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Boka Pos Spanjo and Boka Hulu

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In the rolling, undeveloped hills to the west of St. Martha’s Bay, we completed a long hike through the woods to a few isolated coves, including Boka Pos Spanjo and Boka Hulu. This same trail passes by both the Blue Room and Santu Pretu, but unless you’re prepared for a very long day, you’ll have to pick and choose which beaches you stop at.

Boka Pos Spanjo and Playa Hulu

We were already familiar with the first kilometer of the trail, as it’s the same one we took from Santa Cruz to the black-sand beach of Santu Pretu. But after Santu Pretu, the trail continues inland. This is a wild region of Curaçao, and we didn’t encounter anyone for the entirety of our hike. For the next 90 minutes, we walked up and down deceptively large hills, suffering with the heat and occasionally winning a view over the area.

At the top of the biggest hill, we found the ruins of the old Bos Spanjo Plantation. This place must have been abandoned for more than a hundred years, because almost nothing remains apart from the foundation. We’ve seen more evocative ruins, but it was exciting to explore such an out-of-the-way, forgotten place.

Boka Pos Spanjo and Playa Hulu

From here, it was an easy, downhill walk to Boka Pos Spanjo, whose name I’m guessing means “Spanish Rest.” The beach was full of coral, and the water was too rough to allow swimming, but we sat down to watch a pelican at work, and enjoyed the view across Santa Martha Bay.

The trail now continued on to Boka Hulu. By this point, we’d been hiking for well over two hours, and our energy was starting to flag. Two hours of exercise in Curaçaoan heat is no joke, and it’s important to pack more water than you think you might need. But arriving at Hulu lifted our spirits. After climbing down a set of stone steps to the bay, the scene awaiting us was just gorgeous. We spread out our towels in the shade of a low, rocky overhang, and stretched out.

As they had been at Pos Spanjo, the conditions at Hulu were too rough for swimming, but I was unable to resist after the sweaty hike. And I was immediately sorry; the jagged rocks were too shallow, the waves far too powerful, and I was lucky to emerge from the water unscathed. I think that when the waters are calmer, you could swim at Hulu, but I’m not sure about that.

Boka Pos Spanjo and Playa Hulu

The rest of our hike brought us back north, past the jump-off point for the Blue Room and returning us to Santu Pretu. At a slow pace with plenty of breaks, this ten-kilometer loop took us about three hours. There are ways to make it shorter, though. For instance, you could stick to the coast and entirely skip the more grueling interior part of the loop; it’s pretty, but possibly not worth the effort.

Whatever you decide to do in this wild region west of the Santa Martha Bay, you’re almost certain to be doing it alone. We love excursions like this; I don’t know if it means we’re antisocial, but there’s nothing better than a day of hiking without seeing another soul.

Locations on our Map: Boka Pos Spanjo | Boka Hulu
Our Route on Wikiloc

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Boka Pos Spanjo and Playa Hulu
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February 12, 2016 at 5:16 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)

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)

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)

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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January 17, 2016 at 11:23 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)
Boka Pos Spanjo and Boka Hulu In the rolling, undeveloped hills to the west of St. Martha's Bay, we completed a long hike through the woods to a few isolated coves, including Boka Pos Spanjo and Boka Hulu. This same trail passes by both the Blue Room and Santu Pretu, but unless you're prepared for a very long day, you'll have to pick and choose which beaches you stop at.
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