Imagine taking a drive around a stunning Caribbean island, pulling up to an unpopulated beach, and being steps away from incredible shore diving that’s ripe with vibrant corals and crowds of exotic marine life.
Well, this pretty dream is effectively everyday life in Curacao.
Located about 40 miles north of the Venezuelan coast, and part of the Netherlands’ collection of Caribbean Islands, Curacao offers all of the allures of Aruba and the more touristy island destinations, but without the crowds and hassles of finding a remote and accessible dive site.
The island is effectively surrounded in all directions by a fringing reef that originated from ancient volcanic activity. As a result, Curacao features more than 40 different dive areas scattered all along the coastline, which includes 65 individual sites.
Divers may initially be pressured by local resorts and dive shops to plan a boat diving trip, but ignore the white noise. The shore diving in Curacao is exceptional – with almost no wave action, great visibility, healthy reefs and macro life galore, plus plenty of parking with minimal fees.
And with the exception of Westpundt and Port Marie, the majority of beaches are veritably empty, (even in the height of summer), allowing divers to quietly explore at their leisure.
A 4WD vehicle will come in handy to reach the hard-to-get-to shorelines, and expect a few steps at most access sites to get to the sand. But once you’re on the beach, and bordering the lush and colorful reef, easing into the water and exploring the clear-blue world is a breeze.
From wreck sites to beachside coral reefs, the Curacao dive scene is amazingly diverse. Though veritably any entry point will lead to killer visibility and photo opts, longtime Curacao diving fans do have an established handful of favorite destinations.
This Superior Producer encountered some rough weather while hauling a shipment of clothing and alcohol in the winter of 1977, and the heavily-loaded ship subsequently sunk to the ocean floor. (This wasn’t a complete tragedy for locals, who were able to scoop up armfuls of early Christmas presents that washed up on the beach.)
And in the decades that followed, this upright, 164’ long ship became one of the most popular Caribbean sites for wreck divers. The wreck is found in 100’ of water, about 200’ off the coast of Otrobanda, and can be accessed by a skinny road that’s adjacent to the Otrobanda water plant. The wreck features exceptional coral coverage and lots of deep water fish, but accessing the site can be a little tricky. Wear booties to navigate through the slippery rocks at the double reef entrance.
Though not as grand or expansive as the Superior Producer, the Tugboat is an equally popular site that can cater to snorkeling and a range of different diving types, (including deep, wreck and wall.) The small tugboat wreck is found about 17’ deep, and is bordered with corals that have been accumulating for 25 years. Swim about three minutes southeast, and you’ll also find a steep wall with a collection of both hard and soft corals on the top of the shallow ledge. Just watch for currents which can unpredictably switch directions and gain strength at any time.
A good fit for experienced divers, Mushroom Forest is one of the few Curacao sites where a boat trip and a guide will come in handy. Getting to the site requires a 4WD vehicle, and entering the water is a hard task due to towering cliffs, (hence the need for a dive boat), but the effort to reach this destination is definitely worth it. Divers who make the trek will be rewarded with a veritable “forest of mushrooms-“ a wealth of star corals stretching vertically from a sandy plateau – as well as countless colorful species, including parrotfish, spotted morays, green morays, grouper, and the Caribbean’s signature pink conchs.
This site is popular among divers for both its convenience and its wide variety of rare reef life. Shore divers can explore two parallel reefs, which border a low valley, and serve as a habitat for cornetfish, nurse sharks, angelfish, groupers, stingrays, and even sea turtles. Visibility is exceptional and averages about 100’, and the adjacent beach features a snack bar, changing stations and showers, and fresh water for equipment cleaning. Getting to Porto Mari is an easy venture too – it’s located just a few minutes’ drive from Willibrordus Church.
You’ll find plenty of resorts that cater to the diving crowd in Curacao. Many of these are all-inclusive destinations with multiple swimming pools, on-site restaurants, and even “private” beaches that are easy to access. Many resorts have onsite dive shops like the Sunscape Curacao Resort and Spa.
Plan to enjoy a little time out of the water soaking up the luxurious – but refreshingly uncrowded – resort scene.
For a fun on-land excursion, explore the terrain in a rental car, (the unique African, European and Caribbean influences create an inviting atmosphere), or take a hike to the top of Mt. Christoffel. Though it’s a challenge to reach the summit, the panoramic vistas that span the island are breathtaking.
Curacao International Airport can be accessed via commercial American and European flights, as well as quick “hop over” trips from neighboring Aruba and Bonaire. A passport is required, and once you’ve arrived, you’ll want to rent a 4WD vehicle or car to get around the island. An open-top Jeep is ideal in this environment for easy access along secretive dirt roads, gorgeous views, and plenty of salty breezes.
Stunning and wonderfully accessible, Curacao is simply a dream for divers. Explore the best of the Caribbean, while staying refreshingly away from the cruising crowds, by discovering this island that’s known for convenient shore diving at its best.
When to go: Summer is the prime season and boasts average temps of 85°F, although any time of year is a great time to visit. Rainfall is limited, winter temps are in the 75°F range, and Curacao is located just outside the hurricane belt.
Average Surface Water Temps: Winter, averages 75-80°F / Summer, averages 80-85°F.
Average Visibility: 50’-100’ year-round.
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/laszlo-photo/