Curaçao is a hidden gem and quite possibly everything you’ve ever wanted out of a vacation destination. A bold statement, but wait until you see what this quaint southern island has to offer — everything from multi acre national parks like Christoffel, known for its striking natural beauty, to some of the most incredible beaches in the Caribbean like Playa Lagun. There’s even an ostrich farm where visitors can do tours that include spending time with baby ostriches, and getting a safari ride!
How to pronounce Curaçao. The name of the island destination starts with a hard 'C', while the 'ç' is pronounced as an “s”. Curaçao is pronounced as 'Cure-ah-souw'.
Curaçao is part of the ABC island chain that includes Aruba to its West and Bonaire to its East, and this island stands out for more reasons than one. It’s colorful history includes periods of rule by the Spanish, British and finally the Dutch. Evidence of this can be seen in Curaçao’s architecture, museums, parks, music, languages and in its people.
So, without further ado, here are our top picks of the 18 things Curaçao is known for:
Curaçao has more than 30 beaches all of which offer a different experience. Kenepa Beach, Playa PortoMari and Mambo Beach are three of the most popular, which means that they’re frequently crowded. Playa Kalki is cozy and great for water sports like snorkelling. Cas Abao on the other hand is a scuba diving hotspot and a favorite among tourists and locals alike, with a small entrance fee required. The latter includes restrooms, showers and parking.
Curaçao has some of the best dive sites in the world. Many of these sites are suitable for both beginners taking their first dive and experts who are used to navigating the undersea. Beginners can start off with Booby Trap in the south (don’t let the name scare you!). This sloping reef has a range of corals and all types of sponges. Booby Trap is located just outside of Fuik Baai and can only be accessed by boat. Porto Mari is another site that offers easy access via the beach. It is suitable for beginners and advanced divers. At Porto Mari, divers can expect to see lots of fishes, turtles and a ray or two on a lucky day.
Insider tip: PADI® certified guests of the Sandals all-inclusive resort in Curaçao dive for free (max. two tanks a day), this includes professional equipment. Not certified yet? Get PADI® certified at the resort at additional cost and dive the rest of your vacation for free. Over 100,000 guests got certified at Sandals: the professional scuba staff will help you get comfortable and ready to go!
Diverse in more ways than one, the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, was occupied by the Arawaks more than 6,000 years ago. It was first ruled by Spanish in the 16th century when Spanish Commander, Alonso de Ojeda, discovered the island. In the mid-16th century, the Dutch took over from Spain and in 1651, the first set of Jewish immigrants came to live in Curaçao. Britain also joined in the fight but ultimately the Dutch reigned supreme in a ruling, which greatly transformed the island. To this day, this ruling has influenced the way of life of the people.
Curaçao’s capital Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site marked by its amazing architecture, waterways, tropical scenery and street cafes. Visitors love this vibrant city center and tours through Willemstad are extremely popular. While in Willemstad, you’ll notice that the city is literally cut in half and joined by a bridge known as Queen Emma Bridge.
This bridge, which extends across St. Anna Bay, joins Punda and Otrobanda in Willemstad and is braced by two motors and 16 pontoon boats. If you get there in time, you’ll get to see this “Swinging Old Lady” open her gates to allow ships to come through and exit. There are also water taxis to take you back and forth across the waters, as you wish. The Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge is quite a lovely sight at nighttime, particularly if you’re watching it in action from nearby. Try it out while having a drink or two with friends in the city and enjoy the lights on the water.
Handelskade is a waterfront strip in Punda lined with colorful houses and 18th century style buildings. Handelskade is a major tourist attraction and is loved for its outdoor cafes. From this vantage, there’s a cool view of the ships going through the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. On a sunny day, a walk along this pier is perfect for getting some fresh air and taking a selfie or two against the picturesque Curaçao city backdrop. Handelskade is also really beautiful at night when the lights illuminate the bay and bring it to life.
Insider tip: Before leaving Handelskade, visit the Floating Market in the north. In this market you can find lots of vendors selling fruits and many eager fishermen with their catch of the day.
The famous “Orange Liqueur” from Curaçao is an alcoholic beverage made with the dried orange peels of the Laraha orange, which is a bitter fruit found on the island. This fruit is also called “Golden Orange of Curaçao.” The peels are blended with herbs and spices to create this signature drink. It is sold in varieties of orange, green, blue and white. It’ll be worth your while to bring a little bit of Curaçao back home with you by grabbing a bottle of Orange Liqueur to share with friends and family.
Spanish, Dutch and British influences can be seen across the island of Curaçao, and this is most evident in the languages spoken on the island. Many locals easily switch between speaking creole, Dutch, English, Papiamentu and Spanish. This has also influenced the wide range of music that is played on the island which includes reggae, mazurkas, danzas, tumba, American pop and bachata.
Shete Boka, meaning “seven inlets” is a national park in northern Curaçao that starts at the underground cavern called Boka Tabla. Visitors often stare in awe as nature shows off its skills with waves crashing rhythmically against the caves. This impressive show of power is only the beginning; at this park, visitors can take a walk along the caves and relish in the astonishing view of the rocky countryside. The animals add to the scenery too, and a visit at the right time will be rewarded with the sight of the many iguanas living at this park or any of the three species of turtles that regularly nest there.
The town of Willemstad in Curaçao isn’t just known for its cool architecture; its street art is pretty fantastic too. Take a walk through the streets of Punda and the neighborhoods of Pietermaai and Otrobanda to see why these places are most famous for their artwork. The murals which grace the walls tell the stories of Curaçao and are used by the artists to make social statements. Punda also has shops with local crafts and sculptures of all different colors and shapes.
The Christoffel National Park spans across 2,300 acres of land that once housed the Savonet, Zorgvlied and Zeevenbergen plantations. Before exploring this park, visitors can stop by the Savonet Museum to learn more about the history of slavery and plantation life in Curaçao. Next, if you’re up for a hike, try trekking up to Christoffel Mountain. Wear comfortable shoes, bring along water and schedule your trip before 10 a.m., after which point the heat factor goes up by the hour. Don’t be discouraged by the rugged terrain: the view from the top is spectacular!
Insider tip: If you want to skip the heavy exercise, simply take a drive through this park to witness its natural beauty.
If you’d like to give the beaches a break and try a fun-filled activity on solid ground, then a visit to an ostrich farm can be a great change of pace. The Curaçao Ostrich Farm houses more than 600 birds and offers guided tours to visitors. At this farm, you’ll get to see these birds at every stage of their development — from just about a day old to adulthood. You may get to hold one of these babies in your hand and even stand on an ostrich egg if you’d like (the egg won’t break)!
Chichi means “the older sister” in Papiamento, a language widely used in Curaçao. There are dolls that go by this name, and these dolls are meant to embody the older sister in Caribbean culture that is known for being the responsible and caring family member. The dolls are handmade and hand-painted, and are sold in various sizes. You’ll be able to recognize them by their bright, radiant dresses and curvy figures. The Berlin artist, Serena Janet Israel, is the creator of these dolls which are made by craftsmen in Serena’s Art Factory in Willemstad, Curaçao.
Pro tip: Chichi dolls are the perfect souvenir or gift for birthdays, Mother’s Day, or even in celebration of International Women’s Day!
While Serena’s chichi dolls are certainly a unique creation, local artists and craftsmen produce many other handy items that can make for great souvenirs. These artists often collect bottles and other ordinary, everyday items and mold them into a hand-painted masterpiece.
You’ll also come across various jewelry items to adorn all the outfits in your suitcase. Locals can be seen selling their handmade necklaces, earrings and bracelets made from leather, shells and stones. Be sure to take a look; you may just see something you like.
Aloe vera is a tropical plant that is great for the hair, skin and body. Its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal which pretty much means it is anti-disease and great for the body. If you’ve never seen the plant, then while in Curaçao you simply must ask a local to see it, and perhaps even take home a few aloe vera products. Product sourcing shouldn’t be too hard considering that aloe vera is a key ingredient in a number of creams, lotions and other skin products.
What would a trip to this Dutch island be without taking home some Dutch cheese? Given its history, Curaçao is one of the best places to sample and purchase authentic Dutch cheese in the Caribbean.
Delft Blue souvenirs are pottery pieces that are hand-painted in blue. They’re an important part of the island’s history. These pottery items would fit nicely in a dining room and can easily adorn bookshelves and tables.
If the street art didn’t already give you a hint, then you should know this: Curaçao is filled with talented artists. Before you leave, take a look at some of the work of the island’s photographers, sculptors and painters. They’ll be happy to show off their artistry and share some stories associated with their pieces. So, go ahead and hear them out before you pack your bags.
We’ve spoken so much about what you can do during the day in Curaçao, that you probably thought nightlife there was non-existent. In fact, the opposite is true, as Curaçao usually has a lively night of activities ready for you, ranging from live bands, jazz bars and salsa parties.
There’s so much to do, it’s up to you to decide — will it be sax music on Thursdays or Soul music on Saturdays? If you’d like, you can even join the other party-goers at the historical Ric Fort for a night of salsa or enjoy the show while relishing your dinner at one of the nearby restaurants. Whether you want to party every night you’re there, or just on one special night, you’ll be able to find just the right vibe at dance zones like Mambo Beach and The Wet and Wild Beach Club.
Curaçao is known for many things, including a gorgeous Sandals all-inclusive resort. Curaçao is one of those destinations that promises an experience with a difference, and delivers. This mesmerizing island will sweep you off your feet and find its way to your heart.