Curacao – as beautiful as ever!

Trip Report posted by Robin Schiendelman 

We didn’t think the day would ever come! Because we were able to get a direct flight from Newark Airport to Curacao on Saturday morning, we drove up Friday night.  We got a stay & fly package that allowed us to park the car at the hotel all week and take a shuttle to the airport on Sat morning. The flight didn’t leave until 9 am and it was nice not having to get up too early! Newark airport has the best Belgian waffle breakfast..they even use fresh strawberries! So it was an easy trip and in a few short hours our group of 9 divers  were de-planing in sunny Curacao. We were met by  Alex, one of the friendly staff from Sunset Waters Beach Resort,  with the resort shuttle. He came with a smile and bearing cold water, cold beer and fruit punch with and without alcohol. Now that’s a welcoming committee! A quick 35 minute drive and we arrived at the resort. Our rooms were ready and we were able to quickly unpack and go to the resort restaurant for a snack before heading to the dive shop for a briefing. Sunset Divers is right on the resort property so we only had to walk down a flight of stairs from the main restaurant to the beach. We were greeted by Dave, one of the shop instructors and he explained the system. A big board was hanging next to the office where we signed up for the boat dives. Our package included 2 boat dives per day so we were already on the board for those. Optional dives included an afternoon boat dive every day, one night boat dive,  a “special” afternoon dive to Watamula (more about that later). We were each given a numbered hanger for our bc and reg’s and a basket for all the other “stuff”. Divers have lots of stuff. The gear room was big and airy with lots of room to hang everything and lots of ventilation so wetsuits & booties would dry overnight.  This is also where they keep the tanks. The door has a combination lock and we were given the combination so we really did have complete diving freedom. At any time of the day or night, we could access our gear and full tanks and go diving! There were plenty of rinse tanks next to the shop and best of all the boat was only a few steps away. After our orientation, we finished unpacking and went to dinner. All meals and all drinks were included. And we were surprised  they had really good drinks!  We really expected to have to drink cheap wine all week…and maybe it was cheap but it was pretty good!  Two of the DM’s Scotty and John Jr. (who arrived from Ohio the week before)  joined us for drinks after dinner. The rum & tequila were flowing. It’s our first night and we’ve got the staff corrupted already…or maybe they corrupted us! 

We all headed to bed early since we wanted to be up in time for breakfast and to make the 8:30 am boat. Our rooms were not fancy but clean and comfortable with an ocean view. It was wonderful sleeping with the windows open and hearing the ocean. 

Up at 6:30 am on Sunday since it was the first day. Our entire group wondered into the restaurant for a buffet breakfast featuring fruit, cereal, and a selection of breads, eggs, sausage & more. Then it was time to head down to the dive shop. The crew had already put our bc and reg’s on the boat and set up the tank. We each carried our own basket of “stuff” and wetsuits over to the boat. The crew was really efficient and our dm Scotty and Captain John were ready to pull away from the dock at 8:30. Finally time to get wet! Our first dive site was Porto Mari and it was about a 20 minute boat ride from the resort. We saw lots of cleaning stations, spotted moray, sharp tail eels, adult drum fish and lots of trunk fish. Scotty went in the water and led the dive but it was optional to stay with him. The only requirement was that we be back on the boat in an hour. OK, we really like this place! After an hour surface interval, we moved to the next dive spot, Harry’s Hole. Another hour dive and back to the resort for lunch. Gary, Brett and I opted to do an afternoon boat dive and we dove Generations Reef where we saw some arrow crabs, two scorpion fish and lots of anemones with tiny anemone crabs hiding under the tentacles.  Luke, Mike, Eric & Dave opted to do an afternoon shore dive to check out the house reef.  The dive shop has wheel barrows available so you can wheel your gear right down to the beach where there are 2 benches set up. It is real easy to gear up and then walk into the water. It was a bit of a walk (maybe 20 yards) to get into deep water, but the bottom has only smallish rocks and some sandy patches so it was easy. They saw lots of cool stuff too so we decided to do a night dive on the house reef. At dusk,  Luke, Carollyn, Eric, Brett, Gary & I were ready to hit the water again. The house reef has an airplane wreck (or what little is left of it) and lots of cool critters. We saw a gold spotted moray eel, 2 small crabs that we could not identify in the critter book and a really big lobster that walked right into our dive lights, through them and kept going across a sandy patch. We figure he must have had a hot date!  There were also as group of about 5 or 6 small striped grunts that were feeding in our dive lights. That was really cool since they would get so close to your hands that you could feel them brushing against you.  Too soon it was time to end the dive and go to dinner. A few drinks and some socializing after dinner and we were ready for bed and to do it all over again the next day. 

Monday we all did the 2 morning boat dives and were joined by a group of 4 dive instructors from California as well as 2 other divers who were on the island for a ham radio operator’s competition.  Saw a small turtle on the 2nd dive.  Schools of brown chromis and Creole fish on both dives. Everyone went their way in the afternoon either going to town or napping. Gary & I did a shore dive on the house reef both in the afternoon and again that night.  Dinner was a Mexican buffet at the beach side restaurant. We were joined again by DM’s Dave & Scotty for a couple of drinks after dinner. It’s always entertaining to listen to the stories from the DM’s! 

Tuesday morning another 2 great boat dives. We were scheduled to dive Watamula in the afternoon but the reports were that vis was almost zero so we re-scheduled for Thursday. Again, we all went our way in the afternoon with some of us kayaking, others snorkeling and 5 of us opting to do a shore dive.  Eric, Gary & I had a really cool encounter with a scrawled filefish. Normally they swim away from divers, but this one was definitely checking us out! He would swim from one to the other of us, hover right in front of each and sometimes raise & then lower his spike! It was really cool and must have lasted for at least 3 or 4 minutes. Everyone decided against the night dive so it was time for a nice long shower and a chance to see the sunset. It was a beautiful sunset and then it was time for dinner, a few drinks, some stories and to bed. Boy this is a tough week! 

The California dive instructors must have been watching me struggle into my wet 7 mil wetsuit and they gave Gary some advice they use with little kids in California.  The legs are not too bad but trying to get the arms up when a suit is wet can be really difficult. So here is what you do…you pull the arms up at least so the wrists are correctly placed. Then you get a buddy who has some really good lungs. He blows into the wrists and up the arms of the wet suit almost like they’re a balloon….which then fill up with enough air that the suit just slips up onto the top of your arms. Sometimes it takes a couple of blows…but it worked like a charm! And the looks from the other people on the boat were priceless! 

Wednesday another 2 great boat dives .Our first dive was at Duane’s Release and we were lucky enough to see a barrel sponge spawning! It was really cool and something none of us had ever seen before. Brett, Gary & I did a shore dive after lunch. There were reports of seahorses on the house reef but we had not been able to find one. On this dive, though, Brett was able to find the elusive “Chinese seahorse”.  Unfortunately, plastic seahorses don’t have good buoyancy so every time we tried to take a picture, he fell nose down into the sand. The after dive stories were a lot of fun though as a few of the other divers weren’t familiar with the “Chinese” species of sea critters.   Dave, Gary & I did another shore dive that night. In addition to some crabs, we saw a slipper lobster. They are so cool.  Time for another quick shower, dinner, drinks, socializing and to bed. 

Thursday was shaping up to be a busy day with 2 morning boat dives, an afternoon trip to Watamula and a night boat dive. First two dives were really nice. Our DM was Lynn, the shop manager and she found 2  (real) seahorses! Eric had never seen a seahorse before so it made for a really special dive. After lunch, we headed back to the boat for a 45 minute ride to Watamula. This site is at the northern end of the island and is rarely visited. Only 2 dive operators go there and each only once per week so it’s in really pristine condition. Because it’s at the end of the island, current is unpredictable. DM Scotty made all of the group stay together and floated a dive flag so the boat could follow us. Although they sometimes see big pelagics there, we were not so lucky. We did see all the usual reef fish and a small school of jacks. But, believe me, we were not disappointed. The coral formations were the biggest and best any of us have ever seen in the Caribbean. There were more species than I can name and every one of them was immense. It was absolutely breath taking. Well worth the 45 minutes boat ride! After about a 50 minute dive and safety stop, we all surfaced together and the boat came to pick us up. The surge and waves made boarding a slight challenge (although nothing by New Jersey standards!). But we all made it back on board. Everyone agreed it was one of the best Caribbean dives we had ever done. 

Back to the resort with just enough time to relax for a few minutes, put a dry swim suit on and back to the boat for the night dive. We went to Generations Reef with Brett, Dave, Gary & I joined by 2 other divers. We saw a Many-toothed Conger Eel (a first!) as well as spotted eels. There were many of those little worms that like to swarm your dive light and since there are anemones everywhere in Curacao, we decided to try to feed the worms to them. It was so cool! You bring your light down toward the tentacles of the anemone and the worms follow. As soon as the worms touch the tentacles, they are snagged! There were so many worms that every tentacle had at least one and the anemone was completely closed up to eat them! The poor little anemone crab that had been hiding among them was left completely exposed!  The crew had hot chocolate on the boat for us when we returned from the dive and then it was back to the resort for the quick shower and change. Dinner tonight was a beach BBQ. 

Friday came too soon brought our last day of diving. Mako Mountain and Boca Hula were our final two sites. Again we were treated to some great diving and we even spotted a juvenile trunkfish! They are so cute and not easily found. Now comes the sad part…time to clean gear. Because of the way the shop is set up, it really was pretty easy to rinse and hang everything. And since we had an afternoon return flight on Saturday, we were able to let everything hang and dry overnight. 

After lunch, some of the group decided to relax on the beach at the resort while a few of us who hadn’t been there earlier in the week opted to go into town. Willemstad is a beautiful little town. One of the prettiest and largest I’ve seen in the Caribbean. The Dutch architecture is really different and add all the vibrant tropical colors and it is very picturesque. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and bars.  There are some interesting bridges there including a pontoon bridge and some small swinging draw bridges. We wondered around for a while, took some photos, did our obligatory shopping and then had time for a drink before we went back to the shuttle. 

We all gathered for our final dinner and afterwards moved to a larger table with Lynn, the dive shop manager, John Jr., Tim (a DM candidate at the shop newly arrived from the Mid West), and some of the other divers at the resort. We all swapped dive stories and pumped each other on the best places to go diving. We’re adding the Maldives to our list thanks to some stories from Teamo, a diver from the Netherlands who said he saw sharks on every dive. Soon it was approaching midnight and the limits of our nocturnal partying (Gary & I are not night owls). When we left there were still a few party animals going strong. 

It was nice not having to get up real early on Saturday. We had time for breakfast, finish packing our dive gear, check out and head to the bar for the last  couple of Pina Colada‘s. We have a rule that on travel days there is no 5 o’clock rule for alcohol consumption. So by 10 am we were all in the bar. A couple of hours later it was off to the airport to begin the journey home. 

Curacao is one of the ABC Islands that are part of the Netherlands Antilles. The weather was beautiful and every day the temp was about 85F. There was a constant breeze so it never felt hot. The water temp was 76-77F. Our divers wore everything from a 7mm full wetsuit to 5mm to 3 mm to shorties to one (crazy Brett) who wore nothing but a swim suit all week. Everyone speaks English and the US Dollar is taken everywhere making this a really convenient place to visit. Those who have visited both agreed the diving in Curacao is as good as or better than Bonaire. Lots of fish (although nothing big) more anemones than I’ve seen anywhere else in the Caribbean (although don’t look for clown fish like a couple of our divers did!).  Also lots of drum fish, eels and healthy reefs. Sunset Divers is a top notch dive operator and we would all highly recommend them. The boat, the gear room and especially the crew were outstanding.  Our “standard” rooms at the resort were typical minimal Caribbean. Everything was clean and there was plenty of hot water although one of the rooms had low water pressure.  But this is not a 5 Star hotel and the buildings we were in looked like they could use some upgrading. The food varied from buffet to a menu selection of 3 or 4 items. The food was about average with a few things pretty good and a few things only ok.  The hotel & restaurant staff were always friendly and accommodating. 

All in all, it was a wonderful trip and we had a really great group of people. We are looking forward to doing it again!

 

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