The waters around Curaçao contain a wide variety of colourful fish and plant life and several wrecks (Superior Producer, near the water distillation plant, and a tugboat in Caracas Bay) which have foundered on the coral reef just offshore. The reef surrounds the island and consists generally of a gently sloping terrace to a depth of about 10 m, then a drop off and a reef slope with an angle of about 45°.
The coral formations are spectacular in places and there are many huge sponges; one in Boca Sta Martha is so big it is known as ‘the double bed’. There are lots of fish and you are likely to see barracuda, moray, eels, spiny lobsters, turtles, manta rays and maybe sharks. Underwater visibility averages 24 m and water temperature varies between 24-27°C. There are lots of opportunities for successful underwater photography.
Scuba diving is very popular in Curaçao and many of the large resort hotels have dive shops on site. They have been encouraged by the establishment in 1983 of the Curaçao Underwater Park managed by the Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation (Stinapa), which stretches from the Princess Beach Hotel to East Point. The park extends out from the shore to a depth of 60 m and covers 600 ha of reef and 436 ha of inner bays.
Over 40 permanent mooring buoys for boats have been placed at dive sites along the south coast as part of Stinapa’s programme for sustained utilization of the reef. A few of the sites can be dived from the shore (West Point, Blauwbaa, Port Marie, Daaibooi, Vaersen Bay, San Juan, Playa Kalki), but most of the coastal strip is private property and boat dives are necessary. The Guide to the Curaçao Underwater Park, by Jeffrey Sybesma & Tom van’t Hof, published in 1989 by Stinapa and available in bookshops locally, describes the sites and discusses conservation. For independent divers and snorkellers without a boat there is the Complete Guide to Landside Diving and Snorkelling Locations in Curaçao, by Jeffrey Sybesma and Suzanne Koelega, including a map with the sites and roads to them. No harpoons or spear guns are allowed and make sure you do not damage or remove coral or any other sea creatures.
There are many dive operators, not all of which are mentioned here, and it is worth shopping around before booking a package deal. The Curaçao Diving Operators Association (CDOA) standardizes safety regulations and should be contacted if you have any complaints or suggestions. Most operators offer a single boat dive for around US$30-35, a two-tank dive for US$55-60 and snorkelling trips including equipment for about US$15-20, but check when booking whether 10% service is included in the quoted price. Underwater Curaçao (T4618131, F4657826) at the Lions Dive Hotel next to the Seaquarium is one of the larger operations with two dive boats for 20 divers each and two scheduled dives a day. It has a large air station, equipment rental, a retail shop and offers several courses.
Curaçao Seascape at the Sheraton Curaçao Resort, T4625000, is also good. Princess Divers, T4658991, F4655756, has three dive boats and offers snorkelling, boat dives, shore dives, PADI courses, photo equipment. Standards were reported to have declined somewhat in 2000 but new ownership of the hotel may result in improvements. Eden Roc Dive Centre is at the Holiday Beach Hotel, and is a PADI five-star facility, T4628878. Marlies’ Coral Cliff Diving at Santa Martha Bay (PO Box 3782, T8642822, F8642237) has a deliberately sunk airplane in shallow water just offshore for divers and also offers introductory or certification courses and package deals, also windsurfing US$10 per hour, with sunfish, hobiecats and pedalboats available, prices not including 10% service.
Habitat Curaçao is an offshoot of Captain Don’s Habitat in Bonaire, at Rif St Marie, offering PADI, NAUI and SSI courses, boat dives, shore dives, snorkelling, photography, all equipment available for rent, lots of package deals, T8648800, F8648464. Sami Scuba Centre Dive School Wederfoort has been in operation since 1966, very friendly, reputable, mostly shore dives, the drop starts 25 m from dive centre; a six-day package including air, weights and no tank limit, costs US$120, a PADI open water course is US$257, accommodation and restaurant available, contact Eric and Yolanda Wederfoort, Marine Beach Club, St Michielsbaai, T8884414, F8692062, www.divewederfoort.com. Out at Westpoint and Playa Kalki are All West Diving and Adventures, T8640102, offering courses, boat dives, introductory dives (US$30) and equipment for rent. Students are given preferential rates.
The Seaquarium, southeast of Willemstad, just beyond the Lions Dive Hotel, has a collection of undersea creatures and plants found around the island, which live in channelled sea water to keep them as close as possible to their natural environment. The Seaquarium was built in 1984, the lagoons and marina being excavated so as to leave the original coastline untouched and do minimal damage to the reef offshore. A new attraction is the shark (lemon and nurse) and animal (turtles, stingrays) encounter programme, good for photography, US$55 for diving (no previous experience necessary), US$30 snorkelling. Good quality photos of visitors feeding the sharks are offered at US$25 for 12. 0830-1700. US$13.25, children under 15 US$7.50, after 1600 US$3 and US$1.50 respectively. T4616666. There is a restaurant, snack bar and shops selling shells and coral in marked contrast to the conservation efforts of the Underwater Park administration. The Seaquarium can be reached by bus marked Dominguito from the post office at 35 minutes past the hour (except for 1335), which passes the Avila Beach Hotel.
The Seaworld Explorer is a cruising underwater observatory, not a submarine, you sit in the hull and look out of the windows as the vessel moves along the wall. The boat leaves from the Curaçao Caribbean, 1030, one-hour trip, US$29, children US$19, T4628833.