Enjoy Hiking and Biking Curacao Off the Beaten Path

 Photo by  Jabneel Statia  on  Unsplash

Curacao has always been something of a hidden gem of the Caribbean but tourism has increased over last year, with most visitors coming from Europe, followed closely by North America because of affordable direct and regional flights. It’s easy to assume that all travel to Curacao is high-end, but the island has some of the most popular and dynamic biking and hiking trails in the Caribbean, accessible for only the price of admission.

 

Know Before You Go

Curacao is one of a trio of Dutch Caribbean islands known as the ABC islands, along with Aruba and Bonaire. It’s an often-overlooked treasure that offers great adventures for budget travelers who know where to look. Hiking and walking trails are among the most popular and affordable tourist activities. Some are pretty demanding though; experienced hikers and mountain bikers are sure to appreciate the challenges of quickly changing terrain, along with spectacular views and one-of-a-kind interactions with wildlife.


Curacao can very generally be split between west and east. The western side of Curacao tends to be more rugged and undeveloped than the eastern side of the island, where the population density is greater and the land is more heavily traveled and built up, including the eastern city (and capital) Willemstad. Often, the same trails are used for hiking or walking and mountain biking. The direct sunlight can be harsh in the middle of the day, so many tourists and locals alike start out early in the day when hitting any one of the dozens of trails.


Because so many of Curacao’s trails are highly rustic, it’s important to bring along plenty of water when walking, hiking or bicycling. The terrain can be rocky or muddy so dressing appropriately is important, too. Wear comfortable footwear, clothes that are easy to move in, and a hat, too. Bring a day pack with a camera, some money, and any other supplies you might need. Where possible, pick up a map. Trailheads change and dense growth can obscure trail markings. Some visitors might want to arrange for a tour; however, there’s no reason visitors can’t strike out on their own if that’s what they want to do.


Talk to locals before you head out for information about loops, trails, etc., that might be off the beaten path. There are many local businesses that rent out mountain bikes and other hiking or outdoor equipment; some tourists are able to rent or borrow mountain bikes as part of their lodging arrangements. And take care to avoid disturbing the plants as much as possible; many are still considered essential for research purposes.  

 

The Untamed West

Much of Curacao was plantations at one time, and Christoffel National Park is no different. It’s the island’s largest national park and home of Mount Christoffel, the island’s highest point at 1,227 feet above sea level. Some of the flora and fauna that can be found here exist no place else on Curacao.


Guests can take one of eight trails. They vary in difficulty and time to complete. For example, less experienced hikers may prefer the 20-minute walk through a white tailed deer sanctuary, while more experienced hikers may aim to summit Mount Christoffel. 
The hike up Mount Chrisoffel and back takes about three hours. This is a great activity for early birds because the park closes by 4 o’clock on most days. Hikers are advised to head up the mountain by 11 o’clock in the morning to allow enough time to reach the top of the mountain and return. Depending on speed and ability, some hikers may need to head out earlier than that.


The trail up Mount Chrisoffel begins as a lush, green trail at a shallow angle before increasing sharply toward the top, becoming more of a rock-climb than a trail walk. Hikers enjoy 360-degree views from the summit of Mount Christoffel. The expansive carpet of green rolling hills is matched only by equally brilliant azure skies. See the thin ribbons of beach in the distance, and the deep blue ocean stretching for miles in all directions. It puts being on an island in the Caribbean into perspective!


National park Shete Boka, is adjacent to Christoffel. This is another well-known and popular place to hike. It’s noted for its rocky shores, underwater caves, and inlets or boka that get pounded by surf, driving the spray skyward. The scenery is dramatic and beautiful but clearly hazardous; no one goes swimming here. The Boka Pistol trail takes visitors close to turtle nesting areas, limestone cliffs, and a unique spot where the waves sound like a gun being fired. The Boka Wandomi trail also includes limestone cliffs, as well as a natural bridge. Each of these hikes takes about an hour. 


For tourists interested in pairing a beach trip with a hike or bike ride, Playa Porto Mari is a great spot. The white sand bayfront beach with double reef is well-known and great for snorkeling. And it's the starting point of three trails, the Seru Matteo Trail, the History Trail, and the Bird Trail. Hiking these trails takes from 30 minutes to three hours; mountain biking is generally faster.


The Seru Matteo trail heads up 187 feet to the top of Matthew’s Hill, offering visitors a great view of the beach below. The trail starts out pretty level but but elevates quickly - one spot even has a wooden staircase. The trail continues past the summit and becomes rougher, with several forks; watch for signs. The total length of the route is about two miles. It’s a great opportunity to view native flora and fauna.  


The History Trail and the Bird Trail are both comparatively rougher than the Seru Matteo. They’re less well-tended and less well-marked than some other trails, so these two are best left to the adventurous hikers and mountain bikers. Both trails lead to the ruins of the old estates that once covered the land; hikers follow the steps trod by slaves on the island hundreds of years ago. Be aware of the wildlife that can be encountered on these trails, from wild pigs to eagles and falcons (aka Wara-Wara).  

 

A Great Variety in the East


The eastern part of Curacao is where most of the population lives. The trails here often cover more than one type of ecosystem. These trails are also more heavily traveled by hikers and mountain bikers.


The southeastern part of the island is home to the Jan Thiel Nature Reserve. The area offers a variety of terrain for mountain biking through clusters of mangrove trees, around a lagoon, and past historical structures like an old fort Bekenburg and a 200 year old quarantine building! For those not up to a mountain bike ride, tourists can also hike around the lagoon. It’s a more low-intensity activity, and can be completed in just a few hours of relatively level walking, although if the water level of the lagoon is high, staying out of the water can be tricky.


Another beach-to-hill hiking trail starts at Boka St. Michiel known as Boca-Sami to the locals. From the top of the 344-foot hill, enjoy a bird’s eye view of the fishing village and small beach below. Many hikers enjoy seeing wild birds on this walk. This could be a good alternative to Mount Chrisoffel, and a little less strenuous.


For hikers seeking a bit more culture, the self-guided Indian Trail at Hato Caves takes less than half-an-hour. The cave drawings of the indigenous Arawak people of Curacao are still visible on these coral limestone cavern walls. And hundreds of years ago, escaped slaves hid in this same caves. As much of the hiking on Curacao is out in the open, with minimal shade areas, this diversion can be a welcome change of pace.


And perhaps the most dynamic trail on Curacao spans St. Joris Baai to Koraal Tabak, a dramatic looking, airy cave at the top of a hill. While most of the other trails stay within one or two ecosystems, this trail offers perhaps the greatest variety of sights and sounds, making for an interesting and challenging excursion. While many of there other trails could be hiked or biked, this one is best seen by bike. Mountain bikers tour mangroves, salt flats, cliffs, and caves. They stand on rocky shores and sandy beaches, and pass coastal windmills turning lazily. As the trail winds down at the Malpais Nature Preserve, bringing the trail full circle from sea to shore.


The dramatic beauty of Curacao can perhaps be best appreciated by immersion. And there’s no better way to do that then by hiking and mountain biking some of the most popular trails on the island. At first glance, the landscape is harsh; however, spending some time among the natural wonders of Curacao makes it possible to appreciate the tenacity and brutal beauty of a place where the natural geography and isolation both separate and protect. From the western side of Curacao to the eastern side, the landscape is fiercely beautiful and unforgettable.

Guest Blog by Cassidy Oliver 

Aerial Video of the Best Beaches on Westpunt

Be the Bird and Fly from East to West over the Playas of Kòrsou.

Also known as "Bandabou", The West Side has some of the island's nicest bocas. In the following clips you will meet: Playa Kalki, Playa Piskado, Grote & Kleine Knip, Playa Jeremi, Boca Santa Cruz, Historical Playa Forti and finally Playa Lagun. Since end 2015 Poppy Hostel has partnered with Skyworks, The premier aerial video production company in the Dutch Caribbean and creator of the spectacular footage in this post. 

Prepare yourself for the first 8 Beaches: The Best of Bandabou.

If readers want more, we will consider extending this post or making a new one. The author is a moderator of the Skyworks-Caribbean facebook page; feel free to leave a comment here or get in touch somehow.

Playa Piscador and Playa Kalki is where the West-Side music video was shot.

Poppy Hostel engaged Skyworks-Caribbean.com to make a promotional music video with the local band Art Beat. Maybe because your host is the percussionist ;-)

You can follow Skyworks' Vimeo Channel and see all the amazing, bird's eye shots Sabine and Jacco have taken above the island of Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Maarten and more!

2016 has seen the meteoric rise of this innovative production house on the tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. Contacts have been streaming in thanks in part to their impressive "Beaches" series on facebook. Sabine's solid graphic design background and Jacco's pilot training, make them the UAV-Film Dream-Team. We at Poppy Hostel were granted exclusive permission to embed and display this drone video compilation of some of the top beaches on the Westpunt (or Westpoint) of Curaçao.

During the filming in Dec. 2015, we were joined by Tilo and Yvonne from www.NaturePics.li Underwater Video Producers from Dusseldorf, Germany. This husband and wife team used "The West Side" as the soundtrack for this excellent drone/scuba video-clip.

West Side - Aerial footage by Panasonic GH4 and Yuneec H920 Tornado - Underwater footage by Sony FS700 & Canon 5DIII - sound: "West Side" by Art Beat ©

The Best Beaches of Bandabou

Playa Kalki

Located just under the Kura Hulanda Lodges you will find Kalki Beach. You can walk through the Resort to get to this beach. They have secure parking. Don't ever leave a thing in your car if there is no security guard! The beach is is also freely accessible, parking is not secure, however. Tip: Bring your own drinks as the beach-bar is a rip-off. 

Playa Piscador

(aka Playa Grandi) is where you can see the local fish catch being cleaned. You will also see Pelicans eating the discarded innards right next to the fishermen. Tip: Jump off the end of the Banco di Caribe Pier like I did in the music-vid.

BEACHES CURAÇAO PART 1 Kalki, Piskado, Grote Knip & Jeremi Thank you for sharing and liking our videos, we really appreciate it. Dushi Kòrsou! I ❤ CARIBBEAN

Grote-Knip

Knip Beach (also Playa Kenepa Grandi) is without question, the most famous and probably the favorite public beach on Curazao (sic. spanish spelling). The facilities are not the greatest but there is a bathroom and chair/lounge rental, most of the time. For a food truck, walk down to Kleine (little) Knip; there are usually some hot-dogs and burgers on sale there.

Playa Jeremi

If you want some privacy...check out Jeremi Beach. There are no facilities and a couple of nice beachlets there. There is also a new housing development next door; Jeremi Ocean Resort still has plots over right on the cliff! Tip: Weekdays are the best time to avoid unwanted public. 

The Beaches West of Willemstad

Also on sunny Bandabou you will find Playa Forti, Kleine Knip, Boca Lagun (and village) & Playa Santa Cruz. These sandy spots are easy to combine with a trip to the locations in the previous drone flight. Bandabou literally means "the low area". In contrast to it's geographical location (Northwest or above Willemstad) the name indicates status. Historically the poorer inhabitants of Curacao lived on this side of the island.

Playa Forti

Playa Forti is of significant historical significance. During the Napoleonic War at the beginning of the 19th century, there was a fortification overlooking this pebble beach. Now there is a super gross restaurant. By all means have a drink there, the view is amazing but don't eat there! I've seen the kitchen; nuff said... eat there if you're brave... jump off the platform when you see the food!

The water below is very deep, jumping is not strictly allowed (you'll see the signs) but as long as you keep your legs straight, it's only about a 25ft (8m) drop. The snorkeling here is nice, but not as good as at Lagun, the beach is a little uncomfortable but at least you don't get sandy.

Kleine Knip

Tiny and about a 20-30min walk from it's majestic bigger brother Grote Knip (seen in Video 1). This spot provides a more intimate setting and many past guests have connected with other travelers here. Take the Knip/Lagun bus, that follows the southwest coast. With a bit of walking and some patience (see #5 on my previous post top-5 list of things to bring to Curaçao) you can reach the Knips beaches by bus from Otrobanda Bus station. 

Playa Lagun 

Also featured in this second Skyworks video is Boca Lagun. This is the perfect spot to snorkel especially in the afternoon. Sea Turtles have been spotted here; best to ask around on the day. The restaurant provides simple, reasonably priced fare and they have themed nights with live music. There are a few other places to get a drink, just follow your nose. 

Playa Santa Cruz

Lush with mangroves this park is a favorite with the locals in the weekends (wikent in Papiamentu); some even bring their dragsters! Be prepared for a crowd or come on a weekday, if you're lucky there won't be a school field trip. It can also be completely deserted. Tip: There's a little fisherman's dock to the right of the beach, always a nice place to take a photo.

Top-5 Things to Bring on a Curaçao Vacation

Top-5 Things to Bring on a Curaçao Vacation

"We at Poppy Hostel have more than 5 years experience in advising budget travelers on the most important things you should remember for your trip. The order of this top-5 list is important. None of the items take up much room (ladies take note!) and will make your stay on our Dushi Isla. Better to include these items in your luggage instead of things like: extra clothes (especially cold weather attire) medicine (there are plenty of pharmacies on Curaçao). "

Photo tour - From 19th Century Home to USAToday Best of Caribbean Guesthouse

Photo tour - From 19th Century Home to USAToday Best of Caribbean Guesthouse

"In 2006 our family bought a decaying family home in the Otrobanda district of Willemstad, the intention was to restore one of Curacao's many historic Monuments to its former glory.Willemstad's 1997 classification as a UNESCO World Heritage Site covers some 800 buildings in the center of town. Since end 2012, our guest house is located in one of them!"