Howdy! I must say that if you have not yet visited Curacao, you are missing out on one beautiful island getaway!
To help me show you exactly what you’re missing I recently had the pleasure of welcoming Chandra Smouse from the Curacao Tourism Board to one of my video chats to share all of the amazingness that is Curacao as only Chandra can!
So, let’s not waste any time getting ourselves acquainted with this piece of paradise – fasten your seat belts because we are taking off for the Caribbean!
A Little Background On Curacao
First, Chandra started with a hearty Bon Bini – which means welcome in Dutch – which also happens to be the language that that they speak on the island and then a masha danki which means Good afternoon, how are you? in Papiamento – the language of Curacao. But she advised that they but speak many other languages other than Papiamento / Dutch – which is the official language as they are Dutch citizens and carry Euro passports – and that English and Spanish are widely spoken here as well. Next, we had a little pronunciation lesson where we learned the correct way to pronounce Curacao which is CURE-a-SOO not Cur-a-CO.
Now Curacao is a tiny Caribbean island – just 171 square miles and home to 160,000 people. It is located in the Caribbean Sea in what is called the Dutch Caribbean and is a part of the ABC islands. Chandra explained that the A stands for a very famous island – her sister island – Aruba and the B is for Bonaire. Then she cheekily added that today we are going to talk about Curacao because that is the C you must see and there’s more to see at the C that just the sea!
Chandra also pointed out a very important fact about Curacao – that it is one of the few Caribbean islands that are NOT in the hurricane belt. They are actually on the outer fringes of it, so hurricanes bypass them. But she did add an interesting fact – she said they do know when there is a hurricane in the area because they feel it! And the reason that we will feel it is because when there are disturbances in the Caribbean it gets very hot because the hurricane sucks all the air and the winds away from them. Who knew?
The Capital of Curacao
There are many cities on the island to visit but the most famous one is the capital, Willemstad. Willemstad is a unique city and a lot of people become aware of it when they cruise as it is a popular stop for the major cruise lines. It is one of the most picturesque cities in the Caribbean and when you see it you would think that it is somewhere in Europe – like southern France or Spain or Portugal – but it’s no its Curacao, in the Caribbean with 365 days of beautiful weather!
Willemstad is home to three bridges all named after previous queens of, but the most famous one is the Queen Emma Bridge. The Queen Emma Bridge is also known as the “Swinging Old Lady” and that is because it sways as you are walking on it thanks to the fact that it is a floating bridge. It stays afloat on 16 pontoons that actually look like little boats lined up under it. And Chandra warned that when you are walking in Willemstad, and you hear a siren and then see people running in both directions – don’t be afraid – it is just a sign that the bridge is about to swing open for a boat to enter the harbor – and sometimes those boats are cruise ships sailing right through the middle of the city by the way! She also said the locals don’t want to get caught on the bridge because sometimes it takes five minutes, but it can take up to 20 minutes. However, if you are a visitor and you have the time then by all means stay on the bridge and have it open up with you on it and then bring you back for a fun adventure!
The History Of Curacao
Chandra proudly advised us that since 1979 Curacao is on the UNESCO World Heritage List but it did take years for that to happen. One of the reasons of how they made this prestigious list is that they have the oldest Jewish synagogue in the Western Hemisphere on the island – and the story behind it is fascinating. When they built the synagogue, they brought in sand from Israel for the floors to signify the persecution of the Jewish people. You see, for years those of the Jewish faith were not allowed to get together for prayer service, and so they put sand on their floors to muffle their footsteps as they lived in dwellings where the first floor was a retail establishment, and the second floor was their residence. Hence the sand on their floor was for when they secretly met upstairs so no one would hear them walking around. In addition, the sand also signifies the Jewish people wondering for 40 years in the desert not knowing where to go.
Curacao also is home to the largest African-Caribbean museum and Chandra shared that this is there due in part to the fact that there is an ugly part to their history as well. She explained that the Dutch were in the slave trade, and it came about because when they would go to Africa and return with an empty ship, they were losing money. So instead of returning empty they would bring human cargo. Since Curacao was part of the Dutch Kingdom and they had a natural harbor, the ships would stop in Curacao and any people that survived the horrific passage would be fed, cleaned and auctioned off.
Then there was Simón Bolívar, the liberator of South America. He came to Curacao when he had to flee, and he brought his two sisters with him. He was a poor man when Curacao took him in, and a businessman gave him and his sisters a house to stay in. The house is still there, and it is also part of Curacao’s history. As Chandra exclaimed – who would believe that the liberator of South America was taken in and sheltered by the residents of Curacao.
Then there are the brightly colored houses. These are homes that people still live in today and they are absolutely out of a picture book. Chandra said that it is because they didn’t do away with these older homes, that they didn’t bulldoze them and replace them with modern buildings but instead restored them that they got listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. And she gushed that their culture and heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration and it is an honor to share it with the rest of the world and she loves to walk around and show her friends and guests on the island what Curacao is all about. She added that even if you’re in Curacao for a couple of days you should rent a car for a day and go out and explore and see these beautiful buildings. And by the way it is very easy to rent a car there – plus they drive on the right hand side so no problems with that and it is a small island. That being said – she advised that even though it’s small don’t think that you can do it just in one day – you need a little more time because there is so much to see and do.
In addition to those brightly colored houses there is a lot of street art to take in as well thanks to it being a big part of their culture. There’s an area right in town where you can walk and view all this beautiful artwork on your own – and many times the artists will walk along with you and explain their art – or you can participate in a guided walking tour. True living history experiences abound in Curacao!
The Beaches of Curacao
Chandra said that many times people will ask what’s the difference between Aruba and Curacao. Her answer? Curacao doesn’t have the long stretches of beaches like Aruba, but they do have over 35 beaches that are surrounded by cliffs, so that they become inlets or bays, and that means the water is calm throughout the entire year. The beaches are also classified in different ways. You have public beaches that you can just go, park your car and head down to the beach and relax. Then you have the private beaches which means that you have to pay a little per car or per person to enter, and then you have the full service beaches where you can have a place where you can change your clothes as well as a bar and restaurant to grab food and drinks. It all depends on what you’re looking for. But no matter which you choose the water is absolutely crystal clear because it rains very little there and thanks to their location away from the hurricane belt, they don’t have to worry about those torrential rains either so there is no polluted water going to the ocean. As Chandra so eloquently put it – they have 50 shades of blue not gray!
And Curacao is amazing for diving – so if you’re not PADI certified we certainly arrange for you that because in addition to the beautiful beaches there is beautiful wildlife and intriguing shipwrecks to see beneath the water. And they do all different types of diving – short dives, shipwrecks, drift dives – they offer it all. Then she joked that here she is in a little competition with her sister island Bonaire but noted that it is all the same water – it’s just that each island has its own personality. And – on a side note – you can always do a day trip to Bonaire while staying in Curacao – you go via seaplane and in 20 minutes you are there!
Accommodations on Curacao
There are all types of accommodations to be found from all-inclusives, to bed and breakfasts, to boutique properties to apartments to villas and bungalows – so really anything that you want we can find for you – it all depends on where you would like to be. For instance, do you want to be on the east side of the island, or do you want to be on the west side of the island – do you want to be closer to town or on the beach. And it’s not like it is just one stretch where you have all the hotels one after another – based on what you want we can match you to the accommodations that would best fit what you are looking for.
Curacao’s Gastronomy and Beverages
Thanks to the different cultures that they have on the island the food is fantastic and behind every dish there is a story – that is what Curacao is all about! And even if you choose all-inclusive accommodations be sure and venture out to try a local restaurant or two – you won’t be disappointed! Among the foods you can expect to find are Keshi Yena – which means stuffed cheese. This dish comes from the olden days when the Dutch would arrive on the island on ships that had been on the water for months. The cheese that they had with them would be moldy so they would pull it off and feed it to the slaves. Since the slaves never had enough to eat, they gladly took it and then whatever they had that day to make it tastier they would add to it – be it fish or chicken or whatever. It grew to become an iconic dish on the island that is now only served for special occasions so if you’re in Curacao you must try it. Then of course the fish – you must try the fried fish – and of course there’s an abundance of sea to table and farm to table options so you really will be eating as natural as possible. Then there are the yummy pumpkin fritters and Chandra noted that they come up with very creative foods such as those fritters and other sweets so be sure and stop by the vendors in town to taste some of them!
As for drinks – the infamous Blue Curacao liqueur originated here – and Chandra said its funny that people often drink it – not realizing it comes from an island in the Caribbean with the same name! It came about thanks to the Spaniards who were the first ones on the island. They brought Valencia oranges but because it didn’t rain a lot the oranges changed completely over the years. So much so that they were something that they couldn’t eat. But in reality, the Spanish were there looking for gold and silver – they didn’t like the island and felt it was too dry and so they decided it was a useless island and left. They did however leave the oranges behind, and they continued to grow, and nobody knew what to do with them – until somebody who was very innovative decided to extract the oil out of the peel of the orange. And from that they came up with Curacao liqueur which became a very guarded family secret. And while blue is the most well-known, it comes in all colors and Chandra said when you drink it, it kills all ills and then you feel it! And you can even visit the distillery to see it being made and get some free samples too – it’s housed in an absolutely beautiful plantation home from the 17th century.
The Nature of Curacao
The highest peak in Curacao is Saint Christopher and on a day that there aren’t too many clouds you can see the coast of Venezuela from it. It is absolutely beautiful, and you can hike it, or you can horseback ride up it. There are several trails to get to the top and Chandra shared that in her younger days they used to go climbing around 5:00am – because it takes about an hour and a half to two hours to get to the top – with flashlights – and then we would sit and wait for the sun to come up. Once the sun came up, they headed back down and to beach for the day. Sounds perfect!
According to Chandra, one must see is the bird plantation Dinah Veeris has on the island. She has studied the trees and herbs from the island and then instead of using the western medicine, she tells you what plants to use when you have a headache, or your hair is falling out or whatever your ailment may be. She learned the medicinal traditions of Curacao because they we didn’t want them to disappear. And Chandra noted that in reality that is what their parents had – there were no doctors to give you pills or anything – it was lotions and teas. That was the old way, and it is fun to go to her historical garden to learn about the old traditions that they have kept alive!
Between the mountains and the wildlife there’s much to see and there are just as many activities and water sports galore that you’ll have access to. You can even get out on the water and do yoga on paddle boards if you choose! And Curacao is still very exotic – it’s a little untouched and a great place to connect with nature. And Sandra agreed that Curacao is still undiscovered and unspoiled – they want to go along with changes but not too much change to their characteristics and personality.
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends travelers avoid all nonessential travel to Curacao. However, if you must go, make sure you are fully vaccinated before you travel.
What do you say? Let’s start planning your trip because before you know it the island is going to be hopping and we want to get you there before the crowds!
For more details on things to see and do in Curacao, where to stay, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!