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Klein Curaçao: the ghostly Dutch island home to a lonely lighthouse, shipwrecks, graves and a creepy past

4 min read

Although it is located in the middle of the Caribbean and is surrounded by breathtaking coral reefs, Klein Curaçao (little Curaçao) has little of a dream vacation. You can see: a dilapidated lighthouse, numerous shipwrecks and graves, all silent witnesses to the small island’s terrible past.

The 1.7 square kilometers barren and uninhabited island in the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao is a popular destination for divers and snorkelers.
It is not know exactly when it was first discovered, but officially it was first put on the map in 1871 by a British mining engineer named John Godden, who discovered that there was a rich amount of phosphate on the island, left behind by wild birds that used it as their breeding ground. In these days, phosphate was in popular demand being used in Europe as an ingredient for cattle food and fertilizer. In fifteen year’s time over ninety tons of phosphate was harvested and exported to Europe, and this lead to major changes in its landscape, leaving it a barren and uninhabitable island.

The island also played a part in the slave trade, and the Dutch West India Company brought many slaves from Africa to Curaçao.
In the worst of times, from around 1640 to 1740, more than 300 ships were in service sailing from the west coast of Africa to the Caribbean – each with up to 600 slaves on board. It was not uncommon for illnesses to break out on board these ships, where hundreds of people lived under the worst hygienic conditions. Since sick slaves could not be sold and in order to stop the spread of diseases, before they came ashore in Curaçao, they were placed in quarantine at Klein Curaçao, and the remains of this first quarantine building can still be found in the northwest of the island. The slaves, and other passengers who did not survive the voyage, were buried there, and in fact there are several graves in the southern part of the island.
The Dutch West India Company, in addition to being able to use the island for quarantine purposes with their slave ships, were also granted the ability to hunt monk seal on the island – another devastating endeavor due to the animal being highly endangered.

But Klein Curaçao is also home to another attraction: a crumbling, 22 meters-tall lighthouse, which has become the island’s landmark.
The strong winds from the northeast and currents around the island already in the 19th century led to the wish to build a lighthouse. In 1849 the Prince Hendrik Lighthouse was built, but in 1877 it was completely destroyed by unforgiving hurricanes. Because of its importance, the lighthouse was rebuilt immediately in that same year.
Completed in 1879 as a replacement to the original structure, it was rebuilt again in 1913 and It was home to fearless keepers, who stayed in the adjoining rooms, without running water or electricity, but now stands alone in disrepair the center of the island.
The wooden stairs to the top of the lighthouse are still intact, as are the two keeper’s houses flanking it. The once painted a vibrant coral pink lighthouse was abandoned decades ago but the light itself was reactivated in 2008 with a solar-power LED beacon that flashes every 15 seconds.

Because of the many shipwrecks, putting the lighthouse back to work was more than necessary: despite all the technologies we use today, Klein Curaçao is still a very difficult island to maneuver around.
This is a low, flat island which makes it difficult to spot from the bridge of a ship, and it has even been called “a worthless cliff” and “stands in the way traffic on the ocean”, because of many shipwrecks due the very strong currents and the unforgiving north-east winds. This combination of wind and current makes it very difficult for even the best of captains to steer their ship around the island.
Recently, in 1982 a large oil tanker, the Maria Bianca Guidesman, stranded on the windward side of the island. And not only ships, but also yachts have fallen victim to its unfriendly waters.

Today, day trips are offered by several companies operating out of neighboring Curaçao that sail to the island by catamaran.
A visit to Klein Curaçao is a visit to a remote, ghostly island, surrounded by clear waters where for many years the principal profession was piracy.
And where all you will have for company are shipwrecks, graves, turtles, lizards, and a beautifully faded pink lighthouse, gradually falling into ruin….

Images from web – Google Research