I stepped out of the airport and immediately felt the warm breeze. It was one of the first things I discovered about Curacao (map) when I visited the island many years ago: it’s always breezy. It took a while to finally return to this beautiful island in the Caribbean but feeling that breeze again brought back lots of great memories.
Curaçao is a long island with a coastline that’s indented with numerous bays and coves. Its capital, Willemstad, is situated on both sides of St. Anna Bay, a channel of water that leads to the immense Schottegat harbour. Formally part of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao was one of five territories (that included Aruba, Bonaire, Saba, St. Eustasius and Sint Maarten) administered by the Netherlands. In 2010, the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved and these days, Curacao is a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is one of the wealthiest islands in the Caribbean. The 150,000 islanders speak Papiamentu, a blend of Portuguese, Dutch, English and other African influences, but Dutch and English are also widely spoken.
Things to do and where to stay in Curacao
There are lots of things to do in Curacao in addition to lounging at the beach or going snorkelling/scuba-diving. The best way to explore the island is simply to hire a car and drive around. On my previous visits, I drove to every corner of the island, exploring the little coves and villages, and discovering little beaches which only the locals know of. This time around, I chose a more relaxed pace, spending several days at Jan Thiel in the eastern part of the island and a few more days at Lagun, in the more secluded western end of the island.
Curacao is popular as a beach and water-sports destination, with some of the best diving spots in the Caribbean. The larger popular beach resorts are concentrated in several areas close to Willemstad, such as Mambo Beach, Piscadera and Jan Thiel. I can recommend the Avila Hotel, Floris Suite Hotel and Papagayo Beach Hotel.
However, explore the island and you’ll find many gorgeous beaches such as Daibooi Beach, Playa Portomari, Playa Santa Cruz, Playa Cas Abou, Kenepa Beach and Playa Lagun.
There’s much more on the island to discover. Here are several suggestions:
- Stroll around Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Check out the markets, the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue (dating from 1692, the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas), the restored historic Kura Holanda quarter in Otrobanda and walk across the unique Queen Emma pontoon bridge. My favourite thing to do is sit at the terrace of the Gouverneur Café/Restaurant in Otrobanda and watch the ships pass by and the Queen Emma Bridge open and close.
- Visit the ‘landhuizen‘ (or historic estates/plantations) scattered across the island, many of which have been converted into museums, B&Bs or restaurants. My favourites are Klein Santa Martha (now a lovely boutique hotel), Landhuis Jan Kok (an art gallery), Groot Santa Martha (a handicraft workshop for the disabled) and Landhuis Papaya.
- Walk through the impressive Hato Caves. The caves are also home to ancient drawings.
- Stop at the salt marshes with flamingoes at Jan Kok. While you’re there, check out the gorgeous art gallery at the Jan Kok Landhuis which overlooks the salt marshes or salinas.
- Admire the beautiful flora and fauna at the Christoffel National Park (with the Christoffelberg, at 375m, the island’s highest point). You can climb to the peak but get there early in the morning (before 11am) when it’s cooler.
- Hike along the rugged north coast with its cliffs, blowholes and thundering waves at Shete Boka National Park or Boca Tabla.
- Join a day cruise to Klein Curacao, a small uninhabited picture-perfect island with glorious beaches and crystal-clear water.
One thing you’ll soon notice is that there’s so much colour on the island, from the brilliant blue of the Caribbean Sea to the bright, cheery colours of the houses in the countryside and the buildings that line the Punda waterfront in Willemstad. The colours sure add a distinct charm to the island… and never fail to put a smile on my face.
After a day of exploring, the best thing to do is grab a cocktail, dig your toes in the sand and enjoy the sunset… because the sunsets here are simply stunning!
Curacao has an international airport with direct daily flights from major hubs in the USA, Amsterdam and Venezuela. In addition, there are frequent flights from Canada, Germany, Brazil, Colombia and the other Dutch Caribbean islands like Aruba and St. Maarten. Many of the major car hire brands have their offices at the airport. Curacao is also a popular stop for major American and European cruise lines.
The currency used is the Antillian guilder but US dollars are also widely accepted. There are ATMs all over the island.
Visit Tourism Curacao for more info.