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In the northwest of Bonaire you’ll find Washington Slagbaai National Park. With no less than 5,600 hectares of unspoilt nature, the park takes up one fifth of the island. Established in 1969, it is the first national park on the Dutch Antilles. It consists of beaches, sand dunes, forest, mangroves and saliñas, a type of salt lake.
The park is home to indigenous plants and animals, including many endangered species such as flamingos, parrots and iguanas. It is also a refuge for migratory birds, and rare sea turtles lay their eggs on the beaches. In addition to various hiking trails, there are 2 car routes in the area, of 28 and 45 kilometres. The main entrance is on the southeast side of the park, at around 5 kilometres from the village of Rincon. Tickets can be bought at the ochre-coloured warehouse.
The name Washington Slagbaai reflects a long history. The park is situated on the site of various former plantations. The last owners, who exported products such as salt, coal and aloe, called the northern plantation America. The entrance had a small office where plantation workers could collect their pay. As this was so important to them, they named the office Washington after the capital of the USA. The name stuck. ‘Slagbaai’ refers to the slaughter of the goats who once lived here, who were salted and shipped to Curaçao.
Washington Slagbaai National Park Visitor Center, Bonaire
Bonaire features a large number of saliñas, or salt lakes. The largest are located in Washington Slagbaai. The sea level was much higher in the past; when the sea level went down, part of the salt water remained behind the coral reefs, creating the saliñas. The lakes are important to the preservation of the coral as they filter harmful particles from rain water. The salt water is also a favourite of the flamingos.
Washington Slagbaai features various indigenous species. The green iguana, for example, is rarely found elsewhere as its tasty meat makes it a popular hunting target. Protected in the park, the iguana can often be found between rocks or near cactuses. Rare birds include the bananaquit and mockingbird, which are often seen around the cool waters of Pos Mangel lake. If you’re lucky you might even spot a brightly coloured Caribbean parrot.
Hikers will find 3 trails in Washington Slagbaai of which 2 lead to the highest point on Bonaire, the Brandaris. This 241-metre hill used to serve as a lighthouse, and its name is a corruption of the Dutch ‘Brand, daar is’, which means ‘there is fire’. The best time to climb the hill is before noon, as afterwards it is often too hot to face the challenge. Once at the top of Brandaris, you can see as far as the Venezuelan coast on clear days.
Washington Slagbaai has several unique natural sights. 3 kilometres from the main entrance, for example, you’ll find saliña Matijs. This salt lake is a popular feeding place for flamingos. On the northeast of the park is the so-called Supladó blow hole, where the ocean waves strike the funnel- shaped bay in such a way that the air pressure creates a spectacular salt spray. Another must-see is Boka Kokolishi, one of the most stunning bays on the island where the large amount of algae present give the seawater a magical purple glow.