WWas the last time you did something for the first time? This question guided my trip as I traveled to Curaçao, an island in the Dutch Caribbean. Before visiting, I honestly never heard of the island. Sigh. As I was telling my friends and family where I was traveling, I was asked a question: “Where is it!?”
“Oh, it’s a small island next to Aruba,” I said naively. Not realizing apart from his size (the island stretches approximately 40 miles (64 km) from southeast to northwest), there is nothing small in Curacao. On the contrary, the island is full of colors and vivid energy. When I first landed on the island, my eyes widened with excitement as I made my way to the hotel. Looking out the passenger seat window, I saw kaleidoscopic colored buildings, the picturesque sea, and people rappelling down the Queen Juliana Bridge, which is the tallest bridge on the island at 56.4m ( 185 feet).
Traveling to new islands, cities and regions that I have never heard of is one of my greatest fuels for seeing the world. It keeps my engine running when all the rest of my life seems to go astray.
It’s common to want to see the Seven Natural Wonders of the World: the Northern Lights, the Grand Canyon, Paricutin, Mount Everest, the Port of Rio de Janeiro, Victoria Falls, and the Great Barrier Reef.
During my trip, I started to wonder: what natural wonders are there to discover here? I’m mostly a city girl when I travel, however when in Curacao I wanted to research what there was to do outside of the main city center. So for a week I traveled to lesser known parts of the island to see how I could surround myself with nature. Each of the destinations I have visited, I call a ‘natural wonder’ as a way to illuminate interesting, unique and nature-based activities to experience in Curacao that will surely leave any traveler refreshed.
One of the meanings of the word “Curacao” is “remedy for the heart”, and as I traveled around the region I reflected on how every natural wonder I discovered relates to my mind, my body and my soul. Adopting this new approach to travel allowed me to slowly immerse myself in a place, regardless of the length of stay.
I started my journey by visiting the first natural wonder: Den Paradera herb garden. The garden was once the largest in Curacao and is located on the east side of the island. Dinah Veeris founded the garden known for its holistic healing remedies throughout the community in 1991.
When I entered the garden and first met Veeris, his smile was warm and reminded me of what wisdom incarnate is. For decades, she tended the garden with an agile but powerful team.
Every plant in this garden has a purpose, from curing earaches in children to digestive problems in adults. So I was not surprised to learn that “Den Paradera” translates to “the place where you want to stay” because I never wanted to leave. Spending my morning in this garden filled my soul. I left with products such as loose tea, bath oil and natural shampoo.
I left this garden with my soul rejuvenated and connected to nature more than ever.
I made sure to reapply sunscreen as I walked towards Curaloe, an aloe vera plantation. The Curaloe Plantation produces organic Aloe Vera skin care products and describes itself as “a bottled plant”. I use aloe vera products all the time in my daily life for skin and hair benefits so it was a treat to see how this plant gets to my bathroom cabinet . As I toured the aloe vera field, I got to watch the guide cut it down from the root as she continued to give a live presentation showing how they harvest and make the plant. Cutting easily at the ends of the plant, our guide allowed us to take a bite out of the clear gel. I expected a bitter and earthy taste, but it was tasteless as it is clear. The presentation was thoughtful and engaging and allowed me to reflect on the origin of the products I use in my daily life.
Every time I visit the Caribbean I look forward to the beaches. This third natural wonder gave my mind the rest it needed and was the perfect day at the beach: Kenepa Grandi. Kenepa Grandi is a beach located in Westpunt or Bándabou in Papiamentu. To the naked eye, this rural area seemed like a vast open land. However, 32 beaches occupy this side of the island. The ride to Kenepa Grandi was about 40 minutes from my charming hotel. The dirt roads were winding and filled with hills. It was quite a process to reach this paradise island. The off the beaten track location of this beach made it especially special. The beach is hidden and to an unexpected eye you would walk right past the entrance. It wasn’t until the driver made a slight right turn that I saw a stunning view of rich turquoise colored water. The beach was very quiet and not crowded. I was able to enjoy the sun quietly! Rock formations line the beach, making it the perfect photo spot.
I spent the afternoon swimming in the deep blue waters, taking photos and relaxing as the sun shone on my caramel skin. Relieved to have a moment to sit back and recharge, I didn’t jump on the beach and instead spent the whole afternoon in the unique surroundings of Kenapa Grandi. But there are a number of other beaches on this side of the island that I hope to discover the next time I come back, from the gentle 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 made me reflect as I soaked up 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, uh, it’s a cave! Instead, it was hot because the cave is located 60 meters above sea level. In addition, the coral stones that mark the cave have the ability to retain heat for a long time.
The cave is filled with stalagmites and stalactites which gives the place an otherworldly feel. But the cave also has a rich history. There are more than millennial petroglyphs, which remind us that life existed here before the settlers and their colonial buildings that we now find so charming. The caves were also a place where runaway slaves hid, a reminder that these charming colonial buildings were built with riches from human bondage. To this day, you can still see where the flames from their torches left scorched marks on the cave ceiling. While visiting 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 jumped on an electric kick-bike with Step by step Curacao to discover the island in a different style. This art-driven bike tour took me around the expanse of the island and the beautiful murals that decorate the buildings and homes of the people. Although not natural, this 5th ride makes Curaçao exceptionally energetic. The fine art murals, painted by local artists, showcase the talent and hearts of the people for their country. Some of my favorite murals include intricate and rich paintings of black women wearing a headscarf, which showcase both power and beauty. One fresco in particular struck me, because it asked a stimulating question to passers-by: What do you want to do before you die? There was chalk on the floor for participants to write down their answers. After reading the other answers, I took a piece of chalk and scattered my answer on the wall: Live Free.
My mind, body and soul felt refreshed after leaving the island. Curacao, for the week, was the medicine my heart needed.