It has been a Caribbean island’s best kept secret for years – maybe you’ve heard some stories but not too many people have found a way to actually get there. Curaçao ‘s incredible east point diving has been talked about for years – no, call it: bragged about for years as the best diving site of the region. An area the size of St. Martin (St. Maarten) on the south-east tip of this island has been in private hand by the Maal family for centuries. Despite the fact that they would like to develop it for tourism purposes they have continuously been blocked doing so by the Curaçao government. What stayed is a huge wilderness area and supposedly almost unspoiled coral reefs, a rarity in this part of the world.
Since the area is private property and outside access is rarely allowed by the family, the only way to get here is by boat. Niels Jorissen from DiveCharterCuracao has been the first to do so on a commercial basis, bringing small groups of 7-8 divers by Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB). Since conditions have to be good for diving the east (rough seas are the main spoiler) he also does trips to more common destinations like the famous Mushroom Forest and Wata Mula, always in small groups in order to maintain a good diving experience. But as he says “the best is east”.
It’s mid-December as I join Niels from Caracasbaai, a famous and very popular area among tourists and permanent residents. Dark clouds gather in the distance, but according to Niels we’ll be floating in sunshine in less than an hour; “what falls now, won’t fall later at open sea”. Once his RIB is in the water, we check our belongings, gear up and set everything up at the boat. With 7 divers things are tight but comfortable. The power handle is opened, the warm breeze floats across my face and I close my eyes in anticipation and excitement. After plenty times of diving with Niels the past years I finally make it to the Eastpoint, on a glorious day as well!
Roughly half an hour later we are ready to go, it turns out there is hardly any current, a bit of a rarity. Good for us! The dive plan is simple: Love Cave to Tarpon Bridge, the first aptly named after a couple of mating Nurse sharks found here a few years ago, the latter after a massive underwater bridge frequented by schools of Tarpon. “Take it easy if you see them, let them come to you and you’ll be almost within touching distance if lucky” Niels says before we finally enter the water. Unfortunately there are no Nurse sharks to be found in the cave, but it is still a wonderful sight to see, nicely overgrown with soft corals in the front. Just lying still to enjoy the view is the best way to experience it, even when diving with 7 others. Once the group has left I just silently enjoy it a little more. 24 hours ago I was stuck in an airplane for eleven hours, now I am totally zoned out on beauty.
Because of rougher conditions, hard corals are much rarer to find here, but soft corals are plentiful. Since nobody has the means of killing off Lionfish in this area they seem to be around in huge numbers. Funny enough: so seem the schools of small fish. I guess they mostly prey on the species that are close to the corals, the huge number of Damselfish seem to be able to escape the slaughter taking place all over the Caribbean. After arriving at the Tarpon bridge it turns out to be an amazing sight as well. However, lucking out again: no Tarpons to be seen. I guess they’re out with the Nurse sharks. Time to end the dive and relax a little.
Relaxation is literally around the corner where a very shallow lagoon protects us from the (small) waves, it’s time for lunch and drinks and to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the East. The Maal family may call it rubbish-bush in need of development, we kind of think the opposite. Perhaps it is a good idea to leave it like it is, there are plenty of hotels already and the pristine nature and reefs could do with the current low-key attention. Underneath our boat some huge Starfish seem to have gathered “it’s the only place on the island where you find these in numbers” we are told. It certainly makes for a great photo-opp and our surface interval turns out mostly submerged.
Since there are only so much sandwiches you can eat, it is time to head out “we’ve kept the best till last, that’s why we named it Best Reef” Niels tries to add to our excitement. And as soon as we enter the water we understand why. “Shark!” is called before we’re even ready to descent. A massive 7 feet Nurse shark is lying at 30 feet, totally relaxed and we all manage to take a photo turn by turn without the animal even raising a fin. I’ve never been able to get close to one that was full out in the water so this one makes up for all the times I’ve tried and failed miserably. I’m literally lying next to it, dwarfed at least by a full foot. What a stunning creature.
The reef itself is even more mind-blowing: row after row of soft corals in perfect condition. It seems to be a never ending field of softly waving jungle out here. No matter how far we try to look ahead: it’s just corals, corals and more corals. With the light coming in from the right angle it is hard not to burst out in tears or shout your enjoyment. This is what you dive for, this is what want to see. This is truly Curacao at its best!