Curacao is one of the Netherlands Antilles……as is Bonaire…..but the two islands are completely different despite being only 70kms apart. The landscape is similar (dry, arrid and rocky) but whereas Bonaire is a one horse town Curacao is a thriving metropolis. The bonus is some stunning Dutch architecture and beautifully painted buildings.
There is a huge oil industry here. Curacao processes crude from Venezuela and workers from more than 50 countries are employed meaning the island is very cosmopolitan. It’s also very busy, especially when there is a cruise ship in port. All in all a shock to our systems after the solitude of the Venezuelan Islands and Bonaire. In fact this is probably the busiest Caribbean island we’ve visited!
The capital, Willemstad, is delightful and we had plenty of time to explore as the check in procedure for visiting yachts is quite long winded. First up a visit to customs….then a walk across the Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge (which opens to let ships in and out) to immigration and harbour master…..only to find them closed for lunch. Ah well…..plenty of time to see the sights. And the first is right in front of us - a huge oil tanker is going through the canal and under the 185ft high Queen Juliana bridge – very spectacular.
With the pontoon bridge open for ships and closed to pedestrians we catch the ferry and check out the floating market which began when Venezuelan boats brought across fresh produce. These days the produce comes by truck…….but is still sold from boats hence the name.
Curacao is (apparently) plagued with drug trafficking problems from Venezuela so there are strict rules for visiting yachts. While the island has a number of sheltered anchorages, yachts can (initially) only go to Spanish Waters in the south or Willemstad. We opted for Spanish Waters – an almost enclosed harbour surrounded by luxury hotel and housing developments including mansions complete with pools, sandy white beaches, private jetties and some upmarket marinas.
Luxury waterfront property in Spanish Waters
The Curacao Hyatt is a pretty amazing complex at the entrance to Spanish Waters with huge grounds including an immaculately manicured golfcourse, private beaches, pools and gorgeous gardens.
Of course when we visited we had to have a drink – and what else but a cocktail with blue curacao? Curacao is made from bitter oranges grown on Curacao and when in Rome….do what the locals do, so we did.
Spanish Waters is a good anchorage – it’s calm, sheltered and but no good for swimming. The water is stirred up and you can’t swim far from the boat or you risk being rundown by a jetski, wakeboarder, optimist or powerboat. We’ve been taking the tender to a spot nearby and walking across to the coast side for our daily swim. The snorkelling is good – loads of fish and a few shallow wrecks.
We had hoped to spend our time here at various anchorages on the sheltered west coast, but it all became too hard. Due to the aformentioned drug runners….there are only a handful of anchorages where yachts are allowed. We decided to stay put and explore the island by car, hiring one with Mark and Amanda from Balvenie.
We drove to the very north and enjoyed a coastal walk in the Christoffel National Park where the waves were crashing in thanks to a stiff breeze out at sea. Good reason to stay a few more days.
We explored the beautiful west coast and stopped at a gorgeous beach for lunch and a snorkel. The water clarity was stunning and it was nice to have warm water after the cooler waters in Bonaire.
The landscape was similar to Bonaire – fairly flat and very dry with lots of cactus and aloe and little else…..just the odd iguana and lizard crossing the road………
……..and those lovely brightly coloured houses here and there.
During our stay here we had yet another fun catchup with Kiwi boat Haereroa and Brian and Penny Hutchins, Willie and Harriet Oswald and Henry Willis. It was Willie’s 30th birthday and we would have loved to have joined in the celebrations but it meant a night time trip in the tender across roughish waters with lots of traffic so we had to say no. We did have a meal out with them all another night at a local restaurant though – pretty ordinary food but great company.
One morning we woke to the sound of boat horns and looked out to see dozens of huge sport fishing boats heading out to sea. It was the Curacao Blue Marlin tournament. We headed over for weigh in and saw some huge yellowfin tune being weighed – one at 70kgs!
The marlin are all released and we don’t know what the winning fish weighed – but the winner walked away with US$10,000!
To keep our hands in we had our regular Balvenie/Bandit 500 card game. The boys got very excited when they managed to win their first ever game and got so cocky they decided there was time for another. Bad luck guys – the girls came out trumps with a couple of killer no trump hands so it’s still cooks 4, skippers 1. Glad they can navigate better than they can play cards.
Our last few days in Curacao were memorable for persistent wind – up to 30knots in the anchorage. As the stretch of water between here and Cartegena in Colombia is one of the world’s worst…….we are waiting for a good weather window.