I’m going to start with the straight up truth. I have never been to Curaçao or Bonaire. Everything in this article is based on what word-of-mouth I have received from friends, divers and students who have been there and from the research I have done. To be fair, a good portion of the info that is word-of-mouth is from a DM who has done a significant amount of diving there and a one-time long-term resident of Curaçao. On the research front, I have relied on information from individual websites setting out the hotspots and sights to see, as well as ScubaBoard, a forum where there is a host of information on various dive topics, including what to expect in a locale, as well as feedback on dive outfits. The info on ScubaBoard, in my humble opinion, should be taken occasionally with a grain of salt. As per my last posting, by the nature of the beast, people’s opinions are subjective.
So, let’s look at Curaçao and Bonaire.
Both of the islands lie just off the coast of Venezuela and are part of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao). With many islands in the Caribbean, there is a tendency to think that the major influences are either Spanish or English, but in this case the principal influence is Dutch. That’s not to say that the other two cultures haven’t had a significant impact on Curaçao, in fact, Curaçao has three official languages: Dutch, Papiamento and English (Papiamento is a Creole language derived fundamentally from either Spanish or Portuguese, with African, English, Dutch and native Indian influences). Given the early in-roads made by the Spanish conquistadors, followed later by the privateering English in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, most often forget that the Dutch were every bit as involved in the Caribbean as either of the other two nations.
The Dutch influence is readily apparent from the name and architecture of the capital of Curaçao, Willemstad
The history of the Island is actually quite fascinating. The Island has been under the control of the Spanish and then the Dutch for over three hundred years and it was a centre for the Dutch slave trade for a significant portion of that time. In addition, given its proximity to the South American coastline, it developed itself as a commercial centre over time, lying in the middle of a number of key trade routes.
The Island itself does not have a particularly flourishing agricultural scene, so much of its non-sea derived foods come from abroad. Despite this, out of the water (although, as a scuba diving fan and with and average temperature year-round of 30-31 degrees celsius, why would you want to spend much time out of the water??) there is a fair bit to see and explore if you make the trip down there.
So what is Curaçao known for on the diving front? Curaçao is actually a transcontinental island, meaning that it is technically a part of the South American continent. Above water, this means that the flora and fauna are often similar to those found on the mainland. Underwater this is also somewhat true, but what makes Curaçao slightly different is that it is the pinnacle of a very steep-sided mass. The coast of the island is fairly shallow and then the sea floor simply drops steeply just a few hundred feet from the shore. Locally, the drop-off is known as the “blue edge.” The deep blue is where the edge starts …
Despite a shallow fringe with apparently varied amounts of coral (much of the good stuff sits on the lip of the wall), there is evidence of significant damage to the reef in the last few decades, principally from boats and ….. ahem … scuba divers!! Local efforts to reverse this have resulted in numerous artificial reefs, which apparently are doing very well.
Due to the shallow entries on much of the east, west and south sides of the island, combined with the Blue Edge, much of the diving on the island is shore diving, which makes Curaçao a fantastic dive destination …. what better way to keep costs down?? Rent a car, rent gear, get in the water!! Damn, I’m in.
The eastern end of the island is the spot for larger pelagic life, such as nurse sharks, large schools of barracuda and so on.
The southern shores of the island and the western end of the island are a lot gentler on the average diver, albeit with the drop-off, as the southern coast is the predominantly the leeward side of the island.
Accordingly, the marine life is a little easier going to … the occasional turtle, but a lot more macro life and schools of fish enjoying the steady current.
On the rocky northern coast, strong currents create a much more adventurous diving scene, which is basically only accessible from boats. Again, rumours are that this is another location to see some of the island’s bigger critters, along with some of the wrecks that surround the island.
Whoa …. this is getting long … Curaçao, at a glance, looks like an awesome location to get in and get wet…. I guess Bonaire will be getting its own short blog … oh …. And then my heart is yearning for PAPUA NEW GUINEA!!! (or maybe Lembeh Straits)….