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Beaches on Curaçao

Caribbean: Santa Martha Bay beach on Curacao.'s insider take:

Most of Curaçao's 34 named beaches share a similar setup along the island's sheltered southern coast: a cove of white sand bracketed by limestone cliffs. The best are found west of Willemstad, beginning with Playa Cas Abao, a 30-minute drive west of the capital. Its quarter-mile strip of soft sand is privately held; the ten-guilder admission fee (approximately $5.70) adds to the private feel by limiting the number of beachgoers. Open daily from 8 am to 6 pm, the beach has a full lineup of amenities and services, including bathrooms and changing rooms, bar and grill, massage pavilion, and all sorts of beach toys for rent from Cas Abao Watersports (599-9-864-9899; Another 20 minutes up Westpunt Road, local fishing boats and middle-aged European tourists haul out onto tiny Playa Lagun, which comes alive on the weekends. Though it's well off the main drag, the undeniable beauty of Playa Grote Knip brings a steady stream of tour buses. Most passengers simply take a snapshot from the eastside overlook, however, leaving the goth-white sands to locals and long-term visitors. If there's a drawback, it's the lack of shade to be found anywhere but beneath a few palapas and young coconut palms. Twenty minutes east of Willemstad, a sandy isthmus between Caracas Bay and Spanish Water swings past the well-preserved tower of Fort Beekenburg (built in 1703) to dun-colored Baya Beach. Although a ship pier mars the scene, Curaçao's most snorkel-friendly wreck dive, Tugboat, lies in shallow water just 100 yards offshore. Fifteen miles southeast of the big island, unpopulated Klein Curaçao offers day-trippers a complete castaway experience: shipwrecks, an old lighthouse, and more than a mile of flat, empty sands that are the longest in Curaçao. Mermaid Boat Trips does dive and snorkeling tours out to the island three days a week ($75 per person; 599-9-560-1530;

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