Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Travel Dates: First weekend of February

Blue waters that give the liquer its famed trade winds that soothe people's worries away. Curaçao, a former Dutch colony, the laid back caribbean island is best known as a port of call for many of the cruises that pass the route. However this island and the neighboring Bonaire are world class diving destinations in their own accord!

If you are not a beach person and/or diving is not your thing, Curaçao might be perfect for a day pitstop in your cruise itinerary. However if you do like to dive, Curaçao and Bonaire provide some of the best dive sites to watch marine life. The only part you need to be aware of is that you need to wait 18-24 hours after diving before you board a plane, or you risk serious illnesses. Our 4 night 5 day vacation was the perfect time to enjoy two dives and checking out the myriad beach locales before we flew back.

Highlights: Diving and beaches

What would we do differently: If we had one more day, we would definitely have taken the PADI Open Water diving certification course so we could venture out into the ocean to explore deeper waters and reefs. Upon obtaining the certification, we would have liked to have done a night dive as well to see the sea creatures of the dark! We would also have liked to have tried some Indonesian cuisine, since Indonesia was a Dutch colony as well (the restaurante we wanted to go to was closed).

Diving/Snorkeling: Make sure you book your dives in advance (at least 1-2 days in advance). The two companies we went with were Ocean Encounters at Playa Kalki and Discover Diving at Playa Lagun. I chose these companies based on reviews as well as location. Playa Kalki and Playa Lagun were reviewed as having some of the best reefs for shore diving, which is what non-certified beginner divers would do. Easy Divers at the Habitat Resort offer night dives if you're interested. You can buy hotel packages that offer diving at several resorts too, which could be a great bargain. However you need to be certified for most of them.

Playa Knip, Playa Cas Abao, Blaubaai Bay by St. Michael and the National Underwater Marine Park towards Spanish Waters supposedly are the more popular snorkeling sites. Curaçao's main website has a lot of information that I used in my research before narrowing down on diving companies as well as locations.

Prices: Curaçao is not really cheap, especially if you eat at sit-down restaurants with cloth napkins :) And you may not find many hole-in-the-wall places that serve good food to be open all the time either. Willemstad is largely run on the cruise tourist economy. Days when there are no cruise ships, the town is dead, and all the hole-in-the-wall places are closed too. They accept the US dollar everywhere, so it's sometimes convenient. We got a great package deal - $620 for 4 night/5 day hotel+air package (for 2 people, not each!) and thus decided to visit this UNESCO World Heritage city! The beginner's diving is anywhere from $50-$120 per person, and the 3 day certification course can run you anywhere from $350+.

Transportation: If you're spending more than a day on the island and you didn't arrive on a cruise ship, you should rent a car. Driving around the island is a breeze as there are very few highways. You can traverse one side of the island in about half a day and come back on the other side the second half. This is what we did on our way to Playa Kalki and back! People are very friendly and most speak English, so getting directions isn't a problem either.

Best time to visit/weather: They say since the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) are the southernmost of the Caribbean islands, they're beyond the reach of hurricanes and thus enjoy tourists throughout the year. It maybe so, but still use your caution while planning a trip during the hurricane season. The weater is tropical, so it's warm and expect showers any time. It wasn't humid when we went, but it did rain once, and there were cool trade winds blowing the entire time which ensured it didn't get too hot.

Carnival is one of the funnest times for locals on the island. The island is supposedly at its most vibrant during this time. If you want to participate in this, you better time your visit accordingly. Our visit coincided with the Tumba Music Festival finale where multiple bands compete to be chosen to play during the Carnival parade. It's a 5 day festival and tickets are sold for all 5 days (can't purchase them individually). It was a different experience with Caribbean and Samba music all night long!

There are also lots of beach parties that happen Thursdays through Sundays, and you can find out which events are happening when and where in the "K-Pasa" events newspaper that you can get from the concierge of any hotel. For example, Thursdays are at Wet n Wild, Fridays at Hook's Hut and Sundays are Salsa time at Mambo Beach.

Cuisine: You can find a lot of international cuisine on this island, but try the Indonesian food since Indonesia was once a Dutch colony. Also try the Indian Surinamese food - the South American variation on Indian food is quite familiar yet distinct in its own way! There was no problem finding vegetarian food anywhere, so fellow veggies fear not!

Stay: You can either stay at one of the many resorts dotting the southern coast of the island, or at one of the many Landhuis' (plantation houses) that rent out their rooms to guests too. If you're not staying in Willemstad, your hotel should typically have free shuttles to get you to Willemstad and back. Check if you get pickups from the airport too (if you don't have a rental car that is).

Visa: Neither US nor Indian citizens need a visa to enter this island. Here is more information on those who may require visas.

Our itinerary was something like this:

Day 1:
  • Arrived in Curaçao, took a taxi to Willemstad (A) and walked around the resort
  • Dinner at Bistro Le Clochard (great location, pricey)
Day 2:
  • Visited the Curaçao Liquer Brewery at Landhuis Chobolobo (B; closed on the weekends)
  • Afternoon diving through Ocean Encounters at Playa Kalki (C)
  • Dinner at Landhuis Daniel (D)
  • Attended the Tumba Music Festival Finale (E)
Day 3:
  • Walked around the city of Willemstad
  • Afternoon diving through Discover Diving at Playa Lagun (F)
  • Un-winded at the beautiful Playa Cas Abao (G)
  • Checked out flamingoes at the Flamingo Bay (H)
  • Dinner at Jaipur, located within the Kura Hulanda Village
Day 4:
  • Checked out Willemstad some more; relaxed
  • Visited Caracas Bay (I) and Jan Thiel Beach (J)
  • Dinner at Zanzibar on Jan Thiel Beach

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