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Diving with the Guys from Subcacao

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Curaçao is a paradise for scuba divers. The coral reefs are in good condition, the visibility is usually excellent, the water is warm, and most of the best diving sites are ones to which you can swim from shore. We couldn’t wait to begin exploring Curaçao’s underwater world, and were invited to check it out with the two-man team of Scubacao.

Anton from Belgium and Marc from the Netherlands started Scubacao about three years ago. They met while working at other Curaçaoan scuba shops, and were soon kicking around the idea of starting their own business. Slowly but surely, they began to save money and buy equipment. One day, Marc looked around at what they had so far accumulated, and said to Anton: “I think that’s it. We have a scuba shop!”

Scubacao has since grown in leaps and bounds, and they’re now among the most popular companies on an island full of them (at least fifty other dive shops operate on Curaçao). Marc and Anton have a lot of knowledge about the island; Anton told us that he’s made almost a thousand dives at Curaçao. After booking a trip, one of the guys will pick you up, and drive directly to the location chosen for the day’s adventure.

Our initial dive site was Vaersenbaai, home of Kokomo Beach Club. Jürgen and I were a little rusty, since it had been well over a year since our last dive, but Anton gave us a solid refresher course and was careful to make sure that we still knew what we were doing. Professionalism is a big part of Scubacao’s appeal; Marc and Anton are both young guys who have fun doing their job, but they’re also serious and responsible when it comes to safety.

We were a little anxious getting into the water, but calmed down once we were a few meters deep, and enjoyed one of the best dives we’ve ever had. The visibility was glorious, and with the sun shining, Curaçao’s underwater world came into vivid life. Anton pointed out strange creatures like the lionfish, nearly transparent shrimp, and the rare flamingo tongue snail. We swam out to investigate a sunken barge known as “The Platform” and, before I knew it, our time was up and we had to return to shore.

On the way to our second dive, I had asked Anton about sea snakes. He said not to worry, that there aren’t any in Curaçao’s waters. And right then, we pull into a place called Snake Bay, and I was like… “Liar.” He laughed and told us that the name refers to eels which look like snakes. “I promise there are no real snakes!” (I researched later, and discovered he was telling the truth; sea snakes are not found anywhere in the Caribbean.)

The second dive was perhaps even better than the first, if only because Jürgen and I were now more comfortable in the water. The entrance was a little trickier, as we had to negotiate a rocky ramp leading into the water, with quite a bit of current. But once we were underwater, we were fine. Snake Bay had incredible visibility, thousands of fish, a beautiful living reef, and no snakes.

This was our first experience scuba diving in Curaçao, and we couldn’t have hoped for a better one. Marc and Anton are great guys, and just a lot of fun to be around. If you’re looking for an amazing experience under the water, look them up.

Locations on our Map: Vaersenbaai | Snake Bay
Scubacao: Website

A list of hotels on Curacao

More Images from Vaersenbaai
More Images from Snake Bay
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December 30, 2015 at 11:01 pm Comments (0)

Playa Porto Mari

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After scratching wounds into our arms and legs during a prickly hike that started at the parking lot of Playa Porto Mari, we returned eagerly to the beach. Soft white sand, cool blue water, and incredible reefs for snorkeling… if this were always the reward, I would go hiking every day.

Playa Porto Mari is a large beach near Sint Willibrodrus, with all the conveniences you might want or expect, including a dive shop, a bar/restaurant, lockers, showers and bathrooms. We usually prefer beaches that are less developed, such as nearby Daaibooi Beach, but after the hike we had just endured, we didn’t mind the convenient comforts at all.

The beach is of fine white sand, and overlooks a gorgeous natural bay. The Dutch had protected the Portmaribaai with a fort atop Seru Kabayé, a hill south of the bay, but it was captured and destroyed by the English during their 1805 invasion of Curaçao. I’m not sure if there are remains of the fort, but we weren’t about to climb the hill and check. Not today, anyway.

The Plantation Porto Mari was a big one, dedicated to livestock and produce, and it had over 200 slaves before the 1863 emancipation. Today, most of the former plantation grounds have been returned to nature.

Porto Mari prides itself on its natural double reef, and the snorkeling here is fantastic. We spent nearly an hour kicking around, spotting hundreds of fish. The reef was damaged by a hurricane in 1999, but they’ve placed artificial “reef balls” on the ocean floor to encourage regrowth. The people in charge here seem to take nature seriously, as well they should. The restaurant might be great, and the lounge chairs comfortable, but visitors come to Playa Porto Mari primarily for the unspoiled nature.

Location on our Map

Affordable Snorkel Gear

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December 30, 2015 at 8:51 pm Comment (1)

A Prickly Hike Around Rif Sint Marie

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Armed with only a vague notion of the hike we were supposed to be embarking upon, we set off into the cactus fields and brambles near Playa Port Mari. Online, it had been described as a “History Trail,” and the printout we grabbed at the dive shop called it a “Bird Trail.” But we shortly discovered there wasn’t much of a “trail” of any sort. Let’s just say, a machete would have come in handy.

Porto Mari Hike

We had been lounging on a lot of beaches, and felt compelled to do something more active. Since this was called the “History Trail,” it was especially appealing; we could take care of both exercise and culture in one easy excursion… and then head back to the beach.

However, this hike wasn’t as easy as we’d hoped. There are no markers of any sort, and we got off on the wrong foot immediately, walking straight past the trailhead. We eventually found the path near the ruins of the old Rif Sint Marie landhuis. This plantation had been in the salt business, but its house burnt to the ground long ago. What’s left is already starting to be reclaimed by nature.

Porto Mari Hike
This thorny branch has good taste! It swiped Jürgen’s hat as we walked by.

We continued to the east, scraping past thorny bushes and stepping nimbly around cacti that had fallen into the path, until reaching a small pond. With our focus fully upon dodging thorns, we had approached the pond without talking, and managed to surprise two wild boar who were bathing. Fish, yes; turtles, perhaps; but I hadn’t expected to encounter wild boar while in Curaçao. They sprinted off quickly as we came into view, so we didn’t get a picture.

Porto Mari Hike

Our trail now led around to a tall, wobbly bird-watching tower. We didn’t have binoculars for bird-spotting, but did see a few parakeets flapping around. And from above, we were better able to appreciate the density of the brush we had just fought through.

Porto Mari Hike

This area is criss-crossed with various trails, and none of them are marked. So while heading back to the south, we ended up on the wrong path. The mistake was annoying, but it did allow us to stumble upon a pack of Crested Caracaras chilling in a tree. Most of them flew away as we approached, but one stayed behind, possibly to monitor our intentions, possibly just lazy.

Overall, this was a decent hike, although beset with frustrations when the path wasn’t clear or when it was blocked with thorny shrubs. I can’t imagine there’s any way you’d come out of it without at least a few decent scratches, so it’s hard to recommend, especially with the abundance of much better hikes on the island. But still, it was fun to see a different side of Curaçao… and we enjoyed our subsequent trip to the beach even more than usual, because we really felt as though we had earned it.

Trail Map on WikiLoc.com (You should be able to spot where we went off-trail!)

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December 30, 2015 at 2:21 pm Comments (0)

Laid-Back Daaibooi Beach

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Once you drive past Sint Willibrodrus, you’ll arrive at Daaibooi Beach. Although it’s privately-owned, Daaibooi has remained free to the public, and boasts a natural, uncommercial vibe. The moment we sat down on the sand, we realized that we had fallen in love with yet another beach on Curaçao.

Daaibooi Beach Curacao

One end of Daaibooi is still reserved for the fishermen of Sint Willibrodrus; it’s nice to see that not everything on Curaçao has been given over to tourism. We stationed ourselves under a Manchineel tree, and wondered about the all the warning signs. Later, we would do some research. Manchineel trees produce fruits which look like tiny apples, but are poisonous enough to kill. And the tree’s sap is poisonous, as well. In case of rain, it’s better to seek alternative shelter; water dripping from this tree can cause blisters.

We spent a couple hours relaxing and snorkeling on Daaibooi; the visibility in the water was fantastic, and the coral was in great condition. We went around the point of southern cliff, where the underwater world really came to life. Giant elkhorn coral, angel fish, parrot fish, brain coral, trumpet fish, and hundreds of other things I didn’t yet know the names of.

There’s also a small restaurant on Daaibooi Beach, which is well-known for its french fries. They’re good, the beer is good, the beach is good, the snorkeling’s good. In fact, I can’t think of anything to complain about. Except perhaps for those death trees.

Location on our Map

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December 29, 2015 at 1:34 pm Comments (0)

Landhuis Jan Kok and the Nena Sanchez Gallery

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When the plantation house of Jan Kok was in operation, it was a place of cruelty, where hundreds of enslaved men and women were put to hard labor. But time mellows everything, and that apparently goes for Curaçao’s landhuizen, as well. Today, the Jan Kok is home to the colorful work of native Curaçaoan artist Nena Sanchez.

Jon Kok Nena Sanchez

Originally constructed in 1704, the Landhuis Jan Kok was rebuilt completely in 1840 after a fire. It sits atop a hill, commanding an excellent view over the region, including the flamingo reservation of Sint-Marie and nearby Sint Willibrodrus. This plantation was mostly dedicated to salt, and once had over a hundred slaves. Jan Kok himself had a reputation as one of the island’s more vicious slave-owners, and there’s a legend that his malevolent spirit still haunts the premises.

Jon Kok Nena Sanchez

However, the plantation house is safe today. In the presence of Nena Sanchez’s exuberant artwork, not even the worst of demons could maintain their malevolence for long. Born in Curaçao, Nena has had a whirlwind life. In 1966, she was named Miss Curaçao, and went on to compete in the Miss Universe pageant. Afterwards, she lived all around the world, including stints in Asia, Europe and South America. But she eventually returned to her homeland and dedicated herself to painting: her lifelong passion.

With its painted buildings, clear blue sky and shimmering Caribbean waters, Curaçao is a colorful place, and Nena’s artwork seems to transfer the island’s hues directly onto canvas. Her pieces are spread throughout the Landhuis Jan Kok, and even spill out into the garden, which she has turned into a beautiful open-air gallery.

The Landhuis Jan Kok is certainly worth a stop, perhaps after having seen the nearby flamingo sanctuary. Entry is free, although you might find yourself unable to opening your wallet for one of Nena Sanchez’s Caribbean prints.

Location on our Map

Framed Curacao Photos

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December 28, 2015 at 8:40 pm Comments (2)

Sint Willibrodrus and its Flamingos

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Sint Willibrodrus sits along the edge of the Jan Kok Bay, on the western coast of Curaçao. It’s a small town, but one with big ambitions. As you approach, it’s impossible to miss the “Williwood” sign on a hill in the distance. Actually, you might miss it, if your attention has been captured by all of the flamingos.

Sint Willibrodrus and its Flamingos

Just before entering Sint Willibrodrus, you’ll see the old saliñas of Rif-Sint Marie, a former salt mining plantation. The plantation is now in ruins, and its former grounds have been designated as a protected habitat for flamingos. It’s almost a sure bet that you’ll spot some here; hundreds of flamingos live on Curaçao year-round.

Sint Willibrodrus and its Flamingos

Sint Willibrodrus is a quiet town of a few hundred people. We drove through a couple times, on the way to Daaibooi Beach, and rarely saw a soul. Given the small population, you might be surprised by the size of its Roman Catholic church, built in the 1880s. Painted a deep yellow and set upon the highest point in town, it’s visible for miles around, and looks like it could comfortably fit the rest of Sint Willibrodrus within its walls.

Sint Willibrodrus and its Flamingos

You can’t drive through Sint Willibrodrus without stopping at Williwood, the popular toko responsible for the Hollywood-esque sign at the town’s entrance. Toko is a Papiamento term meaning “mini-market,” but Williwood is also a popular restaurant and bar, with a popular barbecue party on Sunday evenings.

Locations on our Map: Rif-Sint Marie (Flamingos) | Church of Sint Willibrodrus | Williwood

Curacao Hotels

Sint Willibrodrus and its Flamingos
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December 28, 2015 at 1:47 pm Comments (0)

Playa Kalki

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Curaçao is split roughly into two sections: Banda Ariba is the lower, southeastern side of the island, where Willemstad is. And Banda Abou is the more remote, northwestern end. Most of the people live in Banda Ariba, but Curaçao’s most popular natural beaches are found in Banda Abou. One of these is Playa Kalki.

Kalki Beach

After having visited the hostile, lava-stone landscape of Watamula, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at nearby Playa Kalki, which proved to be decidedly more comfortable terrain.

A set of steps leads down from the parking lot to the beach. Kalki is famed as one of Curaçao’s best diving sites, with otherworldly coral formations that have led it to be called “Alice in Wonderland.” The beach is smaller than nearby Grote Knip and more developed, due largely to the presence of the Kula Hulanda Resort on the cliffs above.

The first time we went snorkeling at Playa Kalki, we left disappointed, having seen nothing particularly stunning. But we simply swam in the wrong direction. On our second trip to Kalki, we went to the right, underneath the rope and alongside the cliffs, and found an unforgettable underwater seascape. Hundreds of fish and huge coral formations which might have been born in Lewis Carrol’s imagination — now we understood why it’s called Alice in Wonderland!

After swimming, you might want to stay on Playa Kalki all day long… although that will depend upon the people around you. This beach is small, and can get very crowded, thanks to the adjacent lodge. Our first time there, a group of American girls stationed themselves next to us, and started blasting Adele out of their portable speaker. “I literally love this song to death. Oh my god, those two guys are totally staring at us. They think we’re, like, so hot.” No, girls, we don’t think you’re hot. This is a look of annoyance. We want to strangle you, and not in a sexy way.

But we shouldn’t knock Playa Kalki for the presence of obnoxious tourists; that can happen anywhere. Overall, the beach is lovely, and the snorkeling is some of the best on the island. There are plenty of chairs and shade, a dive shop. There’s also a restaurant, although we recommend packing your own lunch, as both the food and the service are substandard.

Location on our Map

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December 27, 2015 at 7:27 pm Comments (3)

Watamula and Playa Gepi

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Watamula, at the northern tip of Curaçao, is a windblown wasteland of jagged volcanic rocks. It’s not an area in which you’d want to spend a majority of your vacation, but it has a few geological features that are worth hunting down.

Watamula Eye of Curacao

Parking a car in Curaçao is an activity fraught with danger, as there is a serious possibility that someone will smash open the back windshield with a rock. Violent crime is not widespread on Curaçao, but vandalism and theft certainly are. And cars rented by tourists are a favorite target. During our trip to the Shete Boka National Park, we saw two cars with their windows smashed, their occupants standing around frustrated and upset, waiting for the police to arrive.

Watamula Eye of Curacao

It happens a lot and I mention it now, because as we pulled into the small Watamula parking area, I thought, “This looks like the perfect place for window smashing.” It’s secluded, far from any security, there are places for thieves to hide, paths down which they can escape and, crucially, the car owners are going to be hundreds of meters away, across a field of volcanic rock. Even if you were to hear your window being smashed, you’d never get back fast enough. My suspicions weren’t exactly unfounded; all around Watamula’s parking lot were piles of shattered windshield glass.

But a little foresight goes a long way. Before leaving our car anywhere, but especially in a place like Watamula, we would take everything out, and make a big show about it. And I mean “everything”: even trivial items like ball caps and sunglasses. We would leave the glove compartment open and the trunk uncovered, so that potential thieves could see there’s nothing there. No reason to smash if there’s nothing to grab.

Watamula Eye of Curacao

Once our car was emptied, we could get back to concentrating on the nature. Directly in front of the parking lot and close to the shore, is the Eye of Curaçao: an enormous round sinkhole through which you can see the ocean swirling around. “Careful, thieves,” I thought, looking back anxiously at our car, “Curaçao is watching you.”

We now turned toward the east, and came upon a patch of porous ground through which the waves beneath can be heard. This phenomenon is known as the Breath of Curaçao, and it really does sound like the ground is steadily inhaling and exhaling.

Following the coast west, we walked along the cliffs until reaching a small sandy cove called Playa Gepi. A path led onto the sand and we sat here for awhile, watching the waves crash ashore; this might be a good place to go diving, but we found it far too choppy and dangerous for swimming. Regardless, we liked Playa Gepi for its solitude. Besides ours, there wasn’t another set of footprints in the sand.

Locations on our Map: Eye of Curaçao | Breath of Curaçao | Playa Gepi

Great Apartment Rental In Willemstad, Curacao

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December 27, 2015 at 1:52 pm Comments (0)

Shete Boka National Park

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The eastern coast of Curaçao is completely different from the tranquil west. Here, the Caribbean Sea greets the shore with power and violence. You won’t want to swim, but it’s fun to watch massive waves smash against the rocks. And nowhere is the view more impressive than the Shete Boka National Park.

Shete Boka Curacao

Shete Boka is Papiamento for “Seven Mouths,” referring to the number of rocky inlets which have been carved into the coast. The ocean crashes into each of these “mouths” with fury, sending sprays of water high into the air. From the park’s entrance, it’s easy to reach four of the best inlets; you can drive to them in your car, or better yet: embark on a dramatic hike along a set of coastal trails.

The closest inlet to the parking lot is Boka Tabla, where the crashing water has hollowed out a slippery cave. Visitors are allowed to enter at their own risk, but I ventured down just a few steps, afraid that a sudden wave might take me off guard. I felt safer up above, stationed on the viewing platform; each of the bokas in the park has a place from which to take pictures.

Shete Boka Curacao

From here, we walked north along the coast to Boka Wandomi, where we were able to see a natural bridge that has formed in the rock. Returning to the south, we headed toward Boka Kalki. It was slow-going; the ground here is comprised of jagged, volcanic rock, and it’s difficult to walk on. But once we got closer, the vegetation changed, and soon we were on a path that led through a forest of twisted trees, until reaching the sand of Boka Kalki.

Shete Boka Curacao

Boka Pistol was the final mouth of the day, and perhaps the most spectacular of them all. Its name is no exaggeration; a circular hole has been worn into the rock, and when the waves hit it, the water swirls around briefly before shooting high into the air, as though from a pistol.

We could have returned along the coast, but decided to take the long way back to the parking lot. A walking path leads into the interior, up two hills (Seru Braun and Seru Chai), providing views of the rocky, savage coastline. It was a great way to end our trip to Shete Boka. We appreciate calm, idyllic beaches as much as the next guys, but it’s nice to see that Curaçao’s nature also has a wild side.

Location on our Map

We found the cheapest car rental rates for Curacao here

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December 24, 2015 at 11:09 pm Comments (0)

A Concise History of Curaçao

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Little is known about life on Curaçao prior to the arrival of the Europeans in 1499. But since then, it’s been a wild ride for the small Caribbean island. Here’s a short rundown of the major happenings in the history of Curaçao.

2900 BC Hunting tools and implements from the Archaic period are the earliest evidence yet discovered of human life on Curaçao.
1500 BC – 1499 AD The Arawak tribe settle across the Caribbean islands, including Curaçao. Their pottery has been found at sites across the island.
1499 Spaniard Alonso de Ojeda is the first European to discover Curaçao, and promptly subjugates the Arawak people he finds there, drafting them into his labor force and removing them from the island.
1632 Newly independent from Spanish rule, the Netherlands occupy Curaçao, and Willemstad is founded soon thereafter by the Dutch West India Company.
1662 The Dutch get in on the lucrative slave trade, and turn Curaçao into their primary trading center. Tens of thousands of Africans are brought here, to be sold throughout the New World.
1795 Slaves on Curaçao don’t just meekly accept their fate. Years after the first, short-lived Hato Uprising of 1750, up to 1000 slaves follow Tula in a major revolt. It doesn’t end well for the rebels, and after being betrayed by another slave, Tula is publicly tortured and executed.
1800 For years, control of Curaçao alternates between the English and the Dutch, with the former finally taking permanent possession in 1815.
1863 In the same year as Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the Netherlands finally abolish slavery in the Antilles. The freed slaves mostly continue to work on their former plantations, but are provided with land of their own, and paid a nominal wage.
1915 The Royal Dutch Shell Company establishes a major presence in Curaçao after the discovery of oil off the coast of Venezuela. Shell becomes by far the island’s largest employer and Curaçao’s fortunes become inextricably linked to the oil industry.
1969 Frustrated by the enduring economic and political inequality between blacks and whites, workers stage a labor strike that swiftly develops into a riot. Two die during the Trinta di Mei, as the riot is known in Papiamento.
Image: nrc.nl
1954 The Netherlands Antilles comes into being as an autonomous country under the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Willemstad is the capital of this collection of Caribbean islands, which also includes Aruba, Bonaire, Saint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius.
2010 Curaçao leaves the Netherlands Antilles, and becomes a country in its own right, although still under the crown of the Netherlands.
2015 and beyond A major Caribbean cruise port, Curaçao has seen its primary economic focus shift from oil to tourism. With pristine nature, a stable economy and political landscape, and a friendly, ethnically-diverse population, Curaçao is looking to the future with optimism as it begins to plot its own course in the world.
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December 23, 2015 at 7:25 pm Comments (0)

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Diving with the Guys from Subcacao Curaçao is a paradise for scuba divers. The coral reefs are in good condition, the visibility is usually excellent, the water is warm, and most of the best diving sites are ones to which you can swim from shore. We couldn't wait to begin exploring Curaçao's underwater world, and were invited to check it out with the two-man team of Scubacao.
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