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Curaçao – A Virtual Exploration into the Heart of the Dutch Caribbean

Exploring Curacao can be a pretty ambitious task.  Fortunately you are safely at home with your loved ones dreaming of the day when “social distancing” becomes just a vague memory as you re-emerge back into the sunlight, walking across the sand, to dip your toes into the incredible turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

So let us take you on a virtual journey of Curacao, to dive in and explore the heart of the Dutch Caribbean, to find hidden gems, amazing beaches, incredible history, culture, food and a kaleidoscope of beautiful life, above and below the surface including the BEST dive sites Curacao has to offer!

Travel Tip: For those of you that like to explore on your own rather than with an organized tour, make sure that you reserve a rental car up front. Bring water, comfortable shoes and flip flops, lots of sunscreens, a snack, and of course your swimsuit and snorkels. If you have sensitive feet, you might want to bring water shoes as well.

Shete Boka National Park – Follow the main road from Willemstad towards Westpunt until you see the Shete Boka National Park sign along the road. It’s quite a long way (26 miles), but you’ll see some great scenery as you go, including Mt. Christoffel.  Shete Boka National Park is located on Curacao’s north coast and it is an absolutely amazing place with breathtaking views. To enter, there is a small fee but it is well worth it.

The three bokas (translated: mouths) that are protected sea turtle nesting grounds include the sea cave at Boka Tabla, Boka Pistol with its crashing powerful waves, and Boka Wandomi with its very impressive landscape. Also, take the time while there to see the impressive natural bridge and do not forget to carry water with you as you explore the area as there is little shelter from the sun.

Kenepa Plantation (Playa Grote Knip and Playa Klein Knip Beaches) – When you leave Shete Boka National Park, turn right out of the exit. Follow the road through the fishing village of Westpunt until you see signs for Playa Kenepa which are free public beaches. The overlook is breathtaking, and the water is calm and clear. If you are adventurous, there are a couple of spots to jump off the stone cliffs. Just be careful! The best snorkeling is at the wall on the left side. There’s also the Landhuis of the Kenepa Plantation to visit where you will hear; “Echoes of the past that resonate loud and clear, where aspirations of freedom were once reduced to hushed tones and secret drum beats…” wrote Susan Campbell, Freelance Travel Writer.

Travel Tip: for lunch or dinner, you can backtrack a little to Westpunt watching closely for signs to Lodge Kura Hulanda.  Entering Westpunt you will pass through a wooded valley area near Playa Piskádo, and then turn left towards a ball field where you will find your way to Sol Food and Sunshine Getaway. You will be served a great a meal that could include the best pizza you can find on Curacao, which will undoubtedly be served with a side of an incredibly enthusiastic dose of friendly local advice from Sunshine. They’re only open Friday to Sunday and it is recommended that you make a reservation.

Playa Lagun – Back towards Playa Kenepa, look for the signs for Lagun, which is a small village just past Playa Jeremi. This is a great spot to snorkel and if you are there between 4:00 and 5:00 PM there is a great chance that you see and swim with the local turtles.

When heading back towards the island’s center of Willemstad watch for signs to Jan Kok or St. Willibrordus. Here you will find the oldest plantation house on Curacao (home of the Nena Sanchez Gallery) that overlooks the old salt plantation where, most of the time, there are flocks of Flamingos feeding in the salt ponds. While there, we recommend that you stop at the Toko Willwood for a refreshing beverage and their famous “williburger”!

Now let’s discover Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Queen Emma Bridge, also known as the “swinging old lady”, is one of the oldest pontoon bridges around, that literally bridges the gap between Punda and Otrabanda. Seeing it during the day is one thing, but when it lights up at night, it is comes to life!

Travel Tip: Discover Punda Vibes’ every Thursday night. the mission of Punda Vibes’ is to make you fall in love with our dushi Punda.

On the Punda side, we recommend that enjoy a relaxing beverage along the waterfront at the Iguana Cafe to watch the “swinging old lady” open and close to allow ships to enter Willemstad’s massive inland harbor. These ships get impressively close and it is always a miracle to see how they manoeuvre in and out. Alternatively, you may like to enter Fort Amsterdam, the large yellow historic building south of Iguana Cafe which is the site of the Governor’s Palace and the 1769 Dutch Reformed Church. For dinner, we suggest a visit to the Restaurant De Gouveneur on the Otrobanda side, or go to one of the many restaurants in the Pietermaai District.

An area frequently missed by tourists is the Pietermaai area which is also referred to as the “SOHO” of Curacao. Many of the run-down buildings have been totally restored over the last decade and turned into colorful apartments, boutique hotels, restaurants, and trendy bars.

Mundo Bizarro is a not just a fabulous restaurant with Cuban decor but it is also an eclectic bar with daily happy hours from 5:30 to 6:30pm with live music every Saturday. A few doors down, you will find Miles Jazz Cafe, a local favorite offering a selection of cigars, board games and, of course, jazz music on vinyl (yes, that right… on VINYL!) or live music depending on the night. Other restaurants in the Pietermaai district include 27 Curacao, the oceanfront restaurant of Bijblauw, Dive City (City Beach) and the gourmet favorite of KOME.  For more information on the Top 10 Restaurants of Curacao, click here.

The Best Dive Sites of Curaçao

The island nation of Curaçao is home to some of the Caribbean’s best dive sites and thriving coral reefs that represent a window into the past when Caribbean reefs were healthy and vibrant everywhere.

Though this little Dutch Caribbean island is best known for its colourful colonial waterfront in Willemstad, too few know about the rainbow of vibrant coral and marine life under its waters.

Top 5 eastern dive sites of Curaçao

From the south eastern tip known as “Oostpunt” to the northwestern tip known as “Westpunt”, the underwater world is completely different and unique. Eastern Curacao is known to locals as “Banda Ariba”. This area is truly an unspoiled and largely still unexplored sanctuary inside of Curacao’s only National Marine Park. This preserve has amazing sheer walls covered with extensive healthy coral and sponge colonies while the shallow plateaus are overrun by magnificent examples of Elkhorn, Staghorn and Pillar coral communities.

Eastpoint (Oostpunt)
Located at the very eastern tip of Curacao’s National Marine Park, this is a MUST DIVE!! Only accessible by boat, this site is largely one of the most pristine and unblemished fringing reef systems on Curacao, if not the entire Caribbean. Lush gorgonians cover the site, together with hard corals and sponges. A large school of tarpons inhabit the underwater bridge, a natural bridge that was formed by coral formations throughout time. Sharks, eagle rays, large barracuda, and turtles have been spotted at this wonderful Curacao diving location that has seen very little human impact.

Klein Curaçao
If you could imagine a picturesque deserted Caribbean island surrounded by warm aquamarine waters, then welcome to Klein Curacao. Located approximately 6.5 miles off the eastern tip of Curaçao, this is a very special trip for divers and for snorkelers alike. The locals say that the underwater habitats of Klein Curaçao is where everything is bigger and there is more of it with almost the guarantee of turtle sightings, ocean triggerfish and large groupers. This is a true Caribbean dive location which is pristine and unspoiled.

Kathy’s Paradise/Smokey’s
Often this spectacular dive becomes a drift dive where you literally “fly” east from Smokey’s and end with an amazing finish at Kathy’s Paradise. These immaculate dive locations with large dense corals overhangs lead to sharp drop offs, and this coupled with great visibility provide you with a 360-degree experience that will leave you wanting more upon surfacing! Sharks and stingrays are often seen here too.

Tugboat
Located in just 5 meters (15ft) of water, this famous tugboat was wrecked just a few yards offshore in a protected bay of Caracassbaai. This site is perfect for divers as well as snorkelers. Easy to access and easy to find a plethora of critters such as seahorses, octopus, lobsters, napping scorpion fish and the odd nudibranch if you can find it!! The tugboat is overgrown with tube sponges and coral and is home to a variety of colorful reef fish too. The resident Majestic blue Parrot Fish and Yellow Tail Snappers guard this site.

Superior Producer
Sits quietly upright on her keel with her bow facing west in roughly 30m (100ft) of water and about 150m (500ft) from the shoreline just west of the Curaçao Mega-pier. As an advanced shore or boat dive, the easiest approach is from the stern due to the possibility of the prevailing currents. As you descend the fringing reef, an eerie dark shadow starts to appear. At first, you only see the stern, but then the entirety of this magnificent 50m (165ft) mass with its superstructure rising to within 21m (72ft) of the surface reveals itself, covered in a vast kaleidoscope of color. Now with roughly 40 years of growth, the MV Superior Producer is an amazing artificial reef site home to numerous colonies and different species of corals, sponges, gorgonians and sea whips. Because of this, it is a natural attraction for schools of predatory fish such as Tarpons, Barracudas, Snappers and Jacks.

Top 5 western dive sites of Curaçao

There is another side to Curaçao, the West side known to locals as “Banda Abou”.  This is a bucolic haven for boat and shore diving, offering near perfect conditions year-round because of the natural shielding from the easterly trade winds offered by the mountain range running through the middle of the Christoffel National Park.

The western side of Curaçao stretches from Bullenbaai, near St. Willibrordus to the north west fishing village of Westpunt. Along this rugged and ancient coastline, you will discover some of the best beaches in the Caribbean such as Cas Abao and the famous Kenepa Plantation. These world class locations, among others, provide you with an exceptional opportunity for incredible shore diving and snorkeling. However, this is just to get your feet wet because to truly “sea” the BEST of the WEST, then you need to dive into these essential dive experiences to feel it for yourself!

Alice in Wonderland
Descending on this site is quite a bit like reading Chapter One – “Down the Rabbit Hole of Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”! As you descend you literally feel yourself getting smaller and smaller as the hard coral formations rise up to become larger and larger, growing in some cases to over 60 feet/18m in height encompassing a host of hiding places for the unusual characters we have in our story like the pair of resident frogfish and octopus! Of course, we regularly see Turtles, Eagle Rays, large schools of Boga’s being hunted by Yellow Fin Tuna and so on… but really the attraction of Alice in Wonderland is the beautiful coral formations and all that hides within!!  The key to diving this site is to dive it “SLOW”, believe me, you will be amazed at what you find!!

Watamula
Derives its name from the Dutch word “Watermöllen” (Water Mill) because of the how the currents flow in this #1 Boat Diving Site!!  You will never understand what the currents will be doing until you check: sometimes they are flowing North/South, other times South/North and other times they are flowing in a circle!!  Watamula offers the diver an intense and sometimes overwhelming spectacle starting with a hard-coral field, then a soft coral patch, then finally ending with another hard-coral field! It is so intense that the diver really does not know where to look first! In addition to the mind-blowing coral formations, the intensity of the macro life combined with Ocean Trigger fish, Schools of Chubbs and Porcupine Fish will leave you surfacing wanting to don another tank for more!!

Mushroom Forest
One of the most famous dive sites in Curaçao. Over time, hard coral formations have grown in such a way that they resemble mushrooms, hence the name. Underneath each one of these coral formations an abundance of marine life awaits to be looked at, admired, and photographed.  Don’t miss it!  You will love it!

The Blue Room – an Essential Curaçao Experience
This is the perfect place for off gassing between dives or just enjoying one of the many snorkel trips offered! Located next to Mushroom Forest, the Blue Room is easily explored by snorkeling through a narrow opening that reveal a large air-filled chamber lit up by the sun reflecting off the white sandy plateau in front of the opening… creating a brilliant glow of ambient light in vivid blue!!  Inside the “room” you will discover schooling glass-eyed sweepers, lobster, and hordes of silversides! Occasionally you might even get buzzed by fruit bats!!

Seldom Reef, Bullenbaai
Appropriately named, this spectacular site is rarely visited by boat.  It is a drift dive and offered only on calm days, which are rare at this point of land. Consisting of a series of sheer deep walls and sandy valleys, this site is loaded with large Elephant Ear sponges, fans and often turtles.  If you are an intermediate or advanced diver craving sites offering more than the average wall dive, you should consider trying to include this site in your itinerary.

As we have mentioned many times before and regardless of where you choose to stay, the decision should not be to dive either East or West, the decision should be to discover all of Curaçao (warning: many attempts may be necessary) to truly uncover the magic that lies below the waterline. Because there is a depth to our Dutch Caribbean island that you really do need to feel for yourself.

Cas Abao Curacao
Photo courtesy of Cas Abao Beach

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