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Curacao's eastern neighbor, Bonaire, may be the region's most popular dive site, but with 55 species of hard coral, 35 species of soft coral, and countless fish species, diving in Curacao is on the rise. You won't find the plunging walls that you might see elsewhere, but the gently sloping reefs on the western end and steeper reef systems off the eastern side make for an epic, beginner-friendly diving environment.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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If you go diving in Curacao, chances are it'll be with Ocean Encounters. Based out of Lions Dive and Beach Resort, they're big operators on the island, offering two-tank trips twice daily, along with daytrips to the eastern satellite island Klein Curacao and an exclusive diving excursion with the Dolphin Academy at the Curacao Sea Aquarium.  
Credit: courtesy, Ocean Encounters 
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During a recent visit, I was fortunate enough to hook up with Ocean Encounters for four dives over the course of two days. The first stop, Barracuda Point, got its name from the territorial barracuda that frequently ply its waters. We didn't see any that day, but the coral formations (like this brain coral) were spectacular.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Also known as Punt'i Piku, the Barracuda dive site lies across the channels of Barbara Beach, near the mouth of Spanish Water. It's reachable from the shore and thus makes for a popular spot for snorkelers as well as divers.  
Credit: courtesy, Ocean Encounters 
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After a surface interval of about 40 minutes (time given to let the nitrogen in your blood air out), we dropped in at Sandy's Plateau, our second dive. It's named in honor of a red-headed diving instructor who's since left the island. Brain and star coral can be found on the steep wall that drops off the plateau, with huge swaths of sponge coral (pictured) branching out from the main reef.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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One of the Ocean Encounters dive masters strikes a comfortable pose at the end of our dive at Sandy's Plateau. All divers must execute a 'stop time' before surfacing, typically for three minutes at 15 feet, so that your body can equalize the nitrogen your blood absorbs while deeper down.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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The next day we headed out to Klein Curacao, a tiny, mostly deserted island about two hours by boat from the mainland. En route, we stopped for our first dive at East Point, a site just off the eastern tip of Curacao, where we encountered teams of angel fish.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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When we surfaced from East Point, a huge school of pink flamingos were carving across the sky.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Flamingos are not native to Curacao, but they fly in from Bonaire and Venezuela to dine on the shrimp that congregate on the island's salt flats. So your best bet to see flamingos on the island is likely on land at Jan Thiel Bay. I just got lucky.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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Then we went onto Klein Curacao, dropping in about 30 feet off the sandy beach. Unlike mainland Curacao, here divers can find a wall that links up to a large cave where nurse shark typically congregate at around 100 feet. As this was our second dive, we stayed at around 60 feet, however, where I spotted this small eel.  
Credit: Nathan Borchelt 
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I unfortunately didn't get to visit Mushroom Forest dive site (pictured here), one of Curacao's best, and one that I will definitely check out some day. The bases of mountainous star coral have been eroded into narrow stalks that blossom into mushroom-shaped caps, and schools of silversides swim alongside divers.  
Credit: courtesy, Ocean Encounters 
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The Superior Producer site, an epic wreck dive, is another one of Curacao's best. The 200-foot-long ship—which was hauling a cargo of liquor, clothing, perfume, luggage, and wallets—sank in 1977, its hull now at 110 feet. It's also easily accessible by shore and offers dramatic underwater photo ops.  
Credit: courtesy, Ocean Encounters 
 
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