Visit Curacao, you won’t be disappointed. This small island has a lot to offer. Besides the usual offerings like sand & surf, there’s great shopping, dining both local and international, museums, art galleries, Great houses or Landhuizen as the old plantation houses are called, off shore adventures and so much more. Getting around is so easy, Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu the local dialect are all spoken freely. From what we’ve seen and experienced, the country seems very safe, police and private security were ever present and we felt very comfortable venturing out on the town even in the evenings.
The best time to visit, economically speaking is off peak season, May to November. Hotel rates and airfares are much cheaper but really, any time of the year is fine since there’s hardly a threat of hurricanes, average temperatures are in the mid 80’s F (30 C) and rainfall is minimal.
We spent a week at the newly renovated Marriott Beach Resort, but while everything was shiny and new, you could see they were still working some of the kinks out. The hotel wasn’t very full as it had only been open for a few days. We asked for and got upgraded to an ocean front room. Overall though, it was a pleasant experience.
On our second day there, we decided to take the 2.5 mile (4 km) walk into Willemstad. If you’d rather not walk, you could take a local bus (Autobus Bedrijf) fare is 2.00 Guilder approx US $1.15 There is a bus station in Otrobanda and also Punda. Taxis (licence plate TX) are another option to get around. Taxis are unmetered and work off a rate sheet based on four persons. Rates can change depending on the amount of luggage you have or if you need service after 11:00 pm. Discuss fare before hand. There are no Ubers here. You can also rent a car, a compact is all you need, all the major rental companies are represented here or you can just hire a driver for the day.
Willemstad has four distinct quarters. Otrobanda is on the west side, cross the Queen Emma bridge to Punda and further east is Pietermaai, to the north across the Queen Wilhelmina or L.B. Smith bridges is Sharloo.
We checked out Rif Fort (built in 1828) now a trendy spot that houses retail shops and restaurants, a beautiful setting where you can see cruise ships in port and next door the Renaissance Hotel Casino and shopping mall.
We grabbed a quick lunch at the Gondola Italian restaurant, their pasta and pizza are the best.
After lunch, we headed over the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, stopping occasionally for photos. This bridge opens periodically to allow ships and other water craft to travel in and out of the inner harbor. We happened to catch a few openings later in the day.
Watch video here.
We marveled at the beauty and color of the buildings along the Handelskade, great photo op here.
On the north side of Punda, we paid a visit to the Central Market which has a wide array of goods, fruits, vegetables, clothing shops, souvenirs and the like. Next door is the Old Market (Plasa Bieu) which is now a food court specializing in local cuisine. I really wanted to try the iguana soup but thought better of it, maybe next time.
We enjoyed some ice cream at the Iguana Cafe which offers al fresco dining on the waterfront. It was a welcome treat after a day of exploring the city’s side streets, shops, art galleries and eateries.
Some scenes from our self guided city tour.
As part of our city exploration, we strolled through the historic Pietermaai district, checking out the fully restored 200 plus year old houses that’s now home to boutique hotels, bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Very vibrant night scene here for which we returned in the evening to dine at Ginger’s and drinks later at Cafe Mundo Bizarro enjoying some salsa music.
Salsa music video here.
So many dining options along the waterfront. We stopped for lunch at the Grillking Steak house. Local, family friendly and reasonably priced eats.
We took some time out to visit Kura Hulanda Museum ($10.00 admission) to learn about the slave trade in the Caribbean and the Americas. Great collection of artifacts on display. If this experience doesn’t move you, you simply cannot be moved.
The oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere dating back to 1651, Mikve Israel-Emanuel can be found in Punda. The interior has a sand floor symbolizing the desert through which the Israelites made their journey to freedom. To book a tour, email firstname.lastname@example.org
We were there during the Holiday season so everything was festive and bright. The town really comes alive in the evening, the lights, music, it seems on every corner, food vendors, outdoor cafes packed, everyone having a great time.
It’s time to get out of the city for a bit so we rented a car and set out to explore. We rented from Hertz (available at the hotel) for one day US$49.95 base price for an economy compact. Driving is easy here ( you drive on the right side) Once out of the city, traffic is very light. We wanted to experience a bit of the rugged north shore with it’s desert like landscape and also the beaches.
Out of Willemstad on the main highway Weg Naar Westpunt, we turned onto Weg Naar St Willibrordus. About two miles down the road, just pull over to see flocks of flamingos, best viewing time is early to mid morning, this is a free attraction.
We stopped in to the Landhuis Jan Kok, one of the many slave plantation houses on the island. It now showcases the work of late local artist Nena Sanchez. There’s also a gallery in the Willemstad art district.
Heading back on Weg Naar Westpunt we made a quick stop in Barber at the Hofi Pastor nature area to check out the very impressive 800 yr old Kapoc tree with it’s massive roots and gnarly limbs. There are a few short hiking trails here. The $3.00 entrance fee is more of a donation than anything else, few amenities here but it’s all about the tree.
On the road to Shete Boka National park, the wild north side with it’s caves, blowholes and inlet. It feels worlds apart from Willemstad, there’s a peacefulness about the area. We paid US $10.00 entrance fee plus $2.00 for a map. You could explore either on foot or venture farther out by car, we chose the latter. To some the entrance fee might seem like a lot but the money helps to provide security in the more remote regions of the park. Security is taken seriously here so there was no sense of uneasiness as we went a bit off the beaten path. We entered one of the sea caves where I shot this video. A bit eerie and cool at the same time. Check it out.
There are no seven mile beaches here. Most, especially on the north west side can be described as inlets carved out of cliffs but they are a good size nonetheless. We visited Playa Porto Mari where wild but friendly pigs are known to roam about. It’s a beautiful white sand beach a bit off the beaten path, popular with tourists and locals. There are some amenities, snack bar and restaurant, toilets, changing rooms and chair rentals. Great for snorkeling and diving. Dive shop on site.
Our anniversary dinner at Namora’s Restaurant. Located within walking distance of the Marriott, it’s fine dining at it’s best. All the courses were prepared and presently exquisitely. Dinner for two is easily US $200.00 plus but it’s not somewhere you go very often. Something to bear in mind, most nicer restaurants add a service charge anywhere from 10 to 20% some of which goes in a tip pool for your servers so beware of that when you tip. It’s not allowed to be taken off your credit card so it’s added directly to your bill.
Time to say goodbye. We really enjoyed our time here and recommend you add this destination to your list. Danki Curacao, te aworo.