The crème de la crème of underwater Curaçao is the Mushroom Forest off the northwest coast near the village of Lagun. The magic mushrooms here are towering stands of coral heads (mostly star and brain corals) in about 50 feet of water. For an added bonus, swim toward shore, where in about 20 feet of water you’ll find an entrance to a large underwater grotto carved from the seacliffs. Known as the Mushroom Cave, it’s spectacular – and it’s safe (you can surface inside).
Spend a day in the Old World setting of the Punda district, with a stop at the lively floating market, where boats from Venezuela sell fresh fish and produce. Curaçao’s new Maritime Museum is near the market, and a short stroll away is a drawbridge that leads to Scharloo, whose restored mansions are a World Heritage site. Then hire a guide for a walking tour of Otrabanda’s maze of narrow alleys and colorful buildings. Have lunch in a waterfront restaurant with a view across the harbor entrance toward Punda – and Handelskade, the city’s most picturesque row of Dutch colonial buildings.
Skip the wooden shoes (would you really wear them?) and light up those Cuban cigars before you board the plane for the U.S. But if you don’t mind a little extra weight in the suitcase, pack one of the ubiquitous 5-pound wheels of Gouda and Edam cheeses. Jewelry and fashions are good buys here, but a good Gouda is a treasure.