British pop singer Chris Rea wrote a beautiful cult song in the 1980s called Road to Hell. If he was inspired by the bumpy and potholed roads of the Washington Slagbaai National Park we'll never know, but they certainly remind us of that song and perhaps that's why we appreciate this tough drive so much. As soon as you enter this immense 5,500-hectare park located on the northernmost tip of the island, you enter a completely different world.
A short (1.5 hours, 24 km) and a long (2.5 hours, 35 km) route are at your disposal, but if you arrive early enough (no one is allowed to enter after 14:45), we recommend the longer, more desolate route through this stunning landscape. Buy a ticket at the entrance for US$25 or show your Nature Fee Ticket (see below), but don’t even think about entering without a high clearance vehicle or your liability claim will skyrocket. There are limited facilities at the moment in the park, so bring your own survival and fun kit including plenty of water, binoculars, towels and something to eat. With more than 200 species of feathered friends about, this is an absolute paradise for bird watchers.
Ready for a swim? The sandy beach at Wayaka might be small, but it's a great spot for sunbathing and snorkelling. Stop halfway through the journey for a much deserved break at the large salt lake where you can observe flocks of flamingos in their natural habitat. If you've got enough energy left and you came here early in the day, a moderate 90-minute hike to the top of Bonaire's highest point (Brandaris, 241 meters) can also be done. The views from the top are simply fantastic.
You can also visit a small museum right at the exit/entrance of the park. One of the island's largest former plantation houses has been transformed into a museum dedicated to local flora and fauna. It's small and simple, but it demonstrates how this national park has evolved over the centuries. It covers the cultural and historic heritage of the island and we recommend the exhibits dedicated to giant cactuses, which include an outdoor exhibition on burning charcoal and how to build fences using this prickly natural resource. A huge skeleton of a whale is also on display outside. More information: www.stinapa.org
Nature Fee The sea around Bonaire and Klein Bonaire is protected and managed by STINAPA via the Bonaire National Marine Park (BNMP). Bonaire was the first Caribbean island to protect its reefs ensuring that they're not over fished and that boats don't drop anchors on the fragile ecosystem. All visitors of the BNMP must pay a nature fee to enter the parks. For scuba divers it’s a mere $25 per year or $10 for a day pass. Other visitors pay $10 per year. The nature fee can be purchased at any dive shop, the tourism office and most of the bigger hotels. Save your receipt and bring a photo ID to visit the Washington Slagbaai National Park. For detailed info on the nature fee visit www.stinapa.org.