Don’t miss these unique island residents and historic cultural sites on Bonaire.
With its world famous marine park and diving, Bonaire’s topside nature and culture are often overlooked. Whether you’re a seasoned visitor to our favorite Caribbean island or planning your first Bonaire trip, there’s more to this tiny diver’s paradise than initially meets the eye. We’ve been coming here for over 30 years, and we’re still learning interesting things about this amazing place. And it’s not all underwater!
Here are four cool facts — actually icons — of Bonaire nature and culture that deserve a closer look on your next visit.
Flamingos prefer Bonaire.
Anyone who spends time on the island is likely to see Bonaire’s most colorful resident (and national bird) either in flight or wading in one of the saliñas. But did you know that Bonaire is one of only four major breeding sites for the Caribbean flamingo? Bonaire joins Great Inagua, Cuba, and the Yucatan as the four main areas where Caribbean flamingos choose to raise their families each year.
Called chogogo in the local language of Papiamentu, these bright pink visitors breed in the Pekelmeer flamingo sanctuary in the south of the island within the Cargill salt flats. Up to 3,000 breeding pairs raise their young in this protected area each year, with the females laying a single egg in a cone-shaped nest made of mud.
While flamingos are fun to watch and photograph, please heed the Keep Out signs posted around the perimeter of their sanctuary. Entering to get a better shot or a closer look disturbs the birds and sometimes scares them from their nest, leaving their young quite vulnerable. Don’t put the flamingos at risk — just enjoy them from the paved roads.
For more information about Bonaire’s flamingos, visit the DCNA website.
Ríncon is Bonaire’s 16th century village.
This tiny village in the north of the island is the oldest village in continual existence within the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. Founded by the Spanish in 1527, it offered a very strategic location on Bonaire, hidden in a valley with exceptional lookout points surrounding it. Pirates and ships from other countries could not see the town when sailing past, and settlers could scan both sides of Bonaire’s coastline.
Ríncon is also the cradle of Bonaire’s rich Antillean culture and offers myriad options for learning more about this tiny Caribbean island. Spend a few hours at Mangazina di Rei cultural park exploring the buildings and displays from Bonaire’s past. Explore the trails surrounding the village by car, bike, or on foot. Celebrate Ríncon Day when the entire island’s population descends upon the village to celebrate with performances, dance, music, and authentic food.
Bats are out with you every night on Bonaire.
Did you know Bonaire has an extensive wet and dry cave system (around 400) that is home to the island’s nine species of bats? The caves are where thousands of bats roost and raise their families.
Most active at dusk and just after dark, you’re likely to see Bonaire’s bats near bodies of water – your villa/resort’s swimming pool or near the ocean – where they are hunting for their favorite foods, including insects, nectar, fish, pollen, and fruits.
Don’t worry, though, even when they are darting nearby. Bats have excellent sensory recognition and have no interest in bothering you. Just sit back quietly and watch the show – and let them help keep the mosquito population down.
Washington-Slagbaai National Park is the crown jewel of Bonaire above water.
Bonaire lovers know that the northern part of the island is comprised of the Washington-Slagbaai National Park. Rugged and undeveloped, its a great place to spend a day exploring over 13,500 acres of off the beaten path beaches, nature sites and the visitor center and museum. But most people don’t know the park’s history and what it offers, much less squeeze in a visit.
The park was actually created by the joining of two 19th century plantations – Washington and Slagbaai. The Washington plantation was the first acquired in 1969, after the death of owner Julio Caesar “Boy” Herrera, who willed it to the island people to preserve it as an undeveloped nature sanctuary – the first in the Netherlands Antilles. The entrance to today’s park is actually part of the original Washington Plantation.
The Slagbaai plantation was later acquired by the government in 1977 (at that time owned by the Debrot family — you’ll see the name on Bonaire’s main road north of Kralendijk), and officially became part of the national park. And if you’re wondering where the name Slagbaai comes from, there are two theories.
Most agree it is derived from the Dutch word “slachtbaai” meaning slaughter bay, which makes sense given that one key export from this plantation was goat meat. However, some historians believe the name originated from the Papiamentu word “salu” which means salt, which also makes sense because salt harvesting was conducted there since the times of the original Indian population.
Now impress your friends and hosts with your local knowledge, preferably over an ice cold Amstel. And spend some time exploring Bonaire’s unique nature and history.