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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)

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)

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)

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)

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)
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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