Best of Bonaire
Cruise ships dock on Bonaire’s west coast at the Port of Kralendijk (pronounced Kroll-en-dike), the island’s capital. The pier faces Wilhelmina Park, where guests can shop for authentic souvenirs while enjoying traditional musical performances. The best shopping is found near the dock in the Harborside Mall—that’s where you’ll find most of the guaranteed shops.
On Kaya Grandi, stores carry an abundance of gear and gadgets for dive enthusiasts (think: dive watches and underwater cameras). History buffs and foodies alike will enjoy exploring Fort Oranje, the oldest building on Bonaire that today houses a small Greek-style produce market. On the waterfront, dozens of cafés serve up fresh seafood.
To the north of Kralendijk, the land is hilly, while the south is incredibly flat and home to the aptly named salt flats. The turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea are visible beyond massive pyramid-shaped mounds of salt—some of the purest salt in the world. After the Dutch claimed the island in 1636, salt became Bonaire’s leading source of income and remains the island’s top export.
Nestled within the salt flats is Pekelmeer Sanctuary, a 135-acre protected flamingo reserve that holds the distinction of being the largest flamingo breeding ground in the Western Hemisphere. During mating seasons, flamingos outnumber the native population of 15,000. It can be difficult to spot the birds from the road without good binoculars, so if you want to get up close and personal with them, head north from Kralendijk to Lake Goto Meer or one of the other salt lakes in the Washington Slagbaai National Park. The 13,500-acre nature reserve is home to parrots, parakeets, iguanas, and, of course, pink flamingos.
In addition, the island is an unlikely haven for donkeys. The Spaniards first brought donkeys to Bonaire in the 17th century; the population of wild donkeys grew over hundreds of years. But Bonaire’s temperate climate is not ideal for the mammals, and many struggle to survive. In 1993, a local couple established the Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire to care for sick, wounded, or orphaned donkeys. In July 2011, the sanctuary moved to a new location just south of the airport on Kaya IR. Randolph Statius van Eps. Guests are welcome to explore the grounds, where hundreds of donkeys roam free. They will wander right up to visitors, so stop by the gift shop and pick up a bag of donkey feed.
Discover the underwater wonders of Bonaire’s thriving reef on a guided snorkel in the island’s National Marine Park. Float gently over coral formations home to many varieties of fish and colorful marine life.
Climb into an open-air 4×4 for a wilderness expedition. Take off to the desert terrain of Washikemba. Continue to Lac Bay, a windsurfer’s paradise. Stop at Sorobon beach to relax. Afterwards, head inland to discover Bonaire’s dense mangrove forests.
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