Christoffel National Park, Curaçao
Mt Christoffel, rising 1,227 feet above the scenic scrubland of Curaçao, presents the hiker with the challenge of climbing to the highest point on the island—an opportunity no serious hiker can resist.
The mountain, also referred to as Chistoffelberg, is the shiniest jewel in the crown of Christoffel National Park—a nature park that combines wild beauty and amazing historical sites. The park highlights the island’s desert-like terrain and has protected a large variety of native wildlife and plants for over thirty years—it is the island’s largest nature reserve and a great place to discover Curaçao’s unique flora and fauna.
There are two starting points for climbing Mount Christoffel—you can begin your hike at the Visitor Center or at the parking area near the base of the mountain. If you have a car, we recommend beginning at the parking area—otherwise, you must hike along the road from the visitor center located on Weg Naar Westpunt. At a slow pace, it will take about thirty minutes to reach the parking area on foot—so leave early because it will be to your advantage to climb the mountain as early in the day as possible. The route is exposed to the sun and it skirts the leeward, out of the wind, side of the mountain—so you won’t have the benefit of a cooling breeze for most of the hike. Obviously, it is faster to drive to the parking area, which in turn allows for an earlier start—from the entrance just follow the Mountain Car Route, and then take the first left. This turnoff is known as the Bergbeklimmersroute, or short-cut to Christoffel Mountain—if you want to see the rest of the driving route, you will have to drive the loop again after your climb, as it is a one-way route.
We drove to the parking area, had a laugh at a yellow warbler who was attacking his reflection in the side-view mirror of a parked car, gathered our gear and set off on the trail—the footpath initially follows the large rooi (overflow) Beru upstream—the rooi crosses the trail three times. In this area, you will encounter trees such as Manchineel—with its toxic sap—acacia or divi divi trees, cacti, rubber vine, and quite likely several bird species. The birds most likely to be encountered are dove, rufous-collared sparrows, bananaquits, grassquits, and warblers.
After leaving the rooi the trail gains some elevation, and as you climb higher take note of the change in vegetation—higher up the absence of thorny plant species becomes evident. Views begin to open up a little and you get a nice look at Mt Christoffel as you continue your ascent—keep an eye on the ground as well, because whiptail lizards and anoles scatter in all directions.
En route, you will also notice the abundance of teku, or bromeliad, covering large patches under trees and shrubs—the leaves of this plant are thick and solid, similar to aloe, with hooked thorns on the edges. When these plants are flowering the inner leaves turn bright red—providing a fantastic splash of color to the mostly green landscape. Beard moss and other lichens are also quite visible trailside, indicating yet another climate transition—this time into a slightly more humid micro-climate.
Shortly, you reach a relatively flat open area with incredible views both across the national park land and of the summit—while resting and taking in the view at this overlook, we noticed the bright white blooms of the Lady of the night orchid. The flowers are creamy white and spread a strong scent at night, which attracts bats that in turn pollinate the plant—quite an exciting find.
Continuing our ascent of the mountain, we passed two concrete benches—a nice place to stop for a snack—admiring along the way the colorful blooms of the morning glory, the intense work ethic of the leaf-cutter ants, an iguana basking on a tree branch, and a hummingbird busily feeding on the nectar of a flower. Many other birds, such as the Caribbean parakeet, troupials, and yellow orioles, entertained us as well.
Gradually, climbing becomes more difficult as the trail becomes steeper and steeper—eventually requiring the use of handholds. Thankfully, a few well-placed trees—their bark worn smooth by the hundreds of hands that have used them as leverage—aid in climbing some of the steeper sections. The remainder of the trail to the summit is exposed and blazed in yellow and blue to assure hikers that they are still on the correct route—if heights bother you, you might find this section intimidating.
Just shy of the summit, you will find yourself surrounded by Clusia trees—this group of about twenty trees is commonly called the Clusia wood and this is the only place this subtropical tree grows on the island. You will instantly recognize that you have reached the Clusia wood when you look around and see a curtain of roots streaming down from the canopy—this unfamiliar ecosystem envelops the hiker in a wooden web, giving the last part of the climb a prehistoric feel.
The final scramble to the top, and the eventual descent along the same route, will most certainly find you using both hands and feet to navigate the scramble—gloves would greatly reduce the possibility of cutting your hands on the jagged silica-rich rocks of the Knip group. Silica, the main rock found in the Knip Group—the second oldest rock found on Curaçao— is tremendously hard and in turn has created all of the higher hills in the park, including Mount Christoffel. Pick and I were both without gloves and ended up paying the price with several small cuts on our hands—damn that Knip group.
A few scratches on our hands was a small price to pay for the reward of standing on Curaçao’s highest point—spectacular views spread out in every direction, and the cooling breeze of the trade winds refreshed our tired bodies. We explored the rocky summit, complete with a trig point, for several minutes before sitting down to take in the exquisite Caribbean panorama. On clear days, ours was a little hazy, you can see Bonaire and its highest mountain Subi Brandaris, and even Venezuela to the east—closer to home you have a bird’s eye view of the table mountain of St. Hironimus, Santa Martha Bay, the north coast with its crashing waves, and Seru Gracia and its summit relay-station.
After taking one last view from the summit we made our way back down the mountain, catching a glimpse of the shy Curaçao deer deep within the trees of the rooi—we felt quite lucky to have spotted a few of these rare animals, let alone to have experienced the grandeur of the top of Curaçao.