Novice travelers may think all the Caribbean has to offer is sun and sand. Culture seekers, take note.
Together with Aruba and Curacao, the desert destinations form the group known as the ABC islands, located off the north coast of South America near the western part of Venezuela. Bonaire’s distinction is its worshipped status among scuba divers, well known for easy access to its national marine park reef from the shore.
Away from the dive shops and quaint coastal capital of Kralendijk, the arid interior is where visitors discover the oldest permanent settlement – the town of Rincon. Here is a place that time seems to have forgotten with its church the primary landmark, until now.
Just a short drive from the sedate village, look for Mangazina di Rei, more commonly referred to as the King’s Warehouse. What doubles as a refreshment stop on island tours is now housing a new cultural center highlighting Rincon’s role in history and the slave trade.
“You visit places and don’t know their role,” says Danilo Christian, project manager. “Here you can learn about the history of this part of Bonaire and the role it played.”
While Curaçao emerged as a center of slave trade, Bonaire became a plantation of the Dutch West India Company. African slaves worked alongside Indians and convicts, cultivating dyewood and maize and harvesting solar salt. Along the south coast, mounds of salt look like mountains of snow.
Slave quarters, built entirely of stone and too short for a man to stand upright in, still stand along the saltpans. It’s a reminder of Bonaire’s repressive past.
“When we opened our new addition (replacing an earlier exhibit) of the King’s Warehouse, a lot of people said ‘wow,’” says Christian.
From 1816 until 1868, Bonaire remained a government plantation. In 1825, there were about 300 government-owned slaves on the island. The King’s Warehouse tells their story and gives visitors a sense of how life was.
Mangazina di Rei was used as a storehouse for agricultural products from the surrounding area. The existing Mangazina was built in the 1820s.
There is a $10 admission charge. Money received goes toward educational projects and teaching the children of Bonaire. The historic town was established in the 16th century by the Spanish.
Bonaire was part of the Netherlands Antilles until the country’s dissolution in 2010. The island became a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands. It is one of the three BES islands located in the Caribbean, the other two being St. Eustatius and Saba.
When you go
If visiting by cruise ship, check out which shore excursion brings you to Rincon and King’s Warehouse, usually the Best of Bonaire tour. Cruise passengers receive a discount for admission. Other interior highlights include Washington Slagbaai National Park and Goto Lake, a natural salt water feeding ground for Caribbean flamingoes. For information: www.mangazinadirei.org.