A Beginner's Guide to Curacao's Christoffel National Park
PHOTO: View from Mount Christoffel. (Photo courtesy of Thinkstock)
In contrast to the dry, desert terrain found on the east side of Curacao, the west side — known as Westpunt — receives the majority of the island’s rainfall. Its lush, green rolling hills serve as the recreational hub for locals and visitors, providing options for hiking, biking, bird watching and seaside lounging within and beyond the boundaries of two national parks. The largest (by far) is Christoffel National Park, covering about nine square miles and containing within a deep-seeded history to go along with its natural beauty.
Though slavery would eventually be abolished in 1863, Curacao was the center of the Atlantic slave trade for more than a century. Back then, there were approximately 100 working plantations on the island, many located in Westpunt where the land was ideal for growing sugar cane.
READ MORE: 5 Unique Experiences of Curacao
In 1969, the Curacao government purchased the remains of three plantations — Savonet, Zorgvliet and Zevenbergen — and promised to preserve them as a reminder of the island’s past. These lands, as well as Christoffel Mountain, were designated a natural reserve. Ten years later, after much debate and bureaucracy over its preservation and protection, Christoffel officially opened as a National Park in June 1978.
The best way to get to Christoffel is to rent a car, as it gives you the best flexibility within the Park to arrive at different trailheads and points of interest. If it’s not in the budget, you can catch a bus from the Otrobanda Station in Willemstad and hire a guide to take you around. A cab is also an option.
Things To Know
Park hours are 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 6:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays.
Note that the park closes at 4 p.m. on weekdays and 3 p.m. on Sundays. This early closing is meant to prevent visitors from becoming lost on park roads after dark, and it unfortunately means you cannot experience the sunset from inside the Park.
Entrance to the Park is $12 USD for adults, $4.50 for kids 6-12 years and free for children under 6.
WHAT TO DO
The major three plantations — Savonet, Zorgvliet, and Zevenbergen, typically dominate headlines and maps, but two of the island’s best beaches lie in the shadow of the smaller Knip land house. While the house is located within the park, its two beaches at Kenapa, Grote Knip (Big Knip) and Klein Knip (small Knip), technically lie outside park boundaries. No matter, they draw a deep connection as a former part of Knip and are pristine with baby-blue water and fine white sand. Stop by for a dip on your way out of the Park or post up for the sunset.
There are eight hiking trails within the park, ranging from all-day affairs to short strolls. The main event is the two to three-hour route that reaches Mt. Christoffel, the islands’ highest point. At 1,227 feet, there are panoramic views of the island — a must for any seasoned hiker. Those who tackle this peak are advised to start early to avoid the heat of the day. If you’re inexperienced, hire an official guide to lead you.
Slave History and Museums
Despite being one of the prettiest parts of the island, Christoffel has a dark history as a key point in the Atlantic slave trade. Though sad, it provides interesting historical context for one to explore and engage. Before going, I recommend the Kura Hulanda Museum in Willemstad, which gives an overarching explanation of slavery on the island.
Onsite within Christoffel, the Savonet Museum and Tula Museum dive into the specific histories of their respective plantation houses, commemorating the lives and struggles of those who worked the fields. The latter tells the story of the Curacao Slave Revolt of 1795, a month-long conflict that saw dozens of slaves rise up against the plantation owners. Though it was ultimately beat back, the uprising is seen as one of the major sparks that would eventually lead to the end of slavery on the island.
There are several guided tours that visitors can take to learn more about Christoffel’s history and natural environment. For $30 a person, you can take a pickup safari trip in the back of a land cruiser through the park’s winding, hilly roads that stops at various lookouts and historical sites. Or, if you prefer something more informal, you can hire a guide to accompany you on any hike or to ride along in your own car. Probably the most valuable use of the Park’s services would be for the Savonet History Tour, where a knowledgeable guide can bring to life one of the island’s oldest plantations.
More by Will McGough
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Recent Travel Opinions
Airlines & Airports