This beautiful island possesses a charming blend of European and Caribbean history, culture, and architecture. Click through for more great excuses to book a trip now.
More than 30 ring the island. Relax at one of the pristine pockets of sand, some surrounded by cliffs. Or opt for a busier spot such as Mambo Beach, which attracts crowds with an open-air disco, massage tents, and cocktail service. And because the island is south of the hurricane belt, its usually calm waters make it a haven for divers and fishing boats.
Strolling down cobblestone streets, catching fragments of conversations in Dutch, it would be easy to imagine you’re in Holland, not on a Caribbean island 40 miles from South America. Part Old Country, part New World, Curaçao offers an atypical island experience. Willemstad’s sherbet-shaded downtown earned the capital city recognition from UNESCO as a World Heritage site. Over the past 500 years, European settlers and former African slaves have made Curaçao (pronounced kyur-a-SOW) a melting pot, drawing residents from more than 50 nations. But the former Dutch colony held on to its roots. “Curaçao kept its history, its story, its architecture,” says Shirley Geerman, who moved from nearby Aruba. “It kept its identity.”
The island’s surprising landscape more resembles Arizona than Florida, with as many cacti as palm trees. For a treat, climb the peak in Christoffel Park and drink in a spectacular mountaintop scene.
Curaçao offers the flavors of the globe. At Bistro le Clochard, a formal French-and-Swiss restaurant, crpes stuffed with seafood ragot should be savored on its waterfront balcony. Or visit the open-air Old Market, where vendors grill chicken, fish, or even goat for lunch. Seating is communal, so picnic tables are likely to be shared by government employees, cab drivers, and tourists. Holland’s colonial ties to Indonesia mean the island is one of the few places you can find a rice table (an Asian feast with dozens of small, spicy dishes).
The island is home to Mikve Israel-Emanuel, the oldest functioning synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. Sand covers the floor of the ornate sanctuary, signifying the years ancestors spent wandering the desert on their way out of Egypt.
Believe it or not, the luxurious Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino was once a slum. A decade ago, Dutch billionaire Jacob Gelt Dekker saw potential in the rundown buildings. He purchased several blocks and created a hotel that resembles a mini town suspended in time. Each of the 80 rooms is different: Some face pools, while others stay quietly hidden in second-story walk-ups over restaurants. During construction of Dekker’s home, a former slave market was discovered, which is now the center of an extensive museum.
Courtesy of thebar.com
Yep, Curaçao liqueur is made in Curaçao. Tour the distillery, which processes the dried peel of a small, fragrant orange. Visitors learn the aqua coloring is just for show, but you’ll come for the free sample
Boutiques line the streets downtown, selling duty-free diamonds, designer clothes, and Dutch goods―from wheels of Edam cheese to Delft pottery. Buying souvenirs is no indulgence here; it’s a cultural experience.
Hotel Kura Hulanda, with quaint streets and neighborhood buildings; 877/264-3106 or kurahulanda.com.
Avila Hotel, where Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands prefers to stay; 800/747-8162 or avilahotel.com.
Bistro le Clochard, offering upscale Swiss and French cuisine overlooking the harbor; 011/5999/462-5666.
Rijsttafel Indonesia, proof that Holland maintains cultural ties to its former colonies; 011/5999/864-0126.
Jaanchie’s, specializing in local dishes from fresh fish to iguana soup; 011/5999/864-0126.
Ocean Encounters, for scuba trips; 011/5999/461-8131 or oceanencounters.com.
Christoffel National Park, for cool hikes and views (early morning is best); carmabi.org/parken.asp.
Curaçao Liqueur Distillery, for bright blue drinks; curacaoliqueur.com.
Published January/February 2009