Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island, is best-known for the iconic Dutch architecture of its UNESCO World Heritage downtown, turquoise palm-lined beaches, and world-class diving around expansive coral reefs teeming with marine life.
Here are the must-see things to do in Curacao.
1. The climate.
Curaçao is one of the Dutch ABC islands, along with its neighboring Aruba and Bonaire. 35 miles north of Venezuela and 12° north of the Equator, Curaçao has a sunny year-round climate in the mid-’80s, with cooling trade winds from the east.
2. The capital
Willemstad is rich in culture and diversity and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site – one of just six Caribbean sites to receive the honor in this category.
3. The bridge.
Willemstad is divided into two sections, Punda (“old side”) and Otrabanda (“other side”) which are connected by the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, a pedestrian-only walkway also known as “the Swinging Lady.”
4. The storybook photo ops.
Downtown Punda is one of the most widely photographed sites in the Caribbean, easily recognized by its gabled pastel-colored, red-roofed architecture, which lend it a storybook appeal.
5. The shopping.
Thousands of tourists are attracted to Punda each year, enticed by its beauty, myriad shops, and restaurants. The open-air market is a tourist favorite and many hotels have a free, daily shuttle that runs into town.
6. The floating market.
Each morning Venezuelan vendors delivery fresh fruit, vegetables, spices, and fish to this busy market in Punda. To get the best and freshest wares, it’s best to get here early in the morning.
7. The beaches.
Curaçao’s beaches are scattered along the sheltered eastern coast. The cove at Playa Kenepa, with its crystal clear turquoise waters, is my favorite. Beware of the rocky sand dotted with pieces of coral that you’ll find common to Curaçao’s beaches; a stroll along the shore is nice but best done in flip-flops or water shoes.
8. The scuba diving.
As for under the water you’ll find some of the best diving in the Caribbean, with visibility of up to 100 feet, myriad marine life, coral, and sunken wrecks. There are more than 65 dive sites to choose from, for first-time to expert divers, from shore dives to boat dives. Read about my Curaçao mother-and-son scuba diving adventure in The Momiverse.
9. The Ostrich Farm.
Landlubbers will enjoy Curaçao’s museums, plantation houses, forts, caves, Christoffel Park and even an ostrich farm where you can feed these amazing animals, and if you call ahead to make a reservation, may even get to ride one! Read about my ostrich feeding experience in WaveJourney (hint: I fed them, then they “fed” me!)
10. The accommodations.
My favorite place to stay is the Marriott Curaçao Resort & Emerald Casino. You are immediately beckoned by its open-air lobby, filled with crosswinds, overstuffed furniture, and stunning panoramic ocean views. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries/islands and a majority of the United States, and few resorts have given me better attention or service than what I received of hotel manager John Toti and his super-friendly staff. Our corner one-bedroom suite had an extra-large terrace with a sweeping ocean vista. The pool was always sparkling clean and we loved the complimentary water-yoga classes.
We split our stay with the Renaissance Marriott. The newly renovated lobby is filled with contemporary and colorful décor. Our oversized suite was fabulous, and their man-made infinity beach was a technical wonder.
11. The Rif Fort.
The Renaissance Marriott shares Rif Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fort was originally built in the 19th century to protect Curaçao from pirates and invaders. The old fort is a fun place to spend an afternoon and houses shops and eateries.
12. Boca Tabla.
A short hike to this large grotto, carved out by the sea, offers an opportunity to watch and listen to the waves smashing against the rocks beneath a limestone outcropping, spraying water in all directions.
13. The Chichi® dolls.
Each of these whimsical sculptures is a hand-painted original by the local women in Curaçao. These voluptuous clay sculptures open their arms as if to draw you into a loving embrace. “Chichi,” in the Papiamento indigenous language of Curaçao, means “an eldest daughter, sister, or female relative to whom younger family members would go to for advice or emotional support.” Read more about the incredible Chichi® project in my article published in Travel Dreams Magazine.
14. Punda at night.
The fairytale façade of downtown Punda is just as dramatic at night, as bright lights shine on the buildings making the skyline nothing short of magical.
15. The food.
Curaçao has a lot of great restaurants, many with stunning ocean views to keep your attention while you eat. There are many varieties of fresh fish which are not to be missed. Do be advised, however, that your fish will most likely be looking back at you.
My nearly voracious sweet tooth was in happy heaven, especially with the delectable key lime pie.
And did I mention the honey-granola-yogurt parfait? It’s what’s for breakfast!
Interesting note: most of the tourists on Curacao were from Europe, especially Holland and Germany. We did not run into many fellow travelers from the U.S. It seems Americans have yet to discover this terrific island. Have you been?
- Currency: Netherlands Antillean florin (NAf), also called a guilder. US$ accepted.
- History: Discovered in 1499 by Alonso de Ojeda, lieutenant of Christopher Columbus
- Language: Dutch, Spanish, English, and Papiamentu – a combination of the three major languages and an African dialect. English is widely spoken.
- Time: Atlantic standard time, 1 hour ahead of eastern standard time
- Water: Safe to drink
- Weather: Avg. temp 81°F, avg. rainfall 22″ year.