Bonaire, A Nature Lover’s Dream

  • 01 of 05

    A Caribbean Island Full of Birds, Turtles, Fish, and Reptiles

    Caribbean, Netherland Antilles, Bonaire, Washington Slagbaai National Park, Gotomeer Lake
    ••• Michele Falzone/Getty Images

    From the moment I arrived in Bonaire, I was reminded of the American Southwest: arid, mostly flat, and teeming with wildlife. There is, of course, one glaring difference: Bonaire is an island in the Caribbean. Most of the wildlife is endemic, meaning that it evolved there -- including Bonaire’s ubiquitous iguanas -- although some prominent non-native species also call the island home, like the island’s wild roaming donkeys and goats.

    Bonaire’s natural bounty include flamingos that breed on the island, migratory birds, sea turtle nurseries, protected coral reefs, and cacti that are pollinated by bats, and I was thrilled to meet many of these native Bonaire inhabitants during island tours and a birding trip during a recent stay.

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  • 02 of 05

    See the Sea Creatures by Diving in Bonaire's Marine Park

    Juvenile green sea turtle
    ••• Juvenile green sea turtle. © NOAA

     Bonaire is renowned for having the best diving in the Caribbean, and that’s due in large part to its healthy and vibrant reef system. During a dive off of Klein Bonaire with Woodwind Snorkel and Sail I saw parrotfish, a frogfish, barracudas, trumpetfish, blue angelfish, lionfish, and porcupine pufferfish, to name a few. The fish were swimming in and around giant brain coral, stove pipe sponges, staghorn coral, and gorgonian fan coral.

    My personal favorite, however, was snorkeling in the shallows and waiting to see juvenile sea turtles -- they were amazing. Just being in the presence of creatures that live so long and are endangered felt like a rare and precious moment. Hawksbill, leatherback, and green turtles are known to frequent these waters: the shoreline and waters off of Bonaire, including Klein Bonaire, have been designated as a marine sanctuary, so visitors will be able to enjoy this pristine environment for years to come.

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  • 03 of 05

    Bonaire's National Parks Are Alive with Birds

    Caribbean, Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire, Flamingos in water
    ••• Westend61/Getty Images

    On a drive to the northern part of the island, I stopped by southern edge of Goto Meer, a brackish lake with multiple observation points within Bonaire’s Washington Slagbaai National Park. From the viewpoint at the southern end of Kaminda Goto, I saw brown pelicans, black-necked stilts, flamingos, semi-palmated plovers, a crested caracara, a little green heron, common ground doves, snowy egrets, a tricolored heron, white-cheeked pintails, and a black-faced grassquit.

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  • 04 of 05

    Flowering Cacti and Agave in Bloom

    bird on cactus
    ••• Tropical mockingbird on a Bonaire cactus. © Grace Lentini

    Candle and prickly pear cacti also dot the landscape in the park; many of the agave plants were in flower, which was a gorgeous sight to behold. The tree-like agave flower extends vertically to what seemed like over 10 feet tall, with radiant yellow blossoms; each flower can grow into another agave plant.

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  • 05 of 05

    Cheers to the Yellow-Shouldered Amazon!

    Yellow Shouldered Amazon in Bonaire
    ••• Yellow Shouldered Amazon in Bonaire. © Grace Lentini

    Leaving the park and driving along Kaminda Goto on the way to Rincon, the oldest settlement on Bonaire, my guide and I stopped at Dos Pos, or Two Wells. Dos Pos has been designated as an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International; here you’ll find trails with gorgeous vistas of the surrounding habitat.

    We stopped because it’s an important breeding site for the yellow-shouldered Amazon, a yellow-faced, green-bodied parrot measuring just over 13 inches. The bird is locally and globally endangered, making it a rare sight. Although I didn’t spot one here, I did end up seeing quite a few during a visit to Bonaire’s Cadushy Distillery later in the trip. They were cute and poofy, and I raised a glass of the island's famous cactus liqueur to celebrate having seen these rare and beautiful birds in the wild.