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Driving Around the Christoffelpark

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After having hiked to the top of Christoffelberg, we had enough time to continue exploring the park. A driving route recommended by the visitor’s center brought us to a few interesting sights, including a remote beach, a dark cave, and ancient rock paintings made by the Arwak Indians.

Christoffel Park Drive

The hike had left us so exhausted, that even a driving route sounded unappealing. “You mean we have to press down on the gas, and turn the wheel? Unnhhhh… god!” But entrance to the park is expensive enough that we didn’t want to pay to return another day, so we sucked it up and motored off into the nature. Heroic.

Christoffel Park Drive

The first stop was at a viewpoint overlooking the park. When the skies are exceptionally clear, you can supposedly see Bonaire from here. That wasn’t the case today, but we did have a nice view of Boka Grandi: the large inlet and beach that would be the next stop on our tour.

After relaxing on the sand, and nearly allowing the sound of the waves to put us to sleep, we hopped back into the car and continued for a few more minutes until reaching the cave. It was much bigger than we had expected, and we were able to crawl back far into its depths, where very little light was able to reach.

Christoffel Park Drive

Next to the cave is a set of rock paintings attributed to the Arwak Indians who were Curaçao’s original inhabitants. These paintings are thought to be up to 2000 years old. It can be hard to spot them, as they’ve faded with time, but the red markings are still visible on the rock.

Most visitors come to Christoffelpark to hike up Christoffelberg, and then they leave right away. But there’s a lot more to the park than just the mountain, including the excellent Savonet Museum and this driving tour. It’s an easy way to discover some additional highlights of Curaçao’s biggest national park.

Location on our Map: Boka Grandi

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February 5, 2016 at 9:11 pm Comments (0)

To the Top of Christoffelberg

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Curaçao’s most popular hike, and perhaps its only popular hike, is the trek to the summit of Christoffelberg. At a modest 372 meters above sea level, this is the tallest peak on the island, and reaching the top requires an effort of about 90 minutes.

Christoffelberg Hike

Here on Curaçao, where life is about beaches and relaxation, a 90-minute uphill hike seems more strenuous than it probably is. We’ve raced up much higher mountains in places like Iceland and Idaho without thinking twice, but getting to the top of the Christoffelberg was hard! Maybe it’s the temperature. People are actually prohibited from beginning this hike after 11:30 in the morning, as the midday heat can be unexpectedly dangerous.

Christoffelberg Hike

This was the only hike we completed on Curaçao where we saw other people, and we saw a lot. In fact, we blazed past at least a dozen on the way up Christoffelberg. I’m not claiming that Jürgen and I are fast hikers (we’re actually rather slow, with all the picture-taking) and I don’t want to come off as a “know-it-all.” But honestly, what is with all the flip-flops? Who hikes up a mountain wearing flip-flops?! Maybe it’s the only footwear you brought along on your trip to Curaçao, and that would be totally understandable. But in that case, don’t climb the Christoffelberg! You’re going to be miserable. Just go do something else.

Christoffelberg Hike

Anyway, we passed by the suffering flip-floppers and made it to the top of the mountain in an hour and a half. The ascent is steady, and leads through some lovely forested areas. It only gets really difficult toward the end, where the mountain’s peak becomes rocky and more vertical. The view from the top was as wonderful as we had expected; the entire northern end of the island was visible, and it was fun to find and point all of the places we had visited.

To best enjoy the hike, arrive at the Christoffelpark as early as you can in the morning. The temperature will be better, and there will be fewer other people on the path. You have to pay entrance to get into the park, and then you can drive to the trailhead. The hike itself is uncomplicated, but you do have to be in decent physical condition, and make sure to bring plenty of water.

Locations on our Map – Trailhead | Summit
Our route on Wikiloc
Chrisoffelpark – Website

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February 5, 2016 at 2:01 pm Comments (0)

Hiking Around the Caracasbaai Peninsula

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We had heard about a hike around the small Caracasbaai Peninsula, leading from Tugboat Beach up to the top of the Kabrietenberg, and then back around the southern side of the peninsula. It would lead past mangrove forests and coral wastelands to Directorsbaai, before passing an abandoned mansion and returning to the starting point. Sounded perfect, and we couldn’t resist checking it out.

Caracas Bay Hike

The trail gets the hard stuff out of the way, first. After leaving Tugboat Beach, you climb the Kabrietenberg. From the beach, this steep hill appears intimidating, but we arrived at the summit in no time, more easily than expected. From here, there’s an unbeatable view over Spanish Waters, the bay where Curaçao’s wealthier inhabitants seem to keep their boats.

Caracas Bay Hike

After walking back down the hill, we continued around the peninsula in a clockwise direction. From the easternmost point, we were directly across from the Santa Barbara Resort. A native Curaçaoan would later tell us that, in his childhood, Barbara had been his favorite beach on the island. But that was before developers bought up the land for a luxury resort and golf course, and decided to protect their beach from the ocean by building an artificial barrier between the two.

We continued on our route, passing by mangrove forests and walking atop shifting mounds of dead coral, before reaching Directorsbaai, where we had already discovered some incredible snorkeling.

Caracas Bay Hike

As our trail turned back to the north, we came upon an empty 19th-century mansion at the top of a hill. This is known as the Quarantine House. Whatever diseases once lived inside its walls must have long since disappeared, so we felt alright about stepping inside to explore. But we were cautious, as the floors looked like they might give out any minute.

This hike was four and a half kilometers in total, and entertaining from start to finish. And since it ends at Tugboat Beach, you can reward yourself with a beer and a refreshing swim in the sea. At least, that’s what we did!

Locations on our Map: Tugboat Beach | Kabrietenberg Summit | Directorsbaai | Quarantine House
Our Route on Wikiloc

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February 4, 2016 at 7:37 pm Comments (0)

The Cliffs at Hanchi Spelonk

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Every once in awhile, Jürgen and I will cross our fingers and embark upon an excursion which we know nothing about. Our trip to Hanchi Spelonk was one such adventure. There’s almost nothing on the internet nor in guidebooks about this little park, but we supposed it was worth a shot… if for no other reason than the excuse to say “Hanchi Spelonk” repeatedly throughout the day. Hanchi Spelonk!

Hanchi Spelonk Hike

We found the entrance to Hanchi Spelonk in the neighborhood of Souax, close to the Hato Airport. After parking our car in front of a tidy-looking house, we were greeted by the curious eyes of a small girl staring at us from behind the fence. Always mindful of Curaçao’s crime rate, we had been a little worried about leaving the car, but the girl seemed as good a guard as we were likely to encounter. Who would rob a car in front of a child?

The entrance to the park didn’t make us feel a lot safer. At the end of a desolate lot, there’s a chain link fence three meters high, plastered with warnings about entering. At your own risk. Danger lurks. Turn away while you can. Get your dumb tourist butt out of here. But the door was open, so we stepped through.

Hanchi Spelonk Hike

This was a desperately quiet park, and I had the feeling that we were the first people who had visited in a long time. Except, of course, for the rapists and muggers who were surely hiding behind every tree. But as we continued along the path, we eventually calmed down, and had soon arrived at Hanchi Spelonk, a set of limestone cliffs which time has worn into strange shapes. Hanchi Spelonk!

By now, we felt safe enough. As Jürgen pointed out, “If we were gonna get raped, it would have already happened.” We explored the cliffs, climbed around on top of the rocks, and followed signs leading to Mirador Berde, from where we gained a view over the airport and the entire park.

And then we heard voices. Instant panic. As silently as possible, we sneaked down from the Mirador, and approached the sound, using the cover of trees whenever possible. There was definitely a man speaking in Papiamento, yes, definitely a mugger. Soon enough, we spotted them: an older couple setting up a picnic in the park.

Sigh… in our defense, there’s a lot of crime in Curaçao and it pays to be safe. But this time, our extreme caution made us feel foolish. Luckily, we were able to back away without them discovering us lurking behind the trees, having unintentionally become the very creeps we were so afraid of.

Hanchi Spelonk is a gorgeous area, and it seems incredible that not more people know about it. It’s not anywhere near as popular as, for example, Hofi Pastor. You could enter from the scary chain-link fence in Souax, like we did, but I’d recommend coming in from the north, where you’ll be closer to the cliffs. If you’re looking for “off-the-beaten-path” Curaçao, you could hardly do better than Hanchi Spelonk. Hanchi Spelonk!

Locations on our map: Souax Entrance | Hato Entrance
Our route on Wikiloc

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February 3, 2016 at 10:19 pm Comments (0)

Hofi Pastor and the Great Kapok

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A small nature preserve near the town of Barber, Hofi Pastor is best known as the home of Curaçao’s oldest tree. We spent an afternoon here, checking out the ancient kapok and exploring a couple short trails that snake through the park.

Hofi Pastor and the Great Kapok

I’ve seen a lot of trees. I mean, I’m not bragging; everyone has seen a lot of trees, it’s nothing special. But what I’m trying to say is that, out of all the trees I’ve seen during my time on earth, and it must be in the hundreds of thousands, there have been maybe two or three that made me gasp in wonder. Well, now there’s another.

It’s all in the presentation. After entering Hofi Pastor, you start along a trail that leads into the woods. You’re walking across a narrow bridge, scraping past cacti, and ducking under branches, until without warning, the path opens up and you’re confronted by this massive, 800-year-old kapok tree. A huge tree, completely in contrast with the plant life which surrounds it, with tall, flat roots more solid than walls, and with more character than you knew that trees could have.

Hofi Pastor and the Great Kapok

And as you’re standing in awe underneath this behemoth, it dawns on you. In the grand scheme of things, it would actually be more tragic for this majestic kapok to be chopped down, than for you to die. You rate higher than most trees, sure. Almost all trees. But not this one.

We lingered for a long time at the kapok, until somehow sensing it had grown tired of our presence. The trail continues past it, ever deeper into the woods. There are two paths, one marked red and one yellow. Both are nice, and the yellow path leads up a hill for a good view over Hofi Pastor. Completing both trails makes for a pleasant hike of about 45 minutes, and although there’s nothing especially remarkable about either one, it provides a good bit of exercise in some beautiful nature.

On your way back to the exit, you’ll encounter the kapok again, and those weird feelings of inadequacy will return. You want to be nonchalant in front of it, so you kind of slap it on the root while passing, like “Alright dude, catch ya later.” But you know the kapok could care less. It’s just so much cooler than you.

Location of Hofi Pastor on our Map

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January 30, 2016 at 10:33 pm Comments (0)

A Hike Around the Saliñas of St. Michiel

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Leaving from Boka Sami, there’s a circular hike leading around the lagoon and salt flats of St. Michiel, and up to the top of Michielsberg. It’s an easy walk, about five kilometers long, and shows off some of Curaçao’s diverse nature.

Salt Flat Curacao Hike

For the most part, the path hems close to the Saliñas of St. Michiel. This calm lagoon is no longer used to manufacture salt, but the rectangular lines of the former beds are still visible. Today, the flats are only used by flamingos, a large group of which can regularly be seen foraging for food. The trail brought us to within about twenty meters of the birds; a respectable distance, but too close for their comfort. As we approached, they paused their feeding, squawking and flapping until we moved on.

Salt Flat Curacao Hike

The flamingos were neat, but the best part of the hike was the climb up the hill known as Michielsberg. It’s not especially steep, but the trail is shielded from the wind blowing in from the east, so can be difficult on a hot day. However, the view from the top is worth it, allowing you to see the stunning diversity of Curaçao’s landscapes.

After making a complete circle around the lagoon, we returned to Boka Sami. A couple weeks before, this had been the departure point for a different hike, along the cliffs to Varesenbaai. Both hikes are short and simple, and you could easily combine the two.

Locations on our Map: Boka Sami | Summit of Michielsberg
Our Route on Wikiloc

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January 29, 2016 at 12:02 pm Comments (0)

Fort Beekenburg

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Built in 1705 on the small Caracasbaai Peninsula, Fort Beekenburg once protected the natural harbor of Spanish Waters from attacks by pirates and foreign nations. The fort has remained in excellent condition, and makes for a fun excursion.

Fort Beekenburg Cruacao

Perhaps we have oil to thank for Fort Beekenburg’s current state of preservation. When Shell came to Curaçao in the early 1900s, the Caracasbaai Peninsula was made part of its property. The company had no major interest in the fort, and left it alone. Regular people weren’t allowed to visit Fort Beekenburg until 2005, when Shell sold the refinery to the government, and Caracasbaai was reopened to the public.

A perfectly circular tower with a number of evenly-spaced notches for cannons, Fort Beekenburg looks exactly how you might imagine a defensive bastion, like a rook from chess. This is a site completely open to exploration; there’s no entry cost, nor signs explicitly prohibiting or allowing access. You can walk up a rounded set of stone stairs onto the first story, and then climb a ladder to the top of the tower.

This was a real surprise for us; we didn’t expect to find Fort Beekenburg in such good condition, and appreciated the fact that we could freely climb around at our leisure. This was the first thing we did during our visit to the Caracasbaai Peninsula, an area of Curaçao which turned out to be full of fun experiences.

Location on our Map

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January 24, 2016 at 3:47 pm Comment (1)

Turtle Spotting at Ascencion

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After parking our car at Landhuis Ascencion, we embarked on a hike which would bring us through some wildly diverse nature, including forests, cactus fields, and towering granite outcrops. But the highlight came at Boka Ascencion, where we stood atop a small cliff and watched turtles swimming in the sea below us.

Curacao Ascencion Turtle Hike

Our five-kilometer trail got started to the north of the Landhuis, taking us into a dense field of cacti. As we approached the island’s east coast, the prickly plants began to thin out, replaced by curious plants which look like bushes crawling along the ground. These are trees which have adapted to Curaçao’s blustery climate by growing almost horizontally, in the direction of the heavy trade winds.

Curacao Ascencion Turtle Hike

Up to this point, the hike had been alright; easy, but unspectacular. But from here on out, we encountered one highlight after the other. The first was Boka Ascencion, which is known as a place to spot sea turtles. We only needed a couple minutes before seeing the first come to the surface and dive back down. Churning and with a powerful undertow, this isn’t water you could swim in, but the turtles had no problem with it.

We walked along the boka until reaching the coast, where we watched the waves for about 45 seconds. We would have stayed longer, but had severely misjudged the power and reach of the waves, and were taken off-guard by a massive splash that soaked us completely. Jürgen was able to shield his camera from the worst of it, but we were otherwise drenched.

Curacao Ascencion Turtle Hike

Our hike now turned to the hills, and we picked our way between a set of enormous rocks. This was an exciting and unexpectedly beautiful part of the trail, and it deposited us at the mouth of Boka Ascencion. After passing by the inlet, we continued south into a forest of tall trees. With the sunlight filtering through the branches, it was lovely. Considering the landscapes we had been negotiating just minutes before, shrubby then watery then mountainous, simply being in this forest was surreal.

We arrived back at the Landhuis Ascension about two hours after we had departed, and found a local arts festival underway. There was a band playing, and people were dressed nicely, so we figured we should take our smelly, sweaty bodies elsewhere. But then we saw the beer being served and decided to stay, after all.

If you want to see the turtles, but not embark on a hike, an easier option is to go straight to Playa Charomba, on the southern side of Boka Ascencion. There’s a parking lot directly off the main road, just before the Landhuis, and the beach only takes a few minutes to reach.

Locations on our Map: Landhuis Ascension | Playa Charomba
Our Route on Wikiloc

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January 23, 2016 at 2:56 pm Comments (0)

St. Joris Bay

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After having visited the Curaçao Ostrich Farm, we left our car in the parking lot and walked over to nearby St. Joris Bay. With its calm waters and steady breeze, St. Joris is a popular spot to practice wind-surfing and kite-surfing.

On weekends, you’ll be able to locate St. Joris Bay by the kites in the sky, before you can see the water itself. Curaçao is almost always windy, and since the natural inlet of St. Joris Bay is protected from the raging waves of the east coast, kite surfers flock here to practice their sport. The bay is large, about two and a half kilometers from one end to the other, and we found it full of athletes skipping across the water, holding onto their kites for dear life.

A small, non-profit called Fundashon Sint Joris Baai is based on the west side of the bay. Its mission is to help local kids learn how to windsurf, for free. Children who might otherwise not have the chance can come here to practice with a group of volunteers who have donated equipment and time.

We found a path which leads along the southern side of the bay, and provides a nice view of St. Joris. This is a quiet, undeveloped side of Curaçao, and the bay is beautiful. However, there was an unfortunate amount of plastic trash lining the shore, which I’m assuming washes in from the sea. And since not many people live on St. Joris nor use the paths on which we were walking, it never gets cleaned. But as long as you keep your eyes focused on the water, it’s hard to be disappointed.

Location of St. Joris Bay
Our Trail on Wikiloc

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January 22, 2016 at 2:21 pm Comments (0)

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.

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

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Driving Around the Christoffelpark After having hiked to the top of Christoffelberg, we had enough time to continue exploring the park. A driving route recommended by the visitor's center brought us to a few interesting sights, including a remote beach, a dark cave, and ancient rock paintings made by the Arwak Indians.
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