12 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, just off the north coast of Venezuela, near Curaçao and Aruba, 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, rocky 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 square kilometers, but the 887-meter peak of its volcano is the highest point in the Netherlands. Hiking is excellent on the slopes of the aptly named Mount Scenery, and the marine park offers some truly pristine dive sites.
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 Mount Scenery Hike, Saba
Mount Scenery is the 887-meter-high summit of Saba's dormant 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, you can stand on the summit and enjoy a panoramic view of Saba and its neighboring islands.
3 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, resulting in 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.
4 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, and the plant life reflects the island's arid climate. Many species of cacti as well as mesquite and Brazilwood trees grow 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, you might even glimpse the coast of Venezuela.
5 Klein Bonaire, Bonaire
Part of the Bonaire National Marine Park, Klein ("little") Bonaire is a flat, uninhabited islet lying a mere 800 meters 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. No Name Beach here is one of Bonaire's best beaches. Water taxis and dive boats transport visitors across from Kralendijk, but you need to bring your own food, refreshments, and shade protection.
6 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.
7 Mangrove Kayak Tours, Bonaire
The Mangrove Information Center offers guided kayaking and snorkeling tours through the pristine mangrove forests of Lac Bay. The seagrass beds here are a fertile environment for marine species such as conch, lobsters, stingrays, juvenile reef fish, and green turtles, and the clear, shallow waters are perfect for snorkeling. Paddling through this fragile environment, you'll learn all about how the plants and animals are uniquely adapted to survive here. Tours are also offered in solar boats for those who prefer not to kayak.
8 Kralendijk, Bonaire
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, you 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. To learn about the history of Bonaire and the Caribbean, stop by the Terramar Museum. This interesting new attraction lies in a restored historic building in the center of town. From Kralendijk, water taxis whisk divers and snorkelers across the bay to the uninhabited islet of Klein Bonaire.
9 The Quill Hike, St. Eustatius
Rising 600 meters 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 you 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.
10 Statia National Marine Park, St. Eustatius
Diving in the marine park is one of the most popular things to do in St. Eustatius. Comprised of the Northern and Southern Reserves, the Statia National Marine Park rings the island and is only open to visitors accompanied by local operators. The dive sites are diverse, with everything from volcanic fissures and mini-walls to drop-offs, pinnacles, and wrecks, and the marine life on the relatively healthy natural and artificial reefs is just as varied. You can see plenty of tropical fish, as well as sharks, lobsters, turtles, seahorses, and octopus. Dive moorings make it easy to access the sites without damaging the reef. If you prefer to snorkel, you can explore three sites within the reserve, but both divers and snorkelers must purchase a dive permit, which goes towards mooring maintenance.
11 Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire
Even if you're not a donkey lover, a visit to the Donkey Sanctuary in Bonaire will warm your heart and make you smile. Donkeys were first brought to Bonaire by the Spaniards in the 17th century, but were left to fend for themselves on this dry, barren island after they were no longer needed. The sanctuary rescues injured and sick donkeys, nursing them back to health and hand-raising orphaned animals.
Hundreds of these charismatic creatures swarm your car as you arrive, poking their heads through the windows and gently accepting carrots, which are available for purchase. Your entrance fee and donations go towards the costs of caring for all the donkeys.
12 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. You 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 you can 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
More Must-See Caribbean Nature Destinations
Diving and hiking are top draws on other Caribbean islands as well as the BES islands. For more fantastic Caribbean dive destinations, see our pages on the Cayman Islands, Cozumel, Turks & Caicos, Honduras, the Bahamas, and Belize. Colorful coral reefs also dapple the waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands. If you prefer land-based nature, hiking is excellent on islands like Dominica, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Grenada, St. Lucia, and Jamaica. For inspiration on other nature-based tropical getaways, see our article on the Best Tropical Vacations.