Swimming and diving in Curacao Island
Curacao has colorful architecture, sweet people, delicious food – and the swimming is fantastic!
I half-joked the other day about what the word Curacao means. I know Curacao is an island in the Caribbean, once part of the Netherlands Antilles, now an autonomous Dutch territory, but I said Curacao in Dutch means FUN!
There are 35 beaches on the island of Curacao, each more beautiful than the last, but I have great memories of a morning swim in Playa Knip. From a boat, the shore is a line of cliffs that suddenly opens up to a beautiful sandy cove curving around the almost impossibly aquamarine water. The pictures are so striking they look photo-shopped. They’re not. The water is really that color!
We parked at a stone overlook above the idyllic view, and descended to the sugar-sand beach below. Shaded chaise lounges under a thatched hut are $5, but the view across the beach to the water is priceless. My friends and I rented the shade for our gear but spent most of our time in the water, me contemplating where the purple horizon separated the blue sea from an azure sky, while they swam.
Then we went cliff jumping!
When you are just wading from the beach into the lapping surf you are giving yourself to the water. You experience the warm gentle rocking motion as you float. When you jump from a cliff you are in command and taking possession of the water! One experience is ethereal, the other exhilarating – and addictive.
The clarity of the water was deceiving. Before jumping, I swam out under the cliffs to see how deep it really was. Even though the water looked so shallow that I could stand, it was at least 10 ft deep – safe for jumping. Then I swam in and we climbed up the cliffs above that spot. At about 20 ft, it was just high enough to be exciting, but not too dangerous. I jumped first. It was a thrilling airborne leap into the complete unknown and then – splashdown! The leap seemed to take forever. I immediately wanted to do it again.
Instead, we packed up our gear and headed to the other water dives scheduled for the afternoon. On the way we stopped at Shete Boka to watch the waves crash against the rocky shore. I ducked into a dark cave and unexpectedly got cooled off by the spray from crashing surf rushing in through the oceanside entrance. With paths, benches and viewing platforms, Shete Boka is a neat place to relax and admire the rugged beauty of Curacao’s backcountry.
On our way from Shete Boka we stopped at a local food joint called Williwood because our driver heard they had the best goat burgers on the island – and they did! Goat can be a dry meat, but the Williburgers came with onion, lettuce, tomato and a thin slice of cucumber on big rolls slathered in green aioli, so there was plenty of moisture to make the great taste of goat really stand out. Sides of coleslaw and sweet potato fries rounded out a much needed snack after all that swimming and jumping.
We’d arranged with Go West Diving to take us to a few of the more than 65 dive and snorkeling sites Curacao has. With water temps of 82 degrees and visibility to 100 ft, I was really looking forward to more time in and under the water.
Getting there was half the fun. Our boat sped along the rocky shore kicking up flying fish that skittered over the waves of our wake. Our first stop was for a snorkeling adventure into the “Blue Room”, a cave just under the water line. I took a deep breath and pulled myself in on my back as instructed. The few feet seemed like miles, but suddenly it opened up so I could breathe inside. It was beautiful! The afternoon sun shone in through the deep water to bathe everything in an eerie blue light. I cleared my snorkel and dove to see small schools of fish trying to stay out of my way and some lobsters in the crevasses on the bottom. I could have stayed there all afternoon.
Finally, we left the way we came in, on our backs underwater, pulling ourselves hand-over-hand through the mouth of the cave to burst free into the sunlight, relieved to be through it but sad to leave.
The next stop was a small, but deep cove, with that same incredible aquamarine water dotted with a few picturesque fishing boats. It was here that a red snapper fisherman reported seeing many sea turtles as he was cleaning his catch.
And, boy, they were there in all sizes! The sport was to try to touch these elusive swimmers. I tagged three, but time after time I thought I was close enough to touch one except it was just beyond my reach. It was so much fun diving after them, and swimming through a huge school of small fish that melted out of the way as I passed. They moved as one, opening and closing their ranks around me. It was easy to lose track of time here. Too soon the sun was low enough to signal us back onto the boat to head for shore.
Right before we left, the red snapper fisherman came in with his catch of the day and the sea turtles came to the surface to be fed. At the same time frigate birds swooped down like seagulls would elsewhere to catch some scraps in mid-air. Our guide explained that the frigate rookery on Barbuda was destroyed in the last hurricane so the birds moved to the rookery in Curacao, which is below the hurricane zone. We had both beautiful sea animals and acrobatic birds swarming around us. The guys and gals at Go West Diving really gave us the perfect end to an incredible day!
When you go – plan on a couple of days in Willemstad to get a feel for the culture and history – not to mention the colorful architecture – of Curacao. Then pick one of the oceanfront resorts on the western side of the island as a base to explore fine beaches and good swimming. We stayed in town at the UNESCO recognized Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa, a block from the pontoon bridge. It’s a great location for decadent luxury coupled with old world charm. Out of town we stayed at Oasis Coral Estate Beach, Dive and Wellness Resort, with good food, swimming and unbelievable sunsets. You can rent a car at the airport.
- Curacao Tourism https://www.curacao.com/en/
- Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa http://www.kurahulanda.com/
- Go West Diving http://www.gowestdiving.com
- Williwood https://www.facebook.com/Williwood.experience/
- Oasis Coral Estate Beach, Dive and Wellness Resort https://www.oasisparcs.com
- @oasisparcs @curacaotravel @diamondpr