Trip Report and Photos
Story and Photos © Elaine Jobin, may not be reproduced in part or whole without advanced written permission.
Southern California is one of the best places in the world to dive, but every now and then, you need a break to warm water, consistent good visibility, no need for a dry suit, and winter sunshine. In search of the above, I went to the Caribbean Island of Curacao and stayed at the dive resort "Habitat Curacao". This dive resort closed the following year for 'renovations', and I'm not sure that it ever reopened. I had some insights on this trip that sort of indicated the resort was having problems. Reports from those who followed were worse than mine with poor room maintenance and general resort service.
Habitat Curacao was primarily a "divers resort". There was not much to do there except dive. It was remotely located about a half hour by car from the city of Willemstad. A visit to downtown Willemstad required budgeting at least half of a dive day. In February, the rainy season is over, but the coolness of winter prevails. In the water, I wore a 5ml long wetsuit with a hat and still found myself getting chilly on some dives. For sunshine and great underwater visibility, February was a perfect time to go.
Traveling to Curacao from Los Angeles took a minimum of one day, and, there is a 4 hour time difference between the two locations. I did a straight shot, one day flight itinerary, and it was a long day. The airport in Willemstad was great. The trip through customs and immigration was quick and pleasant. There is an ample stock of luggage carts to be had in the baggage collection area prior to clearing customs. Note to self - grab one of those carts next time because as soon as you walk through the customs exit door - you can't go back and get one. The resort had a large bus picking up arriving guests that did not fit into the small van waiting area directly in front of the arrival area. It was quite a long walk schlepping the dive gear to the 'big bus' parking lot somewhere off to the right. I was very sorry I had not grabbed an airport cart. There was also about a half hour, semi confused wait for the bus and the driver to arrive. Guests going to Habitat Curacao somehow self assembled during this time. Finally, a totally unidentified driver did a very fast sweep of the arrival area and collected us. He didn't have a list of the names or details of the people that he was to pick up. Had anyone been searching for lost luggage, in the bathroom, or at all inattentive - they would have missed 'hotel transportation'.
After a long travel day, arrival at the resort was stressful. There was one man at the reception desk checking in the entire busload of about 12 people. Each individual check in took a minimum of 10 minutes. Almost last in line, I waited in the lobby at least 45 minutes for my check in to begin. The resort restraunt did remain open late to offer a few food selections for the group of late arrivers, but, there was nothing to eat or drink while waiting in the lobby.
At er check in, there was no baggage service to the room, not even a luggage cart was available. Wandering the seemingly sprawling resort, trying to locate the room, at night, with over 100lbs of dive gear was wretched. As I wandered down one dimly lit path there was a huge rustle in the nearby bushes followed by a loud squeal that nearly scared me half to death - a wild pig. I had no clue to watch out for wild pigs at night.
My room was a "Garden View" villa. It was a nice layout with three separate guest rooms sharing an outdoor kitchen and patio area. The patio area was spacious and provided a place to stretch out and socialize with the people staying in the two other rooms. It was equipped with a refrigerator, dishes and flatware, some pots and pans, a sink, a coffee maker, a hot plate, and an ample supply of ants (ant spray was provided).The rooms were small, clean, and basically comfortable. My room had two twin beds. One night my bed came equipped with a small live lizard hiding up near the pillow - OK, that was a first.
Figuring out the restaurant was a science in itself. The resort package came with breakfast included. For breakfast, I found that If I arrived at 7 in the morning when it opened, there was no food out for the breakfast buffet. If I arrived at 7:30, most things were out - but there were probably still no pancakes or bacon available. If I arrived at 7:45, the bacon would be gone. 7:35 seemed to be the arrival time that would pretty much assure that I got what I wanted. Food quality was a little hit or miss. Usually very good, one day the pancakes tasted very noticeably like the cook had left some of the ingredients out.
Lunch and Dinner, not included, required a lot of planning. Unless you had access to a rental car, a trip to the grocery store required about a half day using the hotel transportation. There is a small convenience store located on site that keeps very quirky hours where a few food staples such as spaghetti ice cream and candy bars, and a few pre packaged food and beverages could be purchased. The convenience store hours conflicted with dive hours so most of the time I found it was closed when I was above water and needed food and supplies. I guess it was a way to encourage you to pay extra and eat at the on site restaurant.
A lot of problems were encountered trying to eat at the on site restaurant . I regularly avoided eating any lunch simply because service was so slow, and, on several days I avoided dinner for the same reason. One night the wait from sit down to food in front of me was an hour and a half. The restraunt was hosting outside events instead of making sure that guests staying at the resort were getting fed. The worst day crowds seemed to be Sunday. Near the end of my stay, I learned that ordering food from the bar area was generally a little faster, but, often not by much.
I think my overall feeling about the resort was that it was a perfectly nice place - but - it operated on island time, service was friendly - but - the wait for it was way too long. The rooms were nice - but - repairs of broken and irritating things like leaky whatevers, didn't happen. Getting anything done that should have been simple and quick was exhausting, annoying, and difficult. Habitat Curacao was dive resort that definitely wasn't running smoothly.
Topside at Habitat Curacao
So, what was there to see underwater? Lots of things. The diving was terrific and the dive operation, at least was well run. Came home with lots of photos. Most 'macro' as that is what Curacao seems to do best. These are a sample.
Underwater Photos from diving at Habitat Curacao