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.
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.
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.
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.