Oh Wow! Curacao!
“Oh Wow! Curacao! That’s where, exactly?” That was the general reaction I got when I mentioned I’d be going there. The Caribbean island, off the north western coast of Venezuela has been largely overshadowed by its two more popular sisters Aruba and Bonaire, and has gone mostly unnoticed by Americans except those on cruises. But recently, it’s been featured in a number of travel and dive publications, so we thought, why not?
We were going to scuba dive, but apart from one or two well publicized dive sites, we had no idea what to expect. Since we were going specifically to dive, our planning was centered on that, but there are non-diving activities on the island, including, laying on the beach, snorkeling, visiting the National Christoffel Park and shopping. So “take the plunge” and head to Curacao! Oh, and by the way, the super cool underwater photos were kindly provided by Turtle & Ray so be sure to check them out on Facebook by clicking here!
From the east coast there are nonstop flights out of Miami, Charlotte and New York. If you have connecting flights, it can be a loooong day. We connected in Miami and were delayed due to Hurricane Matthew, but we made it out eventually.
We were going to scuba dive so that drove our choice of accommodations. It wasn’t our typical stay. While we don’t generally stay in a grass hut, we also don’t usually don’t splurge on a resort, but Lions Dive & Beach Resort was reasonably priced and a 3-minute walk to the dive shop, so we went for it (but many of the guests seemed to be non-divers). We had a beautiful condo, overlooking the ocean, a short stroll down the beach to Ocean Encounters dive shop.
Lions Dive had a number of restaurants, including Hemingway, where we ate lunch twice since (1) it was delicious and (2) it was next to the dive shop. There was also an outdoor shopping area along a promenade just a short walk from the resort that had a variety of restaurants (think shops on the beach not mall). So there was no shortage of places to eat.
We had a particularly delicious meal at Cabana Beach along the promenade. It’s a beach front restaurant with what looks like giant sail cloths forming canopies over the seating area. One night a week they have a fish “market”, offering a range of the day’s freshly caught fish. You go to the area where the fish is on display and let the chef know what you’re in the mood for or he can suggest something. You can order one type of fish, or do what we did, order a little bit of everything. We shared a platter of about six locally caught fish. Your meal arrives seasoned and cooked to your specifications with different sauces on the side. It was our favorite meal.
We’ve logged about 200 dives, so while we’re not novices, we’re also not experts. This year, Curacao was our only dive trip, and like I said, we had no idea what to expect. Well, the staff at Ocean Encounters was really great and super friendly. One night as we were walking to dinner, we saw the staff having a “refreshing after work beverage” and they offered one to us.
As for the actually diving we wondered - Would the reefs be healthy? How was the visibility? Would there be strong currents? How far from shore were the sites? It turned out that the dives were fun and easy reef dives. Due to a big reef project on the island the reefs were amazingly healthy, a bit of a surprise since we saw a fair number of divers touching stuff (which is a big no-no in the dive world). And the fish? Fuhgettaboutit! It was like swimming in an overstuffed aquarium! To our surprise, there weren’t more sharks given the number of smaller fish.
One disappointment was that we didn’t get to do a specific wreck dive called the Superior Producer, a cargo freighter that sank in the busy port of Willemstad in 1977. It’s a complicated dive due to its location (basically in the path of cruise ships) so dive boats can only go to it on a very specific schedule. Unfortunately, Hurricane Matthew threw off that schedule, cruise ships were delayed and rerouted, in turn throwing off the dive schedule, and we never got to dive it.
The people of Curacao were so amazing. They routinely spoke four languages - Dutch (the official language), Papiamento (the native language), Spanish (due to its proximity to South America) and English. And, they were unbelievably kind. One day, we rented a car and drove around the island, stopping to sightsee in the capital, Willemstad. We parked our car and went to the nearest parking kiosk to pay with a credit card, but the machine didn’t accept our card. We had no Guilder coins to put into the kiosk so we stopped a passerby and asked where there was another kiosk. The woman asked how long we’d be parked there and I said probably two hours. She gave us the coins for the parking! We tried to pay her with bills but she refused to accept anything.
Would we go back? Don’t get me wrong – we had a fantastic time. There are just so many places on my bucket list that I want to visit the first time before I start revisiting. Would I recommend it to others? If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway with easy diving and great people…then try Curacao – oh wow!