For some reason, people associate Bonaire only with diving. This association couldn’t be farther from the truth. In my previous post I covered what it’s like driving through the ever-changing landscape of the south of the island. In this post, I’ll focus my attention on the Washington Slagbaai National Park in the north. We drove a 4×4 pick up truck, which I don’t think is a must but it’s certainly a nice-to-have on the rough terrain in the NP.
Driving to Washington Slagbaai
We decided not to go diving on the day we were visiting the north of the island, which ended up being a great decision because this road trip took us a whole day. The best route to take when driving from Kralendijk is the coastal road. I’m sure I’m not the only one when I say I get excited when I think about road trips that take me by the coast, but 8 out of 10 times it doesn’t quite look like this, luckily in the case of Bonaire it does.
On the left hand side the Caribbean sea is glittering in the sun and on the right there are strange rock formations.
This road runs all the way to the Gotomeer. There are a few opportunities to stop, for example at old dilapidated plantations, like Karpata, but we decided to keep going until we reached the lake. It was only a short drive, Bonaire is a small island after all, but we wanted to see the lake’s famous inhabitants, flamingoes, as quickly as possible. Even though we weren’t very lucky in the flamingo sanctuary in the south we did find some here, but again the were a little bit far away.
There is a view point next to the car park, you can find the stairs by following the smell of the stinky portable toilet. The view point offers a beautiful view over the whole lake and the tip of the highest mountain of Bonaire, Brandaris (241m).
When we reached Rincon, we were instructed to follow the signs with the lizard to locate the entrance to the National Park.
Entrance Washington Slagbaai NP
The entrance to the park left me bitter sweet memories.
Sweet because the guy behind the ticket counter made me laugh. During our short time queueing he told everyone the same story, in his funny Dutch Caribbean accent. He asked people whether they just wanted to drive through the park, to snorkel or to go to beach, only to completely disregard the answer by telling everyone the same story anyway; which includes beaches, snorkelling and driving. We didn’t plan snorkelling or going to the beach but he told us in detail where to go for good snorkelling like he told everyone else.
Bitter, because I had a little accident with the rental car. I told you in my post about South Bonaire how ecstatic I was being able to drive a pick up truck, right? Well, not anymore after the following incident happened (not to mention the 565 USD excess insurance on the car).
I backed out a parking spot at the entrance; and I was looking around me (as I always do) to see if there was anything there. I noticed big rocks by the side of the road so I was extra careful not to hit them but I backed out of the space quickly anyway. Then we felt a bang. My friend was shocked and so was I because I couldn’t see what I had just hit; so I asked her if she knew what it was and whether I had hit any of the rocks. She just pointed behind me at the big wall. I hit a wall…. And I didn’t see it even after I hit it! I almost feel like I deserved that 565 USD excess charge on the car insurance.
It seems I’m car accident prone when I’m on holidays – let’s not forget about the bang in Cyprus – so it’s best I take a lower excess since not renting a car in most destinations is far from desirable. Luckily, no one ever got hurt apart from the vehicle.
Washington Slagbaai NP
First of all, admission to the park is free for scuba divers who have purchased a year long entrance into the NP, which costs 25 USD. Non-Scuba divers have to pay the year fee of 25 USD to enter the park, so you might argue that while you’re in Bonaire you might as well dive.
There are two roads in this National Park, one long one and one short one. There’s also an option to climb Brandaris. We took the long road, and decided not to climb the mountain. If you want to swim or snorkel just listen to the instructions of the guard at the entrance.
The National Park is home to many awesome blowholes (boka). The seawater smashes with such high pressure into the limestone rocks that the only direction the water can take is up. This results in sprays of water which can reach up to several metres high.
Our first stop on the long road was Boka Chikitu, this is one of those bokas I described before. There’s a beach next to this sight which is obviously not meant for swimming.
The rocks upon which we walked looked like they could feature in a sci-fi movie. If you look closely shell and coral fossils can be found in these limestone rocks.
Rock formations which are stacked due to the rise and fall of the ocean level.
Suplado (Blow Hole)
This stop is awesome! This is probably one of the most impressive blow holes of the park. We stayed on this spot for a long time to take the most perfectly timed picture possible. This is a photo of when the spray reached its peak.
Many years of erosion formed the “bentana” (window).
Another cove with rough splashes of sea water.
We took the stairs up to this lighthouse to enjoy the incredible view.
We took a little detour off the coastal road to find a fresh water hole, because we read that it would be easy to spot iguanas and birds. We spotted a lot of iguanas, only one pigeon-like bird and a skull. I’m not surprised though, because fresh might be in the name, but the water hole itself didn’t look it.
When an iguana started chasing us, we knew it was time to leave.
We had a little car incident near this sight as well. My friend took over the wheel, and when we were driving up the hill the engine suddenly seized, so we started rolling down the hill. I told her to brake and she told me she was, but we were not stopping at all. At the bottom of the hill we pulled the parking brake. We were so lucky there was no one behind us. Well, actually, it would’ve been fun if we would’ve bumped the car up a bit more. At least then the excess amount would’ve been worth it.
We didn’t linger too long at the sights of the west coast. We only brought a small bottle of water each and no food because we thought the park would contain some shops or restaurants. It doesn’t; so by the time we reached the west coast around 1pm we were hungry and thirsty and ready to leave the park.
Nevertheless the water in the west looks gorgeous and I’m not surprised they would be suitable for swimming and snorkelling.
We stopped at some more salt lakes (at the end we just took photos out of the car) and that was that. We were ready to leave the park. The road is considerably worse at the end of the route than at the start so you can only leave at a snail’s pace.
The nature in Washington Slagbaai is impressive enough in my opinion to warrant a visit to the island. My lessons learnt in the case of the National Park, is to reserve a full day for the exploration. Take swimwear and snorkel gear and dive into the waters as well. My main advice though is to not forget to bring food and drinks! If you still don’t believe that Bonaire is not just for divers, just wait for my next post about the towns Kralendijk and Rincon.