Curaçao, the most “colorful” island in the Caribbean, is way more than just a beach paradise.
The Dutch Caribbean island definitely has gorgeous turquoise waters and idyllic white sand beaches, beautiful hotels and delicious food. Plus, it has an old world, European feeling with the cobblestone streets and winding alleys of vibrant downtown Willemstad. The Dutch architecture and Crayola-colored buildings that line the waterfront make you feel like you are in Amsterdam…with a Caribbean flair.
But Curaçao is also an art wonderland. There’s a creative energy in its people and culture. Its buildings are covered with brightly colored murals, there’s lots of outdoor sculpture and artists around the island open their homes and studios to visitors.
Off the Northern coast of Venezuela, Curaçao (along with Aruba and Bonaire; making up the ABC Islands) is out of the hurricane zone, so it’s a great place to visit any time of the year. You’re guaranteed great weather and warm seas.
So Bon Bini (welcome)!
Where to stay
The Renaissance recently went through an extensive renovation and it shows in the inviting lobby and sleek rooms. The hotel is on the water, but since there’s no beach, they created their own sandy oasis. Immerse yourself in the infinity pool and you’ll feel as if you are swimming in the ocean. Grab a cold pina colada at the pool bar and sit under the shade of a palm tree, while staring out at the sea and the nearby cruise ships docked next door.
The hotel has a casino and is adjacent to an old fort that has been turned into a mini shopping mall, complete with shops, restaurants and excellent views of the harbor. It’s also an easy walk to downtown over the Queen Emma Bridge. If the bridge is raised to let a large ship pass through, there’s even a free ferry to shuttle you across.
Bring the whole family – grandma included — to the Papagayo Beach Resort where you can stay in adorable 2-4 bedroom, fully stocked villas — one with its own private pool. There’s also a shared kiddie pool and family pool. You also have access to the sister Papagayo Beach Hotel’s pools, spa, casino, ice cream bar, numerous restaurants and giant fitness center. In fact, you can leave your kids with a caregiver for free in the playroom while you work out. There’s a supermarket on the property, perfect for stocking your kitchen with snacks or to make the kids lunch.
Another option is the newly renovated, family-friendly Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort, set on six oceanfront acres near Willemstad. It has an adults-only pool and a large family pool, with a kid’s club, snorkeling and much more to keep you relaxed, and/or busy during your stay.
Food, drink and culture
There’s a multitude of lively restaurants, cocktail bars and casinos all over the island. We had a delicious culinary experience at Restaurant Nultwintig 20 in an old country house right on the Caribbean. Their four-course menu included local vegetables, mahi-mahi, short ribs and hot lava cake all artfully served. Lunch at De Broeders Café was hearty beef stew and tostone sliders (be sure to sit in their hidden backyard garden). We stopped for a hearty lunch at Landhuis Klein Santa Martha, a lovely off-the-beaten boutique hotel housed in a 17th century landmark with amazing views of the mountains.
History lovers will enjoy the opportunity to visit museums, plantations and colonial mansions. Top of the list should be Landhuis Bloemhof, a nature center, museum and gallery. It houses the Cathedral of Thorns, an illuminated, building-sized labyrinth created from natural elements found on the island. You may even bump into the artist, Herman van Bergen, who will talk about his work inspired by 9/11, “Mother Nature and the free spirit.”
Spend the afternoon perusing the artwork and then top it off with a scrumptious lunch or coffee at their Number Ten restaurant. Be sure to try the amazing baked goods, including chocolate Oreo cheesecake and banana bread pound cake. A bakery is coming soon.
When you’re downtown, pose for a photo with the huge Curaçao sign, or the one that says “DUSHI,” which means “sweet,” “darling” or other endearments in the local Papiamento creole language. Take a tour of the sandy-floored synagogue, Mikvé Israel-Emanuel. With a congregation dating back to 1651, it’s the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.
For adults only, there is also a Curaçao Liqueur Distillery tour where you can see how the world famous Blue Curaçao Liqueur is created. Then have a blue pina colada that’s definitely Instagram-worthy.
Art is all around you
On my visit, we went on an art tour, with lots of stops to meet local artists, take part in art workshops and admire the many street murals.
We visited island legend, Yubi Kirindongo, an internationally renowned artist who makes lifesize sculptures out of found objects – including discarded car bumpers and rusted hardware. We got to wander through his home, workshop and gardens, which are all galleries of his fascinating work.
Be sure to stop by the gallery of the talented visual artist Francis Sling in the Scharloo neighborhood. Ask him to talk about his philosophy of life and show you his colorful paintings, the clever way he turns dried paint into jewelry, and the nearby building where he painted the entire exterior.
Nena Sanchez is another local artist whose work is used to promote the island. She passed away in 2017, but her sister continues showing her work in a beautiful gallery at Landhuis Jankok.
Get artsy yourself by painting your own chichi at Serena’s Art Factory. The colorful chichi sculptures you’ll see all over the island, represent the strong, vibrant elder sister of the family and make a great souvenir. Kids and adults can personalize their own at one of the drop-in workshops. Stick around and you can even pet a baby goat at their farm.
To get a true local experience, rent a car and roam the island. Stop at a food truck or small restaurant along any main road for a fresh coconut filled with thirst-quenching liquid and then have them chop it up so you can eat the fresh interior meat. Kids are sure to love the johnny cakes, basically corn pancakes filled with ham and cheese and pastechis, empanada-type minced meat patties.
When you venture off-the-beaten path, you’ll find breathtaking ocean and mountain views around every corner and some of the best beaches around on the rural, Western part of the island.
Driving up to Playa Kenepa Grandi beach I couldn’t believe the color of the water. It was Gatorade-colored turquoise so clear you could see the sandy bottom. Rent a beach chaise under an umbrella and spend the day playing in the waves or building sand castles.
You’ll pass windmills and wild flamingos and be surrounded by the beauty of nature. Did you know the island is filled with cacti? In fact, there are hundreds of species and some have to be at least 10-feet tall.
If you don’t want to drive, hire a local tour guide who will help you explore and take you to some secret spots. I highly recommend our guide, Tirzah Statia. Find her @iamtirzah on Instagram.
There’s lots to do with kids here if you want to go beyond the beach. The Children’s Museum Curaçao is a multi-sensory, hands-on world of learning and fun with both indoor and outdoor activities. The Maritime Museum takes visitors on a discovery tour of more than 500 years of Curaçao history, and the largely open-air Curaçao Sea Aquarium offers all sorts of animal encounters with local sea life. For those who want to see sea creatures in their natural habitat and explore the underwater world, the island has a vibrant reef life and the museum can arrange various snorkeling experiences.
All covid travel restrictions have been removed, but international visitors are, as always, required to complete the Digital Immigration Card (DI card) online prior to departure to clear immigration in Curaçao. To do so visit: dicardcuracao.com
Get more information on visiting the island at the Curaçao Tourist Board: https://www.curacao.com/en/