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February 7-14, 2009
Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, also known as the “ABC” islands or the Netherland Antilles, line up east to west just off the north coast of Venezuela—each island offering the adventurous traveler a veritable playground of spectacular leeward beaches, pristine underwater reefs, and hiking trails that cross an arid landscape.
Curaçao is the largest and busiest of the islands, but you can still find yourself a secluded beach on which to pass the day—much better then watching snowflakes fly on a February day in Ohio—cue our flight to the Caribbean.
Exchanging dreary gray skies for shades of blue, we arrived in Curaçao just a mere 5 hours after taking off from the eastern United States—our Delta flight, pass through immigration and customs, and rental car pick-up went off without a hitch, so far so good. We loaded our luggage in the compact rental car and hit the road destined for the northwest corner of the island and our home for the week, the secluded Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club. The hotel, perched on a cliff above one of the island’s most renowned dive sites—Playa Kalki/Alice in Wonderland—turned out to be the perfect lodging choice for us. Breathtaking Coral Cliffs create the perfect setting for a day on the beach, and the hotel grounds offer endless opportunities for nature and photography enthusiasts—paths wind through both the oceanfront and garden view rooms where iguanas, parakeets, troupials, and hummingbirds roam freely and pose cooperatively for shutterbugs. In addition to the grounds, the beach, Playa Kalki, that fronts the hotel offers incredible wade-in snorkeling and sun worshipping opportunities—divers will also enjoy the onsite dive shop and foodies will appreciate the gourmet local and international specialties served at the two “upscale” evening dining establishments, the Watamula and Christoffel Restaurants, both of which overlook the sea. The hotel also offers a more relaxing atmosphere at the beachside Kalki Beach Bar and Grill where guests can dine on light, casual lunchtime fare.
Upon arrival at the hotel, we were met with friendly faces, a welcome drink and a refreshing cool towel—our Garden View room reservation was in order and after check-in, we were promptly and courteously shuttled to our accommodations.
Our Lodge Garden View Room, complete with patio, was located on the ground floor of one of the ten free-standing two story houses—the houses, surrounded by lush vegetation, provide quiet lodging and offer excellent opportunities to view the numerous species of birds that visit the grounds. Amenities included two double beds, a small sitting area, a roomy bathroom with a shower, tile floor, remote controlled air-conditioning, hair dryer, remote controlled cable TV, a phone, CD/Clock radio, in-room high speed wireless internet access, an in-room safe, and a small refrigerator.
After settling into our room, we made our way just a short distance down the road to the highly recommended Sol Food—a wonderful restaurant with outstanding home-cooked food that is open for lunch and dinner on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The restaurant is run by Sunshine and David Livingston—a jovial, friendly American couple who have made their home on the island—that are a wealth of information and a delight to meet. If you are interested in a great guide to the island, ask Sunny or David for their free, well-written island guide “Beaches and Sites around Westpunt.” They have put in a great deal of effort into compiling an informative and off-the-beaten track guide—we found it invaluable. If you stop by, tell them the Natural Born Hikers sent you!
Several hours of great food and great conversation later, we made our way back to our room where we enjoyed a restful night, awaking the next morning eager to explore the island—just one thing was getting in the way of our plans. The day we arrived, a strange and unprecedented weather system settled over the island creating windy conditions that led to treacherous water conditions. In fact, a small craft advisory was issued and people were warned to stay out of the water—thanks a lot Murphy’s Law! This was especially disheartening since we had chosen Curaçao as mainly a snorkeling destination—so much for well-laid plans, all we could do was hope that the seas would calm and normal conditions would return—fingers crossed. In the meantime, we decided to entertain ourselves with some topside attractions—first on our list, was to explore the island’s natural beauty by hiking the national parks—no surprise there.
Shete Boka National Park, our first hiking destination, showcases the captivating rugged wave-sculpted northeast coast of Curaçao, a natural bridge, caves, and a turtle sanctuary—two main trails, Boka Wandomi and Boka Pistol, provide access to the spectacular bays, or bokas, and to overlooks that provide fantastic views of the monstrous waves that incessantly crash into the limestone cliffs. There was a small fee to enter the park, 2.65-nafl (about 1.50USD) pp at the time of our visit, which goes towards helping CARMABI (Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity) protect the area’s pristine beauty and its importance as a sanctuary for sea turtles. While enjoying this pristine area, make sure you have sunscreen, water, and sturdy shoes. Then, post exploration, you might want to grab some refreshments at the onsite snack bar—they offer a range of cold drinks and food.
After leaving Shete Boka, we made our way down the east coast and then over to the town of Jan Kok where a colony of Flamingos congregate at a roadside saltpan, or salina—known as the Jan Kok Flamingo Sanctuary, it is an excellent place to observe and photograph these colorful and majestic birds.
Day three of our trip once again brought rough seas, so we made our way to Christoffel National Park—this park, located on the northwest, protects the island’s desert-like terrain and its large variety of rare flora and fauna. Four well-marked color-coded hiking trails wind through the 2300-hectare park, allowing one to explore on foot the area that was once three plantations—you can also opt to stay in the car and enjoy the scenery along the two driving routes. After a brief stop at the Visitor Center, where we obtained a few maps and field guides, we made our way by car along the Mountain Car Route towards our destination—the Christoffel Mountain Trail.
Mt Christoffel, rising 1,227 feet above the scenic scrubland of Curaçao, presents the hiker with the challenge of climbing to the highest point on the island—an opportunity no serious hiker can resist. We began our hike early in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day and just a few hours later we found ourselves standing on the summit—the views from the mountaintop are well worth the exertion required to reach the peak. If you are interested in climbing Christoffelberg, you might enjoy reading the in-depth trip report and trail description found on our Natural Born Hikers website—just surf on over to our page dedicated to Mount Christoffel.
Post climb, we returned to our car and finished the driving route—along the way, we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the shy and endangered Curaçao deer. It was an exciting way to end our adventure—satisfied with the amazing day spent at Christoffel National Park, we made our way back to the hotel for a late lunch and a look at the sea—with any luck, the waters would be calm.
To say the waters were ideal would be a bit of an exaggeration, but the conditions were definitely the best we had seen during our stay—the waves had certainly calmed, but the visibility was impaired from the ocean’s churning. Nevertheless, we were eager to get a look at the underwater world—to let the conditions settle even more, we grabbed a burger at the Kalki Beach Bar and Grill. While enjoying our lunch amid the relaxing beachside atmosphere, we were visited by several colorful whiptail lizards and we even spotted a pod of dolphins cruising offshore—it’s always a pleasure to enjoy another great cheeseburger in paradise.
Visibility was indeed on the murky side, but the conditions were definitely changing for the better—we decided we would spend the next day looking for the ideal snorkeling spot.
In our quest for the best snorkeling on the island, we found ourselves destined for the highly recommended Playa Porto Mari—without doubt, it is one of the best places to spend the day on Curaçao. Playa Porto Mari boasts a gorgeous white sand beach, a fantastic restaurant, a dive shop, hiking trails, and an underwater snorkeling trail teeming with tropical fish—I have no hesitation at all designating Port Marie our favorite beach on the island.
The next day, we visited several beaches along the northeast coast, snorkeling at each one for just a short while before ending up at Cas Abou—yet another incredible beach.
On our way to Cas Abou, we stopped at Playa Grote Knip(Playa Abou), Kleine Knip(Playa Kenepa Chiki), Playa Jeremi, and Playa Lagun—each one offering the beach lover another slice of paradise.
Playa Abou is picture postcard perfect, and from the parking area high above the sandy cove, you have a bird’s eye view of the sandy beach and the azure waters—thatch umbrellas and trees provide shade and the water is smooth and clear. We opted not to snorkel at this beach, as it seemed to be a mostly sandy bottom with no coral, although we have heard that the rocks on either side of the cove harbor some marine life.
Continuing south towards Playa Kenepa, we encountered a flock of parakeets and a pair of crested caracara perched high atop some of the roadside kadushi cactus—it was as if they were posing just for our cameras.
Our next stop was the small but beautiful Playa Kenepa—we spent just a few minutes photographing the area, once again bypassing on the snorkeling. The beach at Kenepa, or Knip, also appeared to be lacking in coral reef, so we thought it best to save our gear fest for the next location.
Playa Jeremi, near the town of Lagun, doesn’t have any facilities or entrance fees, but there is a nice set of steps that lead to a few tables with thatched umbrellas for shade—despite the lack of services, the coral rubble beach and the picturesque boulders that line the cove make this a scenic destination. In addition, the snorkeling was descent—nothing to write home about, but a small amount of marine life call the rocky cove home—best to skip this beach if it is amazing snorkeling that you are after.
The last beach we visited before landing at Cas Abou was Playa Lagun, a small cove surrounded by high cliffs adorned with colorful buildings. While the setting was ideal, our timing was not—a group of school kids on a field trip and an organization selling crafts made by mentally challenged individuals had already set up camp at the beach—time to move on.
Playa Cas Abou, a full service beach, offers the visitor white sand, crystal clear waters and many thatched palapas and palm trees for shade, and a beachside restaurant/bar—it is an ideal place to swim, sunbathe, and snorkel. In short, it has everything you need for a perfect day at the beach. We particularly enjoyed the snorkeling—just about every reef fish on our fish finder chart was present and accounted for. Cas Abou comes in a close second to Porto Mari for us—choose to spend your day at either of these beaches, and you won’t be disappointed.
As the sun began to arc toward the horizon, we finalized our day at Cas Abou and decided to drive to Watamula. Found in the extreme northwest of the Caribbean island of Curaçao, Watamula offers the hiker a glimpse at a rugged, unspoiled coastline where iguanas, parakeets, frigate birds, and brown boobies carve out a life near three natural wonders—a sinkhole known as the “Eye of Curaçao,” a vent known as the “Breath of Curaçao,” and a wondrous natural sea arch.
Once you arrive at the small parking area, walk north along the dirt trail and out onto the jagged coral coast—look for a large boulder painted with the flag of Curaçao and a tree blazed with blue paint for reference. There are no marked trails, but finding your way is pretty easy—by using the flag boulder as a point of reference, just look to the west (left) for the blue blazed tree. Head for the tree for amazing views of the limestone cliffs, and then continue hiking west along the cliff’s edge—shortly, you will reach a vantage point where you can look back towards the east for a view of a spectacular natural sea arch.
Continuing west, scan the cliffs for signs of nesting sea birds—patches of white, i.e. bird poo, is a sure sign that the birds have made a home. With binoculars or a telephoto lens, you should be able to spot a few brown boobies nesting on the cliff—your chances of sighting these sea birds increases during late afternoon and early morning.
For more info on hiking at Watamula, visit our page dedicated to the Cliff Route on Natural Born Hikers.
After taking in the sunset at Watamula, we returned to our hotel for dinner and a good night’s sleep—next up, a trip to the big city.
Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the capital of Curaçao, represents a multi-cultural community that has existed for over 300 years—collections of pastel colored European colonial structures reminiscent of Amsterdam create a memorable city.
We particularly enjoyed the Kura Hulanda, the floating Queen Emma Bridge, the floating market, and the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue—the oldest synagogue in continuous use in all the Americas.
One can easily spend several days exploring this culturally rich city, but we longed to return to the beach—after a half-day venture around the town, we made a beeline for Porto Mari.
The last three days of our Curaçao vacation were spent on the beautiful beaches—splitting our time between Porto Mari, Cas Abou, and Playa Kalki. Colorful tropical fish swimming in crystal clear water greeted us at each reef, and we thanked our lucky stars that Curaçao had granted us a look at its calmer side—amazing weather prevailed for the remainder of our trip.
Needless to say, a holiday in Curaçao should be on every Caribbean and underwater enthusiasts wish list—with over 35 beaches, 80 dive sites, and a natural and cultural heritage worthy of exploration you can’t go wrong. Just remember to move around—explore several beaches, drive the interior and coastal roads, hike the rugged island trails—a variety of activities are at your disposal on this idyllic island.
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