Located off the coast of Venezuela in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea and affiliated with the Netherlands Antilles, Curaçao is at once one of the most beautiful yet underrated islands in the region, with more to see and do than you could imagine.
As with the other two ‘ABC islands’ (Aruba and Bonaire) Curaçao’s early history revolves around the exploits of the Arawak Indians. European presence was only felt on the island in 1499, when the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda anchored. Although the Arawak population was swiftly and brutally culled in the following years, the make-up of the island was only completely transformed courtesy of the Dutch takeover in 1634, as Curaçao became a crucial part of the Atlantic slave trade.
Today focusing on the oil industry rather than slavery, Curaçao nevertheless remains affiliated with the Dutch, electing for separate status within the kingdom in 2005 but rejecting a move towards complete independence. Such a decision reflects Curaçao’s unique history which, coupled with its fabulous climate and beaches, makes it a wonderful place to visit.
Curaçao’s official language is Dutch but the island’s inhabitants are generally multi-lingual, so expect to hear Spanish and English as well as the Creole Papiamento dialect. Common Papiamento phrases include:
Bon dia/tardi/nochi – Good morning/afternoon/nightDanki – Thank youPor favour – PleaseSi – YesNo – NoAyo! – Goodbye
The island’s official currency is the Netherlands Antilles Guilder (ANG) but the US dollar is widely accepted. The following rates are accurate as of August 2006:
1 USD : 1.79 ANG1 EUR : 2.28 ANG1 GBP : 3.37 ANG
Curaçao enjoys a semi-arid climate with warm temperatures, averaging 80 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year, and very little rain (falling mostly between October and February).
Hurricane warnings should be expected between June and November, but Curaçao is outside the hurricane belt proper.
Curaçao is an historically important location by any standard, with Willemstad (the capital city), Scharloo and Pietermaai all classified World Heritage sites by UNESCO. To understand why, take a stroll down the historic districts of Punda and Otrobanda with their fabulous 19th century town-houses, or visit the many 17th and 18th century forts including Fort Amsterdam and the remarkable Waterfort, built in 1634.
The island’s cultural heritage is reflected in the wealth of museums open to visitors. The Curaçao Museum on the Van Leeuwerhoekstraat in Willemstad should be your first port of call, as it surveys the history of the island, but try to make time for others like the Maritime Museum in Scharloo Abou and, in particular, the Kura Hulanda Museum in the Otrobanda district, which focuses on the Atlantic slave trade.
Curaçao is also blessed with a number of national parks. The biggest of these is the Christoffel National Park in West Point, with guided tours available to see the amazing flora and fauna. However, if that’s not enough, check out the Den Dunki National Park, on the site for a former 17th century slave camp, and Hofi Pastor Park in Willemstad.
Found in Bapor Kibra, the Curaçao Seaquarium is an especial treat for any visitor. As well as a great museum and beach, the Seaquarium provides opportunities to snorkel with sea turtles, sharks and stingrays. Even better, the Dolphin Academy offers the chance to swim and even dive with dolphins. Continuing the theme of animals, Curaçao is also home to the Parke Tropical Zoo and botanical garden in Chuchubiweg, both of which are well worth a visit.
The beaches are naturally one of Curaçao’s major attractions, being both numerous and relatively secluded. Some of the island’s best beaches can be found around Westpunt or nearby such as Playa Legun, which is perfect for families due to its calm Caribbean waters, but the largest and most popular beach is Blauwbaai towards the south (commanding a small entrance fee). With some 38 to choose from though, look around and find the perfect location for you.
Among the many annual events which take place on the island, the Curaçao Carnival is the most important. Taking place in January, the Carnival is a veritable cavalcade of music, floats and dancing which must be seen if possible.
While you can expect most of the island’s towns to have their fair share of local shops, the major shopping centres are located in Willemstad. The historic districts, Punda and Otrobanda, are particularly good in this regard.
Alternatively, the Marsche Bieuw market is a great spot for those searching out local arts and crafts.
Curaçao has a buzzing nightlife with plenty of bars and nightclubs like Club 99 and Club Havana in Saliña providing a range of music, as well as regular beach parties. One particularly special location is the 18th century Landhuis Brievengat country estate, which plays host to live music during the week and the weekend.
Fourteen casinos can be found on the island, the majority of which are in Willemstad.
Curaçao generally has a good road network, but some areas remain unpaved and four-wheel drive cars are subsequently recommended if exploring.
Strict speed limits of 45 km per hour in towns and cities apply.
Drivers use the right-hand side of the road in Curaçao.
As part of the kingdom of the Netherlands, Curaçao’s drink driving limit is 0.02% for drivers with less than 5 years experience and 0.05% for those with more than 5 years experience.
Food and Drink
The local cuisine is heavily influenced by Dutch and Indonesian culture, with plenty of cheeses and fresh seafood utilised. As such, expect dishes like Keshi Yena (meat or fish stuffed into cheese) and rijisttafel (rice and fish with vegetables). The national drink is Curaçao liqueur, made from the peels of the Lahara orange.
For the best in budget local cuisine, pop down to the Marsche Bieuw Market. However, the major beaches like Blauwbaai all have restaurant establishments.
International cuisine is also available throughout the island, including French, Italian and Chinese.