The Countryside of This Caribbean Island Is Full of Natural Wonders
While its colorful colonial town is what catches many a wanderlust-filled eye, this island has so much more.
When was the last time you did something for the first time? This question led my journey as I traveled to Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island. Before visiting, I honestly have never heard of the island. Sigh. As I told my friends and family where I was traveling, I was asked one question: "Where is that!?"
"Oh, it's a small island next to Aruba," I said naively. Not realizing besides its size (the island stretches about 40 miles (64 km) from southeast to northwest), there isn't anything small about Curaçao. On the contrary, the island is bursting with color and lively energy. When I first landed on the island my eyes widened with excitement as I made my way to the hotel. Glancing out the passenger seat window I saw kaleidoscopic-colored buildings, the picturesque sea, and people rappelling down Queen Juliana Bridge, which is the tallest bridge on the island standing at 56.4 m (185 feet).
Traveling to new islands, cities, and regions I’ve never heard of is one of my biggest fuels. It keeps my engine going when everything else in life seems to be going astray.
It’s popular to want to see the seven natural wonders of the world: Northern Lights, the Grand Canyon, Paricutin, Mount Everest, the harbor of Rio de Janeiro, Victoria Falls, and the Great Barrier Reef.
As I journeyed, I began to ask myself: What natural wonders are there to unearth here? I’m mainly a city girl when I travel, however, when in Curaçao I wanted to seek what there was to do outside of the main downtown area. So for one week, I traveled to lesser-known parts of the island to see how I could surround myself in nature. Each of the destinations I visited I’m calling a “natural wonder” as a way to illuminate interesting, unique, and nature-based activities to experience in Curaçao that will surely leave any traveler feeling refreshed.
One meaning for the word “Curaçao” is “cure for the heart,” and as I traveled throughout the region, I considered how each natural wonder I discovered connected to my mind, body, and soul. Taking this new approach to travel has allowed me to slowly immerse myself into a place, no matter how long the length of stay.
I kicked off my trip by visiting the first natural wonder: Den Paradera Herb Garden. The garden was once the largest in Curaçao and is located on the island’s east side. Dinah Veeris founded the garden known for its holistic healing remedies throughout the community in 1991.
When I entered the garden and met Veeris for the first time, her smile was warm and reminded me of what wisdom personified is. For decades, she has tended the garden with an agile but mighty team.
Every plant in this garden has a purpose, from healing earaches in children to digestive issues in adults. So I wasn't surprised to learn that “Den Paradera” translates to “the place you want to stay” because I never wanted to leave. Spending my morning in this garden filled my soul. I walked away with products such as loose leaf teas, bath oil, and natural shampoo.
I left this garden with my soul feeling rejuvenated and connected to nature more than I've ever experienced.
I made sure to reapply sunscreen as I headed to Curaloe, an aloe vera plantation. The plantation Curaloe produces organic aloe vera skincare products and describes itself as “a plant in the bottle.” I use aloe vera-based products all the time in my daily life for skin and hair benefits, so it was a treat to see the process of how this plant makes it all the way to my bathroom cabinet. As I toured the aloe vera field, I was able to watch the tour guide cut it right from the root as she continued to do a live presentation showcasing how they harvest and manufacture the plant. Slicing easily at the ends of the plant, our tour guide allowed us to take a bite of the transparent gel. I was expecting a bitter and earthy taste, but it was tasteless as it is clear. The presentation was thoughtful and engaging and allowed me to think about the origin of where the products I use in my daily life come from.
Anytime I visit the Caribbean, I look forward to the beaches. This third natural wonder gave my mind the rest it needed and served as the perfect beach day: Kenepa Grandi. Kenepa Grandi is a beach located in Westpunt or Bándabou in Papiamentu. To the naked eye, this rural area seemed like just a vastness of open land. However, 32 beaches occupy this side of the island. The drive to Kenepa Grandi was about 40 minutes from my boutique hotel. The dirt roads were winding and filled with hills. It was quite the process to reach this paradise island. The off the beaten path location of this beach made it especially special. The beach is hidden and to the unexpecting eye, you would drive right past the entrance. It wasn't until the driver made a slight right turn that I saw a breathtaking view of rich turquoise-colored water. The beach was very calm and not filled with tons of people. I was able to soak in the sun peacefully! Rock formations line the beach, which made for the perfect photo spot.
I spent the afternoon soaking in the rich, vibrant-blue waters, taking photos, and relaxing as the sun shined against my caramel skin. Relieved to have a moment to sit still and recharge, I didn’t beach-hop and instead spent the whole afternoon in the unique environs of Kenapa Grandi. But there are a number of other beaches on this side of the island that I hope to check out next time I’m back, from the soft stretches of Playa Grandi to the more rustic and natural Keine Knip.
On the north side of the island, one can find a place whose beauty captivated me but whose history gave me pause as I soaked in all the history. The Hato Caves were not what I expected to find in this tropical paradise. I assumed the cave would be cold, because, um, it’s a cave! Instead it was warm because the cave is situated 60 meters above sea level. Plus the coral stones that outline the cave have the ability to hold heat for a long time.
The cave is filled with stalagmites and stalactites that give the place an otherworldly feel. But the cave also has a rich history. There are petroglyphs more than a thousand years old, which are a reminder that life existed here before the colonists and their colonial buildings we now find so charming. The caves were also a place where runaway slaves hid, a reminder that those charming colonial buildings were built with wealth that came from human bondage. To this day, you can still see where the flames of their torches left burnt markings on the cave's ceiling. As I toured the cave, I took a moment of silence to remember and honor their lives.
The next day, it was time to put my body to work. So, I hopped on an electric kick-bike with Step By Step Curaçao to experience the island in a different style. This art-focused bike tour took me around to see the expansiveness of the island and the beautiful murals that decorate the buildings and people’s homes. While not natural, this fifth wonder makes Curaçao exceptionally energetic. The art murals, painted by local artists, showcase people’s talent and heart for their country. Some of my favorite murals include intricate and rich paintings of Black women in headwraps that showcased both power and beauty. One particular mural stood out to me as it posed a thought-provoking question to bypassers: What do you want to do before you die? There was chalk on the ground for participants to write in their answers. After reading the other responses, I picked up a piece of chalk and scattered my answer across the wall: Live Free.
My mind, body, and soul felt refreshed after departing the island. Curaçao, for the week, was the cure my heart needed.