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The Sunken Tugboat

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Just off the coast of the Caracasbaai Peninsula, a small tugboat rests in its watery grave, slowly becoming a part of the sea’s coral landscape. This is one of Curaçao’s most popular snorkeling sites, and for good reason; with the sunlight illuminating its shape and schools of fish darting through its windows and doors, the tugboat is an enchanting discovery.

The tugboat is totally submerged and can’t be seen from land, so we had doubts about being able to find it once in the water. But we didn’t need to worry. The beach where it’s located is named “Tugboat Beach,” and a set of huge pylons mark the site. Besides, the wreck is right off-shore, so if you swim up the coast you can’t miss it. And if you’re still concerned, just look to where all the other snorkelers are hovering — the tugboat generally draws a crowd.

I got into the water and began swimming in the right direction, searching left and right for the boat. Suddenly, there it was: a sight that nearly took my breath away (dangerous, since my face was underwater). I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that this was the inspiration for the millions of miniature tugboats found in aquariums around the world, because it looked just like one.

The coral has already made a good start in covering the ship’s sides, and dozens of colorful fish were swimming through it. It’s just a few meters deep, so you can just rest comfortably on the surface and appreciate the scene. I stayed until a group of “cool dudes” arrived on jet skis and started behaving like idiots, diving in and stomping all over the coral-covered boat. Why do you need to stand on the tugboat, cool dude? Does crushing a fragile underwater environment make you cooler?

As a tip, try and show up early in the morning, when there will be fewer people. The peaceful scene of nature slowly correcting one of humanity’s mistakes is one best experienced in relative solitude.

Location on our Map

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January 25, 2016 at 11:42 pm Comment (1)

The Badlands of Curaçao

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The inland region between Vaersenbaai and Grote Berg is known as Malpais, which can be translated as “The Badlands.” Despite the rather uninviting name, we embarked on a hike through this undeveloped, uninhabited terrain, following the Biná and Jamanika trails, and ending with a swim at the secluded Boka Unico.

Malpais Hike Curacao
Lago Dispersa

Our adventure in the Badlands started easily enough, with a leisurely stroll through a forest populated by twisting trees, following a trail that leads to Lago Dispersa. As its name suggests, this lake tends to disappear in summer, but we were visiting in the rainy season, so there was plenty of water. Pretty, untouched and isolated, this was the kind of nature we love to discover on hikes.

Malpais Hike Curacao
A clingy new pal

However, now we entered into the sort of nature we could do without. We found the Jamanika Trail, which leads up a large hill of the same name to the north of the lake. As we ascended, the pretty trees were replaced by giant cacti, the shade-giving leaves by flesh-gouging thorns, and the shade itself by scorching sun. The path was relatively obvious, but often blocked by a fallen cactus or overgrown brush… we always found a way around, but not without some anguish. Twice, I felt something pinching me, only to discover a prickly pear cactus pod fixed securely to my skin — once on my calf, once on my forearm.

Malpais Hike Curacao

It wasn’t easy, but we made it to the top of the Jamanika Hill and were rewarded with views over the landscape. We could see the lake from which we’d just come, and behind it the somewhat less-charming Malpais Landfill. Otherwise, the rest of the view was one of wild nature. Curaçao isn’t a big island, so it’s surprising to see that such a large swath of it hasn’t yet been developed.

The way back down was easier; the westernmost of the Jamanika Trail’s two halves is far less troublesome, with less cacti and a wider path. If we were to do it again, we would both come up and go down this side of the hill.

Malpais Hike Curacao
Boka Unico

Our day ended at the Boka Unico. After leaving the Badlands, we found a trail to this little-visited spot on the other side of the road. Only accessible by foot, Boka Unico is not a sandy beach where you could spend all day luxuriating in the sun, but a small, rocky cove. Good enough for us! We stripped down and hopped in the water for some snorkeling. It was a refreshing way to end a long day of rough Curaçaoan nature.

Locations on our Map: Lago Dispersa | Boka Unico
Our Route on WikilocA long part of this route was wiped when my phone lost GPS, and appears as a straight line on this map. Luckily, the trail at this point is easy to follow.

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Malpais Hike Curacao
Malpais Hike Curacao
Malpais Hike Curacao
Malpais Hike Curacao
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January 17, 2016 at 11:23 pm Comments (0)

A Short Cliff Hike to Kokomo Beach

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After visiting Boka Sami and the dilapidated Fort St. Michiel, we found a trail which leads up the hill and along the cliffs to Vaersenbaai, which is home to Kokomo Beach. A short, mildly strenuous walk through the woods, followed by incredible views from high above the Caribbean, and then cooling off in clear blue waters? Sigh, if only all our hikes were like this!

Kokomo Beach

The trail begins at Boka Sami, after crossing a bridge over the inlet which feeds St. Michiel’s Bay. There is another hike which leads around this lagoon, where you can almost always see flamingos, but that’s for another day; today we’d be going up into the hills.

The great majority of the trail is uphill, through a dense forest. The path is well-worn, so there’s no need to worry about getting lost, but it feels almost forgotten. The only other living being we saw on the trail was a white-tailed deer, far up ahead of us; it spotted us immediately and darted off into the woods, before we could get a picture.

Soon enough, the trail reached the coast, giving us a view from the clifftops over the Caribbean’s crystalline waters. We walked along the rocks, discovering the paltry remains of Fort Vaersenbaai, which once protected the bay, and rested at a picnic table which has been set up for people to enjoy the panorama.

Kokomo Beach

We now descended to the beach, where we spent the rest of the day swimming, snorkeling, laying out and eating. Kokomo Beach’s restaurant is a great lunch spot. On the advice of Anton from Scubaçao, we ordered the nachos. It was a huge plate, and for a very reasonable price. As we were eating, a pair of fearless iguanas inched along the railing, ever closer to our table, before finally walking straight onto it. Who knew iguanas craved nachos?

We had left our car at Boka Sami, so after lazing about and stuffing ourselves, we had to hike back on the same path we’d come by. No problem; it’s just a couple kilometers long, and was a nice Verdauungsspaziergang (a fun German word we don’t have in English, but something like “digestion walk”). Overall, this had been an easy, trouble-free excursion, perfect for those who like to combine beach days with just a little exercise and nature.

Locations on our Map: Boka Sami | Vaersenbaai
Our Route on Wikiloc

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January 15, 2016 at 8:11 pm Comments (0)

Fort St. Michiel and Boka Sami

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After visiting Boka Sami and the dilapidated Fort St. Michiel, we found a trail which led up the hill and along the cliffs to Vaersenbaai, home to Kokomo Beach. A short, mildly strenuous walk through the woods, followed by views over the Caribbean, and then cooling off in clear blue waters? Sigh, if only all our hikes were like this!

The trail begins at Boka Sami, where you crossing a small footbridge spanning the inlet which feeds into St. Michiel’s Bay. There’s an excellent hike which leads around this lagoon, where you can almost always see flamingos, but that would be for another day; today we were going up into the hills.

The great majority of the trail is uphill through a dense forest. The path is well-worn, so there’s no need to worry about getting lost, but it feels almost forgotten. The only other living being we saw on the trail was a white-tailed deer, far up ahead of us; it spotted us immediately and darted off into the woods before we could get a picture.

Soon enough, the trail reached the coast, giving us a view from the clifftops over the Caribbean’s crystalline waters. We walked along the rocks, discovering the paltry remains of Fort Vaersenbaai, which once protected the bay, and rested at a picnic table which has been set up for people to enjoy the panorama.

We now descended to the beach, where we spent the rest of the day swimming, snorkeling, laying out and eating at Kokomo Beach’s restaurant. On the advice of Anton from Scubaçao, we ordered the nachos. It was a huge plate, for an incredible price. As we were eating, a pair of fearless iguanas inched along the railing, ever closer to our table, before finally walking straight onto it. Who knew iguanas craved nachos?

We had left our car at Boka Sami, so after lazing about and stuffing ourselves, we had to hike back on the same path we’d come by. No problem; it’s just a couple kilometers long, and helped us digest all those nachos. Overall, this had been an easy, trouble-free excursion, perfect for anyone who likes to combine beach days with a little exercise and nature.

Locations on our Map: Fort St. Michiel | Boka Sami

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January 7, 2016 at 7:55 pm Comment (1)

The Black Sand Beach of Santu Pretu

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If you’re looking for solitude, lace up your hiking boots and tromp through the woods to Santu Pretu, a small beach of black sand accessible from Santa Cruz. Here, you’ll find untouched nature, strange sand, and excellent snorkeling, but you probably won’t find any other people.

Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach

Santu Pretu is halfway along the path that connects Santa Cruz to the jump-off point for Curaçao’s famous Blue Room: an easily-accessible cave in the cliffs which sparkles beautifully with the Caribbean’s crystal blue color. But we’d be saving the Blue Room for another trip, because today we were content to stay on Santu Pretu.

This is a fairly remote spot; there are no services at all, and although there is a path which 4x4s could probably negotiate, the main way to arrive at Santu Pretu is on foot. It’s about a fifteen-minute walk from the parking lot of Santa Cruz. The sand at Santu Pretu is coarse and dark; not the soft, white sand found at other, more conventional beaches, and lends the beach a different atmosphere.

The lonely, peaceful vibe of Santu Pretu is great, but the best reason to seek it out is the snorkeling. Just off shore, there’s a fantastic reef with tons of things to see. For us, the highlight was a large coral tower, whose short orange fuzz moved with the waves in a mesmerizing way.

Besides hearing it referred to as the “black sand beach”, we didn’t know anything about Santu Pretu, so our time here was a real surprise. I would say that it was among favorite spots on Curaçao… but we have bestowed that exact same honor upon so many other places, that it’s lost its significance. Curaçao is blessed with a lot areas of extreme natural beauty, and Santu Pretu is yet another one.

Location on our Map

Underwater Cameras

Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach
Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach
Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach
Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach
Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach
Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach
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January 6, 2016 at 10:43 pm Comments (0)

The Salt Flats of Jan Thiel

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The plantations of colonial-era Curaçao had it rough, because the island’s arid ground makes it difficult to grow produce or raise livestock. How exactly were the unlucky Dutch landowners going to earn the fabulous fortunes for which they’d come to the New World? Many turned their eyes to something which Curaçao has in abundance: seawater. Or rather, the salt inside of the seawater.

Curaçao’s saliñas, or salt flats, are long since obsolete, but they’ve not disappeared entirely. We went on a short hike to see the saliñas of the former Jan Thiel plantation, near the popular tourist beach of the same name.

Our walk began near the Jan Thiel Landhuis, where we found a path that winds through a forest before reaching the salt flats and the large inland lagoon to which they’re attached. A number of interconnected trails snake through the dark woods, which were a little menacing, with huge termite mounds hanging from the twisted trees. This walk was fun, and even if we hadn’t found the salt flats, we would have been satisfied with the day’s excursion. Soon, however, the saliñas came into view, colorful and wide open, and the day got even better.

The saliñas are wide expanses of land which have been totally flattened. Ocean water was allowed into the flats and then trapped, so that it would evaporate under the heat of the sun, and leave behind its salt. Today, the saliñas are still covered in hard, crystallized salt of a pinkish hue. Totally unscientific guesswork here, but I’m assuming the pink comes from the same organisms which give flamingos their color. We did spot a few flamingos in the nearby water.

Trails lead all the way around the lagoon, though we were content to circle just the salt flats. They reminded us giant ice skating rinks… stepping out onto the glistening salt, I half-expected to slip and fall. I picked up a big chunk which had broken off, and briefly considered licking it, but this salt isn’t for consumption. In other words, don’t plan on showing up with a chisel and bucket.

As long as we were in the area, we also decided to check out Jan Thiel Beach, but I’m not going to waste a lot of space describing it. Suffice it to say that this is not the type of beach which appeals to us. Completely artificial, with multiple over-priced bars and restaurants, “deluxe” lounge chairs and beach beds, and a ban on bringing your own food and drink. And where’s the beach?! You can’t possibly mean that tiny strip of sand. The snorkeling here is supposed to be good, but we never bothered to verify that.

Locations on our Map: Salt Flats | Jan Thiel Beach
Our route on Wikiloc

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January 6, 2016 at 8:50 pm Comments (0)

A Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa

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Playa Kanoa, on the windward side of Curaçao, isn’t what comes to mind when you think “idyllic Caribbean beach.” Like the rest of the eastern coast, it’s subject to strong winds and rough water. But although big, consistent waves make swimming more difficult, I can think of at least one thing they’re good for. Surf’s on!

Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa

We visited Playa Kanoa during the island’s annual Surfing Championship, which is held in December. There was quite a crowd on hand to cheer on the amateur athletes as they braved the waves, and we grabbed seats atop a pair of wooden pallets that someone had thoughtfully set up along the jagged rocks of the shore.

Before arriving, we had been warned that “Curaçao ain’t Hawaii,” so not to expect anything major at the surfing championships. Indeed, the waves weren’t all that epic, but they were big enough for the better surfers in the competition to execute some cool tricks. With its steady, non-lethal waves, Playa Kanoa looks like a good place to learn the sport.

Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa

We stayed at the tournament for about an hour, our attention split equally between the surfers riding high on the waves, the surfers stripping down on the shore (hey, surfers tend to be good-looking), and a hilarious French Bulldog causing chaos among the competitors and the audience. We were able to watch both the men and women’s categories, and also see a group of body-boarders hit the waves.

Further down the shore from the competition, we found a small inlet which is naturally protected from the waves. Here, kids were playing in the water and a few people were laying out on the sand. It’s in no way comparable to the beautiful beaches of the island’s western side, but looked like a nice place to hang out.

Location on our Map

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Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
Surf Championship at Playa Kanoa
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January 5, 2016 at 9:53 pm Comments (0)

Kleine Knip

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A couple kilometers south of Grote Knip, you’ll find its little brother, Kleine Knip. Grote Knip was the first beach we visited in Curaçao, and had already secured a place in our hearts. Would Kleine Knip be able to compete? In a word: yes.

Kleine Knip Curacao

“Kleine” is Dutch for “little,” but although this is the smaller of the two Knip beaches, it’s of a decent size. Even when there are a lot of people here, it’s easy to find a shady spot to sit, whether it’s under a tree or a palapa. The parking lot is right next to the beach, in the presence of a hot-dog stand which does brisk business, so it feels more secure than Grote Knip’s lot, which is more secluded.

The view, as we’re already learning to expect from our Curaçaoan beaches, is enchanting. I’ll never get used to the startling color of the Caribbean, and Kleine Knip doesn’t disappoint in this regard. It’s also a great spot for snorkeling; we checked out both the southern and northern cliffs, and found each one stunning.

As proof of our affection for it, Kleine Knip is the beach on which we chose to spend Christmas Day. We had already been here and, for Christmas, we wanted to relax and enjoy ourselves somewhere we knew would be great, without having to bring the camera and take pictures. Kleine Knip was the perfect choice.

Entrance to the beach is free, and you can rent lounge chairs for a small fee. Apart from the hot-dog stand, there aren’t any other services.

Location on our Map

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Kleine Knip Curacao
Kleine Knip Curacao
Kleine Knip Curacao
Kleine Knip Curacao
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Kleine Knip Curacao
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January 4, 2016 at 8:08 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

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

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

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The Sunken Tugboat Just off the coast of the Caracasbaai Peninsula, a small tugboat rests in its watery grave, slowly becoming a part of the sea's coral landscape. This is one of Curaçao's most popular snorkeling sites, and for good reason; with the sunlight illuminating its shape and schools of fish darting through its windows and doors, the tugboat is an enchanting discovery.
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