You don’t have to be an underwater fan to find adventure on Bonaire. Scuba diving and snorkeling in the well-protected Marine Park is the island’s foremost attraction, but you also may enjoy spending a few days on dry land. Hike the trails in a national park, bike along the scenic shoreline or mountain trails, and explore historic villages.
Start out in the cool of the morning and head straight for Washington Slagbaai National Park, where the Visitor Center at the entrance opens at 8:00 am and will hook you up with maps and information. The center is also a small museum with a few interesting exhibits, and the gift shop next door has t-shirts and local art you won’t find anywhere else.
You may want to simply drive through the park on one of the two marked routes. Both roads are best tackled in a jeep that can handle the rocks and ruts. The green route is 17 mi/28 km long, and the yellow route is 28 mi/45 km long. Allow a couple of hours to cover the shorter route and double that for the longer one. The journey is well worth the effort.
The best views are from the top of one of the hills. Subi Branaris is the highest rise on the island at 790 ft/241 m, and the moderately-difficult hike up will take you 30 to 45 minutes. Kasikunda is more challenging because of the rocky terrain and steep ascent. Anyone in good health with average stamina can walk the Lagadishi Trail at a leisurely pace in under two hours.
Guided rides are best for inexperienced riders or first-time visitors who plan to go to remote parts of the island. However, the flat terrain is ideal for even young cyclists, and miles of paved roads wind along the coast. More adventuresome unpaved trails branch off into the hilly interior.
Rocks with orange marks painted on them mark 185 mi/300 km of trails. A guide can help you spot the signs and bike shops will have maps.
While technically a water activity, you can stay dry while kayaking Lac Bay’s mangrove forest. It is one of the best-protected marine ecosystems in the Caribbean. Explore this delicate environment on a guided tour by kayak or solar-powered boat with a naturalist from the Mangrove Information Center. As you’ll see, Lac Bay is not a swamp but rather a breezy habitat and breeding ground for many types of birds and sea creatures.
If you opt for the two-hour kayak tour, you’ll have an opportunity to snorkel in the crystal clear salty water and observe seahorses, jellyfish, rays, and lobsters in the forest tunnels.
Pekelmeer on the far south end of the island is recognizable by the salt mountains. You’ll see them as you approach on the coast road (EEG Boulevard), about 9 mi/14 km from both Kralendijk, on the west coast, and Lac Bay, on the eastern shore.
The tiny stone huts across from the salt flats are where African slaves lived in the 1800s. Step inside one of the empty structures and imagine up to six men calling it home. A more appealing sight is the flash of pink flamingos who live nearby in a sanctuary. Visitors aren’t allowed onto refuge grounds, but you can see them from the road. Also watch for other types of birds that hang out around the sanctuary, including heron, osprey, and frigate birds.
The Donkey Sanctuary is a totally different must-see. It’s off EEG Boulevard between Kralendijk and Pekelmeer on Kaya IR, Randolph Statius van Eps. Here you are welcome to roam around or drive your car through the sprawling ranch that shelters and cares for injured, sick, and orphaned donkeys. Pick up some carrots in the gift shop to feed your new buddies.
Gotomeer is a lagoon in the northern part of the island within Washington Slagbaai National Park. Get there by driving north along the west coast from Kralendijk on the Queens Highway, about a 35-minute trip. Flamingos live and nest around the lake’s beautiful wetlands. These shy birds are fun to watch, especially when the fuzzy gray babies appear in the spring. Sometime in June, the birds fly off to Venezuela for the summer. You’ll have the best view from the observation area on the hill above the lagoon.
Rincon is Bonaire’s oldest village and an intriguing place to visit. Dutch settlers brought slaves to the town from Africa to harvest salt and work on nearby plantations. When slavery was abolished in 1863, the former slaves stayed on in their new homeland.Walk or bike through town to observe the colorful old houses and visit the local distillery to try the legendary green Cadushy Liqueur that’s made from cactus. The garden gift shop has maps and information about tours of the area.
Stop by Mangazina di Rei, the old Kings Storehouse where crops were once stockpiled and distributed to African slaves each week. The stone building is now a museum featuring historical and cultural exhibits. A full-sized reproduction of the early settlement is set up on the grounds.
Before you leave the area, drive up to Alta Mia UnJo (Panorama Rincon) located on a signed dirt road off Kara Para Mira, going back toward Queens Highway. You’ll have a stunning view of the entire north end of the island.