Hidden Gems: Curacao in the Netherland Antilles
I am in the process of doing a Guest Travel survey for one of my favorite travel blogs, EmilyLuxton: Explore, Dream, Discover. Emily accepts surveys from people taking special trips and so I wanted to offer her one of our favorite hiding spots, the island of Curacao. I sent Emily our story and she will post it next week.
I thought in the meantime I wanted to offer it to you. If you have some spare time this holiday and you want to go someplace exotic, come on along with us to Curacao! Here is the survey for Emily:
My wife and I love to travel. We love to explore anywhere and dig into the history or discover the local people and culture. Every place is different and that’s what’s interesting to us. One of our greatest passions has been the water and beaches.
My wife, who is cold blooded by nature, doesn’t like to be cold and so each winter we try to take trip some place warm in the Caribbean Ocean. The warmer, the better! So what could be anywhere warmer than close to the equator, right?
Where did you go/what was it like?
So several years ago we looked for a nice resort, close to the equator (warm!) that offered great beaches and diving to cool off with. We found the hidden gem of Curacao, one of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao in the Dutch Antilles).
We chose Curacao because it is supposed to have some of the best diving in the Caribbean. The island boasts of some 60 diving locations and 35 beaches.
Close to the Equator, this island is little more than a stone’s throw from Venezuela in South America. In fact farmers from Venezuela ride boats to Curacao and sell them at their ‘floating market’; home to everything fresh, fruity and tropical!
The colorful floating market with fresh produce
Curacao is a small volcanic island, like most in the Caribbean. It has a diverse heritage being fought over and conquered by the Dutch and French in colonial times. You land on north side of the island than take a bus trip to the south side. When you reach the other side you sit atop a small mountain with a great picturesque view of the capital, Williamstad.
Williamstad is a colourful town, separated in the middle by a deep harbour for cruise ships. It is largely comprised of Dutch based architecture.
On the east side of the capital (Punta) is the touristy area, filled with colourful, affordable shops, multi-cultural restaurants, night clubs and hotels.
The west side of Williamstad is more of the professional and artsy side. The two halves are connected by a swinging pontoon bridge that actually swings open across the large harbour to let the large ships pass by.
Along the harbour in the Punta are many boats that make the trip across the sea from Venezuela. These boats are filled with the produce of that country and dock. It is a unique attraction called the Floating Market. Here you can barter for loads of fresh produce, both known to this traveler and unknown.
If you are interested in more of Curacao’s diverse history click here to find out more.
Where did you stay/what was it like?
Each time we visited Curacao we stayed at an all-inclusive called Breezes. Its rates about a 3 on a scale of 5, but it offers everything we look for in trips, free food and alcohol! ~ kidding. But it does offer one free dive per day, free diving lessons and the best part is there is a great man-made coral reef just a stone’s throw from the beach.
The mudslides were great for my wife. They pour free Amstel light on tap (Dutch heritage) and so we have gone back to this Breezes 3 times. It would have been four but I found someone bought this resort and is turning it into a Timeshare resort now.
The picture above was part of the Kid’s Corner part of the resort that we looked forward to taking our girls to.
Any time of the day, you can go to the dive hut, pick up some snorkeling equipment and go explore this reef. On the lagoon side are colourful fish, protected from the larger predators of the deep.
If you swim to the outer side of the reef it is like exploring the moon, with huge corals and underwater plants. Its like another world we never see….
This is some of the best snorkeling we have ever experienced and you can do it any time of the day right from the resort; no schedules or buses to catch. I even had a face to face encounter with a four foot barracuda that is STILL vivid in my mind.
I was looking down at the corals and fishes. I looked up to clear my mask and there he was about 30 yards away just looking at me. Huge! I froze! I remember our diving lesson where they told us barracudas are lightning fast and like to go for shiny things (rings, watches) thinking they are fish.
I folded my wedding ring under my other hand in a prayer type of position (literally…Help!) Then, I slowly backed away. I looked down to see where I was at one time, looked up, and she was gone!
Later I found her offspring hiding in the lagoon…where we swam!
One of the nice things about staying at Breezes was there is a nice aquarium within a 5 minute walk of the resort. This ‘open water’ aquarium has the dolphin shows, sea lions, swim with the fishes and more. Not to be missed is the eel feeding. I have never seen anything so vicious as these nearly blind creatures fight each other for the food.
The aquarium is also unique in that instead of a large filtration system it is actually maintained by the ocean. This aquarium has ocean rocks for walls and the ocean freely passes in and out the areas where the large fish are maintained. A perfect Ph!
Curacao boasts of 35 beaches around the island. We only had the one at Breezes. So one day we paid one of the staff of the resort to take us around to some of the better ones. Most of these beaches are small and secluded. Lovers or divers this is Shangri-La!
We visited some nice romantic beaches, romantic if our guide had not been along. A few of the beaches didn’t have any one there at all. We did some snorkeling, saw some of the scenery and then our guide took us to an overlook he described as Post Card at Kenepa Beach.
What do you think?
Those of you in the restaurant scene might know of a blue cordial called Blue Curacao. This liqueur is made on the island and you can go to this quaint factory and have some samples. The beverage originated from the slightly bitter oranges that grow on this island. It now comes in 4 or 5 colours.
What was the highlight of your trip”
The highlight of our many visits, to me, was that one beach exploration trip with our guide from Breezes. He took us to a secluded Jeremi Beach.
No one was there. I hopped in the water and swam out to the edge of the cove along the cliff walls. As I reached the edge I saw, not one but two Atlantic Puffers (Porcupine Puffers) swimming together. Having a saltwater aquarium at home I recognized these two fish were getting more than friendly. They just kept a slow chase in circles, like they were courting each other.
Here is my distant pictures, on my disposable underwater camera. Can make them out in the center? They are both about the size of your head circling in the middle of the picture. .
After watching them for several minutes, I swam back to get my guide and a camera. The fish either didn’t know I was there or didn’t care. I swam back to my same spot and they were still there. I wanted to get a picture of this but knew not to get too close as I knew from my aquarium they have a sharp beak for a mouth, often used for breaking up coral in search for food.
Keep in mind this picture was taken with a disposable underater camera. Not top of the line! Then think about how far away or deep those Puffers are. That’s easily 30 feet away yet a cheap camera can easily pick out the fish. This gives you an idea of how clear Curacao’s waters are.
What was the food like?/Where did you have the best food?
Sadly, we did not get off the resort that often for meals; one of the downsides to all-inclusives. We did stay at a hotel, the Renaissance Hotel, on the mouth of Williamstad’s harbour one night. This attractive hotel was once a fort protecting the harbour in the 19th century.
We walked the streets and found a water side café with some great seafood. Again, the dining is diverse from the diverse heritage of the island.
Any funny/embarrassing stories or disasters?
We often make these Caribbean trips in the middle of winter to warm up. What better time to go then Valentine’s Day! We don’t celebrate the day much so it’s our gift to each other!
One year my wife’s wedding ring broke about a month before our trip. I took it to get fixed and while waiting enjoyed looking at the various rings. I could afford a bit larger diamond now and so decided to trade in our diamond for a bigger one, have it reset in the original ring and then re-propose to my wife on Valentine’s night at Breezes. I had proposed on Valentine’s Day originally.
Well we picked a nice restaurant that night. Had dinner. Then I got down on my knee again, in front of everybody and asked if she would still have me. She laughed at me and thought I was joking! The curse of a vivid sense of humour!
I gave her the new ring and she cried. She wanted her old one back! It was sentimental to her. That ring salesman didn’t tell me that would happen! I was in the dog house the next two days of the trip. Live and learn!
How was the weather (and when did you travel)?
The weather was hot but not as hot as you might think for the equator. We did get our share of sun.
I got some sun that day!
I think in the 3 weeks we have been there we might have seen about 3 hours of rain. Curacao does sit below the hurricane zone in the Caribbean so gets spared from most of those storms
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
My only advice is if you visit there please make plans to explore the island and its many secluded beaches. There are other sites to see as well including a national park, national dive site and the Curacao aquarium and more.
With the closing of Breezes Resort we were forced to look for another family-friendly resort. A short swim or walk up the coast from Breezes, and right beside the aquarium, is a Dutch resort Called Lion’s Dive Resort. This is a beautiful resort but not the all-inclusive we look for.
It does have the same man-made reef out front. It has its own dive shop on property, right beside Curacao’s aquarium and a very popular beach bar, Hemingway’s, that gets a good crowd at night.
We occasionally walked up to Hemingway’s, grabbed a local Polar Beer or Mojito and sat on the edge of the island just listening to the waves turn over at our toes and the Caribbean music in the background. It was very nice!
Traveling is not real difficult as the island is small. But many of these beaches are off the beaten path so a guide would be helpful if you do.
Most useful word/phrase you learnt.
Bon! This simply means “Good”. Its easy to say with a smile and always gets a smile back.
If you go to Curacao’s homepage they offer a handful of useful expressions. ’ it was my experience that the locals speak many languages there. I was quite impressed that the young staff at our Breezes spoke five languages with ease.
The island of Curacao is affordable, the hotel rates are cheaper than similar touristy Caribbean islands and its not the tourist mecca that some exotic locations can be.
So that’s the story of our passion for Curacao.
Can you think of a better place to spend next Valentine’s Day?