A Travellerspoint blog

Curaçao

Whew, made it!

An unexpected, planned trip to the island of Curacao

sunny 82 °F

If you’d asked me last week if I thought I’d be poolside in Willemstad, Curacao right now, I probably would have said no. Luckily, the stars aligned and we were able to leave frigid Columbus, Ohio for warm, sunny Curacao as planned. Whew! Since I wasn’t sure we’d be able to leave, I didn’t do the normal thorough planning of what to see or do and have pre-planned tours and timetables like I usually do. Guess we’ll do this one as we go. One thing I’m planning is some down-time. It’s been a busy past month so sitting on the beach for a while may just work for me.

We landed around 4pm and breezed through passport control. We grabbed an expensive taxi and headed to our Willemstad hotel - Hotel Klooster. Our spacious room is just off the courtyard...nice. After settling in, it was time to grab dinner and scout out the area. Curacao is a former Dutch colony so the architecture is a strange mix of Dutch and Caribbean. The buildings are painted in bright yellows, pinks and blues.

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Colorful Dutch architecture in Willemstad

At the center of Willemstad is a harbor leading to a commercial waterway. Vehicles cross this waterway along a tall roadway. There is also a pedestrian bridge that is different than any I’ve seen. The whole bridge is on pontoons and swings out of the way of passing ships. One end pivots ad the other end swings to the other shore. It’s really quite ingenious! At night the bridge is lit with colorful lights that reflect a rainbow of ripples on the water. We wandered around the area for a while and stopped for a refreshing beer at an one of the many open-air cafes.

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Queen Emma Bridge

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Saturday, we decided to see a couple local sites. I had read that Hato Caves was worth a visit and it’s right next to the airport so transportation should be easy. Our hotel called a cab (taxis in Curacao are NOT cheap) and we took a quick, $35 trip there. The area around the caves was once a plantation. Escaped slaves would use the caves to hide. The caves aren’t very extensive but it’s worth the price. There are interesting stalagmite and stalagtite formations throughout the caves. The caves are also home to fruit bats. As we walked through, we could see several bats flying along the ceilings.

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Hato Caves

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Iguana outside the caves

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Cactus flower

From the caves, we walked a short ten minutes to the airport to catch transportation back to town. We had heard there’s a public bus running from the airport into town which is a LOT less expensive than the taxis. However, they don’t run on a regular schedule. We figured it was worth a little inconvenience to save $30. After a 40 minute wait, we hopped onto a local “bus” (minivan) which picks people up along the road and stops wherever passengers ask. It took a little longer but the $2 fare was worth it!

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Drawbridge

Once back in town, we wandered around getting our bearings in the daylight and snapped pictures of the colorful buildings and various public artworks. We left just enough daylight for a cold beer poolside to start the evening’s relaxation. I think we’re off to a great start for spring break!

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Posted by Jengt 15:49 Archived in Curaçao Comments (1)

Hidden Treasures

Swimming with the fishes

semi-overcast 85 °F

As we researched things to see and do while in Curacao, snorkeling was high on the list. Mike found a couple of blogs that mentioned a sunken tow boat that has become a haven for fish and coral. We found the Curacao Actif company who offered a 1/2 day excursion with two snorkeling sites and a tour of Fort Nassau. Our hotel desk contacted the company and we were set for an early pick-up.

We set out with two other couples from one of the cruise ships in town. The snorkeling site was approximately a half hour from Willemstad. We were given our masks and fins and pointed in the direction of the first location. The water is clear and a beautiful blue-green. Immediately after entering the water, you’re surrounded by brightly colored fish. I slowly floated along as a school of blue fish darted this way and that. A little further out was a pier that had fallen apart and is now covered with corals of all shapes and sizes. Fish of all sizes swim in and out from every direction. I was mesmerized by the fluorescent colored fish. I’m not a very experienced snorkeler so I don’t dive. That’s ok, the water is shallow.

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Our first snorkeling spot

After about an hour, we dried off and loaded back into the van for the next spot - the tug boat. We pulled alongside a huge oil rig and parked. I wasn’t sure, but we geared back up and got back in the water. I needn’t have worried about the location. The water here was just as clear and blue as before with even more fish. The guide said the tug sunk in the 1950s and has become a snorkeling and diving destination since it’s in shallow water and easily accessible.

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Oil rigs and snorkeling

The current was a little stronger here but not bad. This was, by far, the best snorkeling I’ve done. I’d follow a school of fish for a while then team up with another as I swam around the area. Bright yellows, blues, reds, stripes and spots. It’s like going to the aquarium but stepping on the other side of the glass. I’d hold out my hand and the fish would swim around and come just this close.

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The tug boat is teeming with fish darting through the port holes and doorways. At one point, I saw an octopus on a railing and then dash off to the protection of a nearby coral. A couple of times, one of the guides would grab a handful of sand and spread it to draw the fish (they think it’s food). I was having an amazing time. I didn’t want to leave. However, all good things must come to an end. We headed back to the van and dried off again. (so sad)

Our guide drove us for a quick stop nearby, the former quarantine house. Built atop a hill in the 1880s, seafarers were brought here when they had yellow fever. The building is crumbling and the floors are gone. It was still interesting to wander around and look down where we had just been.

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Quarantine House

Our last stop for the day was Fort Nassau. Willemstad is situated on a naturally deep harbor that the Dutch made great use of beginning in the 1600s. The Dutch built forts along the tops of the hills which made the harbor easily defended. These days, what remains of the Fort is just an overlook and a restaurant. However, the views of the city were quite nice. From there, you could see the oil refinery as well as the city of Willemstad. The dichotomy of the oil refinery on the other side of a hill from a picturesque island city was a little odd. To prove how deep the harbor is, there was a HUGE cruise ship docked right next to the Queen Emma bridge. Guess the guide wasn’t lying.

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Dry dock and oil refinery

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Cruise ship docked in the harbor with the Queen Emma bridge behind it

Even though it was only 1:30, we were all pretty spent. We said our goodbyes as we were dropped off. If you’re ever in Curaçao, I highly recommend tug boat snorkeling next to an oil rig. It really is better than it sounds.

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Fort Nassau

Posted by Jengt 14:10 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

A busy non-busy day

Seeing some sites around the area

overcast 85 °F

We really didn’t have any plans for today. Mike had read that there were salt pans not too far away that was home to a flock of flamingos. We did some research and found the salt pans are on a bus route that we could easily catch. So we scoured various websites to find the timetable and chose an 8:30am departure from the Ortrobanda bus station to avoid the heat of the day.

As we crossed the floating bridge, the now-familiar buzzer and bell told us the gates at either end were closing and the bridge was about to swing aside for a ship. If you’re on the bridge as the gates close, you’re stuck on it until the bridge returns to its normal position. This can last from 10 -20 minutes, depending on what type of ship needs through. There is a ferry that can take you across if the bridge is open, but even that can take a while. We learned early here to allow bridge time If we are planning on something on the other side of the harbor.

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After inquiring at the bus information desk to confirm our bus research, we waited for our bus to Jan Kok and the Salt Lake Willembrordus. The trip there was only 30 minutes so we each did the timetable in our heads to figure when the returning bus would arrive. We had plenty of time. The flock of flamingos was only a dozen or so birds, but they were interesting to watch. At one point, part of the flock took flight to join up with the rest. It was great to watch how graceful these seemingly un-graceful birds really are.

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Flock of flamingos

I noticed that one of the flamingos had started to wander near the far shore so I decided to try to get some close-ups. As I neared, he decided he didn’t like me so he kept wading further down the shore. I followed him for a while but I soon realized he was taking me for a walk. Recognizing the futility, I wandered back to the rest of the flock.

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Lone flamingo taking me for a walk

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Pair of flamingos

After 45 minutes or so, we headed back to the bus stop. I thought I heard the woman at the bus station say the bus takes an hour to one end of the line and then one hour back. Mike heard we had 2 hours until the next bus. Who was right? I’m figuring Mike. After waiting 20 minutes in the hot sun, Mike asked a couple of gentlemen sitting in the shade across the street when the next bus would arrive. Just then, a car stopped and we were offered a ride back to Willemstad. Today was our lucky day. Mimi, the nice lady who drove us back, said her sister had lived in Columbus for 30 years prior to returning to Curacao. What are the odds? She dropped us off at the bridge and we said our goodbyes.

Our next stop for the day was the Kura Hulanda, a museum with amazing African artifacts and information about the slave trade. There were Cuneiform tablets, items from the Bronze Age and other items through recent. I was continually amazed as I entered each room. The artifacts relating to the slave trade was very straightforward. There were shackles and a room designed to allow you to feel how cramped the space on the ship was. We had almost passed on seeing this museum. What a loss that would have been.

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Cuneiform tablet

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Shackles

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African mask

Our last stop was the Maritime Museum. This museum has an interesting collection of items detailing Curaçao’s maritime history from the Pre-Colombian era to the present day. I was intrigued by the amount of trade that came through Curaçao in the 1600s and 1700s.

After a long day in the sun and wandering around museums, we decided a cold drink was in order. We found a shaded cafe and sat enjoying a cooling breeze and an even colder beer. All in all, a full day of sightseeing.

Posted by Jengt 14:15 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

Blue Room, Blue Skies

My kayaking adventure in the mangroves and along the coast of Curaçao

sunny 85 °F

I’ve always wanted to kayak but haven’t had the chance. Today would be my chance. Mike had read of a tour operator that offered kayaking in the mangrove forest which also visited a cave along the coast referred to as a blue room. We tried reaching him via Facebook but weren’t getting anywhere. Our days were booking up so we needed to get the kayaking tour booked or find something else. The Tourist Board gave us a phone number so we decided to try it. We were in luck! Ryan de Jongh’s Kayaking Adventures was available for a 2 hour tour Wednesday morning.

As Ryan picked us up, we piled in the van with a kayak and his sister and young niece. Turned out he forgot they were coming to visit so we got a private tour with Ryan and family since she wanted to go as well. We made a quick stop to pick up another kayak and we were on our way to the southwestern part of the island near Santa Cruz. Ryan talked about some of the kayaking races and trips he has completed. He has kayaked to every Caribbean island, completely around Curaçao and is planning on competing in a rowing race across the Atlantic.

We arrived at the beach and unloaded the kayaks from the van. Unfortunately, I don’t have a waterproof camera so I would be unable to take photos along the way. We loaded up our 2-person kayaks and headed into the mangroves through a small tunnel in the trees, pulling ourselves along by the exposed tree roots. The light current got out caught a couple of times but we managed to finally make it into a small protected bay surrounded my mangrove trees. Ryan described how he had helped to re-plant mangroves all around the island, bringing fish back to help protect the corals along the coast.

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Our kayaks outside the mangrove forest

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After at least an hour amongst the mangroves, we headed back to where we started. The kayaks were portaged over a small rock dam and we were headed out to sea for the next stop in our adventure - the Blue Room. It took Mike and I a while to figure out how to properly steer our kayak, but we finally got the hang of it. The currents along the coast can be strong and the wind catches you now and then. The water along the coast of Curaçao is the most clear blue I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to tell the depth since you can see so clearly to the bottom. We paddled along for 30 or so minutes until we came to the cave. Depending on the tide, you can swim right in or you have to go underwater 6-8 feet to avoid hitting your head on the rock entrance. Today was an underwater day. We jumped into the water and swam to the entrance. Ryan went in first and Mike & I followed.

The interior of the cave has an ethereal blue light from the sunlight filtered through the water. The room is at least 20 feet high and a hundred or so feet wide. We just floated around the cave while Ryan gave us more information about the area. Other tour groups came and went while we were there. Ryan let us decide when we were ready to go. We swam back to the entrance and back underwater to the outside. This time, I wasn’t as fortunate and scraped my head. No major damage to this hard head, just a small reminder that Mother Nature is always in charge.

Getting back into the kayaks would turn out to be a lot harder than getting out. Once in, we tipped over and fell back in. The second time turned out to be the winner and we headed back towards the beach. We kept closer to the rocky coastline on the return. Ryan pointed out giant fossils in the rock face and we even saw a few iguanas hanging out in a couple of recessed spots. The way back seemed a little easier as the current helped to push us along...until we reached the entrance to the cove where we were going. The wind firmly in our faces and the current against us, we paddled as hard as we could. Finally, we got to the point where the current helped pull us to shore. I know I will not be competing in any kayaking races anytime soon.

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Our kayaks on the beach after our tour

Once we were a little rested, Mike and Ryan loaded the boats back into the van for our drive back to town. Our 2 hour tour ended up lasting at least 3 amazing hours. I’m so glad we were able to make contact with Ryan. My trip to Curaçao would not have been the same without my first foray into kayaking.

Posted by Jengt 16:38 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

Waterworld

Turtles, sea and sand

sunny 85 °F

Curacao is a small island with a widely different coastline depending on what side of the island you’re on. Today, we would see the rugged north coast as well as the calm, serene south coast with a few treats thrown in the middle.

We scheduled a snorkeling tour with Yellow Adventures. The primary draw, for us, for this tour was to snorkel with sea turtles. We met the guide at a nearby hotel at 8:45 am for a 7 hour day of sightseeing. From there, we drove to the Hilton hotel to pick up the remaining members of our group and to pick up our snorkeling gear. Once we were all outfitted, we piled back into the back of the open-sided truck and headed up to the northwestern end of the island to visit Shete Boka National Park. The Park is on the northern coast and shows the volcanic history of the island. The rock cliffs are sprayed with the waves constantly crashing. It’s a beautiful, stirring sight.

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Shete Boka Park

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Shete Boka Park

From here, we headed to the main draw - snorkeling with sea turtles. Our guide drove us to Playa Piskado to see the turtles. I’d been anticipating this all week long. The beach was crowded with people in scuba gear and snorkel masks, all here to swim alongside magnificent creatures. It didn’t take long after entering the water for me to see my first turtle. It skirted along the bottom looking for a snack of fish or seaweed. Turtles may be slow on dry land but they can fly underwater! After a short time, this little guy who was approximately a foot long got tired of me and shot off. I turned around and headed back towards where I started.

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Boats with divers and snorkelers looking for turtles

Almost immediately I came across another, much larger turtle. This guy was nearly 4 feet in length! He was swimming extremely close to the other swimmers. It came up for air and then dove back under. I floated alongside in awe of how close it got to me. As it neared, I would pull my arms behind me hoping it knew I wasn’t a threat. Maybe that’s why it allowed me to follow for so long. I’m guessing I followed that turtle for 15-20 amazing minutes. Knowing our time here was limited, I turned back toward my starting point, following other turtles for a few minutes along the way. I probably saw 8-10 different turtles in that short hour. What a once in a lifetime experience!

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Playa Piskado

After piling back into the truck, we made a quick stop at Groot Knip, overlooking the beach. The water here is a stunning turquoise blue and crystal clear. From 100 feet up, you could see rocks at the bottom of the ocean. We had just enough time to snap a few photos before heading to our next destination.

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Amazing turquoise water at Groot Knip

Playa Portomari is, by far, the most gorgeous beach I’ve ever seen. With bright white sand and clear blue water. We had two hours to grab lunch and swim or just grab some sun. After a quick bite, I took a few photos and then headed for the water. I floated along, bobbing with the current. With each minute, I felt the stress being replaced with calm and serenity. THIS was just what the doctor ordered! I’m not one to spend an entire vacation sitting at the beach or alongside the pool. However, a couple of hours can really hit the spot.

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The beautiful beach at Playa Portomari

Too soon, we had to head back to Willemstad. I enjoyed the beach, but by far, the hilight of my day was floating within touching distance of magnificent sea turtles.,

Posted by Jengt 18:56 Archived in Curaçao Comments (0)

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