On her last day of vacation on the island, Susan Davis decided she wanted to eventually relocate there.
While many have felt a strong attachment to destinations they visited as tourists and loathed the day they were meant to leave them, the American lived up to her pledge and, four years later, left her life in Chicago behind to settle down in the Dutch Caribbean island of Bonaire, where she now works as a bird guide.
Recalling her only holidays there in 1988, Ms Davis told the CNN: “I fell in love with Bonaire. The day it was time to fly home, I remember I sat on the bed at my accommodations and said to myself, ‘Someday I want to live here’.”
Located 80km off the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea, Bonaire is a small Dutch-speaking special municipality part of the Netherlands and commonly grouped with Aruba and Curaçao as the stunning ABC islands.
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As they lie off Hurricane Alley, an area in which many hurricanes form, these islands are ideal for those seeking warm and sunny year-round weather.
Bonaire in particular attracts tourists for its scuba diving and bird watching, but once on the island visitors discover a charming, peaceful and relaxing reality.
While Bonaire provides locals and tourists with popular places to eat, astonishing beaches, good schools, free health care and surprisingly inexpensive accommodations, the island is also particularly committed to the conservation and protection of its natural beauty.
Among the several organisations it hosts, it counts donkey and flamingo sanctuaries, a sea turtle conservation group and a coral reef renewal foundation.
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Moreover, a large national park called Washington Slagbaai makes sure at least 14,000 acres of the island remain totally preserved, with development in the area barred.
Despite its natural beauty and great quality of life, the island remains far from being crowded also thanks to the fact it is little known to people outside of the Netherlands.
Accessible through an international airport a short drive away from its capital city, Kralendijk, the island has been visited on average over the past decade by some 120,000 people every year.
After the Covid crisis, however, the number of visitors soared in 2022 to 173,200, according to Statistics Netherlands.
And its population have increased too by nearly 6,000 people between 2012 and 2022, when the number of local residents was 22,573.
The rise is partially due to the many tourists who, much like Ms Davis, decide to turn their lives upside down after falling in love with Bonaire.
Harry Schoffelen, co-owner of the popular Cactus Blue Bonaire food truck, said: “What’s there not to love? We get this so many times – people arrive for the first time, and they’re already looking at buying a house here. It’s mind boggling, but you fall in love.”
The entrepreneur had travelled to Bonaire from the Netherlands in 2010 – and decided to never leave.
Travel blogger Kiki Multem, who after a five-day stay in 2021 decided Bonaire had to become her new home, described the island as “super laid back” where people are “extremely friendly”.
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