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Name That Street Theme - As you meander along in Bonaire, read the street signs and try to figure out their theme. Each town will designate a certain theme (such as musical instruments, women's names, gemstones, fish). This makes it easy to figure out someone's location if you only know their street name.
Because Bonaire has always been off the beaten track, highlights are modest and few. You can walk the length of sleepy Kralendijk -- the name translates literally into "dike made of coral" -- in less than half an hour. Stroll along the seafront, with its views and restaurants, and along Kaya Grandi, the major shopping district. The town has some charming Dutch Caribbean architecture -- gabled roofs painted ocher and terra cotta. If you've got a yearning for fruit, visit the waterfront food market with daily produce deliveries from Venezuela.
Bonaire's minuscule Fort Oranje takes more time to find than to explore, but provides a pleasant diversion. The tiny fort, Bonaire's oldest building, is quaint and makes for a pleasant walking destination.
A 10-minute walk away, the Museo Boneriano (Bonaire Museum), at Kaya J. v/d Ree 7, displays a haphazard collection of shells from local species, excavated human remains from a Caicetto burial site, and various antiques and artifacts of European settlement that offer clues into the island's colonial history. With few signs to make sense of the collection, a guided tour is recommended. It is open weekdays 8am to noon and 2 to 4:30pm. Admission is $1.50 for adults and $1 for children.
The coastal road north of Kralendijk is one of the most beautiful in the Antilles. Turquoise, azure, and cobalt waters stretch to the horizon on the left, while pink and age-blackened coral cliffs loom on the right. Towering cacti, intimate coastal coves, strange rock formations, and panoramic vistas add to the beauty.
On the outskirts of Rincon, a large white building marks the spot of a new and not-to-be-missed highlight of any island tour. Magazina di Rei translates as the King's Warehouse, and is the second-oldest building on the island. Once used to store provisions for slaves, it has been restored and transformed into a small museum and cultural center that preserves and depicts the culture, history, architecture, and traditions of early Bonaire. Drop by for a tour, or wander through the gardens where re-creations of houses from different eras are on display. Local children learn traditional crafts, dances, and recipes from elders, so don't be surprised if you're offered some homemade tamarind juice or limeade and invited to try a few local dance steps. The center is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm.
On the way back to Kralendijk, take the road along the northeast coast to Boka Onima, the site of 500-year-old Caiquetio Indian petroglyphs. Stop at the home of Sherman Gibbs, on Kaminda Tras di Montaña. Sherman combines plastic bottles, boat motors, buoys, car seats, and just about everything to create an outsider-art fantasyland.
Washington-Slagbaai National Park occupies the island's northern end. It's easy to find; just look for the yellow and green lizards painted on telephone poles along the road. They lead you to the park entrance. Formerly plantation land producing aloe, salt, charcoal, and goat meat, the 5,463-hectare (13,500-acre) reserve showcases Bonaire's geology, animals, and vegetation. Residents include 203 bird species, thousands of organ-pipe and prickly-pear cacti, endemic parrots, parakeets, flamingos, iguanas, and blue lizards. Feral goats and donkeys, left over from the colonial period, continue to roam the hills grazing voraciously on rare native and endemic plant species. For this reason, the park is attempting to remove these animals over time. The scenery includes stark hills, quiet beaches, and wave-battered cliffs. Take either the 24km (15-mile) or the 35km (22-mile) track around the park. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 11 and under. Purchase of a nature tag (the mandatory pass costs $10 for all swimmers and $25 for divers) gets you complimentary entry into the park. The park is open from 8am to 5pm daily except for major holidays. You must enter before 2:45pm. Guide booklets, maps, and a small museum are at the gate. The unpaved roads are well marked and safe, but rugged; jeeps trump small cars here.
Just past the gate, the Salina Matijs salt flat attracts flamingos during the rainy season. Beyond the salt flat on the road to the right, Boka Chikitu's cove, sand dunes, and crashing waves provide a splendid seascape. A few miles farther up the coast, Boka Cocolishi, a black-sand beach, is perfect for a private picnic, and the calm, shallow basin is perfect for close-to-shore snorkeling. Boka Slagbaai has a picturesque beach and positively charming restaurant where you can cool off with a bite, a beer, and a view of the ocean on one side and a serene lake teeming with shorebirds such as flamingos, egrets, and herons on the other side.
Back along the main road, Boka Bartol's bay is full of elkhorn coral, sea fans, and reef fish. Nearby Poos Mangel, a popular watering hole, is good for twilight birding, while the remote reef of Wajaca harbors sea turtles, octopuses, and triggerfish. Immediately inland, 235m (771-ft.) Mount Brandaris is Bonaire's highest peak. At its foot, Bronswinkel Well attracts dozens of bird species including pigeons and parakeets.
A little farther south of Kralendijk, dazzlingly bright salt pyramids dominate the horizon. Looking more like snowdrifts than sodium mounds, they're the product of the nearby salt pans.
Farther from the road, saltworks serve as a flamingo sanctuary. Bonaire is one of the world's few nesting places for Caribbean pink flamingos, and the island's spring flamingo population swells to 5,000. Because the birds are wary of humans, the sanctuary is off-limits, but from the road you can see the birds feeding in the briny pink and purple waters.
At the island's southern tip, restored slave huts recall the island's dark past. Each hut, no bigger than a large doghouse, provided nighttime shelter for African slaves brought over by the Dutch West Indies Company to work the salt flats. Four cement obelisks, each painted a different color along the shore, were used as flagpoles to indicate to passing ships when the salt was ready for export.
Near the island's southern tip is Willemstoren Lighthouse, which was built in 1837. It's fully automated today and closed to visitors, but is classically picturesque.
A few minutes up the east coast, Lac Bay's shallow water and steady breezes are ideal for windsurfing. Deep inside the lagoon, mangrove trees with dramatic roots lunge from the water. Nearby Sorobon Beach is idyllic for frolicking in the calm surf.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.
Birding - Bonaire is home to over 200 bird species, including endemic lora parrots, pelicans, frigate birds, and one of the world's only breeding colonies of Caribbean flamingos.
Fishing - Accessibility, calm waters, and abundant fish have always made Bonaire an attractive fishing destination. However, due to global declines, the catch rate has dropped off somewhat even here, in what seems an unspoiled paradise. The catch varies by season but includes marlin, sailfish, dorado, wahoo, amberjack, yellowfin, and bonito.
Hiking - Washington-Slagbaai National Park's terrain is interesting and varied. Climbs up the steepest hills are rewarded with panoramic views, while cliff-side beaches with crashing waves make ideal picnic sites. After going on patrol with a ranger, we could see that this is a big park and it's surprisingly easy to get lost, injured, or dehydrated, so it may be best for beginners to go with a guide.
Kayaking - While kayaking through the mangroves of Lac Bay, take time to observe the baby fish and bizarrely shaped tree roots. Bring protection from the sun and the ravenous mosquitoes.
Kiteboarding - This extreme sport combines windsurfing with kite flying and allows boarders to sail, leap, and flip along the water's surface.
Land Sailing - With less than 5 minutes of instruction and even less experience, you can be cruising at top speed around the largest land-sailing track in the world. This fun sport requires little knowledge of sailing and just a rudimentary understanding of physics. Let the natural trade winds speed you along an 823m (2,700-ft.) oval track. Landsailing Bonaire can be found on the road to Rincon. An hour rental plus a 15-minute lesson will cost $50 for adults and $35 for children.
Mountain Biking - Explore Bonaire's scenery on its 290km (180 miles) of trails and dirt roads. Ask at the tourist office for a trail map that outlines the most scenic routes.
Tennis - Several hotels have courts lit for night play, but the best facilities are at Harbour Village Beach Club, Kaya Gobernador N. Debrot, which offers clinics, racket services, and a resident pro. Courts are $15 an hour; a 1-hour private lesson is $50.
Windsurfing - Shallow protected waters and steady breezes make Lac Bay perfect for beginners and pros.
(c) Zagat © 2013, Google.