Melting Point . . .
Where tropical charm, Latin excitement, a proud African heritage and European style create the perfect blend – welcome to Curacao.
On a clear day in Curacao – and that means most days – you can see Venezuela a few miles across the sea in South America. But don’t spend too much time looking. There’s more than enough to see and do in this large, lively island that has for centuries been a cultural and trading crossroads.
Curacao is where tropical charm, Latin excitement, a proud African heritage and European style meet. When you hear Salsa and Merengue on the buses and glimpse the Latin style and verve of the islanders, you’ll know you’re not very far from South America. Neither, culturally, will you be that far from the Old World.
The Dutch merchants who colonised the island and built the capital, Willemstad, had the brightly coloured houses and warehouses designed to remind them of their homes in Amsterdam. Add in the migrants and traders who settled in Curacao from the rest of the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia – it is estimated the island is home to 50 nationalities – and you have the recipe for a relaxed and cosmopolitan melting pot that offers everything for the perfect tropical vacation.
Sunbathers will find 38 popular beaches, from large strands to secluded suntraps cut into the rocks on the craggy coast, while the Curacao Underwater Park is a haven for divers and snorkelers – a 12-mile (19km) reef with coral beds, wall and shallow wrecks. Water sports such as fishing, windsurfing and water-skiing are major island activities, as is golf. For exciting after-dark entertainment, there are smart casinos, discos and dozens of restaurants offering Caribbean and international cuisines.
Curacao is an island of Salsa, Jazz and Tumba – a local speciality. Curacao’s annual Salsa Festival and Jazz Festival are among the highlights of events each year. And during February’s Carnival Week the streets and beaches really are alive with the sound of music. The islanders do not need an excuse to party, but if they did, there are any number of religious and community events that are celebrated with music and dance.
The largest of the ABC islands and the administrative centre of the Netherlands Antilles, this Caribbean beauty spot remains relatively unknown outside the Netherlands, but those who like a little sightseeing with their sunshine, Curacao is perfect. The fascinating Dutch architecture, museums, churches and colourful waterfront buildings of Willemstad are very picturesque and deserve exploration.
Whether it’s laying back on a secluded white sandy beach, exploring world-class dive sites, unique family attractions, historic monuments, museums, golf and more, Curacao is sure to please. Perhaps you’d like to discover a secluded white sand cove or ride horseback through a National Park. In the backcountry – kunuku – there is a 10-square-mile nature preserve which has species of flora and fauna found no where else in the Caribbean. Eco-tourists, hikers, riders and cyclists alike will enjoy exploring the various trails in the 4,500-acre (18 sq. km) Christoffel National Park to see protected Iguanas and tiny Curacao deer.
You can take in the island’s ostrich farm and sea aquarium – one of the region’s largest – where they can swim with lemon sharks. In the city centre, visitors can amble through alleyways, discovering hidden corners, shops and cafes for themselves. Alternatively, knowledgeable local guides will explain Willemstad’s history and architecture. There’s even a city train tour. Explore the coves and remote beaches of Bandabou by Beach Express Bus.
The Beach Express is hand-painted brightly coloured open-air bus, which will take you to the crystal-clear waters around the west coast of the island. Snorkeler’s will love the Beach Express, which delivers travellers to the more remote west coast, via the scenic route. Both reefs and wrecks abound and there is diving and snorkelling from the beach. If you can drag yourself away from the water for long enough, visit Curacao’s capital. Willemstad dates back from the Dutch capture of Curacao in 1634 and its historic centre is one of the few cities on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Its splendid architecture, colourful buildings and narrow alleyways are monuments to a fascinating past. The Willemstad pleasure train takes you through the heart of the city, then on to the picturesque district of Scharloo, stopping at the Mikve Israel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the western hemisphere. The Curacao Sea Aquarium is directly on the oceanfront with a healthy coral reef beside the entrance.
The complex is one of the most unique in the world because its ‘open-water system’, which means that seawater is continuously pumped into the aquaria. At the west end of the island is the impressive Christoffel Park, home to Mt. Christoffel (377m), the island’s highest point, as well as dozens of species of trees and plants, birds, lizards and sea life. Visitors can hike, cycle, horse ride or even take a moonlit tour of the park. Old coral reefs emerged out of the sea when volcanic Curacao was formed, creating the Hato Caves. Guided tours take guests through the caves’ different chambers to see Stalagmites still being formed, a drop at a time. The Floating Market is a colourful string of Venezuelan boats and yachts, where merchants come to sell their wares. Fresh fruit, fish, vegetables and handicrafts are somehow sold amid good-humoured chaos. Landhuizen or Country houses were built in the 17th century and can be seen dotted around the countryside. Many are open to visitors and offer a glimpse of Curacao’s past.
Wining and Dining
You must try the famous blue, orange, red, green and clear liqueurs made in Curacao from the bitter Laraha oranges grown on trees imported by the Spanish from Valencia. The brightly coloured liqueur is made on the island at the Curacao Liqueur Distillery. Visitors are welcome, but be warned you may need the hangover tablets the following morning.
The Iguana Café
(+599 9 465 2982), on the waterfront at Hanelskade (next to Queen Emma Bridge) is one of the few places in Punda where you can enjoy a light dinner at a reasonable price. The menu includes sandwiches and Dutch specialities and it’s a great place to watch the cruise ships and tankers pass by.
The Rasta Hut
Columbusstraat, Punda, is a friendly and very reasonably priced place to enjoy wings, chicken and others fast food dishes while listening to reggae.
Ostrich and other African dishes are the speciality at the Zambezi Restaurant (+5999 747 2777). Located at the Curacao Ostrich Farm, Groot St Joris West; it’s a great place for something slightly different, most main courses are around US$20. Reservations are recommended.
Tu Tu Tango
(+599 9 461 7888) is hidden away in a small alley behind the theatre on Plasa Mundo Merced, Scharloo; this is one of the few places in the city open for dining seven days a week. Seafood dishes, steaks and sandwiches cost around US$15. An excellent buffet is offered every Wednesday night for US$39.50. You can also just munch on Tapas, which cost US$3 -8.00.
Where to Stay
You’ll have no problem finding a place to stay in Curacao; there are plenty of hotels and dive resorts on the island.
Kura Hulanda, langestraat 8, Otrobanda (+5999 434 770, www. Kurahulanda.com). This fabulous hotel near the Queen Emma Bridge, features restored architecture and a mix of eighteenth and nineteenth century styles. The 80 rooms are luxurious and welcoming and there are four great restaurants on site. From over US$250.
Habitat Curacao (+599 717 8290, www. Habitatdiveresorts .com) is 30 minutes northwest of Willemstad near Rif. St Marie. Attractive two storey apartments set alongside a small beach. Spacious rooms come complete with kitchenettes, air conditioning, a terrace and or balcony – many of them overlooking the ocean. There’s a pool, restaurant and bar on site, as well as a professionally run dive shop with boat excursions to nearby reefs. From US$130 – 160.
Hotel Mira Punda (+599 9 524 0172) is in a good location on Van de Brandhofstraat 12, Scharloo, next to the Maritime Museum and the ferry to Bonaire. Ten simple rooms with fans, some with shared bath. From up to US$25.00.
A Full Passport and a Return Ticket.
The official language is Dutch, although both English and Spanish are widely spoken. The local patois is ‘Papiamento’, a version of Creole, only spoken in the ABC islands.
Antillean Guilder & US Dollars are accepted.
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