The first inhabitants on Bonaire were the Arawak Indians.Then in 1499, Americo Vespucci discovered Bonaire and claimed it for Spain. Because the island had no gold nor sufficient rainfall to develop agriculture, the Spaniards forced the native Indians into slavery on the large plantations of Hispaniola resulting in the almost depopulation of the island.
In 1526, the governor of the island decided to bring in laborers from Venezuela and, along with the help of the local Indians, he began to raise cattle.Within a few years, cows, sheep, goats, pigs, donkeys and horses were being raised on the island and became valuable for their hides. Along with stock farming, sea salt was being recovered in artificial saltpans on the southern end of the island and salt soon became a precious commodity.
Over the next few centuries, convicts from Spanish colonies in South America were brought to the island and small settlements were begun. In the 17th century the Dutch arrived and Bonaire became an important slave market until 1863 when slavery was abolished.
Self-rule was granted by the Netherlands in 1954 but it remained a Dutch protectorate. Thanks to its abundant bird life and beautiful coral reefs, Bonaire began to emerge as a holiday resort. Charming stone bungalows replaced internment camps and wooden shacks. Hotels began to open and the Flamingo airport, originally constructed in 1955, was expanded in 1972 to support the increase in visitors.
Today, Bonaire is well known to scuba divers and bird-watchers. There is little agriculture and most of the island is covered in scrub and cacti, many reaching heights of 20 feet.