In November, when Berlin had already been hit by the ruthless winter, I had the privilege of escaping to Curacao, a Dutch colonial island in the Caribbean. Part of it is exactly as you’d picture paradise: palm trees, exclusive resorts, and crystal blue waves. On the other hand – and this is the side to Curacao I appreciated a lot more because it was so unexpected – there were mountains to be climbed, shipwrecks to be discovered while snorkeling and wild, untouched nature to be marveled at. Curacao, I concluded, is the perfect place to take a good old road trip; it’s small enough that you can easily take day trips and get back to your hotel or hostel in time for the end of the day. Here are the stops that made a lasting impression on me.

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Take a boat to Klein Curacao

Klein Curacao is an uninhabited island located 15 miles southeast from actual Curacao. Getting there by boat takes two hours and I’d argue the boat journey is already worth it if you’re not prone to seasickness. There are various companies who offer day trips (and lunch!) to Klein Curacao and basically do all the work for you, so you just have to bring sun screen and your bikini. Anyway, let’s get back onto that boat: Spending two hours on the Caribbean, seeing nothing but clear skies and three shades of blue waves is magical. Once there, take a 5-minute walk from the main beach and you’ll find a picturesque lighthouse and perfect backdrop for impromptu photo shoots and playing hide-and-seek. It was far too hot to spend more than five minutes in the direct sun (at least when you’re pale like me), so I made sure to get back to my little shed asap. The sea is ideal for snorkeling as you can cosy up to sea turtles and take cool underwater photos of fish…

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Hit the fisher’s market in Willemstad

Willemstad is Curacao’s capital and home to large parts of the population. Punda, the “touristy” part, is famous for its colourful houses, a spectacular waterfront and local markets where you can literally get a taste or two of Caribbean culture. Warning: it’s very meaty, so good luck if you’re vegetarian or vegan. The Old Market (Plasa Bieu) is the place for a low-key lunch with the locals – try stobá (a stew made with beef or goat), Guiambo (seafood soup) or funchi (a polenta-style cornmeal paste) and of course, fish, fish, fish. On your way there you will also encounter Queen Emma, Willemstad’s “swinging old lady” pontoon bridge that opens to let ships into the port and closes to let passengers get to the other side of the bay. You can also stay on the bridge while it opens… super fun!

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curacao_kathi_kamleitner-80 Photo by Kathi Kamleitner

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Climb up Curacao’s highest mountain

Admittedly, it’s not too hard to be the highest mountain on a small island like Curacao, so if you expect a full-on hike to the top to Christoffel Mountain, you may be disappointed. But what makes this trip so tough is the climate! Your best bet is to get up at about 6am and start the hike by 7 and by no means later than 11am. Otherwise, the national park won’t let you in. There are eight different hiking routes in the national park; some of them are guided, and the one that goes up Christoffel Mountain is the most challenging. The flora and fauna on the way up to the top are magnificent. If the sky is clear you’ll be able to see all over the island and the sea….

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Take a look on the wild side

A short drive down south from the Christoffel area is another national park: Shete Boka. Its highlight is Boka Pistol which may well have been my favourite place on the entire island. The ocean waves blast against limestone hills with a force that is both scary and soothing. Again, you can hike (like the Boka Pistol Trail) alongside the coastline and watch three types of turtles (if you’re lucky!) In general, the western part of Curacao is a lot wilder and untouched than the rest, so it’s well worth taking a cruise, stopping at a couple of beaches, maybe to get a tan 0n your favourite.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BMe8-mYhrEi/

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Go snorkeling

Ever wanted to snorkel to a sunk boat? Yeah, thought so. Tugboat Beach is an extremely exciting diving location that was named after the tugboat that accidentally sank there 30 years ago. Now it’s a popular diving and underwater photography spot. The wreck rests at just 5 m (17ft) which makes it easy to spot even if you can’t go super low. If you drive to Tugboat Beach, there are the guys from Myronchi Trip who are super friendly and gentle if you’re a bit unsure about snorkeling. They also offer to take underwater photos and send them to you after.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BOFl-ENA4KL/?taken-by=myronchitrip

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Have dinner at the beach

Now for some action, people! I’ve had some delicious drinks and beautiful beach views at the Papagayo Beach Club which is a bar during the day time that turns into a club at night. Apart from having a very clean and modern design, it is, as the name suggests, right on the beach. That is a priceless attribute and something Berlin’s techno clubs can’t offer… For dinner and live music that’s a bit more chill, head over to Zanzibar. Their pizzas (Quattro Formaggi all the way!) are to die for and you can definitely take that midnight swim you’ve been craving for so long!

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Curacao really is what you make of it. You could easily spend a week in a luxurious resort without setting foot outside, or you could stay in a vibrant hostel in Willemstad and explore the island bit by bit and also get pretty active. Have you been to Curacao? What has been your favourite pit stop?

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All photographs taken by Caroline Schmitt

Caroline travelled to Curacao on courtesy of the Curacao Tourism Board and Zucker Kommunikation.
All opinions expressed are her own.