Island-hopper learns the ABC
“Don’t worry, we don’t get many sharks,” are the reassuring words of our guide ahead of my first ever snorkelling trip.
“Anyway, they’re only small,” quips the skipper of the trimaran, sensing my trepidation as we sail towards the dive site.
Flippers fitted and mask not too tight, I tentatively inch closer to the edge, peering into the crystal-clear water below.
After a few deep breaths and some words of encouragement I slowly lower myself into the warm water.
Within minutes all anxiety has disappeared and instead I am transfixed by the spectacular sights beneath the surface.
It’s a perfect introduction for a novice snorkeller and a first-time traveller to the Caribbean.
I am here to visit the ABC Islands - Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao - which form part of the Dutch Caribbean.
They lie on the southern fringes of the hurricane belt and are rarely affected by ferocious storms which lash other islands each year. Although British visitors tend to regard the ABC islands as ‘off the beaten track’, they are reached by direct flights from Amsterdam.
First port of call is Bonaire, which lies 30 miles from Curacao and 86 miles east of Aruba.
Within hours of arriving I am on the water. Under sail, we’d made our way towards a reef off a small uninhabited islet called Klein Bonaire which forms part of Bonaire National Marine Park.
We are guests of Woodwind Cruises, a family-run business, which offers a variety of guided sailing and snorkelling trips on the 37ft trimaran.
The majority of visitors are here for the scuba diving and snorkelling - it’s considered one of the finest spots in the world for underwater activities, with more than 55% of arrivals being repeat visitors.
A short 40-minute plane hop away is Aruba, a sun worshipper’s paradise with stunning, long, white, sandy beaches. Just 20 miles long and six miles wide, it has a population of only 120,000.
However, it does have some big-name hotels, a plethora of restaurant chains, coffee shops, bars, upmarket boutiques, casinos and the obligatory golf.
Our party hopped on board a giant catamaran for a three-hour cruise around the coast. We make two stops for those who want to snorkel - one at a shipwreck - and spend the rest of the time relaxing on deck.
The final stop on our tour is a 20-minute flight away. Curacao, famous for the sweet blue liqueur, has become one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean and was chosen as one of the top ten places to see in 2012 by Frommer’s.
Long, wooden boats from Venezuela arrive daily in the lively harbour to sell an array of fish direct from their decks, which makes for a bustling makeshift market place.
After a guided walking tour of the city’s highlights, we head west for one final ocean adventure with Go West Diving.
I snorkel into caves and clamber up cliffs before jumping into the sea, something I would never have been brave enough to do before.
Back on shore we head to the All West Apartments, where many seasoned divers choose to stay, and swap stories of our underwater adventures over a sunset barbecue.
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Weather for Ripley
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 12 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 8 C to 15 C
Wind Speed: 10 mph
Wind direction: North