“Where is Curaçao?” Once my trip was booked to check out the autonomous Dutch Caribbean island nation under the Kingdom of Netherlands, I heard this question from friends, families and strangers no less than 20 times. Truth be told, I too was unfamiliar with the destination before a heavy scrolling session on Google maps. Forty miles off the coast of Venezuela and southeast of the well-traveled island destination of its sister island, Aruba, Curaçao is an actual hidden gem and climate wise, it doesn’t get any better. Situated outside of the tropical hurricane belt, its unique geographical location also makes it a great place to visit any time of year. It’s a bonus that a steady stream of Northeast passage winds help to make even the hottest days on Curaçao feel nothing short of pleasant.
A common follow up query: “Curaçao– like the drink?” Yes, as it turns out! The electric blue liqueur made from dried peels of the island’s native laraha fruit (essentially a bitter orange), is a popular libation. Cocktail enthusiasts can visit Chobolobo Liqueur Factory to learn about the distillation process and then shake up their own Curaçao-laced cocktail to enjoy.
But beyond optimal geography and tasty refreshments, Curaçao offers a healthy dose of culture, scenery and a richly layered history. Add to the mix: great food, caring people and fun seaside activities – an exhilarating trip awaits.
Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Curaçao is the role language plays, made true by its dynamic history (it has been colonized by various European nations over the last few centuries). Of the island nation’s 165,000 person population, you will be hard pressed to find an individual who doesn’t speak Dutch, English and the country’s signature language, Papiamentu– a blended Creole stew of Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish. In fact, most residents are fluent in a fourth language because teenagers are required to take German or French in highschool. The prevalence of English speakers (and wide acceptance of the U.S. dollar) makes traveling around the island quite easy, while the prevalence of Dutch, vis a vis tourists and locals, can make it feel like you're in Copenhagen.
Speaking of language, there is a linguistics footnote that our tour guide was quick to mention– the Papiamentu term of endearment, “dushi” (pronounced Doo-she), has no relation to the American definition of the word!
As for Curaçao’s colorful colonial architecture, its origin story dates back to 1817 when the governor at the time, Albert Kikkert, complained that the island’s bright whitewashed buildings were causing him headaches. He declared that splashes of color would quell strained eyes and brighten the moods of the island’s residents. Although it was later learned that Kikkert had a stake in a paint company on the island, the bright facades have become a signature element of Curaçao’s vibrant identity.
Visitors will want to rent a car to explore various corners of the island. Ride sharing services haven’t made it to Curaçao yet, but tourists are encouraged to download the 24-7 Taxi app. Included at the top of your itinerary should be Shete Boka National Park on the Western end of the island where turquoise waves swirl and crescendo against limestone cliffs to produce loud booming sounds and forceful shots of water that explode high in the air. Also on the west side is the Flamingo Sanctuary Sint Willibrordus where the photographic pink birds gather to revel in calm waters. Be sure to spend an afternoon at Kenepa Grandi. The far flung beach cove, with its blazing white sand and bright topaz water, is a gift to the senses. Adventurers wanting to do more than just admire the ocean can rent a seabob or go snorkeling under the guidance of the well-versed Bearded Butler tour service.
Learn island history and architectural factoids on a tour by Car Tuk Tuk through Curaçao’s capital of Willemstad. After crossing the island’s tallest bridge, visitors would be wise to keep their cameras handy while walking cobblestone streets in Otrobanda to explore the vibrant murals by local artists encompassing shops and residences. Opt to return on the famous Queen Emma footbridge, which, propped on pontoons, floats open and closed for large boats seeking passage throughout the day.
Curaçao’s food scene is an exciting one as many natives who have made pilgrimages to Holland have returned equipped with European tips and tricks under their belts. A few noteworthy haunts: for a contemporary spin on Caribbean cuisine try Sal, for a casual lunch where classics are done right De Broeders and finally, for the most authentic culinary experience on island, look no further than Purunchi, where you can at once nosh on the fresh catch of the day and watch fisherman pull in their latest haul.
There are a range of luxury properties on the island, and the decision on which you choose should solely be based on your itinerary preferences. By my standards, a perfect trip would consist of a few days in the nightlife district of Pietermaai followed by a detox and pampered stay on the East side of the island.
Since returning from my amazing Curaçao adventure, I find myself naturally initiating conversation about the island nation with anyone who will listen. So much so, that I fear the under-the-radar destination won’t stay that way for long.