Written by Maia Muttoo

A Historical Tour of Bonaire

Whether you’re a visitor, a long-time resident, or a native Bonairean, follow this self-guided tour of Bonaire’s historical hot-spots to learn more about the island’s rich story.

Bonaire Museum of Natural History

Image via Museum Bonaire

Begin your tour at the Bonaire Museum of Natural History for an overview of the country’s physical environment and early cultural history. The building was constructed in 1885 by a Venezuelan plantation owner and later purchased by the influential Herrera family. The Van der Ree house, as it was then called, became a shop selling various provisions such as goat meat, charcoal and canned foods. Today, the museum exhibits indigenous artefacts, plantation tools, shell fossils, corals and local fauna. Entry is free, and donations are welcomed.

Next: Drive 4 minutes (950m) west to Terramar Museum

Terramar Museum

Image via Terramar

The fairly new Terramar Museum in Kralendijk puts Bonaire in context with exhibits on both local and regional history. Like the Bonaire Museum of Natural History, Terramar also operates out of a renovated historical structure. The museum uses artefacts, compelling images and 3D reconstructions to tell the story of Bonaire and the Caribbean interactively.

Next: Drive 19 minutes (13.1km) south to the Slave Huts

The Slave Huts

Image via Tourism Bonaire

The salt flats at Bonaire’s southern end offered an important export commodity throughout the country’s early years. The slaves who were forced to work these plains in the mid-1800s, sheltered and stored tools in stone sleeping quarters that are no taller than waist-height and impossible to stand in. These tiny “houses” slept up to six people. They stand today as a somber reminder of Bonaire’s former slave society.

Next: Drive 39 minutes (30.8km) north to Rincon Village

Rincon Village

Image via Tourism Bonaire

Rincon, a Spanish strategic outpost nestled in a valley, is the oldest continuous village in the Dutch Caribbean. Many slaves who worked at the salt pans in the south lived in Rincon, returning each weekend to gather supplies at the Mangazina di Rei storehouse and briefly visit family. A restored plantation house at the site features a small museum of tools, household items, and furniture from the 1800s.

Next: Drive 27 minutes north-west (13.8km) to Malmok in Washington Slagbaai National Park

Historic Lighthouses

Image via We Share Bonaire

There are several historic lighthouses in Bonaire. One of the most interesting is Malmok, a ruin at the northern tip of the Washington Slagbaai National Park. Shortly after construction on the site began in the early 20th century, the location was decidedly too close to the sea; it was abandoned and instead, Seru Benata was constructed two kilometres to the south. When planning to visit these structures, note that there is a fee to enter Washington Slagbaai National Park, and opening times vary. Find more information here.

This tour only scratches the surface of Bonaire’s history and heritage – there is so much more to discover. Visit Bonaire’s other lighthouses including Willemstoren, Boka Spelonk and Punt Vierkant, or opt for a walking tour of historical homes in Kralendijk to learn more about Bonaire’s fascinating history.

Sources: Bonaire Museum of Natural History, Terramar Bonaire, I Love Bonaire, Uncommon Caribbean, Tourism Bonaire, Amusing Planet, Tourism Bonaire Culture, We Share Bonaire

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