The hardest part about going to Curacao and Bonaire, islands in the Netherland Antilles, is the flight. Sheesh, it takes over a day with at least 3 connections, ours being in LA, Dallas and Miami. But it is worth it! Curacao’s capitol is Willemstad and has been named a Unesco Heritage site with its beautiful Dutch architecture lining its famous St. Anna bay. The bay is famous not just for the multi colored gingerbread dappled buildings but also for the Queen Emma pontoon bridge which sways back and forth to open up the passage way for oil tankers and cruise ships many times a day and night!
We were fortunate to stay in the Plaza Hotel on the Punda side of the bay and to have a second story room with a balcony for viewing all the activity of the bridge and the opposite side called the Otrabanda. That side seemed to be a bit more “ethnic”, meaning more locals had their shops and restaurants there. This island has an interesting and sad history involving wars and slavery. It was through all of this that the survivors developed their own language called Papimentu, which means “chatting”. It is a combination of English, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and the many dialects from Africa. It also has a smattering from the indigenous Arawaks, who of course were annihilated long ago.
The main reason people come to these islands is to scuba dive. The dive sites are easy shore entries, and the water is a clear luscious warm turquoise with amazingly abundant reefs within a short distance. We dove “Car Pile” and “Tug Boat” and then ate conch at a seaside shack. As far as I could tell there were no biting sharks or stinging jellyfish, and you could dive with just a light short wet suit or lycra. As for on the streets, one does need to be careful of the underbelly preying on the carefree tourists. One such fellow, “Ronnie” befriended us under the guise of “helping” and soon after requested a rather substantial tip! I didn’t mind too much though as it is apparent that the locals are not the ones making it rich here, and as so often happens in these places, the wealthier visiting nations can bring a double edged sword making it hard for them to afford to live in their own country.
We timed our stay to include New Years Eve as we had heard that that is when the Carnival begins, and that was no lie! Wow! The day began with deafeningly long explosions created by enormous firecrackers in huge piles laid out in front of store fronts. The idea is to scare away the bad spirits, and I can’t imagine it didn’t work! As evening fell we were awed by the 180 degree view from our balcony of the horizon spewing color in a seemingly never ending display of fireworks. The people had lined the shores of the bay with chairs and coolers, dancing and singing, and even added their own contributions of combustibles. I must say, there were obviously no inner city fire code laws in effect on this very special night.
The following day the city was quiet as all seemed to be nursing aching heads and ringing ears, so we felt like we had the island to ourselves. We rented a car and headed out to explore this cactus speckled dry desert island. What we found was the challenge of reading the road signs! Granted they are in Dutch, but that was not the issue. The problem is seeing them at all since the constant sun has weathered them to non existent. It really doesn’t matter much though since the island is so small you really can’t get lost for long. We headed up to the northern coast where the shore is much rougher and saw Boca Pistol where the water comes in and shoots up into the air.
We saw Christoffel Mt. which at 1240 feet does stick out noticeably but is pushing it being called a “mountain”. Given that this was New Years Day we should have expected that everything would be closed, but we didn’t and so felt quite fortunate when we found the American run restaurant, Sol Food near Westpunt. I have to say that that was one of the best pizzas I have ever had, anywhere! The owner, Sunny, used to be a caterer, and you can tell. Amazing views, laid back vibe and delicious food. Up this way is the luxury resort Kura Hulanda which we ended up staying at on our last night of vacation, so I will tell you about that later. We continued our tour of the island and stopped at Kas Abou beach where you have to pay to get in. Honestly, I thought it was a bit overrated and definitely over crowded. But of course the sand is white, the water blue and warm, so why complain?
The next day we took a little plane over to the island of Bonaire which is even smaller than Curacao. We stayed at the Divi Flamingo dive resort because again, diving is the thing to do here. The entire coast is a protected marine park, and should be, it is spectacular! Again, all the dive sites are clearly marked shore entries and most places are geared toward the diver so it is easy and convenient. Our resort and ocean view room were so lovely we saw no reason to dive anywhere else! And again, the food was fantastic!
We did try to explore the island and find some typical goat stew in a little town called Rincon, but of course the famous Rose Inn was closed that day. We were so disappointed. I guess we will have to go back to try again. Instead we made up for it by going on a 4 hour horseback ride through cactus lined dirt roads, passing by lagoons with bright pink flamingos and finally reaching the coast at Lac Bay where we got to ride the horses in the ocean! They swam and snorted while we hung on bareback style in our bathing suits.
As I mentioned earlier, our final day was spent at the Kura Hulanda in Curacao. We wanted to have a special last night and boy was it! This place is magical for those who can or choose to afford it. The rooms overlook the ocean with the western sky creating a perfect sunset venue. Plus there is a small beach to snorkel or dive and then a pool to rinse off in. They have four restaurant choices but we chose the room service which was quick and the staff were gracious and helpful. One fellow even loaned us his own CD of Reggae music.
Our time on these two lovely islands was expensive, but comfortable and memorable. I encourage a visit there even if you are not a diver as there are plenty of other things to do! Just remember your sunscreen and bug spray.