10 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bonaire, Saba, and St Eustatius
Bonaire, St Eustatius, and Saba, also known as the "BES islands", comprise the trio of Dutch territories called the Caribbean Netherlands. Luring many nature lovers and eco-tourists, all three islands boast excellent opportunities for diving, swimming, snorkeling, and hiking. Bonaire, in the far eastern Caribbean, just off the north coast of Venezuela, is famous for its pioneering conservation efforts. Much of the island is protected, and its marine park offers some of the best diving in the Caribbean. Bonaire's diverse ecosystems include cactus-cloaked hills, saltpans, mangroves, coral reefs, and sunbaked beaches.
St Eustatius, also known as Statia, lies east of Puerto Rico and is home to a dormant volcano, the Quill. This tiny island's varied terrain includes rainforest, beaches, and vibrant coral reefs. St Eustatius was once a thriving port during the 17th and 18th centuries. Today the island is making efforts to preserve its natural assets and heritage buildings. Northwest of St Eustatius, Saba may be tiny at only 13 sq km, but the peak of its potentially active volcano is 887 m, the highest point in the Netherlands. Hiking is excellent on the slopes of the aptly named Mount Scenery, and the marine park offers some pristine dive spots.
1 Bonaire National Marine Park, Bonaire
Comprising a system of fringing reefs, seagrass beds, mangroves, beaches, and lagoons, Bonaire National Marine Park is one of the Caribbean's premier dive destinations. The park encircles all of Bonaire, as well as Klein Bonaire islet, and is famous for its water clarity, calm seas, and diversity of fish life.
Snorkelers can access some of the reefs from shore. The park is maintained by a non-profit, non-governmental organization noted for its pioneering marine conservation efforts. It was the first marine park with a network of permanent moorings.
2 Washington-Slagbaai National Park, Bonaire
Occupying about one-fifth of the island of Bonaire, the Washington-Slagbaai National Park encompasses cactus-covered hillsides, mangroves, beaches, sand dunes, and salt pans. The park is best navigated in a four-wheel-drive vehicle because of the rugged dirt roads. It's an excellent place to spot some of the island's many species of birds, including flamingos, herons, and parakeets. The plant life reflects the island's arid climate. Many species of cacti as well as mesquite and Brazil wood trees are found here. Other animals found within the park include sea turtles, donkeys, goats, and iguanas. Subi Brandaris, the highest point on the island, offers a fine view of the surroundings. On clear days, visitors may glimpse the coast of Venezuela.
Kralendijk, which means "coral reef", is the capital of Bonaire and its main port. The town is noted for its Dutch colonial houses painted in bright pastel colors. On Breedestraat, the main shopping street, visitors can purchase shell art, local carvings, fabrics, and clothes. Duty-free shops are also along this stretch, and fishermen sell their catch every morning at the harbor. From Kralendijk, water taxis whisk divers and snorkelers across the bay to the uninhabited islet of Klein Bonaire.
4 Klein Bonaire, Bonaire
Part of the Bonaire National Marine Park, Klein ("little") Bonaire is a flat, uninhabited islet lying a mere 800m off Bonaire's concave west coast. Fringed by white sands, turquoise waters, and coral reefs teeming with marine life, this island is a favorite of divers and snorkelers. Large reef fish, many pelagic species, turtles, and seahorses swim these translucent waters, and many dive sites can be accessed from shore. Water taxis and dive boats transport visitors across to the island attraction from Kralendijk.
5 Lac Bay, Bonaire
On Bonaire's eastern windward side, Lac Bay (Lac Baai) is a hot spot for windsurfing. Smooth waters and steady winds create excellent conditions for both beginner and more advanced windsurfers. Thanks to the bay's shallow waters and prolific marine life, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking are also popular here. The mangrove forest of Lac Bay is one of the best preserved in the Caribbean. In the seagrass beds between the mangroves and reef, snorkelers may spot queen conchs, stingrays, and lobsters.
6 Oranjestad, St Eustatius
Oranjestad, the only town on St Eustatius, sits high on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean on the island's west coast. This former merchant hub is divided into Upper and Lower Towns. Visitors can explore a number of 18th century ruins in the lower area around the bay, with businesses and more recent development in the Upper Town. Overlooking Lower Oranjestad, the preserved 17th century Fort Oranje retains its cannons and bastions.
The St Eustatius Historical Foundation Museum in Oranjestad displays household and nautical articles and antiques, and the Dutch Reform Church has been in ruins since the roof was destroyed in the 18th century, but visiting tourists may still climb its tower for a clear view of the island. Near Oranjestad, on a hilltop, are the remains of 18th century Fort de Windt with beautiful views over the ocean to neighboring St Kitts.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in St Eustatius
7 Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden, St Eustatius
On the Atlantic side of St Eustatius, adjacent to Quill National Park, Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden preserves some of the islands unique flora and fauna. The garden aims to reintroduce species that once thrived on the island and educate visitors about sustainable gardening techniques. Things to see include the Sensory Garden, Palm Garden, and Bird Observation Trail. Picnic tables beckon from many of the garden's peaceful nooks, and tourists can enjoy a view of St Kitts from the Lookout.
8 The Quill, St Eustatius
Rising 600m above sea level, the volcanic cone of the Quill is the dominant topographic feature on the island of St Eustatius. The longest hike up this dormant volcano takes visitors to a small semi-evergreen seasonal forest in the peak's crater. Shorter trails lead hikers through a variety of tropical flora including wild orchids, ferns, and fruit trees. A limestone formation known as White Wall lies on the south side of the volcano.
9 Saba National Marine Park, Saba
Saba National Marine Park encircles this tiny island and is zoned for various aquatic activities with separate areas for fishing, diving, swimming, and boating. Because Saba is volcanic in origin, divers will find hot springs and underwater lava tunnels around the island. All dives take place in the protected Marine Park under the guidance of the island's dive operators, and permanent moorings mark approved sites.
The preservation of the park has insured minimal impact by tourists and this rewards divers with an unsullied seascape of colorful coral and sponges and an abundance of aquatic life such as sea turtles, stingrays, and tropical fish. The coastline of Saba is rocky with few beaches, however snorkelers will enjoy Torrens Point.
10 Mount Scenery, Saba
Mount Scenery is the 887m summit of Saba's potentially active volcano and the highest point in the Netherlands. The most popular hike to the summit begins in Windwardside, Saba's second largest town. This challenging trail involves climbing up more than a thousand steps, some of which are slippery with moss and mud, but it's worth it. Near the top is a mist-shrouded cloud forest, and on a clear day, hikers can stand on the summit and enjoy a panoramic view of Saba and its neighboring islands.