With lots to do above and below water, families love this island
Even before Curaçao erupted onto the dive scene, it was casting a spell on families. As part of what is often called the Dutch Antilles, it attracted families from Holland who spent their six-week holidays on this vibrant island in the southern Caribbean. But eventually the collective murmur among dive aficionados about the wonders beyond the shore became a roar. Today the popularity of what once was a secret escape for savvy divers has recently spread to the point that Curaçao now sits firmly atop most Caribbean diver’s wish lists.
While diving exists all along the southern lee coast of the island, most of the dive sites and shops are close to Willemstad, the colorful, bustling, energetic capital city at the east end, and the quiet villages of the west end of the island. Both have their advantages. Willemstad has the Seaquarium, where kids and parents can run the gamut from sea lion and dolphin kisses to snorkeling with nurse sharks, rays and groupers to diving with the same kissing critters in the open ocean just off the marine park. The famous wrecks of the Tugboat at Caracasbaii — a 20-foot dive crawling with marine life — and another tugboat in 35 feet of water at the edge of a wall at the dive site called Saba both are perfect for family jaunts. Between dives, an ostrich farm and the famous Hato Caves are nearby.
PADI Five-Star Instructor Development Center Ocean Encounters — the main dive operation on the island, with several satellite locations — is run by a diving family who likes nothing better than to introduce the next generation to our silent world.
Off the island’s west end, that world comes with a quieter, more nature-based topside ambience. Two of the coolest dives on Curaçao are off the west end: the world-famous Mushroom Forest and the soon-to-be-equally famous Blue Room, which is adjacent to Mushroom Forest. Both are shallow dives with a big “wow” factor. At this end of the island, between-dive down time is spent cliff jumping at Grand Knip Beach, hiking or mountain biking around picturesque Mount Christoffel, or checking out Boca Pistol or Shete Boca, two coves carved into the shore along the more rugged windward coast.
Planning a family dive vacation? Here’s how to be ready for anything
1. PADI rescue Diver, because they’re your kids and you need to be prepared.
2. PADI Jr. open Water, so traveling is a family affair — even under the water (this certification starts at age 10 and limits depth to 40 feet).
The Guide to Curaçao
Average water temp 78°F to 83°F.
What to wear 3 mm wetsuit in winter; skin in summer
Average viz 100-plus feet
When to go year-round
Tugboat at Caracasbaai even snorkelers can admire the swirl of life around this little tugboat.
Porto Marie an easy shore dive from Porto Marie Beach has tons of marine life in shallow depths.
King Neptune This statue in West Punt harbor sits under the mooring balls for the fishing boats amid piles of star corals and under a cloud of marine life.
Blue Room This 20-foot-deep air-filled cavern tucked under the shoreline is accessed through an opening. The cavern explodes with color when you shine a light on a coral column in the middle
Mushroom Forest The star-coral mounds here have been undermined by boring worms, which give them the look of a knobby green forest where eels and squirrelfish peek out.
Take an inner harbor tour. The giant supertankers never fail to impress, and it’s a chance to explore this iconic part of Curaçao’s history.
Sample keshi yena, a baked dish made from spiced meat, gouda cheese, and a medley of fruit and vegetables.
Tumba CD: Take home the beat of this fun-loving island.