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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.

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Save Money And Buy Your Snorkeling Gear Before You Come To Curacao

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

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)

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.

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Santu Pretu Black Sand Beach
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January 6, 2016 at 10:43 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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January 4, 2016 at 8:08 pm Comments (0)

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

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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.

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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
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December 29, 2015 at 1:34 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)

Grote Knip – Our First Beach in Curaçao

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We pulled our car into the parking lot and, for a few stunned seconds, sat in silence. We had found the perfect beach. The one which your optimistic mind envisions whenever you set off for the ocean. But Grote Knip was the very first beach we were visiting in Curaçao! Was it just luck we had already found the best one? Or… we allowed ourselves to hope… would all the island’s beaches be this spectacular?

Grote Knip Curacao

Grote Knip is found on the northwestern tip of Curaçao, near the Knip Landhuis and a smaller beach called Kleine Knip. It’s one of Curaçao’s most popular places, and we were visiting on a sunny Saturday afternoon, but even so, it wasn’t very crowded. We grabbed lounge chairs, set ourselves up in the shade of a tree, and leaned back to appreciate the Caribbean beauty.

There was an appealing mix of people around us, most of them locals. Dozens of crazy teenagers were crammed onto a floating dock in the middle of the bay, and were hard at work singing, dancing, laughing and throwing each other into the water. The foreigners at the beach, like the foreigners all over Curaçao, were almost entirely Dutch. I got the sense that a lot of them live here at least on a semi-permanent basis, as most of them were grilling. Tourists generally aren’t equipped to grill.

Grote Knip Curacao

Grote Knip is set within a cove, protected by rocky cliffs from which the more daring kids will occasionally leap. I considered joining in, but was spooked by how shallow the water seemed. It was probably an illusion, because of the water’s astounding clarity, but I wasn’t about to risk my life on that theory.

There’s a small snack shop on the beach, which serves basic grub like hamburgers and fries, and you have to rent the chairs for a reasonable price, but otherwise the beach is free to use. Our original plan was to just stay for an hour, and then check out Kleine Knip… but we soon decided that Kleine Knip could wait for another day. We were in no hurry to leave the perfect beach.

Location on our Map

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December 21, 2015 at 9:26 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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