Day Trip to Washington Slagbaai National Park on Bonaire
Looking for a fun family outing? A romantic day visiting beaches, immersed in nature? Do you want a fun off-the-beaten path adventure on Bonaire? We HIGHLY recommend a day trip to Washington Slagbaai National Park. This uninhabited, unhurried nature preserve constitutes about one fifth of the entire island.
Visiting Washington Slagbaai National Park
When to go: Get started early in the morning. Plan to go when roads are most likely to be dry. If heavy rain fell the prior day or two you may find the park roads closed. The park, located in the town of Rincon in the northwest corner of the island is a 25 minute drive from downtown Kralendijk. Driving to the entrance of the park is easy. The road to Rincon overlooking the sea at some points, has no traffic and lots of wilderness. Although the park entrance may only be 25 minutes away, the real adventure begins once inside the park. Plan on a full day adventure as the road is long with lots of stops and rough (bumpy) driving conditions.
First stop: park and pay entrance fee, quick orientation
When you arrive at the park entrance you will be asked to take care of your entrance fee. The fee structure, broken down below based on my understanding. For our purposes this takes into account only non-residents of Bonaire:
- To begin with, everyone using the waters of Bonaire must purchase a square Marine Park Tag for $25 before using the marine park for swimming, snorkeling, windsurfing, kiting, etc. The “marine park” means ALL waters surrounding Bonaire, not just the National Park.
- The marine park tag can be purchased at the entrance to the national park if you haven’t already purchased one.
- Scuba Divers must purchase a $45 round dive tag rather than the $25 square nature tag used for all other water use. They do not need both tags.
- In addition to the Nature Tag fees you then pay an entrance fee of $15 per person per day or $20 per person per calendar year to enter the park. You must have your square nature tag or round dive tag to prove you’ve already paid that fee. If you have a yearly pass you must bring the paper copy with you to re-enter the park on subsequent days.
- In summary – if you haven’t already purchased a square tag you will be charged $25 + $15 for a day in the park. Or you will be charged $25 +$20 for more than one day if you plan to return within the calendar year. If you dive your fee is $45 for the dive tag plus $15 to enter the park for one day.
- You must bring your square or round tag if you have already purchased it prior to your visit to Washington Slagbaai.
Map of the park and itinerary:
At this point the park ranger provides a map for you. They also offer an explanation of what time the park closes and what that means for your itinerary. For example you must be past a certain point before a certain hour to ensure you will be out of the park before the gate closes. A park ranger does a final drive through of the park to ensure that all vehicles that entered the park safely also exit before closing time. On arrival they write down your license plate number for this purpose.
OK – phew – now you are in, with a map and a schedule, and a back-up plan.
Second stop: the Museum and Gift Shop
The visitor center at the entrance of the park has memorabilia, artifacts and photos. Here you find a good explanations of the history of Washington Slagbaai and it’s flora and fauna, as well as culture and heritage. A small gift shop sells books, postcards and souvenirs. This is the last stop for quite a while for restrooms.
As per the explanation above, when you purchase your day pass you’ll receive a driving map of the park just like the one pictured above. At this point you have basically two options: You can take the “long route” or the “short route.” The long route takes you along the coast, with stops at some breathtaking beaches. The short route is the way to go if you plan to do a hike of Mt. Brandaris.
Take the short route if you are in a hurry to get to the beach at Boca Slagbaai or Wayaka. Wayaka II is my favorite beach on Bonaire with picturesque white sand and crystal clear water, perfect for a swim and a snorkel. The short and long routes through the National Park are narrow, bumpy one way roads. Don’t expect to get anywhere quickly. You are on island time now.
The Main Event – stops along the way: The nature and Beaches of Washington Slagbaai National Park
The first stop on the long route, Playa Chikitu, is not a swimming beach due to dangerous currents. We sometimes bring a couple large plastic bags and do some beach clean-up on this beach. Large quantities of plastic bottles, shoes and other debris wash ashore here every day. You don’t find debris like this on other Bonaire beaches or anywhere else in the National Park. However, Playa Chikitu offers spectacular fine white sand and small grassy dunes. We consider it a must see beach. (see the photo below). Kids love it for playing in the sand and adults love it for gorgeous views and salty, windy breezes. At the next exit on the long road, Boca Chikitu, stop to watch the waves crash on the shore.
Continue along the “long” coastal route to explore beach after beach. Stunning panorama after panorama. After Boca Chikitu you come upon Suplado Blow Hole. The photo at the top of this blog post shows some scenery along the road near the blow hole. Spectacular!
The national park is yours to explore. Each exit on the itinerary, however, takes some driving time. It may take a few trips before you actually experience all of them. So in terms of not to miss beaches on Bonaire I will go with Wayaka II.
My favorite beach is Wayaka II pictured below
Another favorite is the beach near Boca Slagbaai pictured below
Both Boca Slagbaai and Wayaka II are accessible on the short route as well. Try the short route If you ONLY want to visit these two beaches or if you want to do a combination of a hike up Mt. Brandaris and then go to these two beaches. Of course there are other sites to see along both routes. You will be astounded by the flora and fauna. Parrots, flamingos, parakeets, iguanas and many other species of birds and reptiles are found in Bonaire’s Washington Slagbaai. The beaches inside the park are an important nesting ground for all four species of sea turtles found in the Caribbean.
What to bring:
What to bring to the park for the day? Swimming and snorkel gear, beach towels, beach chairs if you have them, lots of water, picnic lunch. If you plan to hike up Brandaris you should bring a small backpack to carry your water since some of the climb is hand over foot. If you plan to hike wear sneakers with grip or hiking shoes. Flip flops really aren’t appropriate for hiking as there is an abundance of cacti and rough, hilly terrain. We recommend snorkeling with a rash guard rather than slathering on sunscreen. This helps protect the reef.
And lastly your phone probably won’t get a signal but you will definitely want it for photos!
Have a wonderful (day)trip in Washington Slagbaai National Park!