Aspen Times Weekly: Curaçao, a Caribbean island for the adventurous | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: Curaçao, a Caribbean island for the adventurous

by Amiee White Beazley

Curacao, pronounced kewr-e-sow, is everything one thinks of when envisioning a Caribbean island – white sand beaches, great culture, food and even cocktails made with its eponymous orange-flavored liqueur. But this island is not overrun with high-rises and tourists. As far as islands go, it is fairly undeveloped, but ripe for growth as an active travel destination.

Curaçao is an autonomous state of The Netherlands, a locally governed island, and the largest of the "ABC" islands – Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Located about 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, it once had the terrible distinction of being one of the first stop for slaves en route to the Americas, but its history as a port, also left behind a great mix of cultures and languages. In any given conversation you may hear Spanish, Dutch, English or Papiamentu, the island's absolutely fascinating linguistic evolution, which is really like a verbal mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and Arawak Indian.

Because of its dry climate, Curaçao grows little of its own food; in fact, it relies on the outside world for almost everything. One of its biggest dependencies is on neighboring Venezuela, whose state-run oil and gas company PDVSA operates the Isla Oil Refinery on Curacao's Schottegat Harbor. Shell abandoned the site in 1986, selling the operation and all of its existing contamination problems to the local government for $1.

But for all the trouble and hardships it has experienced, Curaçao has something to offer no other Caribbean island has – prime opportunity for adventure travelers. The island is large in Caribbean terms, at 180 square miles has an impressive 1,227 feet of elevation at its highest point – Mt. Christoffel, making the island perfect for hiking and mountain biking. Mountain biking is one of the fastest growing sports on the island. Curaçao even hosted a sanctioned mountain biking World Cup Race on the island in 2006, and it won't be its last. Imagine having the ability to ride in the early morning (365 days a year) on a great set of trails, followed by snorkeling or diving from a white sand beach.

I spent an afternoon mountain biking with WannaGo Outdoors, an island outfitter, and the place to go for anything bike related (road riding is also a huge sport in Curaçao among the European and American residents and visitors.) My guide, Hans Baltus, is a Dutch police officer on assignment from The Netherlands for five years, and also an accomplished racer on both road and trails.

Hans introduced me to the singletrack of Jan Thiel Lagoon. The ride traverses though various terrain, from dense woods, to desert-like sand, along trails with sea views, through historic salt harvesting fields, and past lagoons filled with flocks of flamingos. It was one of the most varied and historic landmark-dotted rides I'd ever experienced.

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Along the rocky cliffs on the west side of the island, known as Westpunt, or Westpoint, there are more trails for hiking (think Cinque Terra) and biking, and with the potential for so many more. Most locals don't know what they have on their hands in terms of mountain biking potential, but an American named Barry Brown does. He's been cutting trails for 10 years and is the Pied Piper of mountain biking on Curacao — racing, teaching and helping to attract riders from around the world.

As I looked to the hills in the northern section of the island, the terrain looked incredibly reminiscent of the Rim Trail in Snowmass. Imagine standing at the base of the switchbacks, but when you turn around, instead of seeing Snowmass Ski Area, you are looking at crystal blue waters waiting for you swim, snorkel or dive. It's a riders dream. But it's going to take someone with vision and a little bit of money to make it a reality.

Next week, I'll explore a little more about what the island has to offer visitors, as well as what the future may hold. Stay tuned.

There is much more to tell about Curaçao. If you want stories, advice or more info on the island, follow Amiee on Twitter @awbeazley1.

If you go…

How to get there: I flew American Airlines from Grand Junction to Miami. From Miami, the flight to Curaçao is only 2.5 hours. The small airport at Curaçao is centrally located and easy to navigate with car service and taxis to take you directly to your hotel.

Travel specials: Right now Curaçao has an island-wide travel event called “Dare to Explore.” Sixteen of the island’s tour operators are providing hotel savings of up to 50 percent in way of flight credits and free nights. Promotions also run across island tours, attractions, car rentals and dive operators. These packages are being offered now through to June 1 and again from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15, 2014 — perfect timing for offseason travel.

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