The Natural and Historic Beauty of Curacao's National Parks
By Justin Birch
While most people visiting Curacao spend their time on the gorgeous beaches or
exploring some of the world's best coral reefs, there are also a number of fascinating
destinations within the island's interior. If you are looking for adventure on land in
Curacao, there is no better place to start than one of the national parks.
Christoffelpark, Curacao's largest and most ecologically-diverse nature preserve - Shete
Boka, a site dedicated to sea turtles and the beautiful northern coastline - and Den
Dunki, a historic site ideal for relaxation - each provide adventurous travelers numerous
opportunities for sightseeing and outdoor recreation. If you want to experience the best
of both worlds in Curacao, make some time in your beach routine for a tour of the island's
Curacao's most well known park - Christoffelpark - features a vast expanse of trails
that traverse up and around Mt. Christoffel. The easiest hikes can be enjoyed by families
with small children, while adventurous travelers can devote the morning hours to an ascent
of Mt. Christoffel. Regardless of which path you choose, there will be plenty of unique
plants, birds and creature to identify. In fact, there are several species residing
amongst the eight trails of Christoffelpark that cannot be found anywhere else in the
world, including the Curacao White Tailed Deer and the Palabrua, a reclusive native owl.
Even if you don't feel up to hiking, the park can still be enjoyed by automobile, as a few
scenic routes visit many of the park's most striking sites.
Christoffelpark also has its share of historic sites, including one of the Curacao's
first plantations and well-preserved ruins of colonial buildings. While the Savonet
plantation didn't leave any structures behind, the wells and dams of this early colonial
settlement are still visible throughout the park. The Zorgvlied plantation - perched on
the side of Mt. Christoffel - features a number of interesting ruins, including the
foundation of the original house and slave's quarters.
Curacao's most newly minted national park - Shete Boka - is located along the island's
rocky northern coast. The park begins at the picturesque inlet known as Boka Tabla. As you
descend the rocks towards the Caribbean waves, you will find a series of steps carved into
the cliffs that lead into a remarkable cavern. At the mouth of the precarious inlet, you
can dangle your feet over the sea and watch the waves crash against the rocks. Above the
cavern, you will find an incredible vista of Curacao's windswept coast. A well-maintained
dirt road leads from Boka Tabla to a series of six smaller caverns, two of which have
dedicated hiking trails. In addition to being great places to enjoy a view of the
Caribbean Sea, all of the inlets within Shete Boka are protected sea turtle breeding
The Boka Pistol Trail in Shete Boka offers visitors a chance to see one of the sea
turtles' hidden breeding grounds up close. In addition to the placid coves frequented by
sea turtles, hikers will find plenty of spots worth photographing along the hour-long
trek. As the trail follows a stretch of windswept shoreline, visitors can expect plenty of
crashing waves and remarkable views from atop the limestone cliffs.
The Boka Wandomi Trail carves a calmer path, but the views are no less spectacular. Set
amongst the same limestone cliffs as the Boka Pistol Trail, the Boka Wandomi Trail is
known for its rolling, black lava hills and natural stone bridge resting above the
Caribbean Sea. This trail leads back to the Boka Tabla trailhead and can be comfortably
hiked in about one hour.
Den Dunki National Park provides an elegant location to enjoy Curacao's climate while
immersing visitors in many lesser-known stories of Caribbean history. During the colonial
period, the park was used by the Dutch as a camp for African slaves. After the slaves were
emancipated, the land was used for nobler purposes. After being purchased by a wealthy
family in the 19th century, the picturesque property was used as a swan park and outfitted
with numerous ornamental fountains, wells and gates. Today, many of the swan park's
architectural embellishments remain alongside markers dedicated to the island's
multifaceted past, while the trails that weave through the Den Dunki offer an opportunity
for a peaceful afternoon escape.
Each of Curacao's national parks offers great opportunities to experience the unique
history and natural beauty of this remarkable Caribbean island. When you have had your
fill of fun at the beach, head inland for a taste of the Curacao that locals cherish and
tourists have come to adore.
Justin Burch writes articles about travel in Curacao for the Marriott Resorts.
By Justin Burch
As one of the most exciting cities in the Caribbean,
Willemstad - Curacao's charming colonial capital - allows visitors to experience
everything from historic architecture and museums to world-class dining and shopping.
Willemstad is divided by a central canal into two districts, Punda and Otrabanda.
Generally speaking, Punda is of greater interest to travelers as the most interesting
historic sites and shopping areas rest on this side of the capital. For instance, if you
want to see the pastel-colored colonial homes that Curacao is famous for, the Punda
section is certainly the best place to spend your time. On the other hand, Otrabanda -
meaning "other side" - is known as the contemporary half of the city and home to
some exciting new developments. Regardless of where you spend your time in Willemstad, you
will find plenty of sites and activities capable of exciting any traveler.
One of the best ways to explore Curacao's capital is by trolley. Each day these
open-sided cars embark on a 75-minute tour of the city, passing by all of the most
fascinating historical sites. Groups meet at Fort Amsterdam within sight of the Queen Emma
Pontoon Bridge, one of the island's most significant technological advancements. After
touring the Willemstad by trolley car, tourists can walk across this pedestrian bridge
that connects the Punda and Otrabanda sections of the city. As the walkway rests atop the
city's busiest canal, the bridge was equipped with a diesel engine and designed to swing
open several times a day, allowing cruise ships and commercial fleets to enter the
As Willemstad is a city rooted in rich colonial history and cultural traditions, local
museums offer some of the island's most captivating sites. One of the most interesting
collections can be found at the Museum Kura Hulanda, one of the largest museums in the
Caribbean. Showcasing the life's work of Dr. Jacob Gelt Dekker, the restored colonial
warehouses of Kura Hulanda are full of African artifacts and oddities. As African culture
has played an important role in the postcolonial development of the Caribbean, several
exhibits are devoted to this historical relationship. The most impressive example of this
history is a full-scale reproduction of a colonial slave ship, modeled directly after a
vessel that sailed from Ivory Coast to the Caribbean and the Americas. Located in
Otrabanda, this fascinating museum is open everyday from 10 am to 5 pm and offers a
unique, informative experience for the whole family.
Another good site to learn about the history of Curacao and the Caribbean is the
Maritime Museum. Located in the picturesque neighborhood of Scharloo, the Maritime Museum
details the history of the island from the arrival of the first inhabitants around 600
B.C. to the present. With the assistance of 40 permanent exhibits, visitors are able to
chronologically trace the economic and cultural development of Curacao. Alongside the
antiques, artifacts and historical maps, guests can also view a number of video
presentations featuring oral histories offered by some of the island's most colorful
Near the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, you can find the charming Curacao Museum. Housed in
a 19th century military hospital that was painstakingly restored in the mid-20th century,
this small museum is now home to historic paintings, sculptures and furniture crafted over
several hundred years by local and Dutch artisans. The outdoor pavilion is also a popular
destination as many performances featuring local and traveling musicians take place
throughout the year.
This bustling neighborhood near Fort Amsterdam and the pontoon bridge also marks the
entrance to the city's best shopping district. As you walk through the Punda district and
approach the harbor, you will uncover one of the most exciting stretches of shopping at
the Waterfront Aches. This special ¼-mile strip is hard to miss as it is marked by
historic 30 foot-tall stone arches and cobblestone walkways. Beneath the arches, you will
find numerous specialty boutiques and restaurants, with options for every taste and
budget. This waterfront district also offers great evening activities, as many businesses
remain open late and the narrow streets are elegantly illuminated each night.
Near the central waterfront shopping area, you can also visit one of Curacao's great
shopping traditions. Each day, small boats line the city's central canal and sell their
products directly from their vessels at the Floating Market. As many of the boats arrive
from Venezuela, Columbia and other Caribbean islands, the vendors not only offer the
freshest produce and seafood imaginable, but also sell art, handicrafts and other unique
products from throughout the region. The Floating Market typically opens at 6 am each day
and new boats arrive throughout the afternoon, guaranteeing shoppers a distinctive
experience whenever they visit.
When you visit Curacao, make sure to spend some time in the
island's captivating colonial capital. Regardless of what areas in Willemstad you visit,
your family will be treated to sites and activities that are historic, cosmopolitan and
Exploring the Biking Trails
array of terrain and scenery makes voyaging out onto the many biking trails
of the Caribbean islands a huge draw for the adventurous family. The island
of Curacao is visited by thousands of beach-going, sun-loving families every
year, all looking for some much needed relaxation. For those families who
are eager to spend less time lying on the beach and more time exploring some
of the most varied and diverse biking trails of the Caribbean, Curacao can
more than supply them with the perfect cycling experience as well.
become a popular pastime in Curacao over the past 10 years. Hosting dozens
of tournaments throughout the year and boasting the incredible scenery that
the islands of the Caribbean are notorious for, this island has made its
name as one of the most exciting biking destinations in the area.
destinations that will keep you on the edge of your seat
Going on a
biking expedition through Curacao means your family will not only experience
the adventure of trekking through the different terrain of the island
(rugged, smooth, and steep) but you'll also get an opportunity to see some
of the island's historical sites while biking through several plantations,
caves, and country estates, that date back hundreds of years. Explore the
Jan Thiel Lagoon, or see the blooming orchids, rare white tailed deer, and
ancient caves, of Christoffel Park. If you're up for a challenge, try
battling the winds and the diverse landscapes of St. Joris Baai while taking
in the beautiful sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea.
bike, then get a guide or take on the trails solo
hitting the biking trails in the Caribbean on Curacao Island, your best
experience will be had on a mountain bike opposed to an over-the-road bike.
This will allow you to ride on all the landscape variations while still
enabling you to ride on the road or pathways if needed. Guided tours are
available through a number of companies, or if you're feeling extra
adventurous you can elect to read over the maps and plan out your own
tours are led by very knowledgeable and experienced local riders who will
not only lead you on a great excursion, but they will also give you an
historical backdrop from which you can view the island. If you're the extra
bold family and decide to set out on a self-guided journey, make sure to
study up on your maps. It also wouldn't hurt to brush up on the history of
Curacao, that way you'll still enjoy the historical significance of each
trail, park, and location, while you ride!
trail and get moving!
trails of the Caribbean offer a unique vantage point from which to explore
the various islands. On Curacao, you'll be able to see parts of the island
that normal visitors - who travel on foot or by car - aren't normally able
to see. The excitement of the trails and the adventure of the exploration
are what make embarking on the biking trails of the Caribbean so fun. Your
family will love it and there's a great chance you'll come back to the
islands in search of more biking adventure.
I'm a trip
consultant, planner and manager who loves creating unique intercultural
adventures for families. I want to impart information,tips and personal
experiences especially related to family adventure travel. Please contact me
to help you in planning your travel adventure.
Go beneath the Surface in
the Hato Caves
By Justin Birch
Just a few
miles from Curacao’s capital city of Willemstad are a series of caves that
tell many stories about the history of the Caribbean. The Hato Caves – known
as Grotten Van Hato in native Dutch – formed under Caribbean waters several
thousand years ago. After the waters receded, native peoples used the caves
for burial rituals and other ceremonial purposes. Later, during colonial
times, the caves served as a place of refuge for escaped slaves. Despite
these caves’ significant contributions to history, the site was not open to
the public until the 1990s. Today, these limestone caves embedded in an
ancient coral reef are one of Curacao’s most popular attractions. Visit the
Hato Caves and see why this unique formation is such an important part of
this island’s cultural and geological history.
The Hato Caves
formed several thousand years ago as karst caves, a geological process in
which water containing an above average amount of carbon dioxide dissolves
limestone. Though limestone is typically waterproof, cracks in the rock
created by tectonic forces allowed sea water to seep between cracks and
widen the spaces. Slowly, over a period of many thousands of years, large
caves like Curacao’s treasured Hato were formed as a result.
these caves formed underwater, they weren’t always accessible to humans. It
is believed that it wasn’t until the Ice Ages that the water level dropped
enough to expose these caves. Like other famous sea caves throughout the
world, the Hato Caves still bear the marks of their time underwater. In the
limestone interior, visitors can easily spot ancient shells and coral
formations embedded in the rock. Yet, the cave is still active today,
evidenced by the growing number of stalactites (sharp columns of rock that
hang from a cave’s ceiling) and stalagmites (inverted stalactites that
extend from the cave’s floor).
began exploring this area, the Hato Caves were used as shelter by many
groups. Prior to the colonization of the Caribbean, the Amerindian Arawak
natives used the caves for ceremonies and burials. In addition to leaving
behind flint tools and other artifacts in the caves, these native peoples
also scrawled petroglyphs on the walls. These drawings, thought to be about
1,500 years old, are still visible today when touring the caves. In the park
outside the cave, the iguanas popular with tourists are thought to have come
to Curacao with these natives that originally migrated from the Orinoco
River region of South America several thousand years ago.
times, it is also believed that escaped slaves hid in these caves, with some
even living in the caves for months. Today, as the caves play an important
role in the tourism industry of Curacao, it is easy to see how the Hato
Caves have played an important role through all stages of this island’s
One of the most
popular activities in Curacao is a tour that visits both the Hato Caves and
The Curacao Ostrich Farm. This four hour tour departs from Willemstad and
makes pickups at all the best resorts. Rates generally start at $45 per
person – a price that includes round trip transportation, entrance fees at
each site and the expertise of a local tour guide. As this tour typically
operates only on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday afternoons, it is a good
idea to make reservations as you plan your vacation or through your
concierge when you arrive. If you choose to visit the caves on your own,
tours are offered hourly from 10 am to 5 pm every day.
If you visit
Curacao, make sure you visit one of the most historically significant and
geologically unique sites in the Caribbean. Regardless of age or interests,
an adventure awaits just beneath the surface for every visitor.
Justin Burch writes articles about
travel in Curacao for the Marriott Resorts
the Beaten Path in Curacao
Curacao's capital city - Willemstad - is home to a wide variety of sights
and activities, the island's unspoiled interior and coastlines offer
adventurous tourists a chance to experience some of the Caribbean's best
natural destinations. As many of the most unique sights in Curacao aren't
easily accessible by shuttle or taxi, jeep and dune buggy rental services
have sprung up to provide everyone both access to the hardest-to-reach sites
and a fun way to cruise around the island. Those that want to explore
everything Curacao has to offer at their own pace can take advantage of
convenient rental services that offer hotel pick-up and affordable daily
rates, while tourists that enjoy experiencing destinations alongside
knowledgeable guides will find numerous dune buggy and jeep tours that visit
many of the island's overlooked sights each day.
rentals offer one of the best ways to get around Curacao and see some of the
island's lesser-explored sights. The full-size dune buggies available for
rental in Curacao are capable of traveling on the island's main coastal
roads at speeds up to 50 miles-per-hour or traversing many of the unpaved
inroads and scenic beach paths. When renting a open-framed dune buggy in
Curacao, travelers are able to explore island at their own pace while
enjoying the exceptional year-round weather. While travelers can also find
car and scooter rentals in Curacao, dune buggies might offer the most
exciting way to get around the island and explore destinations outside of
want to experience Curacao with a knowledgeable guide can take advantage of
dune buggy tours that visit most of the island's top off-road destinations.
Many of the local tour and rental shops offer half-day and full-day tours
that include many side activities. Most of the available tours focus on
specific areas of the island, such as the rocky eastern shore or the
relaxing beaches of the southwestern coast and the Willemstad area. However,
regardless of where each tour visits, there will be plenty of sightseeing
and outdoor recreation opportunities along the way. Every day in Curacao,
guides lead dune buggy groups on activities such as explorations of
shoreline caves, snorkeling trips in hidden coves and hikes through the
interior mountains of Christoffel National Park and the dramatic coastal
scenery of Shete Boka National Park. After experiencing some of Curacao's
most unique natural sights, dune buggy tours often visit some of the quiet
beaches on the northern and eastern shores of the island. Most of Curacao's
dune buggy tours allow passengers over the age of four, while drivers are
required to be 18 years of age and possess a valid driver's license.
travelers looking for a more challenging off-road experience can explore the
island's natural areas with jeep rentals or as participants in daily jeep
tours. Curacao is home to a number of rugged scenic roads that are best
explored with full-sized 4x4 vehicles. Traveling through a landscape
dominated by cacti and the island's famous divi-divi trees, tour
participants or those renting jeeps will be able be fully experience a side
of Curacao that few tourists have an opportunity to witness. Curacao's best
jeep rental and tour operators offer full safety briefings, as well as daily
hotel pickup and drop-off.
tour options for all types of off-road vehicles can be found throughout
Willemstad and near the major resorts. However, rentals, tours and all other
adventurous activities can also be arranged through your concierge. If you
are traveling in a large group or have special travel needs, your concierge
can also make reservations for guided tours and extended rentals before you
arrive in Curacao.
If you are
hoping to visit some of the Caribbean's best natural sights when in Curacao,
dune buggies and jeeps provide the most effective ways to explore the
island. With so many half-day and full-day tours available, as well as
extended dune buggy and jeep rentals, families or groups of any size won't
have any trouble finding a fun, adventurous way to get around the island.
Burch writes articles about
travel in Curacao for the Marriott
History and Modern Excitement at Curacao's Forts
colonial period, Curacao was one of the Dutch Kingdom's most treasured
Caribbean outposts. As a result, the Dutch worked for more than three
centuries to secure the island and protect their interests. While forts were
constructed along the entire coastline, the Dutch were especially concerned
with Willemstad and its harbor. With Fort Amsterdam serving as the island's
primary protecting structure, the Dutch built several smaller forts to
protect individual sections of the capital city. Despite being under
constant attack from pirate ships and competing British and French forces,
this complex of forts was able to protect the Dutch colony for nearly 400
years. Today, eight of these forts still remain and most have found exciting
new uses in modern Curacao.
Amsterdam is the most significant of Curacao's remaining forts. Located on
the strategic point known as Punda, Fort Amsterdam once served as the
defender of Curacao's main harbor. Originally constructed in 1635, the
imposing structure was able to protect the Dutch settlement throughout the
colonial period. Today, Fort Amsterdam is one of the Caribbean's most
recognizable UNESCO World Heritage sites and serves as an important
government center for modern Curacao. In addition to housing the Governor's
home, the island's Ministry and numerous government offices, Fort Amsterdam
also features a historic museum and the United Protestant Church, both of
which remain open to the public. The museum at Fort Amsterdam also offers
tours of the facility that allow visitors to learn about the structure's
unique history, take in breathtaking views from atop the walls and witness
some truly odd sights such as the cannonball embedded in the fort's
Amsterdam is unquestionably Curacao's most significant fort, Fort Beekenburg
is one of the island's best preserved colonial structures. Fort Beekenburg
was built in 1703 on picturesque Caracas Bay. From the time of its
construction until the the mid-19th century, the fort successfully fought
off attacks from French and British fleets, as well as several bands of
pirates. Visitors to Caracas Bay will find a charming beach with shallow,
warm water perfect for water sports. After playing in the water or simply
relaxing in the sun, visitors can tour the entire fort and learn about its
important role in Curacao's history.
to Curacao's largest forts, there remain a number of well-preserved colonial
forts throughout Willemstad. In each case, these forts within Curacao's
historic capital protected strategic points of the island's harbor and
populated coastline and now house restaurants and shops. Two such examples
are Fort Nassau and Fort Waakzaamheid, a pair of smaller forts built near
the beginning of the 19th century.
was constructed in 1797 to defend the small St. Anna Bay and parts of
Willemstad. Today, the fort is home to a restaurant, but is usually
recognized by tourists as the control tower that opens and closes Curacao's
famous pontoon bridge. Fort Waakzaamheid was built in 1803 and fell only one
year later during a siege by Captain William Bligh and his British troops.
As Fort Waakzaamheid offers an incredible view over the Otrobanda
neighborhood and the shoreline, American troops mounted new guns and used
the structure as an observation post and barracks during World War II.
Today, Fort Waakzaamheid also houses a popular restaurant.
pair of forts in Willemstad have been converted into even more impressive
destinations. The Riffort - a fort built in 1828 to protect a portion of the
Otrobanda area - is now home to the Riffort Village, an impressive
collection of shops, restaurants, bars and scenic terraces. Prior to its use
as one of Curacao's premier shopping and dining destinations, Riffort was
home to everything from police and public works offices to Curacao's boy
scouts. Likewise, the Waterfort - an imposing fort with 136 turrets that was
rebuilt in 1827 after the original 17th century structure was destroyed - is
now home to some of Punda's most popular eateries.
is home to a wealth of historic architecture and exciting tourism
opportunities, these forts serve as wonderful representations of the
island's unique allure. When staying in Willemstad, it is certainly hard to
miss the forts that once protected this colonial city. Likewise, with so
much now offered within these once-imposing buildings - from museums and
historic tours to upscale shops and restaurants - Curacao's forts are also
hard to forget.
Burch writes articles about travel in Curacao for the Marriott Resorts.
Curacao of Curacao - The Island's Famous
Curacao is one of the Caribbean's best resort destinations, some people are
more familiar with the orange-flavored liqueur that shares the island's
name. The popular liqueur, often seen in its bright blue variety and used in
cocktails, is a product of Curacao's unique climate and geography. As the
Laraha oranges used in Curacao liqueur are the result of an agricultural
mishap and only found on this Caribbean island, the mixture's odd history
provides tourists an eye-opening opportunity off the beaten path. Today, the
"Curacao of Curacao" brand produces the world's only "authentic" Curacao
liqueur from its historic colonial factory just outside Willemstad. The
factory, housed within the Landhuis Chobolobo, also opens its doors every
weekday to anyone hoping to learn the fascinating tale of the island's most
of Curacao was discovered by the Spanish in 1499 and settled in the
following years. As the Spanish expanded their interests in Curacao, they
attempted to cultivate some of their own crops to support the colony.
Amongst the foods the colonizers attempted to grow in Curacao was the
Valencia orange, a juicy variety that is still enjoyed widely today.
However, when the oranges were harvested, the Spanish found that the
island's soil and climate transformed the tangy fruit into bitter, inedible
produce. The orange crops were immediately abandoned, but the bitter variety
continued to spread and grow throughout the island. Later in colonial
history, residents of Curacao came to realize that the unwanted peels of
these bitter oranges - now known as the Laraha orange - exuded a pleasing,
perfume-like fragrance after drying in the sun. For many years, locals and
European visitors experimented with the oil found in the sun-dried orange
peels, eventually yielding the recipe for Curacao liqueur.
At the end
of the 19th century, Curacao's own Senior family began producing the liqueur
using a custom copper still that remains in use today. Using the dried peels
of the Laraha and a secret recipe of spices, the Senior family created what
is still known as the world's only "authentic" Curacao liqueur. Though many
varieties of the spirit are made throughout the world, the "Curacao of
Curacao" brand remains the only version produced in Curacao with local
Laraha orange peels, rather than synthetic ingredients. Due to the worldwide
popularity of Curacao liqueur, the island now has a number of dedicated
Laraha plantations, many of which supply their fruit directly to the
"Curacao of Curacao" label.
"Curacao of Curacao" Distillery can be found in one of the island's most
attractive historic mansions, the Landhuis Chobolobo, located just east of
central Willemstad in the Salina region. Constructed in the early 1800s,
Landhuis Chobolobo served many uses over the years, including home to
Curacao's most popular club in the 1940s. "Curacao of Curacao" has been
making the world-famous liqueur on site since 1962. In addition to the
world-famous blue Curacao liqueur (the liqueur is naturally clear, but
distinguishing colors are added after distillation), the factory also
produces three additional colors of Curacao as well as coffee, chocolate and
rum raisin-flavored spirits.
visiting the factory, visitors will be able to tour the historic building,
learn about the distilling process and, of course, sample the products. The
"Curacao of Curacao" Distillery is open each weekday from 8 AM to 12 PM and
again from 1 PM to 5 PM. Many organized tours visit the factory and provide
walkthroughs of the facility, while the permanent exhibits allow self-guided
tourists to explore the factory at their own speed. Best of all, entrance to
the factory is free, making this signature destination a must-see for any
day of sightseeing in Curacao.
Burch writes articles about
travel in Curacao for the Marriott
To learn more about Curacao visit our other Curacao Pages
To learn about the other islands in the Caribbean, visit our Island Adventures Page