Washington Slagbaai National Park

This pristine 13,500 acre natural park offers an excellent introduction to the landscape and vegetation of Bonaire. Covering almost one-fifth of the island, the park offers hills with scenic vistas, vast saline plains, beaches and trees filled with exotic birds, wild donkeys, goats and iguanas. There are also spots that offer excellent snorkeling and diving. Depending on the amount of time visitors have to explore, they can choose different routes through the park.

There are two driving trails, the shorter, green route of 28 km (17 miles), which takes about two hours to travel, and the longer, yellow route of 45 km (28 miles), which takes about four hours. These are rugged dirt roads, and only four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. In the center of the park, there is also a walking trail up to Brandaris, the highest hill of Bonaire which offers a wonderful view of the island, and only takes about three hours round trip. The park is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm except on official holidays.

Saliñas (salt pans) are a prominent feature of Washington-Slagbaai. These stretches of salty water and mud are a reminder of the island's geological past. The surrounding ocean was once 6 meters (19 feet) higher than it is now, meaning most of present-day Bonaire was under water. As the water level dropped, salt water remained in shallow valleys that soon silted up. In the past, salt was extracted from these areas and exported. Today, the salinas are good places to see birds feeding, especially flamingoes. The size of the saliñas varies according to rainfall, but even in the dry season the ground surrounding them is wet and soft. Drivers should stick to the main roads.

Subi Brandaris (241 meters (790 feet)) is the highest point in the park and offers the best views of the island. A footpath leads from the parking lot up the ridge, a trip that takes about one and a half hours. The route is marked with yellow circles painted on the rocks. At the top, visitors have panoramic views of the park, with Kralendijk and the white heaps of salt from the Salt Company in the distance. Curaçao lies on the western horizon. On especially clear days, even Venezuela is visible.

Pos Mangel ("sweet well") is one of the few places in the park where water is always available. It is therefore a good spot to watch birds as they stop for a drink. Most species will flee any noise, so visitors should park their cars and sneak to the well. Among the species that can usually be seen are bananaquits, mockingbirds, doves, and even the shy local pigeons. This is also a good place to see the colorful green lora, the local name for the Caribbean parrot. This bird is now unfortunately endangered due to its popularity as a pet.

Pos Bronswinkel also contains fresh water year-round; therefore it is another popular gathering place for birds. Patient (and quiet) birdwatchers will be rewarded with glimpses of rare species, such as the pearly-eyed thrasher and the yellow oriole.

Always remember, it’s cooler in the mornings and bring lots of water.