Hire a car if you do not want to go on an organized tour. The island can be toured in a day if you start early but it is more pleasant to do a north tour on one day and a south tour another. Take food and drinks, there are rarely any available along the way, and aim to picnic somewhere you can swim to cool off.
North of Kralendijk the road passes most of the hotels, past the Water Distillation Plant along the ‘scenic’ road, which offers several descents to the sea and some excellent spots for snorkelling along the rocky coastline. The first landmark is the radio station which has masses of aerials. Note that the road is one-way, do not turn round, but beware of pot holes and watch out for lizards sunbathing.
At the National Parks Foundation building you can turn right on a better road to Rincon, climbing to the top of the hill for a steep descent and a good view of Rincon and the Windward coast. Alternatively, continue along to the Bonaire Petroleum Company where the road turns inland to Goto Meer Bay, the best place to see flamingoes, on another road to Rincon, Bonaire’s oldest village where the slaves’ families lived. Past Rincon is a side road to the Boca Onima caves with their Arawak Indian inscriptions. Indian inscriptions in several caves around the island can still be seen, but they have not been decyphered.
The road leading north from Rincon takes you to Washington/Slagbaai National Park, which occupies the north portion of the island, about 5,460 ha, and contains more than 190 species of birds. The park was set up in 1969. Daily 0800 to 1700 (no entry after 1500). NAf 5, US$3, children up to 15 NAf 0.75. Bicycles only on guided tours as per park rules, arrangements must be made in advance for bike entry. Toilet at the entrance. Bring food and water.
There is a small museum of local historical items opposite the office and a room with geological explanations, bird pictures and a shell collection behind the office. No hunting, fishing or camping is permitted.
You can choose to drive a 34-km or a 24-km tour, the roads being marked by yellow or green arrows. You will get a route map when you pay to get in. The road is dirt, rough in parts, and the long route can be very hot and tiring unless you make several stops to swim and cool off.
It is possible to drive round in an ordinary car but many car rental agencies prohibit the use of their cars and four-wheel drive is preferable. Allow plenty of time as once you have chosen your route you have to stick to it. Even the short route takes a minimum of two hours. Check your spare tyre before you start.
Cycle Bonaire is now permitted to take cycling tours into the park but other two-wheeled transport is not allowed. Guided hiking excursions up Mount Brandaris (260 m, the island’s highest point) and hiking trails have been marked. Do not expect much variation in vegetation, the overall impression is of miles of scrub and cactus, broken only by rocks or salinjas. You can drive to Goto Meer on the longer route but you can get a better view from the observation point outside the Park. The return to Kralendijk inland through the villages of Noord Salinja and Antriol.
The tour south passes the airport and Trans World Radio’s towering 213 m antenna which transmits three million watts, making it the hemisphere’s most powerful radio station. Its shortwave broadcasts can be picked up in almost any part of the world. The coastal area south of Kralendijk is being heavily developed for tourism with construction of time share apartments, villas and hotels. The salt pier dominates the view along the coastal road and the salt pans are a stunning pink/purple colour.
Further on are the snow-white salt piles and the three obelisks: blue, white, and orange, dating from 1838, with the tiny huts that sheltered the slaves who worked the saltpans. The roofs start at waist level and it is startling to think of men sharing one of these structures. Remember the flamingoes are easily frightened, so move quietly if near them.
At the south tip of the island is Willemstoren, Bonaire’s lighthouse, which dates from 1837. Pass Sorobon Beach and the mangrove swamps to Boca Cai at landlocked Lac Bay, with its clear water excellent for underwater exploration. The extensive seagrass beds and surrounding mangroves are an important nursery for marine creatures. What seem to be snow-capped hills from a distance are great piles of empty conch shells left by the local fishermen at Boca Cai. Near the Sorobon Resort is the Sea Hatch Bonaire shrimp farming project. Take the road back to Kralendijk through the village of Nikiboko.