The largest and most densely populated of the Dutch Caribbean’s six islands, Curaçao is about 444 square kilometers and is separated from mainland South America by a deep ocean trench. The island has a volcanic core, with a hilly and semi-arid landscape, and is rimmed by fossil coral reefs. Its size and variety of habitats give Curaçao the greatest diversity of wildlife of all the Dutch islands, and it is rich with rare and endemic plants and animals. Its marine world, consisting of a pristine fringing coral reef, is a treasure trove of species unrivalled in the Caribbean.
Hypersaline lakes (saliñas) on the leeward coast are feeding habitats for the regionally important Caribbean Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) and for migratory shorebirds. The lakes also are critical breeding areas for regionally endangered terns, including the Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) and the Least Tern (Sternula antillarum).
The northern part of the island forms the Christoffel and Shete Boka Park, currently the largest protected areas on Curaçao. The park is comprised of several former plantations and rich in both cultural and biological heritage. The newly restored Savonet Museum at the park entrance is one of the oldest remaining plantation houses on Curaçao. The park provides a safe haven for rare plants and animals, such as wild orchids, a rare native Barn Owl “Palabrua” (Tyto alba bargei), and the shy Curaçao White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus curassavicus), of which only around 250 individuals remain. There are ten managed hiking trails, including one to the top of Mount Christoffel, the island’s highest point at 375 metres (1,230 feet) and scenic roads that were paved in 2004 help visitors find their way throughout the park. Shete Boka protects more than ten kilometres of the island’s rocky, wave-exposed north coast, where pocket beaches provide nesting sites for three species of sea turtles.
The Curaçao Underwater Park, located along the southermost tip of the island, harbours pristine fringing reefs that are home to 65 species of coral and more than 350 species of fish. The park extends along the island’s southeastern shoreline from the high-water mark to the 60-metre depth line and includes three globally endangered ecosystems: mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs.