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The barren land of Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Photo by Liesbet Collaert
The barren land of Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Photo by Liesbet Collaert

Visiting Bonaire Beyond the Bubbles

When people – cruisers and land tourists – talk about Bonaire, they most likely will talk about diving; how awesome and unique it is. They will talk about the clearness of the water, the healthy state of the coral and the abundance of fish and other marine life. Indeed, Bonaire’s underwater world is amazing, along the main island as well as off its sister island Klein Bonaire, but this most eastern ABC-island has more to offer than what is seen through a diver or snorkeler’s mask.

The first thing to do after picking up a mooring ball or arriving by plane, is have a look around Kralendijk, the pleasant capital of Bonaire. It is easy to navigate by foot and the town sports a plethora of restaurants, bars, shops, pretty sea views along the boardwalk, some museums, a cute church, Fort Oranje, which is now the courthouse, and, quite often, a cruise ship. After this initial meeting and greeting with the friendly town and its multi-cultural residents, the best way to see the island’s sights in one day is by renting a scooter and setting off on a tour.

View of the 1000 steps dive site and the azure ocean. Photo by Liesbet Collaert
View of the 1000 steps dive site and the azure ocean. Photo by Liesbet Collaert

The coastal road north of Kralendijk is a great starting point. The road is in good shape but narrows after a while and meanders through scrubs, cacti and rock formations. The views of the ocean are marvelous as you pass many dive sites. Before the ugly BOPEC oil terminal, turn inland and keep an eye out for big iguanas crossing the road. All of a sudden, picturesque Gotomeer (Goto Lake) appears. Flamingos sometimes rest here. After following the lakeshore, you end up in the small settlement of Rincon, with a church at its center. Exit the town on the north side and pass properties surrounded by ingenious and attractive cactus fences before arriving at Washington-Slagbaai National Park, one of Bonaire’s highlights.

This protected, rugged area covers the northeast part of the island and entrance is free with your dive or snorkel pass. With a car or motorcycle, one can spend a whole day in the park, driving, hiking, climbing the highest peak and stopping at all the viewpoints.  When you visit by scooter, you are only allowed to enter by foot. From the visitor center you can take an interesting – and hot – walk through the desert-like scenery with towering cacti, black coral patches and rocky cliffs. You will see green canaries in the sky, pink flamingoes in the big salt pond, and an endless ocean with crashing waves. A beautiful sandy beach, an old plantation wall, a spectacular blowhole and several wells can also be savored. Sturdy footwear and plenty of water are mandatory for this trek.

Salt mounds, heading back north towards Kralendijk along the coast. Photo by Liesbet Collaert
Salt mounds, heading back north towards Kralendijk along the coast. Photo by Liesbet Collaert

The ride goes back to Rincon and Kralendijk and on to Lac Bay, possibly passing wild donkeys and flamingos along the way. Flat water and steady easterlies turn Lac Bay into a popular windsurfing spot, equally you might just want to relax a while on the shady picnic benches. Continuing south, the ocean violently breaks ashore to your left and the extensive salt flats – with a pink ‘dot’ here and there – peacefully lay to your right.  The Willemstoren (Willem’s Tower) is where you slowly turn north again, to arrive at a group of reconstructed slave huts. A peek inside one of these gives you an idea of the living conditions of the less fortunate islanders of the past. Just like in the beginning of the trip, there are a lot of marked areas to stop for a refreshing swim or snorkel along this coast. Before arriving back in Kralendijk, the colorful salt pans and bright white salt mountains next to the road beckon to be photographed.

If you are a ‘speedy’ sightseer and skipped the National Park for another day, but you’ve got the hang of scooter driving on this safe, easy-going island and would like to see more, the Butterfly Farm and the Donkey Sanctuary are other sights to be enjoyed. And, on the other days of your vacation or stop-over on your sail west, you can test your energy and fitness level on one of the cycling trails. Then again, you can always go diving!

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