Washington/Slagbaai National Park



Nature lovers will want to spend at least a day exploring Washington Slagbaai National Park, a 13,500-acre/5,500-hectare reserve that covers most of the northwestern end of the island. The park was formed from two old plantations named Washington and Slagbaai (the word means "slaughter bay" and refers to the cattle, goats and sheep that were butchered there before being shipped to Curacao).

A museum of Bonaire history is at the park entrance, where you can also pick up a map showing hiking and driving routes through the park, along with beaches and dive sites. There's a short drive (15 mi/25 km) that takes about 90 minutes with few stops, and a long drive (22 mi/35 km) that takes two and a half hours. Among the park's highlights are Boka Slagbaai, a small cove with plantation buildings from the 1800s; Salina Matijs, a salt flat that attracts flamingos during the rainy season (October-December); Boka Bartol, a lovely bay with good snorkeling; and Wayaka, a remote reef where divers might see turtles, octopi and seahorses.

On land, you'll find goats, wild donkeys, iguanas, several other species of lizards and a hundred or more different species of birds. In addition to the flamingos, look for the brilliantly colored parakeets and the green and yellow lora parrots that nest in the cacti.

Mount Brandaris, Bonaire's highest peak at 784 ft/239 m, is within the park. Those with strong legs and good hiking boots will find this a scenic climb. Guided trips can be arranged.

The park is open 8 am-5 pm, and you're advised to go early, before the day heats up. No motorcycles are allowed. Cars and divers should arrive no later than 2:30 pm. Entry fee is US$10 per adult (including car). No credit cards accepted. Phone 788-9015 or 785-0017. http://www.stinapabonaire.org.

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