With dramatic coastlines, secluded bays, dive sites and blow holes, an adventure through Washington Slagbaai National Park is one of the best things to do in Bonaire.
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Spanning 14,000 acres across the northern tip of the island, dirt roads connect a dozen points of interest including some of the best beaches in Bonaire and its tallest peak. The birding opportunities are endless with flamingos, mockingbirds, parakeets and parrots calling the area home, while its protected Bonaire National Marine Park has sea turtles and sharks swimming among the vibrant coral reefs.
How to get to Washington Slagbaai National Park
Washington Slagbaai National Park is a one hour drive north of Kralendijk, and there are a few ways to see it: driving in a vehicle with high ground clearance, hiking, cycling or booking a guided tour.
Those who choose the self-guided option receive a map at the park entrance outlining details of each stop, and there are two well-marked but rugged roads. It takes about two to four hours to drive around depending on which route is chosen, and the road is one way only.
History of Washington Slagbaai National Park
The national park was once two land plantations that supplied salt, charcoal, goats and aloe extract to places like Curacao and Europe. The owner gifted the land to the government upon his death in 1969, on the condition that it remain preserved and undeveloped for everyone to enjoy.
Today, the site is managed by the non-profit STINAPA Bonaire which spearheads conservation efforts on the island and leads educational programs in the park.
One of the first stops is Playa Chikitu, an expansive beach with powdery-soft white sand. While this isn’t a swimming spot due to the huge waves that crash into the shoreline, it’s still possible to go wading and sunbathe.
The strong winds and waves formed Bonaire’s only sand dunes, providing an ideal nesting ground for sea turtles.
Seru Grandi and the Suplado Blowhole
The power of nature is on full display at Seru Grandi, where powerful tsunamis pushed massive boulders onto the flats. A nearly 200 foot high limestone terrace formed by the fossil remnants of coral reefs dates back more than one million years, making this one of the most geologically significant spots in the park.
Head to the water’s edge to see the Suplado Blowhole in action; Suro Bentana (window hill) and Kara Kora (red face) are the other attractions at this pit stop.
Boka Kokolishi is a hidden gem for sun-seekers, where a pristine beach is tucked away in a secluded bay with pretty Kokolishi shells scattered all over. The beach is surrounded by cliffs embedded with fossilized conch shells, which keep it out of view from the trail above for more privacy.
A series of steps lead down to the sand where waves lap at the shoreline, and the clear water is calm enough for swimming.
History buffs will find Malmok fascinating, as there’s evidence of habitation dating back to Amerindian times between AD 800 and AD 1400, and ceramics and small tools have been discovered.
The major highlight today is the lighthouse which was built in 1906, but never lit since it turned out its location was too close to the sea and waves would damage the building. A crumbling Watchman’s House made of limestone blocks still sits next to it, which was also never used.
Pos Mangel and Put Bronswinkel
Birders will want to swing by Pos Mangel, an observation post where birds drink out of the freshwater spring early in the morning.
Keep an eye out for Eared Doves and Tropical Mockingbirds, then head over to Put Bronswinkel where there are Parrots, Pearly-eyed Thrashers and Bananaquits hiding among the lush greenery.
One of the best hikes in Bonaire is here in the park, where Mount Brandaris rises up nearly 800 feet making it the island’s highest peak.
It takes about 45 minutes to get to the top with a moderate incline, and the panoramic views from the top are worth the effort. On clear days, hikers can see neighbouring Curaçao and mountain ranges across the water in Venezuela. Note that it’s mandatory to start by noon to make it back out of the park by closing time.
One of the prettiest, most scenic spots in Washington Slagbaai National Park is Wayaka, a trio of gorgeous beaches (named I, II and III) that also have fantastic snorkeling.
The most popular one is number two, which is accessed by a steep stone staircase leading to the beach where the sand has a red, sparkling shimmer due to the corals that rub off on it. Sunbathe along the idyllic shoreline, or hop into the water to swim with Angelfish and parrotfish right off the reef.
Playa Funchi is a small lake within the park that has small picnic areas and a dive site; however, the real highlight is the flamingos. This is one of four places in the national park to see them, with the others being Salina Matus, Salina Bartol, Salina Slagbaai and Salina Goto.
Salina Slagbaai tends to have the largest flock of flamingos, and they often feed quite close to the parking lot which means a good vantage point for visitors. Boka Slagbaai is one of the most happening spots in the park, and its photogenic, sunshine-yellow former port buildings grace many postcards.
This bay used to be one of Bonaire’s two main ports, and its name ‘slaughter bay’ stems from the fact it once where goats were slaughtered before being exported to Curacao. Today, Boka Slagbaai has a much more fun vibe with shaded picnic areas and cliff jumping off the point.
The final stop on the way out of Washington Slagbaai National Park, which is particularly captivating around the golden hour. There’s a panoramic viewpoint overlooking the lake, and a road leads right down to the water where there’s a flamingo feeding area.
Practicalities for visiting Washington Slagbaai National Park
Entrance fee: $45 per adult ($20 for those who already paid the $25 STINAPA nature fee, or free for those who bought the $45 one), free for kids under 12. Locals pay $3 upon presentation of a Bonaire ID.
What to bring: There’s very little shade and no facilities other than a bathroom at the entrance, so pack food, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water. Be sure to have a full gas tank and a spare tire, and pack snorkeling gear to see reef fish in the calm, clear waters around Wayaka.
Hours: The Bonaire national park is open from 8 AM to 5 PM daily; however, the last entrance is at 2:30 PM to allow enough driving time to make it around Washington Slagbaai National Park.
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