The Visitor Center at the entrance to the park includes a museum, guide to the hiking trails, library and gift shop where you can get cold drinks. The Kasikunda Climbing Trail and Lagadishi Walking Trail start here and are both supposed to be nice hikes but were closed when we visited because of too much rain.
The museum is worth visiting. It's got some very basic but interesting exhibits about the history of Bonaire, it's geology, and different species of plants and animals and how they evolved or arrived on the island. We thought the display on the history of music and festivals was good too.
Ulf and Dedrie Pedersen captain the Woodwind sailing vessel and know all about the hundreds of different places to dive or snorkel around the Island. I went on a nude sail while staying at the Sorobon Resort (which is going non-nudist soon) and both Ulf and Dedrie were naked with us, having a blast! While Dedrie led us around on our snorkeling tour, Ulf came up with some delicious snacks for us when we returned to the ship. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon snorkel trip and either swimsuits or not, Woodwind should be considered for your trip!
If you want to check anything in the Park, you really need a pickup truck or 4-wheel drive vehicle, because the road is unlevel and very rocky, but it is REALLY worth it! There are a ton of dive sites all along the road, and places to pull over and watch the Pink Flamingoes feeding in the shallow ponds. This was one of my goals, to see these magnificent birds in one of only 4-5 breeding sites in the world! There are 2 routes one can take through the 13,500 acre park---one is 17 miles long and one is 28 miles----the longer one took me about 3 1/2 hours to drive slowly through, stopping at 4-5 places for photos and rest....I met a nice couple from Finland, just fixing to get in for their first dive on Bonaire. At the very end of the drive is a shallow lake filled with Flamingoes feeding...Did you know that the reason they are pink is because of the pink algae they eat? The very young are sort of grey.....
Woodwind came highly recommended on the Cruise Critic forum, the 1st place I check when planning independent shore excursions. I booked my cruise much later than most folks and waited even longer to book my shore excursions, by the time I got around to it, Woodwind was booked solid for the afternoon tour but they said they were organizing an earlier, slightly shorter tour for the morning so we signed up. Payment was not required to make a reservation which is nice in case the boat doesn't dock that day in port which has happened to us on a different cruise. You pay on board with either a credit card or cash.
The afternoon tour on the trimaran is from 2-5pm and costs $50, the morning tour that was organized was from 11:30am-2pm and cost $45, they said the snorkeling time was more or less the same and that the sailing time was cut. The snorkel spot Woodwind's cruise tour goes to is the reef off Klein Bonaire, a small uninhabited island off the coast of Bonaire that has been incorporated into the Bonaire National Marine Park. Although you can go off on your own, I thought it was fine following the guide as he pointed out a lot of different fish and at least 10 turtles, both green turtles and hawksbill turtles, I don't believe we saw and loggerhead turtles but that is the third kind you might see.
The snorkeling here is a drift snorkel which means you drift with the current and then the boat picks you up at the end, I think we were in the water for well over an hour, maybe 1 1/2 hours. The crew is friendly and knowledgable, we had Robert as our guide as the more experienced group, the others went with Dedrie (Dee). Of all the snorkeling tours we've ever done, I thought this one was the best run with a great crew. I would highly recommend it if you find yourself on Bonaire.
Snorkeling equipment is provided and they also provide beverages-soft drinks, beer, wine and rum punch. Plus a few local snacks were passed around.
In addition to the most famous winged resident, the pink flamingo, Bonaire has more than 200 other species of birds that have been spotted there. We saw some parrots and parakeets flying from the trees as we were driving along, when we stopped to take some photos of the flamingos I spotted the yellow oriole that can be seen in the attached photo.
The salt flats of Pekelmeer are located at the southern part of the island and are quite something to see, the wind blown white salt foam contrasting with the pink pools of water that are filled with the brine shrimp that the flamingos like to eat. Off in the distance you can see the enormous piles of salt waiting to be loaded onto ships by Cargill Salt Bonaire N.V. Salt is Bonaire's only export, our guide told us it was used solely for water softening products, several other sources said it was also occasionally exported for use as winter road salt in the US. The salt is a natural product of sea water, sun and wind, held in condenser ponds until it is ready to be harvested.
Salt has been a major industry on Bonaire for over 350 years, originally harvested by slaves and after slavery was abolished, by local laborers.
Located close to the salt flats, you'll find some tiny white huts that look like they couldn't possibly be big enough for a human. These are the slave huts, used by the African slaves that the Dutch used to harvest the salt.
I had it in my head that the best place to see flamingos was in the south of Bonaire at the flamingo sanctuary at Lake Pekel near the salt works as that is where the majority of them nest but we got a much better view of them by heading north to Goto Lake (Goto Meer), a saltwater lagoon where we saw a large number of flamingos. The flamingos are protected in Bonaire, they have thrived and their numbes have increased to an estimated 10,000-15,000 from around 2,500.
Flamingos have their pink color because of their diet of carotenoid pigments found in the algae and small crustaceans that theyeat, Caribbean flamingos have the brightest coloration of all. On the southern part of the island we saw pink water that had everything removed from it except for the algae that the flamingos eat
Washington Slagbaai National Park is a nature sanctuary established in 1969 to protect and restore, and to otherwise allow humans to continue to enjoy the unique wildlife of Bonaire and the South Caribbean. It spans 5,643 hectares across Bonaire's North tip and is a safe habitat for many species including some endemic to Bonaire like the whiptail lizard, the Bonairean anole, and the Bonairean Lora parrot. It's also a nesting place for sea turtles.
The park is a must-see for any visitor, but if you're a nature lover you could easily spend a whole day (or maybe even two) taking in all the activities. There are lots of hiking and biking trails, opportunities for some great views, and short or long scenic driving routes. There's good kayaking. There's diving and snorkeling, and a few beaches but conditions can be rough; some places are dangerous for swimming and some sites are recommended for advanced divers only. The best parts of the visit for us were the short driving route (the long route was closed due to rain), walking among the unique wildlife, and the Museum, which deserves its own tip.
Taking the Scenic Drive along the island's Northwest coast was one of the highlights of our visit. The road winds through amazing natural scenery, with views from rocky cliffs overlooking the ocean. There are several places where you can pull off to the side and park to hike along cliffs and see caves, rocky beaches, and unique cacti and plant life. There's wildlife everywhere including reptiles like iguanas, blue whiptail lizards and anoles, and lots of different kinds of birds.
There's a lookout point along the drive where you can get a breathtaking view of Mount Brandaris and Goto Meer, a landlocked saltwater lake where you might see flamingos.
Along this road there are also a few great dive/snorkel sites including 1,000 Steps (which is worth seeing whether you do or don't go in the water), and "Witches Hut" just to the South where you can snorkel and see all kinds of different coral.
Bonaire's salt pans are at the South end of the island. The salt works are currently run by Cargill Salt Bonaire N.V., and consist (very basically) of Lake Pekelmeer where saltwater is pushed in from the ocean, the shallow pans where the sun heats and evaporates the water, and the huge salt pyramids. After the salt dries, it's carried by conveyor belt down the massive salt pier and loaded on to ships.
It's a great place to see flamingos but for the birds' protection you can't get too close. There are 3 dive sites near the salt pier: "Salt City" just South of the pier; "Tori's Reef" at the outflow from the salt works can also be snorkeled; and "Salt Pier" right near the end of the pier has some unique marine life but should not be attempted while there are ships around. There are beautiful beaches and dive/snorkel sites all along the coast adjacent to the salt pans.
Bonaire's national bird is the flamingo, and the island is one of four places in the world where flamingo colonies breed. The best places to see them are at Pekelmeer Sanctuary, in the salt pans to the South, and Lake Gotomeer in Washington Slagbaai National Park. These areas are protected and ensure you can't disturb the birds by getting too close, so bring a good telephoto lens if you want to take pictures.
Pink Beach is located on Bonaire's Southwest coast beside the salt pans. It's called "Pink Beach" because the bits of pink coral make the sand glow a pinkish colour at sunset. We didn't see any pink sand, but it was still a beautiful place to watch the sunset.
This beach is sandier and the water is shallow for longer, making it particularly good for swimming. We came back another day to snorkel but it was raining and the current was strong so didn't stay very long. Apparently there are lots of interesting things to see like stingrays diving along the sloping drop-off.
The water off Bonaire's Southwest shore is clear and mostly calm. Some of the beaches along this part of the coast are a bit sandier, such as Pink Beach, and are good for swimming. The snorkeling at Pink Beach was okay but the currents were quite strong on the day we visited. We saw much more marine life just to the North at the Invisibles.
There are marked dive and/or snorkel sites all the way along the coast. The Hilma Hooker, a 72m Korean freighter was sunk off this part of the shore after Customs officers found a bunch of marijuana on board and burnt the ship. There can be strong currents but it's apparently an incredible wreck-diving experience. Further to the South the dive sites White Slave, Margate Bay, and Red Beryl are good for seeing sea turtles.
There are lots of great places on the beaches along the west coast to watch Bonaire's beautiful sunset. My favorite places are Pink Beach and along the coastline further South. Just bring a blanket and enjoy!
There are all kinds of companies that offer sunset cruises and snorkeling trips and such. We usually steer clear of this kind of stuff but we booked a sunset cruise with Aquaspace Bonaire to celebrate a special occasion. They made arrangements to pick us up at our accommodation, and then didn't show. When we called they claimed they had no record of our booking. It was all for the best in the end; we found a spot on the beach that was much more secluded and romantic, and watched the tide come in and the stars come out.
Kaya Gobernador N Debrot 71, , Bonaire, Caribbean
Good for: Solo
E.E.G. Boulevard 10, Caribbean
Good for: Business
We really enjoyed this place and the good service that they provided. I have seen on their website...more