A unique culture, hidden beaches and off-the-beaten-path experiences make this Dutch Caribbean island a best-kept secret. If the only Curaçao you know is the kind that’s mixed in a drink, take a look to see where you should be spending your next island vacation and the best things to do when you get there.
Jan Thiel Beach
Jan Thiel Beach is a tiny stretch of sand, but the appeal here lies in convenience (and sweater-wearing palm trees, of course). The colorful creations are a product of the new grafitti trend, “wild knitting”. Volunteers can ‘adopt’ a palm tree and suit it up in rainbow knit — just for kicks. After basking in the sun (be thankful you’re not wearing a sweater) and doing a little snorkeling, you can step right off the sand for an upscale dinner at Papagayo Restaurantn/facilities/restaurant.html”.
Doctor Fish at Amazonia
A foot massage given by fish? This I had to try. I plunge my feet into the pool at Amazonia, expecting a piranha-like attack. But instead I just can’t stop giggling. The tiny “Doctor Fish” buzz in between my toes, cleaning dead skin from the soles of my feet. I try not to think about the weird way I’m exfoliating, but the tiny vibrations are surprisingly relaxing. The fish are happy, I’m happy, and my feet are really happy — and quite smooth. A definite must for pedicure lovers.
The historic Rif Fort once guarded the entrance to Curacao, but now the soldier’s barracks hold a slew of shops, bars and dining venues. Bring your camera — the top of the fort’s walls offer a killer view of Willemstad.
It’s only 10 a.m., and I’m already at the Curacao Liqueur Factory. I haven’t even finished my coffee yet, but I embrace my inner Jimmy Buffett and try all the curacao flavors (twice) that are being hand-bottled in the open-air factory. The coffee and chocolate curacao mixed together is my favorite, but it’s the cooling menthol spray, Alcolado Glacial, (also bottled here) that keeps me awake all day.
Like everything else in Curacao, the distillery is laidback — no tours, no schedules, no worries. Just go, explore and taste.
Now I’ve seen it all. This floating pontoon bridge swings perpendicular across the harbor and opens and closes so ships can pass through — all in just a few minutes. (The “Swinging Old Lady” has also been nominated for the 8th wonder of the world.)
No menus here. Jaanchie, the owner, will rattle off a list of his specials for the day. Our pick? Just tell him to bring out his favorite. It’s a little bit of everything, including the island’s rumored aphrodisiac — iguana. Don’t think about it. Just try it.
Even if you’ve never been to the capital city of Willemstad, you’ve likely seen the colorful postcard-perfect section of Handelskade perched along Santa Anna Bay. It’s a vibrant reminder of Curaçao’s Dutch heritage, as well as a favorite photo-op for professional photographers and Instagrammers alike.
Nothing makes me feel like I’m on an island more than fresh tropical fruit. At the Floating Markets in Punda, boats from Venezuala and Colombia bring in a colorful smorgasbord of fruits, vegetables and the day’s fresh catch. It’s tempting to buy produce by the satchel here (do I really need 27 bananas? probably), and with all the blended smells, all I can think about is a fruit smoothie — preferably with rum.
But I’m about to get my wish. As I peruse the overflowing stands, one of the fisherman pulls out a knife and grins, beckoning me over. I ignore my mom’s voice in my head (“Be careful!”), hoping for a sample. The fisherman speaks no English, except “passion fruit,” and my mouth is watering so much that even if I did speak Spanish, I’d probably just drool. He plucks a fruit from the stands, expertly slices it in two, and pours rum in each half, gesturing for me to take the shot. So I do. And it’s delicious.
Okay, so it’s not really a beach. But it’s pretty darn close. Renaissance Curacao Resort didn’t have a sandy spot nearby, so they built their own — right on top of Rif Fort. The second-story infinity beach/pool combo is filled with salt water from the ocean and real sand that gently slopes as you make your way to the edge. Perfect.
I’m a sucker for quirky, and the Curacao Ostrich Farm didn’t disappoint. The safari truck tour leaves every hour for a loop around the farm, and for $35, you can ride one of the birds (no guarantees on how long it’ll last). Or you can take the (barely) tamer route and feed them instead. For lunch, the on-site Zambezi Restaurant serves up what else? — ostrich. Is it weird to have an ostrich burger while looking at one? Yes, but it’s a self-sustaining farm and totally worth the trip.
Abuzz with chatter and the sizzle of grills, Plasa Bieu is made up of six different kitchens that serve up fresh, authentic cuisine.
Make New Friends
The atmosphere is like a backyard barbecue, and everyone from local businessmen to little kids are plopped at an assortment of picnic tables, chowing down on dishes I can’t even pronounce. Get there early to beat the lunch rush, and always order extra pumpkin pancakes —a Curacao favorite for good reason.
With over 38 beaches to choose from, you can spend plenty of time searching for your favorite. Locals love the Knip Beaches (there’s a bigger and smaller one), but clear water, reefs and to-die-for snorkeling adventures make each of them equally appealing.
But to really appreciate what Curaçao’s waters have to offer, hop a charter boat for sailing, offshore snorkeling and diving. If you have the time, take a full-day excursion to the nearby volcanic rock known as Klein Curaçao, an uninhabited islet that offers Curaçao’s longest stretch of pristine, white-sand beaches.
Although when it comes to favorites, Porto Mari has a soft spot in my heart. Driving through cactus and empty roads, I didn’t expect much.
But my tour guide Ashari assured me the view would take my breath away. And she was right. Can we stay here all day?
I’d been dying to see Curacao’s Blue Room, but I didn’t expect a solo adventure into the cave. Fending off nerves, I snorkel under the lowest cliff overhang I’ve ever seen, face to face with the ocean fossils. Finally, the ledge opens into a glowing dome of turquoise water and flashing silver fish. Whoa. I’m not sure if I can’t breathe because I’m so excited or if I am using the snorkel wrong. (Probably a mix of both.) To get here, you need to talk to the colorful Captain Goodlife — he’ll whisk you to the entrance on his boat, or you can rent kayaks from him and paddle out yourself.