The sun smiles down on Curaçao, which sits on the outer fringe the so-called hurricane belt, 35 mi (56 km) north of Venezuela and 42 mi (68 km) east of Aruba. Gentle trade winds help keep the heat in check, and temperatures are generally in the 80s. Water sports—including outstanding reef diving—attract enthusiasts from all over the world. Curaçao claims 38 beaches—some long stretches of silky sand, most smaller coves suitable for picture postcards. In the countryside, the dollhouse look of plantation houses, or landhuizen (literally, “land houses”), makes a cheerful contrast to stark cacti and austere shrubbery.
The sprawling city of Willemstad is the island’s capital. Its historic downtown and the natural harbor (Schottegat) around which it’s built are included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, a coveted distinction reserved for the likes of the Palace of Versailles and the Taj Mahal. The “face” of Willemstad delights like a kaleidoscope—rows of sprightly painted town houses with gabled roofs sit perched alongside the steely blue Santa Anna Bay. Local lore has it that in the 1800s, the governor claimed he suffered from migraines and blamed the glare from the sun’s reflection off the then-white structures. To alleviate the problem, he ordered the facades painted in colors.
Curaçao Restaurant Reviews
Dine beneath the boughs of magnificent old trees, on the terraces of restored mansions and plantation houses, or on the ramparts of 18th-century forts. Curaçaoans partake of generally outstanding fare, with representation from a remarkable smattering of ethnicities. Outdoor or open-air sheltered dining is commonplace; note that most restaurants offer a smoking section or permit smoking throughout. Fine dining tends to be pricey, mostly because of the high cost of importing products to the island. For cheap eats with a local flair, drop by the Old Market for lunch, or stop at one of the snack bars or snack trucks you can find all over the island (have some guilders handy—many of them won’t have change for dollars).
What to Wear
Dress in restaurants is almost always casual (though beachwear isn’t acceptable). Some of the resort dining rooms and more-elegant restaurants require that men wear jackets, especially in high season; ask when you make reservations.
Curaçao Hotel Reviews
You’ll generally find hotels at all price levels provide friendly, prompt, detail-oriented service; however, the finer points of service are in some cases still in nascent stages. Many of the large-scale resorts east and west of Willemstad proper have lovely beaches and provide a free shuttle to the city, five to 10 minutes away; but you’ll find utmost seclusion at hotels on the island’s southwestern end, a 30- to 45-minute drive from town. Most hotels in town provide beach shuttles. At this writing, several new resorts are under development, including a 350-room Hyatt Regency resort (expected to open in late 2009); two other hotel projects (at Caracas Bay and Kontiki Beach) were also not expected to open until late 2009.
Friday is a big night out, with rollicking happy hours and live music at many bars and hotels. And although it might sound surprising, Sunday-night revelry into the wee hours is an island tradition. Pick up a copy of the weekly free entertainment listings, K-Pasa, available at most restaurants and hotels. The Web site Kikotakiko (kikotakiko.com) lists all the current happenings around the island.
From Dutch classics like embroidered linens, delft earthenware, cheeses, and clogs to local artwork and handicrafts, shopping in Curaçao can turn up some fun finds. But don’t expect major bargains on watches, jewelry, or electronics; Willemstad is not a duty-free port (the few establishments that claim to be “duty-free” are simply absorbing the cost of some or all of the tax rather than passing it on to consumers); however, if you come prepared with some comparison prices, you might still dig up some good deals.