Exploring the Beauty of Curacao
Stapen, Candyce H., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
On Curacao, children can feed sharks, pet stingrays, swim with sea turtles, watch baby ostriches hatch and explore caves.
Along with its picture-book-pretty coves of white sand and calm waters, this Caribbean island has off-the-beach attractions that should make even the most blase youngster say "Wow!"
An added attraction for parents is the fact that the island offers summer hotel bargains.
Prices plummet even though steady 15 mph winds keep temperatures in the manageable 80-degree range. That's why Curacao in summer offers a great island getaway.
Plan to spend most of a day at the Curacao Sea Aquarium. This oceanfront facility has the largest collection of Caribbean species in the world. Its 45 tanks display more than 450 specimens of marine life, many from Curacao's waters. Because pumps bring in natural sea water, even the coral in the tanks are alive.
Finds include rainbow-colored fish, slithery green moray eels, spiny Caribbean lobsters and Herby, a 4-foot-long jewfish weighing 250 pounds.
Don't miss the shark feeding. When an attendant extends a rod full of fish into the pool, sharks zoom up to eat like a pack of puppies running for chow.
The sharks propel themselves so far up on a platform out of the water that visitors can clearly see their bluish-gray eyes and hear them sucking down their meals. A highlight: Take a turn at feeding these hungry critters. When they are busy devouring their fish, the guide lets visitors pet the sharks' rubbery heads.
For those who want to swim in "shark-infested" waters, there is the Animal Encounter. Guides take participants 12 and older for a 45-minute dive in a natural tidal pool adjacent to the aquarium. There they get to swim with stingrays, sea turtles, silvery tarpon and schools of other colorful fish as well as hand-feed the nurse and lemon sharks that lurk safely behind thick plexiglass.
Because most participants are not certified divers, the guides teach basic safety and dive procedures to guests.
Snorkelers can swim in the lagoon and feed the sharks through a plexiglass opening that's just below the water's surface.
Young children and those who want to get a diver's-eye view without getting wet can board the Seaworld Explorer, the aquarium's underwater observatory, a semisubmersible craft permanently docked in front of the shark tank. Because the dive is popular, book ahead. The cost is $55 for divers, $30 for snorkelers. Call the Curacao Sea Aquarium, 461-6666.
We liked the Curacao Ostrich and Game Farm, but not the owner, who was brusque and rude. Let's hope he won't be your guide if you go. Located 15 minutes from Willemstad, the 200-acre ostrich farm is said to be the only one in the Caribbean. Visitors learn about these big birds' behavior while walking past enclosures containing more than 400 of them.
We saw a corral of females that looked like feathered ballerinas as they spread their wings and danced in small circles. Our guide said they do this when they are happy. We were amazed at the powerful kick of a male defending his territory. The most endearing part of the tour was watching a hatchling peck its way out of its shell. Reservations are required for tours, available from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; call 560-1276.
Another interesting outing is to the 200,000-year-old Hato Caves with their numerous displays of stalagmites and stalactites. Ask your children if they can pick out the bats roosting on the walls. The caves are well-lit, so little ones shouldn't be scared, but there are several flights of steps.
Be sure to visit early in the morning because, unlike other caves, Hato takes you only 375 feet below the surface. Instead of being cool, the interior is humid and could be uncomfortably so in the middle of the day. …