Our second port of call on the cruise was Curacao, the largest of the ABC Islands. We’ve only ever been one other time, back in 2008 on our first Caribbean cruise. Since then, we had not found a good itinerary that included this island, so we were excited for the opportunity to visit again.
If you are unfamiliar with the ABC islands, they are Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, three Dutch isles in the Southern Caribbean. The islands are not what you might imagine in the Caribbean–they are arid and desert-y (totally a word–don’t judge me! 😉 ) with rugged terrain and cactus to make you almost forget you are in the Caribbean. Their location also sets them apart from the rest of the Caribbean islands, as they are much farther south than most, actually less than 50 miles from Venezuela. And bonus: they lie just south of the hurricane belt, so they are generally a safe bet for good weather!
Since it had been almost 10 years since our last stop in Curacao, we decided to make the most of our visit by taking a tour. After looking at all of our options, we went with Irie Tours, a company that promises not only an awesome name and fun, colorful buses, but also great tours of the island at a good price. We chose the All West Beach Hopping Tour because it would take us to some beautiful beaches that we probably would not see if we ventured out on our own. Here is a glimpse of the route we took on our tour:
St. Willibrodus Salt Lake
Our first stop was the salt lake, where we were able to check out the flamingos. Unfortunately for us (but probably better for the flamingos) they were all situated in the center of the lake, too far for any great pictures (or flamingo chasing, which I would likely have tried).
From the lake, we made our way up to Shete Boka, a national park on the north end of the island. We spent our brief time here at the Boka Tabla, where we were treated to stunning views of the deep turquoise waves crashing against the dark rocks. There was also a cave for the brave of heart and grippy of sole.
In addition to the beautiful views at Shete Boka, we were lucky enough to see the most interesting lizard. Seriously, the colors on this guy were so bright and vivid.
When our time at Shete Boka was up, we loaded the bus and make the short trip to Playa Piskado. This was not a listed stop on the itinerary, but we were promised some extra stops if we were good boys and girls–which of course we were
Playa Piskado is a small fishermen’s beach on the north end of the island. It is not big on amenities– I did not see any snack vendors or public bathrooms, no rows of palapas or umbrellas for lounging in the shade–but this beach was definitely a favorite for me. Fishing boats were scattered on the sand and atop the clear, aqua blue water.
There were not too many tourists, but those who were there could be found right off the pier, snorkeling or diving in the warm water. As we dipped in, masks and snorkels ready for action, we found schools of fish shimmering as they swam through rays of sunlight, and large turtles gliding around lazily.
When our snorkeling time was up and we were headed back to the bus, I happened to notice a fisherman with that morning’s haul. I loved being able to catch a glimpse of everyday life there at Playa Piskado.
After leaving the fishermen’s beach, we took a very short drive to Playa Forti for some cliff jumping. Being the wise and temperate woman that I am (read: total chicken), I opted to skip the jumping and stick with taking pictures. So while I cannot recommend the jump from experience, I can at least show you the goods. Here is the gorgeous view from the cliff.
And here is a nice little selection of screen shots from the GoPro video of Mr. Travel Nerd making his death-defying leap off of the cliff.
And finally, proof of life. All 3 of our jumpers made it from the top of the cliff into the delightful Caribbean Sea (relatively) unscathed.
Our next destination was Playa Kenepa, also known as Grote Knip. This small beach was a perfect spot for taking a dip and enjoying the lovely Caribbean weather. This beach also offers some good rock jumping, but at this point, we were all ready to just relax.
After some floating and lazing about, we decided that a snack was in order, so we headed to the small snack bar to see what was available. We were pleasantly surprised to find that they offered hamburgers and fries at a very reasonable rate.
When we got our food, we realized why it was so reasonably priced. The “hamburgers” were somewhat suspect. They did not seem to be a typical ground beef patty, so what were they? Jimmy Dean patties? Iguana burgers? Brown play-doh? We weren’t quite sure, but hey, when you are hungry, you do what you gotta do. And when all was said and done (or rather said and eaten), the fries were great and the “burgers” were not too terrible. And besides, when you are at THIS beach, who cares about the food!
Playa Porto Mari
Our final stop with Irie Tours was Playa Porto Mari. This beach is a beautiful natural bay with white sands and reefs for snorkeling. There are nature trails to explore as well as a restaurant and bar if you prefer.
The weather had been fickle throughout the day and we’d recently been showered on through the windows of our open-air bus (after having been assured that “it never rains on Curacao,” ha! ) so we were a bit chilled and most of us eager to seek shelter and warm up. My hubby and brother-in-law took this opportunity for one last snorkeling adventure, while the rest of us enjoyed some delicious gouda sandwiches on the restaurant’s beachfront terrace. This was the perfect place to unwind and dry off as we listened to the waves and watched small yellow birds flitting about in the trees.
Here are a couple of screen shots from the boys’ snorkeling adventure. They saw beautiful reef, some colorful little fish, and even a little yellow eel!
And here is one of my favorite shots when the cloud cover shifted and the water turned a deeper turquoise dotted with shadows and dark reef beneath. Can I go back please?
Back to Port
After Porto Mari, it was time to return to the port in Willemstad. This was not quite the end of our day on the island, but it did conclude our wonderful beach hopping tour with Irie Tours.
Tips and Lessons Learned:
- When we first came to Curacao in 2008, we did not venture out any further than the colorful port town of Willemstad. This was great, but we did not realize how much more Curacao had to offer. So if you get the chance, be sure to see more of this beautiful island.
- When your tour guide promises you a good restaurant at the last stop, do not insist on ordering from the tiny snack shop with funky burgers–be patient and wait for the real food! 😛
- It’s a good idea to be prepared for rain, even on an island on which “it never rains!” By the end of a day of sporadic showers, our clothes and towels were soaked through and we had no way to dry off. Next time we will definitely bring some bags to keep our stuff dry.
More of our day in Curacao…