Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   May 2006

We Chose Curaçao

by Pam Shannon
Buffeted by 30-knot winds, blinded by rain, and tossed about by eight-foot waves, there was no way we could see the entrance to Spanish Water, the anchorage on the eastern end of Curaçao, so we did circles outside until the squall passed. Finally we were able to see the entrance, but it didn't look wide enough for our catamaran. The charts assured us it was, however, so in we crept, keeping a sharp lookout on both sides and staying closer to the Santa Barbara beach side on starboard. Thus began our first visit five years ago to one of our favorite Caribbean islands, Curaçao.

On our most recent visit, in 2005, not much had changed except there was no squall, for which we were grateful although the waves on approach were still six to seven feet. We also had a better waypoint, clearly marking the entrance to Spanish Water, the large, well-protected anchorage on the east end of the island.
Curaçao is a dry island; no rainforest here, but the rugged beauty of the desert landscape more than compensates. The island is a Dutch protectorate and the official written language is Dutch; however, the people speak Papiamentu, a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and English. Unlike the islands in the Eastern Caribbean island chain, Curaçao is not laid back. There is a huge Venezuelan-owned oil refinery here, along with branches of most major US companies, i.e. IBM, Price Coopers, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola. A lot of the major fast-food chains maintain a presence here also. Most of this activity is centered around the capital, Willemstad; the remainder of the island, though populated, retains a lot of its natural beauty.

Checking In
Checking into Curaçao is a process best described as circuitous. Start with Immigration, which is located as far as possible from Customs. To get there from Seru Boca Marina without renting a car, we caught a ride with one of the staff to the main gate of Santa Barbara Plantation (of which Seru Boca is a part), about two miles away. Alternatively you can dinghy over to another location in Spanish Water close to the main road. Either way, you then board a local bus which takes you into Willemstad.
Starting at the entrance to Willemstad Harbor, Willemstad is divided into two parts by a canal: Punda, where the bus station and Customs are, and Otrabanda, where Immigration is.
Since the Pontoon Bridge, which normally spans the entrance to the harbor, wasn't in service, we took a ferry across to Otrabanda and walked a half mile or so to the cruise ship dock where Immigration is located.
Important note: although they won't mention it when you check in and no paperwork shows it, your initial visa is only good for 14 days. Should you wish to stay longer, you must go to the post office building near the bus station in Punda and request an extension. They will keep your passport for the better part of a week to get it stamped, necessitating a return trip to retrieve it.
Once you're done with Immigration, it's time to take the ferry back over to Punda to Customs, conveniently located on the waterfront. The procedures here are straightforward and, unlike Immigration, you will only need to visit them again when you leave the island.

The positive aspect of checking in is that you have an opportunity to tour both parts of Willemstad: Punda and Otrabanda. The two sections reflect the Dutch heritage of the island in their architecture; however, the buildings are painted more brightly than those in Holland. Both areas have many stores of all types and quaint little squares, some with adjoining cafés perfect for people watching. Along the inland waterfront in Punda are many Venezuelan boats selling all kinds of fresh produce; a reminder of just how close Curaçao is to Venezuela.
The Kura Hulanda African Museum in Otrabanda has a wonderful collection of artifacts, while in Punda be sure to visit the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Punda also has a row of restaurants facing the ocean and a couple of streets converted to open malls for convenient shopping. Prices here tend to be a bit higher than those in Otrabanda. There are also casinos for those feeling lucky and nightclubs offering a variety of music.

Seru Boca Marina
In addition to all the usual amenities: electric (boats wired for 60 cycle 115 volts will need transformers, available all over the island), water, laundry and shower facilities, Seru Boca Marina offers the best security we've seen anywhere. There's a guard at the gate on the main road, another gate at the marina, and guards patrolling day and night on foot and in a RIB.
They also patrol the huge anchorage on the opposite side of Spanish Water. This anchorage is primarily off a local cruiser gathering place called Sarifundy's Marina. It's not an actual marina, the only dock is a large dinghy dock, but a restaurant and bar with an excellent book swap. It's also the departure point for daily buses to a Dutch supermarket containing a wide variety of groceries located right across the street from Budget Marine.
Most mornings I rode my bicycle on the secure roads running from the marina all around Santa Barbara Plantation, and can highly recommend this, especially the road leading to Barbara Beach, the beach you pass on the way into Spanish Water. The beach is also accessible via dinghy and is great for swimming.
Car rentals are available through Seru Boca as well as other places around Spanish Water, and you will definitely want a car for at least part of the time as Seru Boca Marina, as well as the entire Spanish Water area, is quite far from Willemstad and further still from the rest of the island.

Island Tours
In addition to Willemstad, any tour of the island should include the Ostrich Farm, Seaquarium, Chobolobo Mansion where Curaçao liqueur is made, Hato Caves near the airport, and the energy-producing windmills on the north shore. One fun thing to do is to drive to Mambo Beach on Tuesday night for the free movie. You watch the movie on a large screen while sitting in a lounge chair on the beach.
In addition to touring, there are two warehouse supermarkets, Cost U Less and Goisco, which are more conveniently accessed by car. In the Zeelandia section of the island near the port facility you will find huge hardware stores similar to Home Depot. Also there are other supermarkets, especially one called Centrum, that offer an even wider selection than the one the cruiser bus goes to.

Diving is excellent in Curaçao. The area is abundant in both varieties and quantities of fish and coral. Because the seas tend to be a bit rough, I suggest you go with a dive boat rather than try it on your own. The Tugboat snorkeling and dive site is an easy reach by dinghy from Spanish Water. Just go over to a small bay not far from either the anchorage or Seru Boca, leave your dinghy, and walk a short distance to the ocean side. The two large blue parrotfish guarding the sunken tugboat will make you very welcome.

Hauling Out at Curaçao Marine
I highly recommend hauling out in Curaçao if you need to work on your boat or store it for hurricane season. We have been hauled out three times at Curaçao Marine, once at their new facility and twice at the old yard, and have had a positive experience every time.
Gijs and Pierre, the owners, will take care of your boat as if it was theirs. During haulout one of them is always under the water making sure the boat is positioned correctly on the lift. Imported from Holland, the lift represents the latest technology in boat hauling. It is totally hydraulic and can be independently steered, raised, and lowered from the tractor that pulls it. The lift also positions the boat in the yard.
In 2006 the yard will expand to include a storage area for 50 boats that is separate from the 50-boat working yard space currently in existence.

If you have guests coming to visit, Curaçao is extremely easy to get to from all points in Europe and the US. It's a major air traffic hub for the Caribbean and services many different airlines.

Sailing from Curaçao, it is possible to go north to Cuba and Puerto Rico, west to Cartagena (Colombia) and Panama, south to Venezuela and even - watching for an appropriate weather window - east to Trinidad.

Curaçao should definitely be considered as an alternative to Trinidad or Venezuela for hurricane season as, although it lies on the 12th parallel, it is well west of the Eastern Caribbean island chain. The last hurricane there was in the late 1800s.

Pam Shannon is cruising the Caribbean aboard S/V Blue Star.

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