Just 65 km north of Venezuela lies the small Caribbean island of Curacao. The origin of the name appears lost, but the name has been given to its famous liquor, Blue Curacao. But liquor is only one of its many attributes. Golf is another, beaches is yet another, and so is the iconic capital city, Willemstad – a World Heritage site.
Curaçao is one of the Dutch ABC islands – Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao. Once there, you’ll see the island is more desert than tropical. Dutch is spoken first before English. Papiamentu is the language of the locals – a mix of Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. The Curacao currency is the Netherlands Antillean Guilder, which is still used on Curaçao and Saint Maarten. The Dutch Guilder was replaced by the Euro in 2002, so the Antillean Guilder is a little different. American dollars also work, but you’ll get Guilders as change.
The buildings downtown sport a dazzling array of colour because, as the story goes, King Willem I, who suffered from major headaches, thought that the sun reflecting off the white buildings was the cause of his headaches so he ordered that everyone paint their houses yellow, orange, blue, pink, or green and the shingles also had to be made out of clay and painted orange. The story also goes on to say that the King had a major share in the one and only paint store on the island. How convenient.
The waterfront, known as the Handelskade, is home to many of the multi-coloured buildings that remind one of the Dutch influence on this part of the Caribbean. While it’s a terrific island to visit, tourism is not its main industry. An oil refinery on the island and offshore banking rank one and two, with tourism in third place. This means that Curaçao is not overrun with tourists, which is another reason to go!
Speaking of the refinery, during our stay we noticed oil smells wafting occasionally on the breeze, so we recommend staying on the southeast side of the island if you think this might bother you.
When you arrive you’ll notice that there are no street signs so you need to download a Curacao maps app. The locals advised maps.me which operates offline. By the way, we suggest you rent a car to get around rather than depend on taxis or the bus.
What to see when you go
Flamingos inhabit the island in great numbers.You can see them if you drive towards Kokomo Beach – one of the islands 35 beaches – where hundreds of them gather.
Check out the oldest Jewish cemetery Beth Haim. Founded in 1659, it has the oldest grave in the Americas. They also have Muslim and Catholic cemeteries. The Catholic tombs are painted in bright colours, similar to the houses.
Christoffelpark is a great place to go hiking. Its quite exposed so for typical Curacao weather, bring a hat and plenty of water.
Get your green bottle of rum, Rom Berde, at the Netto bar, the oldest pub on Curaçao. The green rum is a delicacy and the locals drink it with coconut water.
Be sure to visit the abandoned Pietermaai Mansions. These mansions were the homes of the wealthy colonists within the area. Prior to the slave trade, the island of Curaçao was home to piracy. The area of Pietermaai was saved for the bankers and ships captains of the Dutch West India Company. After the Dutch abolished slavery in 1863 the fortunes began to fade and the mansions were abandoned. In the last 10 years the area is becoming more revitalized turning the mansions into new bed and breakfasts, restaurants and bars.
A half-hour drive south of Willemstad sits the wreck of an Air Aruba aircraft. Sitting in the jungle, nobody knows how it got there. It didn’t crash, but it is thought the owners wanted to turn it into a restaurant and built next to it. We’re sure they wanted to serve “plain” food, but the idea “didn’t get off the ground.” The forest is slowly claiming it.
Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge is the only pontoon bridge still around. At one time you had to pay a toll to cross the bridge but if you weren’t wearing shoes your could cross for free.
Curaçao is also home to the Kura Hulanda Museum or Slavery Museum. Curaçao was a main port into the Americas from Africa. The ships would stop at Klein Curaçao, a nearby island, drop off the sick slaves then travel into Curaçao where they were bought and sold.
We couldn’t resist getting a local T-shirt that read, “I’m Super Dushi!” In English that might cause a double take, but on Curaçao it’s a compliment. It means a number of things such as beautiful or wonderful, so when on the island, don’t be afraid to be a little Dushi!
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Want to learn more?
Check several sources for flights, hotels, cars and the like from where you live. It’s amazing how different prices can be between them. For our trip we flewon Air Canada via Toronto direct to the island. While there we chose a resort through hotels.com. For other trips we’ve used Expedia, hotels.com and VRBO.
A Word About Our Partners
To help you on your way, we’ve partnered with several top travel and resource companies, listed below. And be sure to check out our cheap flights page for tips on finding the best flight for your next trip. For Curacao hotels, we used hotels.com or check out our link for VRBO Curacao along the right side of the page to find accommodation perfect for you, or you can take a look at that option here. Another non-hotel option is Home Away.
For flights, we have used Expedia to book trips, and OneTravel is another great option to find the best flights.