Caribbean’s Best-Kept Secret: Curaçao, Dutch Antilles
I heard it before I saw it, the thunder of the sea pounding the jagged shore. Shete Boka, "Seven Inlets" in Curaçao's creole language of Papiamento, is inaccurately named. The waves have carved out way more than seven in this national park on the island's northern coast. I made my way down a narrow path to a hidden cave, the slick footing threatening to send me headlong into a sharp coral wall. It was a forbidding place and not exactly what one expects on a Caribbean vacation. But Curaçao is full of surprises.
Part of the "ABC" islands in the former Netherlands Antilles, Curaçao splits the difference between glitzier Aruba and more spartan Bonaire. Its charm is best described by a versatile word in Papiamento: dushi, which means many things but most often "sweet" or "beautiful."
After my heart-pounding hike at Shete Boka, I made a detour to Playa Kenepa Chiki, a crescent of secluded sand and turquoise water thought by some to be the most beautiful beach in the Caribbean. I could have lounged there all day, but cold Heinekens and live jazz were waiting back at the island's capital, Willemstad. While wandering through the city's historic Pietermaai District — designated a UNESCO World Heritage site for its collection of brightly hued 18th-century Dutch buildings — you could almost imagine you were in Amsterdam, albeit with steamy weather, scurrying geckos, and plaintive birdcalls.
Curaçao boasts some of the Caribbean's clearest waters, so the scuba diving is world-class. At Director's Bay, you can swim through the remains of a shark-proof fence erected years ago so, it is said, the Dutch queen Juliana would feel safe while swimming. On days when there are no cruise ships in port, it's possible to dive the wreck of the Superior Producer. It sank in 1978, overloaded with cargo bound for Venezuela, and was quickly plundered. Today it's a fascinating dive, with a massive fantail where schools of barracuda and huge tarpon hover in the shadows.
After 40 minutes of exploring the wreck, I surfaced, ecstatic. My dive guide asked me how I liked it. I smiled as I peeled off my wetsuit: "Dushi," I told him. "Dushi." –Jason Heaton
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