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Netherlands Antilles: Washington Slagbaai National Park

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Washington Slagbaai National Park | Netherlands Antilles | Americas

[Visited: July 2014]

After touring the southern part of Bonaire, I head north, on my way to Washington Slagbaai National Park. When I take the turn to the park from Rincon, the oldest town of Bonaire, there are no more cars on the road. This is a dead-end street: there are a few houses on the roadside, and then, the road leads straight to the entrance of the park. Even though it is not 8 am yet (the official opening time), the gate is already open. I show the ticket I received the day before when I went diving, get a map of the park and some explanations, and I am on my way. Too bad the park does not open earlier: I would have loved to watch sunrise here. I take the yellow, long route, which is a one-way dirt track, leading around the north cape of the island in an anti-clockwise direction. The first turn-off is to Chikitu Beach and Boka Chikitu. A rocky ledge, flat like a table, rises above the sea, where the waves break. The beach is a lovely short stretch of sand towards which the waves are sucked through a narrow bay. Not surprisingly, there are warning signs about a treacherous current.

Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Whitish Saliña Slagbaai with hilly landscape in the background

The road continues; to my left, I see rocky hills and a landscape with cacti, and then, a wall of rocks between the track and the sea. At the end of the wall, I find yet another access to the sea, at the Supladó Blowhole: a hole in the coral rock spits the white waves high up into the sky upon each hit of the Atlantic surf. I continue driving north on the empty track. I pass by Malmok, with the ruins of a lighthouse and a research centre, which is also the northernmost point of Bonaire. A little further on: a saltwater lake, where a lone, pale-looking flamingo stands on its fragile legs. On the other side of the lake: the range of mountains which is the highest part of the island. That is where I am heading: my next goal is to climb Brandaris, the highest mountain of Bonaire at 241 metres. When I park my car at the trailhead, the sun is burning on my head. The ascent is supposed to take between one and two hours, and I wonder how warm it will get. The first part leads through a thick vegetation of cacti, some of which look more like trees than cacti and are wooded. Soon enough, the trail opens up, allowing some room for wind to cool me down. I pass the goat gate, which I close behind me. The Brandaris is clearly visible ahead of me - it does not look far. The climbing gets more serious, and I have to use all fours to work my way up the boulders. There is no protection anymore: the strong wind that is typical of Bonaire blows around me. A tree has been sculpted by the wind: its top is much lower than its middle section, giving it the appearance of a bow pointing towards the sky. I can only see the boulders and rocks above me. Then, suddenly, I see a black-and-white marker, and a family resting against it, and I know I have reached the summit; it has taken me less than half an hour. When I put my bag down and look back and around, I have a totally different view of the landscape of Bonaire: the hills, the salt lakes, the rugged coast on the Atlantic side, the plains of cacti.

Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Brandaris mountain has a rocky surface that needs to be climbed before reaching the summit

After enjoying the views from the Brandaris, it is time to descend again. When I come back to the small parking lot, a big iguana darts up into a dry cactus. I visit several spots on the calmer western coast of the island, until I reach Slagbaai. The turquoise sea here is calm, unlike the east coast I have seen just before. There are a few cacti, and to my surprise, I even see a few men on the beach. On the strip of land between the sea and the lake behind, a row of orange houses. Slagbaai actually means Slaughter Bay; this is the spot where once goats were slaughtered. I spot a flock of flamingoes in the lake, and walk as far as I can; there is a sign warning visitors not to proceed any further. Three of the fabulously pink birds are quite close, while there are two groups a little further away from me. The more I look at them, the more it seems impossible that those two thin, tall legs are able to comfortably carry the weight of a relatively big body, and tall neck, without breaking. When one of the three flamingoes flies to one of the groups, I finally see the black stripes on its wings - especially when it spreads them for landing. I leave the birds behind, and drive to the other side of the lake, where the whitish banks underline the saltness of the water. This is one of the lakes I have seen from the top of the Brandaris. The road now takes me over the Juwa Pass, back towards the east coast of Bonaire. I still have time for another hike: the Lagadishi Walking Trail. It takes me past an ancient wall made of coral stones, to contain animals, wells providing the much-needed fresh water, a blowhole that the Arawak Indians used to foretell the future, and past an almost empty lake where I see yet another flock of flamingoes. From here, it is an easy walk back to the main trail, and a short drive to the exit of this exciting park.

Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Rocky cliffs at the east coast of the park, near the Supladó blowhole
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): The sandy beach at Boka Kokolishi which is well protected from the wild surf generally found on the East coast of Bonaire
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Looking south over Bonaire island from the summit of Brandaris, the tallest mountain
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Blowhole where waves are sucked through a hole in the coral rocks
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): View from Brandaris mountain to Saliña Slagbaai
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Turquoise waters in a rocky bay near Slagbaai, on the western side of Bonaire
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Shoreline of Saliña Slagbaai
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Flock of flamingoes in Saliña Slagbaai
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): One of the most beautiful beaches of the park: Playa Chikitu
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): The summit of Brandaris mountain on the right, with trail right ahead
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Almost dry Saliña Matijs with flamingoes
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Wind-shaped tree on the flanks of Brandaris mountain
Picture of Washington Slagbaai National Park (Netherlands Antilles): Lighthouse and research centre ruins can be found at Malmok, which is also the northernmost point on Bonaire island

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