingoes and the local wildlife.
Where to Stay
Harbour Village Beach Club is one of the nicest luxury resorts with 38 Dutch-Caribbean style suites nestled amid lush tropical gardens and a white-sand beach. The open air beachside restaurant is located next to the island’s only yacht club. There are also a few boutique hotels and dive resorts.
How to Give Back
Including volunteer activities on a vacation is a great way to spend time as a family. In Bonaire, you can find opportunities to volunteer in restoring coral reefs and witnessing the restoration efforts at Harbour Village, through its partnership with Fabien Cousteau’s Ocean Learning Center (a nonprofit organization based in New York City).
You can help the stray donkeys of the island with feeding, cleaning or just pet them at The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire. It’s a drive through safari where you will be greeted and perhaps even licked, by some curious donkeys!
Ed. Note: The author of this post may have either a relationship with or received other compensation from any of the product or service providers that are featured.