Curacao October 2014

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rayaa3

Contributor
Messages
168
Reaction score
133
Location
Oklahoma
# of dives
200 - 499
Apologies for this being so late. I came home and remembered to post it on another forum. However, most of the info I received about Curacao came from here, so I really should have been paying it forward here first. Forgive any spelling errors or typos. I tend to brain dump into these things and invariably that leads to grammatical error. If I turned this in as an actual book report I would work harder at making it pretty - but since it's just for YOU GUYS, I'm not worrying about it :wink:

Curacao October 2014 – trip report

My wife daughter and I went down to Curacao for 6 nights, we dove 8 tanks over 5 days (yes, it would have been easy to do more, but with the wife and daughter 2 tanks a day is the limit). It was a great trip and wanted to put some details on paper for anyone who finds themselves considering a trip.

first - the dive porn: 8 tanks condensed into 11minutes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TyBCAC_Uooo

The hotel:
We stayed at the Hilton Curacao. I’m a diamond member with Hilton due to work travel, and I was able to get 2 adjoining rooms using points. I hesitate to use the word ‘free’ simply because of the cost of food at the hotel : )
Looking at the hotel from the outside isn’t very impressive. It’s a very drab looking baby blue that could use a paint job in one of those bright primary colors in most famous photos of Curacao. However, the grounds were in good repair. The beach was small but comfortable for swimming, snorkeling, or sunning. They have plenty of pool space, and a lounge chair could always be found between beach or pool. The lobby, bar and eateries all look to be in fine shape for a 3 star ‘resort’. If you go expecting a Hilton 5 star building and food (which is common on their other properties) you will be disappointed. I would say it’s nice for what it is – just make sure your expectations are correct. Go look on trip advisor and you’ll find a lot of people picking it apart. It has flaws, just none of them the type I care about. The room was in excellent repair – nice paint, furniture, maybe the best dive vacation bed I’ve ever been on. We were on the 4th floor and the ocean view rooms have a beautiful view pretty steep green hillside making it’s way to limestone shorelines. There was a nice TV with at least 7 English speaking channels – as usual you can watch friends or big bang theory in English no matter where I the world you are. The carpet and hallways have décor that seems kind of 70’s…however, it’s all in fine repair. We had 2 adjoining rooms – 1 for wife and me, 1 for 15 year old daughter. We were very comfortable. Hot water was hot, water pressure was good – tap water was drinkable. There was one period for a few hours that AC was out in the room. However, this was something we were warned about the next day and was necessary for maintenance. We were out diving, so I didn’t mind. The rooms had a small fridge – which we used, see my next note below.
Food – we ate a couple lunches at the hotel. Food is expensive. At the bar a burger + fries will cost you $22 USD before tax and tip. Soda would be $2-3. A cocktail would be almost $10. We knew this going…as a diamond member I get access to the executive lounge which has complimentary bottles of soda. Also in the morning the lounge has a small continental breakfast – pastries, boiled eggs, bacon, juices, toasts and spreads, cereals, yogurts – we ate that every day – the daily breakfast buffet is nearly $20 per person in the regular restaurant (but has many more choices). Since we would be diving, light breakfast was fine. We would go up in the AM get breakfast and take down a few sodas. We took a soft sided cooler which we would take to the beach or dive local with sodas and bottles of water. I don’t drink, but the wife bought a bottle of something that mixed well with sprite – and likely saved $100 in cocktails over the week.
In fairness to the hotel, the food is expensive on the entire island. It’s simply MORE expensive in a tourist hotel like the Hilton. If I wanted I could have eaten fast food for about ½ of Hilton prices – but I don’t even like fast food at home.

The diving –
We did shore diving exclusively. We rented a truck for the week, from budget (the onsite rental at Hilton) booked and paid in advanced $290 for 5 days. Fuel was pricey, about $6 per gallon I would say – half a tank in a small Toyota pickup was $60 which is what I used for the week. We went from site to site, and used the onsite operator to rent tanks. Unlike Bonaire, the idea of a central dive shop where you buy a week’s worth of tanks is less common. This was easy. Many sites have onsite ops and if you rent tanks from them you can use their rinse tanks, showers, restroom, piers, etc. Paying for 3 divers this was the way to go. Tanks were typically $9, and weights were about $4 (yep, tanks don’t include weights) for 3 people to dive 2 tanks was pretty consistently about $63 total (including tax) only 1 shop charged an extra fee for cc usage. All shops were very friendly with giving a dive profile, a couple had diagrams of the reef, and instructions for compass headings from certain objects back to shore. The sites with shops were generally much safer to park your car at. 1 shop even had a security guy watching customer cars. Director’s Bay was the most remote we visited and didn’t have either – more on that in a minute. They also had lockers and would watch your stuff that you didn’t want to put in your car. We dove Playa Kaliki 2 days (4 tanks) – this was my favorite site. We dove Director’s bay 1 tank – this was a neat site in that it had a non existent swim to the reef. However it’s off the beaten path, good luck finding it without GPS coordinates. We dove Porto Marie 1 day (2 tanks), and Playa Lagus 1 day (1 tank). Playa Lagun had one of the prettiest reefs – but is a haul out to the reef, and there’s not much to look at until you are there. I don’t really mind the haul – my air consumption is really low and a 10 minute trip out to the reef can still give me at least 45minutes on the reef with plenty of air to make the 10 minute trip back. However, if long swims burn up your air or your patience better to skip this one. The boat diving, or guided diving was quite pricey. 2 tanks on a boat was anyplace between $90 and $100, and 1 tank guided shore was $55-$60. We didn’t feel it necessary to try either. I’m sure the dive prices have to do with the expense of food on the island – DM have to eat. The boat we saw coming in at Playa Kaliki looked very nice and had 6 divers or less on it.
What we saw: trumpet fish. If I were in charge I would rename the entire island “Trumpet fish Island” Most times we were on the reef I had at least 1, and as many as 3-4 trumpet fish in my immediate field of vision. 5 minutes into our first dive we stopped pointing them out to each other because they were already so common. I saw big trumpet fish, little trumpet fish, red trumpet fish, yellowish trumpet fist. Plenty of schools of fish – not a lot of fish larger than say a dinner plate. So a lot of fish, just not really big ones. We saw several eels, though they were mostly quite shy. We only saw 1 turtle all week. No nurse sharks at all. 1 Octopus during the day. At playa Lagun while gearing up at the beach we saw dolphins playing at the surface quite a distance off shore. Didn’t see them on the dive, but I looked up at the surface a lot during that dive hoping : )

What I learned: So our first day diving was at Director’s Bay. We picked up tanks at Curious2Dive, where Hans rented us tanks and gave us advice on our rental car “Open all your windows, leave everything in plane view, leave no valueables in the car.” I expected this – and had a plan. The car key had an alarm on it which had to remain dry – so I took a small dive light, took out batteries and bulb and used that as a waterproof container for keys and alarm FOB. Yes, it flooded, yes it sucked. After the dive it flooded, and made itself impossible to open (ironic as it flooded) I spend 30 minutes with a dive knife breaking the seal so I could get it open (and I tried a lot of other methods: including rocks, cement, cursing, etc). Once I got it open I realized even with the car key if the alarm is armed – you can’t start the car – so then called budget to see if they had a kill switch for the alarm I the cab – nope. Called roadside assistance: “where are you” “Director’s bay beach” “huh? Where is that?” “I’m a tourist, I can give you GPS coordinates but the last 6 roads I took to get here have no streetnames (common on the island)” “well, director’s bay beach means nothing to me” - after a few minutes of this I asked a local at the beach (we were the only divers there, mostly locals having a Sunday at the beach) – they told me “caracas bay” – which btw is a fairly big place to find a guy in a rental truck. Eventually I realized I had the dive shop phone number on my receipt, called the shop and had the shop give the roadside folks directions to the site. Curious2dive was great – they said “if they can’t find you they will stop by my shop and I’ll ride with them” - so roadside assistance showed up about 1 hour later. They had to tow us to the airport and I got a new truck. I had to pay $50 for the damaged fob. The real adventure was the tow. 3 people + 1 small Toyota to take to the airport – no problem, but he tow truck cab only has seating for driver plus 1. My daughter volunteered to ride with me in the towed vehicle. Yep – I got to see several miles of Curacao streets in reverse off the back of a towed vehicle…it was fun and thrilling. What I learned was: if using a site that doesn’t have onsite op – figure out where you are going to hide your key in the cab. If really worried – hide the alarm fob only, and dive with the key. Leave the windows down and unlocked. The rest of the week we dove with onsite shops and had lockers or other options for leaving our valuables (and safer lots in general).

What else I learned: due to my reliance on automatic headlights I no longer remember to turn off headlights. I drained the battery overnight. This happened at the hotel – though no one at the hotel (including budget) had jumper cables so I had to call roadside assistance again. They came out with a jumper box that didn’t have enough juice in it to jump the little 4 banger diesel in the truck. So we tried a push start (at the suggestion of the roadside assistance guy) – no go. So he towed me into a jump start – that worked. Kind of a weird moment “hey you make sure you hit the break once it starts ok!” I remember thinking buddy, this was your idea, if I hit your tow truck I’m not paying for it, or my damages. However, we started it, and I didn’t hit the tow truck. At least that time it only took him 30 minutes to come to me at the hotel.
Other than rental car woes, the trip was without incident and diving was great.
Water conditions: in October coolest water temp was about 81. I saw a lot of full suits, but shorty worked fine for me, and I get chilly easy. Visibility was usually about 80ft on the reef…Playa Lagun had a few spots that were down to 20ft vis on the way out to the reef through the ‘channel’ to the beach. There was never any current and you could dive either direction on a wall and make an easy return. Only exception was that on some reefs if you wanted to go out deep and come back in less than 25 ft at the top of the reef, you might have a little – and I mean just a little, surge to deal with…it only happened once, but it did make me think if I was going to do that dive again I would have descended a bit more on the wall to get out of the surge during the return.
Weather – we lucked out, it only rained one day, and was done by 11am. It ranged from hot to real hot all week. Temps were 80 at night, not bad with a breeze. During the day it would be 90 at the hottest time, about 2pm. October is the beginning of the ‘rainy season’ but I think simply lucked out.

Driving on the island – getting to dive sites can be challenging. There is one major road that goes North/West where many sites are – and then you have to take a number of roads off of it to get to your site – the furthest sites were 45 minutes from the Hilton, but nothing was any closer than 25 minutes to the hotel. A site that was 3 miles down the beach might be 25minutes because of the 10 miles of odd roads you would have to take. So if you stopped some place and liked it, it was usually worth it to do 2 tanks. That was our plan after the first day. The only place we didn’t do 2 tanks was Playa Lagun, the wife just wasn’t up for another trip out to the reef. Since it takes so much time and trouble to get setup at another shop (25 minutes to drive there, 10minutes to rent tanks/fill out forms, 10 minutes to gear up, 1 hour dive) we just called it a day. Also we had a late start that day because someone (me) left lights on the car the night before and the battery was dead. So getting around is difficult at times. Directions were really easy. I found an android app that does turn by turn gps directions (https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...nia.bor3&hl=en) – but allows you to download the maps and works without any data connection (data would have been quite expensive in Curacao). So I downloaded curacao maps back home. I went to shorediving.com and got the gps coordinates for dive sites and saved them in the app. Then when we would pick a site I would just click on the site name in my saved list, it would pull up the coordinates and find me roads that got me there. Mostly the app worked great. There’s one round about in town that it would consistently tell me to exit the 2 turn on but it meant 3rd. If it did tell me to do something I couldn’t or was wrong, as soon as I was on the wrong road it would find a new path. I can’t imagine driving the island without that GPS. The drive up to the North/West dive sites is really picturesque and some of my favorite memories are going up there. The drives might be long, but at least some of it was pretty.

It was a great trip. We have been to Cozumel, Belize, and Roatan. My wife said these were some of he favorite dives. Lack of current to contend with (nice on a shore dive) similar to Roatan, but with better fish/reef life. I still think my favorites are Cozumel and Belize – but without a doubt I could come back to Curacao and have a great time. However, with all the other places on the list, I doubt we’ll get back anytime soon.
 
Once I got past the shock, denial, anger & so forth and worked my way through to acceptance that you only did 8 dives on that trip, I really enjoyed your report. One of the best I've seen. I've been to Bonaire 8 times, haven't hit Curacao so far and often try to 'comprehend it without going,' in case I ever want to. Your description of the practical workflow, from time & directions hassle to reach sites, using your empty dive light as a water proof case (sorry yours flooded, but that's a great tip; will have to keep it in mind), the issue or renting tanks & weights at some places (on Bonaire I fix my weights the 1st dive day, & they stay will the end of the last dive day. Having to swap them out at different sites would annoy me) and other practical concerns is quite helpful.

On Bonaire, people often prefer apartments with kitchen or kitchenette to prepare supermarket food to cut down on costs. I've yet to see a Hilton with such a thing (haven't stayed in many, but some).

Have you been to Bonaire? I thought you had, but the end of your post left me wondering.

What did you guys do besides dive & get towed? Curacao is sometimes advocated as a good place for a mixed group with divers & non-divers who need other entertainment, or people who do a few dives but not 3 - 4/day. Did you hit the aquarium, ostrich farm, etc…?
 
Great read. You had me thinking how clever... using the dive light as waterproof FOB holder. Now not so much. :) IMHO you need to rethink the hide the FOB as you never know who is watching. Diving with a guy who figured he would "hide" his expensive shades... gone. Hans is a great guy. I do all my dive with him and let him worry about the keys and other stuff.
 
Yes, the 8 tanks maybe bothered me a little bit too. My wife and daughter in general fatigue at 2 tanks a day...and honestly, the first few years I might want to dive 3-4 a day, or 16 dives in a trip, these days unless there's something really spectacular going on, 2 tanks a day is good. On family trips we don't dive every single day we can. We spend one day and tool around a bit. Also in Curacao getting to/from different sites can be quite time consuming. You spend a lot of time in the car - though the hills/scenery can be pretty up north/west.

Bonaire, no never been. Yes, it's on my list, and is likely a much easier shore diving destination, making 3-4 dives a day much more practical. Bonaire flights are overpriced from OKC (in my opinion) so I'll likely go there on airline miles. I've booked it before, but every time I do something changes and I have to change plans. I'll get there eventually. After the daughter runs off to college the wife and I plan on really expanding our visits (she's 16, so she'll be breaking our hearts and running off in just a couple years). Makes me wonder how she'll handle paying for her own dive vacations.

The hilton...if we were paying to stay, I would have preferred someplace like a apartment/flat. However, the entire stay: air and hotel was paid on points and miles. So the expensive food was a trade for the free room. They did have a small fridge in the room which we made use of, but that's where it ended.

As to other things to do: we visited the flamingo preserve up west/north. We saw the island, ate at places tripadvisor showed as interesting, and we did our typical sunbathing in the afternoons. Didn't visit any museums, never even went downtown. Mostly it looked like cruise ship port shopping opportunities and that just didn't appeal.

PS - the dive light thing. To be clear: I think anyone's would flood. I really thing the pressurization of the light assumes a certain amount of airspace inside the light - normally that airspace is filled with batteries. With keys/fob - well just be careful if you try it. Maybe experiment before you put something expensive in there.

Ray



Once I got past the shock, denial, anger & so forth and worked my way through to acceptance that you only did 8 dives on that trip, I really enjoyed your report. One of the best I've seen. I've been to Bonaire 8 times, haven't hit Curacao so far and often try to 'comprehend it without going,' in case I ever want to. Your description of the practical workflow, from time & directions hassle to reach sites, using your empty dive light as a water proof case (sorry yours flooded, but that's a great tip; will have to keep it in mind), the issue or renting tanks & weights at some places (on Bonaire I fix my weights the 1st dive day, & they stay will the end of the last dive day. Having to swap them out at different sites would annoy me) and other practical concerns is quite helpful.

On Bonaire, people often prefer apartments with kitchen or kitchenette to prepare supermarket food to cut down on costs. I've yet to see a Hilton with such a thing (haven't stayed in many, but some).

Have you been to Bonaire? I thought you had, but the end of your post left me wondering.

What did you guys do besides dive & get towed? Curacao is sometimes advocated as a good place for a mixed group with divers & non-divers who need other entertainment, or people who do a few dives but not 3 - 4/day. Did you hit the aquarium, ostrich farm, etc…?
 
Nice report, thank you. I have been thinking about going to Curacao, I have been to Bonaire a few times and love it but I don't take my wife, she does not dive and Bonaire isnt really a vacation spot for a non-diver in my opinion. I have been told Curacao is a lot better and think I would like to give it a shot. I learned a trick about keeping things dry while diving and especially shore dives like Bonaire, get a small OtterBox 1000 and tiewrap it to your gear, you can put some money, a couple keys, drivers license and credit card in it and I have had mine to 130 without a leak :
 
Great report!

That app is just what I have been looking for. Heading to Curacao in 3 weeks, so the timing of this post was perfect. Thank you.
 
I was considering a Curacao trip until I read the review. It pretty much detailed everything I had heard in the past. I like my shore diving to be very convenient and I can't think of anywhere better than bonaire for that. I would imagine the critters are almost identical for the most part as well. 8 dives on a trip just doesnt come close to cutting it for me.
 
My wife and I just got back from Curacao. We stayed at the Hilton for the same reasons as the original poster, we are Diamond and got upgraded to the Executive Floor which also included breakfast and subsidized happy hour and appetizers in the evening. We stayed 9 days and had a couple expensive meals on site, but shopped at the near by Centrum and hit other restaurants around the island we had discovered on previous trips and even hit a few new ones. Curacao offers a lot of night live. The bar district downtown is very nice and there are pretty cool places to eat and drink.

We used the on site dive operator to do shore diving on reef in front of the hotel. It is now Caribbean Sea Sports and they run boats from the Hilton and Marriott next door. I paid for guided shore dives in front of the Hilton since my wife was having health issues and couldn't dive. I brought my own sling and a zookeeper and the DMs joined in with their equipment and so we made all the dives lionfish hunting expeditions. There was no shortage of prey on the house reef which is not a bad dive. In addition to the reef formation, there is a large collapsed structure around the sand above reef and an experimental coral farm there as well. Pretty cool stuff. Big barracudas, big snappers, spotted morays were common sights.
 
I was considering a Curacao trip until I read the review.

Since comparisons come up & this thread might turn up in a search, here's a thread comparing Curacao & Bonaire. I've been to Bonaire 8 times & Curacao none. What keeps me considering Curacao as a possible future destination...

1.) Sandy beaches would be fun for our little daughter, and my wife seems to like them. I'm not a romantic; to me white sand looks like ash tray sand, it slides under my feet when I walk, the surge swirls it around & gets it places it ought not to be when I enter & exit, and if I wanted to lay in the sun, roast & risk skin cancer, I could do that in a lawn chair at home. So I'm not really a beach person. But some people are...

2.) There's an aquarium, and there are dolphins, both of which could mean a lot to a young child.

3.) I'm told it has more non-diver attractions. Once you've done the Donkey Sanctuary on Bonaire, I imagine the Ostrich Farm on Curacao might look interesting.

4.) Simple curiosity to check out a new place & say I've been.

On the other hand...

1.) Fewer potential dives for the week?

2.) Some dive op.s are opposed to solo diving, last I checked, and I like solo'ing house reefs.

3.) Don't like long drives between places.

4.) Sounds more complicated to get around & find dive sites, & I don't like having to stop & ask directions.

5.) My 1st 4 trips to Bonaire, I went with a group. I don't have that familiarity with Curacao. Bonaire is smaller with a coast-hugging road, so you could probably stay at Caribbean Club up north, Buddy Dive or Sand Dollar more centrally, Divi Flamingo at the south end of town or a resort further south, & still dive all the same sites, shop all the same places. I get the impression from reading Curacao threads it's not that simple on Curacao, & the foreign names get me confused, so I start wandering if Go West is great why is the ScubaBoard Surge staying elsewhere, what's the difference between Go West and All West...

The OP shared some of the 'growing pains' that independent travel to a new destination can bring. I'm grateful for that; much more useful than 'It's great & we loved it.'

Richard.
 

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