History and Politics
Like Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao is a transcontinental island that is geographically part of South America but is also considered to be part of West Indies and one of the Leeward Antilles.
Curaçao gained self-government on January 1, 1954 as an island territory of the Netherlands Antilles. Despite this, the islanders did not fully participate in the political process until after the social movements of the late '60s. In the 2000s the political status of the island has been under discussion again, as for the other islands of the Netherlands Antilles, regarding the relationship with the Netherlands and between the islands of the Antilles.
In a referendum held on April 8, 2005, together with Sint Maarten, the residents voted for a separate status outside the Netherlands Antilles, like Aruba, rejecting the options for full independence, becoming part of the Netherlands, or retaining the status quo.
On July 1, 2007, the island of Curaçao was due to become an autonomous associated state, under the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On November 28, 2006, the island council rejected a clarificatory memorandum on the process. On July 9, 2007 the new island council of Curaçao approved the agreement previously rejected in November 2006. On December 15, 2008 Curaçao was scheduled to become a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (like Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles are now). This dissolution is still planned, but has been postponed to an indefinite future date. A nonbinding referendum on this plan took place in Curaçao on May 15, 2009, in which 52 percent of the voters supported these plans.
Dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles is now scheduled for October 10, 2010.
We stayed at Lion’s Dive. The overall impressions are that it is a clean and comfortable place to stay. The staff is helpful and friendly. With the room package you have access to a VERY well equipped exercise center, as well as the nearby Seaquarium, which we highly recommend. They have a variety of sea and bird life, dolphin and sea lion demonstrations, flamingo watching and an area where you can touch the star fish and assorted critters. Lion’s Dive has an extensive beach operation with several swimming pools, including a 50m pool.
While the resort was great about including unlimited free access to the fitness facility and Seaquarium, they charged for use of the safe box ($1.50US/day) in the room as well as a Internet access fee ($12US/day). The internet access was not wireless except in the lobby.
We had a Run-Of-House (ROH) room, which had a full kitchenette including a stove top, microwave, fridge, and utensils. Although not advertised as an Ocean View room, we could see the water from our patio. This group of rooms was less than a three-minute walk to the dive shop and the docks. In addition, it was far enough away from the bar so that noise from the music at night did not keep us up.
The Lion’s Dive resort has three restaurants. One was a restaurant/bar (Hemingway’s), the second was their upscale restaurant (Nemo’s), and the third was a pasta/pizza place. We had one meal at Nemo’s and the remaining at Hemingway’s. Nemo’s cost two times what Hemingway’s cost and the food was no better, though it had an air of being more formal. In general, the food in the restaurants was OK, but not great. We were able to find reasonable choices. The restaurants ‘nickled and dimed’ us: They charged for each glass of water and for extra bread. When we were asked if we wanted rice or fries as if it were part of the meal, we discovered that it was a separate charge. This was a bit aggravating. Hemingway’s has a very nice (but once again expensive) breakfast buffet. When we travel, we try to stay in a room with a kitchenette to help avoid some of these unnecessary food costs by preparing breakfast and lunch in the room. Consequently a run to the local supermarket is something we do as early on in the vacation as possible. Lion’s Dive provides a free shuttle to both a supermarket (several times a day) as well as to town. If you go into town, make sure to stop by the Tourist Bureau as your first stop since the folks are very helpful and will give you free maps for an architectural walk of the town and for an island and dive site overview.
Despite being on so-called “island time,” everything was amazingly punctual. Shuttle buses arrived promptly, taxis appeared exactly when requested, and dive boats departed promptly. Service in the restaurants was a bit more lax, however.
We dove with Ocean Encounters, whose headquarters are at Lion’s Dive. They have two other satellite dive shops at other hotels. The dive masters were friendly and offered to change over our gear between dives (we always do this ourselves, though), but they did not add much value underwater. Rarely did they point out fish or other sightings that we didn’t find ourselves. Due to the dive operation schedule (a two-tank dive in the morning followed by an optional one-tank dive in the afternoon), they were required to limit dives to a prescribed 50-minute interval… though we generally managed to stretch each dive to one hour by being the first in and last out.
The dive boats were well appointed with a clearly marked separate tub for cameras vs. masks. Each boat provided fresh drinking water along with Tang. We dive exclusively nitrox ($10US/tank), and all our tanks (which we analyzed on the boat) ranged between 32-34%. They had both 80cf and 63cf tanks available, although the 63’s were rare.
Overall, the dives themselves were only so-so. Our impression is that the area is over-fished and therefore there was a clear lack of sizable fish left for viewing. At the sites farther away from the resorts, the reef seemed healthier and the fish population a bit more abundant. Dive masters consistently suggested a maximum depth of 60 feet for the first dive and 40 feet for the second dive. But they also acknowledged that if you had a computer, you could follow your own profile, which we always did. Only 1 out of 12 dives was considered a “deep dive” – we went down to ~120 feet to observe the famous car piles and consequently had the best dive of the trip.
The divers were less experienced than we are used to seeing on scuba trips. In addition, the boats were more crowded than we prefer (12-15 divers with 2 dive masters was common with a maximum of 22 divers and 3 dive masters). Generally one dive master led the group and the second one followed at the back to ensure that there were not stragglers. On more than one occasion, we saw divers surface early or lack buoyancy control.
The Lion’s Dive facility had a couple of outdoor showers, two large rinse tanks, and a series of lockers and a locked area to hang BC’s and wet suits to dry. In the dive shop, the employees were all very helpful and accommodating. On our final dive day, we were slated to be on a boat with 22 divers, which was not to our liking. So we asked to be switched to a smaller boat, which they did with little notice, including quickly moving our nitrox tanks to the other boat.
Among the highlights of our dives were two sightings of spotted eagle rays, a turtle, a small shark, limited barracuda, a variety of eels, frequent trunk fish, a surprising array of sizable scorpion fish, lots of scrawled file fish, some puffers and cow fish, many banded shrimp, and a number of hidden flamingo tongue. Water temperatures averaged 83F degrees, which was complemented by the above-water temperatures ranging from 84F to 90F degrees every day. The occasional tropical rain shower was never a problem.
Though we didn’t avail ourselves of these options, it was possible to do a night dive to Tugboat (a small wreck we visited in the morning) or a longer morning trip to the Mushroom Forest. You could also pay for a special “swim with the dolphins” trip, which seemed a bit too contrived for our tastes.
Lion’s Dive in Curacao is a good family destination where you can do some casual diving. The weather was very pleasant, there are plenty of things to do as a family, and the people are friendly. As a hard-core dive destination, we would suggest other areas, the closest being Bonaire. A sample of our pictures can be found here.