Less than 50 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Curacao stands apart in the Caribbean experience.
Its location and history provides it with both consistently balmy weather and European look and feel, which has put it at the top of many discerning traveler's list of out-of-the-ordinary, atypical Caribbean destinations. For instance, Curacao's capital, Willemstad is the only Caribbean city apart from Havana, Cuba to be ranked a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Willemstad also boasts distinctive Dutch colonial architecture with colorful, gingerbread-trimmed buildings that are always photo-ready.
Aside from all that, Curacao's convenient location also puts it with in an easy direct 2.5 hours flight from Miami, or 4 to 4.5 hours from major northeastern U.S. Airports, And while there's that unspoilt charm to the island, it doesn't lack for a variety of nice accommodation, entertainment choices, or shopping to supplement your outdoor activities and sightseeing.
Curacao has over 35 beaches of a remarkable variety. You can choose between intimate rocky coves surrounded by massive cliffs or long sandy beaches, either secluded by nature or bustling with activities. The one thing they all share is crystal clear turquoise water and picture-perfect weather. Almost all of the bathing beaches are scattered along the sheltered and calm southwestern coast, where the waters are calm and crystal clear.
Beyond the beach, there's a variety of experiences operators that specialize in different activities or locations. For instance, Adrenaline Tours caters to aquatic minded kayakers, jet-ski lovers, boat touring fans or deep see fishing enthusiasts from its base at Caracas Bay .
Other Active Options and Sights
Curacao Sea Aquarium Marine experts have created an ocean sanctuary where visitors encounter some 400 different species of marine life like turtles, stingrays, lemon sharks, sea lions and more. Plus an underwater observatory to view the inhabitants, or you can dive to feed the fish and interact with the social creatures.
Floating Market A Willemstad tradition that's well worth observing and roaming, even if you don't buy a thing. It starts early every morning as boatloads of tropical fruits and vegetables are delivered for an open air space in the Punda area, then locals browse the market for papayas, mangoes, fresh fish or herbs and spices.Â Drivers take the one way street, stop in the middle of the street near their favorite merchant, negotiate their buys, and head off. It's a colorful and active market.
Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue - Established in 1732, Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western hemisphere. I was surprised to find sand covering the floor of the synagogue and learned that one possible reason was this may have been a reminder of the 40 years the Jewish people roamed the sands of the Sinai Desert. You can also visit the excellent Jewish Cultural Historical Museum next door which curates documents and artifacts going back to the origins of the community on the island.
Queen Juliana Bridge This bridge is the highest in the Caribbean at some 200 feet, and carries traffic from Punda across to Otrobanda with wonderful day and evening views of the city and harbor along the way.
Be sure to check out some of the fascinating stores lining the streets of Willemstad, where the worldly influences of Curacao's trade post history have never faded. European clothing and perfumes, African and Colombian jewelry, Venezuelan shoes and Asian fabrics are just some of the spectacular items you'll find. Or peruse locally crafted clothes and island treasures in the Punda neighborhood. There's duty-free shopping on Curacao plus some well established international names in fashion, personal accessories and fragrances.
A must-do on any shopping list is Little Switzerland, premier high-end and duty-free outlet for everything from designer jewelry (Roberto Coin), watches (Tag Heuer, Breitling, Cartier), china, crystal and accessories.
JL Penha the longest established perfume retailer in the Caribbean, they have two Curacao locations - one in Punda and another at the Penha Salinja gallery, with names in fashion and fragrance such as Lacoste, Liz Claiborne, Perry Ellis, also cosmetics and more.
Foods and Dining
Try the local food, krioyo, a burst of Caribbean and Latin flavors that boasts dishes such as cactus soup, fresh fish stews and a polenta-like favorite called funchi. Try it at any number of fme dining establishments in Willemstad or swing by a roadside stand and enjoy your krioyo with a tropical drink from the bar. When it comes to fine dining venues with wonderful ambiance and location, the island has more than a few to keep you going out every day:
Shor A specialty seafood restaurant located within the old Hyatt Regency. Appetizers range from salmon salads to crab dips, while main courses include both meat and fresh seafood items and your choice of accompanying sauces, seasonings and side. This fine restaurant is situated alongside the 1st tee box of the Old Quarry Golf Course. The service here was by far the best during a recent stay in Curacao.
Bistro Le Clochard Enjoy panoramic views of Punda where ships pass by from this historic setting of the Rof Fortress. Swiss chefs turn out exquisite French and international dishes.
Il Barile de Mario Bar Restaurant - Across from the Mikve-Israel Synagogue on Hanchu Snoa you can find Il Barile de Mario Bar Restaurant. Leave time to relax in this casual cafe. Â Enjoy an expresso with you breakfast or eat a fine Italian meal for lunch. On a slow day owner's Mario and Myrthe may have the television on. Don't hesitate to ask Myrthe if she can turn it down so that you can enjoy the music. She won't mind a bit.
Mundo Bizarro is loaded with atmosphere and is the best place for young hipster types to gather for a good meal. This restaurant-bar has great decorations and good food. It is a bit hard to find but is well worth the effort. Address: Nieuweststraat 12, Pietermaai Smal. Punda.
Where to Stay
It all depends on the location here, and if you want to be in the busiest part of the hotel and resort scene, then you might appreciate being based at the Curacao Marriott Beach Resort & Emerald Casino, which is on a great beachfront. Likewise, the Hilton Curacao which is close to great shopping and dining.
On the other hand, if you also plan to get out and explore a lot and value the openness of being away from the city areas, and a more secluded atmosphere, you will value what you find at the location of the Hyatt Regency Curacao. Here you have the space and seclusion of being on a remote peninsula away from downtown congestion. This has become the premier resort on the island offering 18 holes of on-site championship golf, along with its own spa and marina. Each of the resort's 350 guest rooms includes a balcony, natural sandstone flooring, flat screen plasma television, deluxe bath amenities and views of either Spanish Water Bay or the Caribbean. At the Atabei Spa, guests can find a holistic retreat which features personal treatments with fresh, indigenous ingredients that are enveloped with herbal botanical and marine sources. Golf lovers will appreciate the combination of the rugged terrain of the Tafelberg Mountain and the serenity of the Caribbean and Spanish Water inlet which create a world-class setting for the 18-hole championship Old Quarry Golf Course. The site's variety of topographical features produces golf holes that are aesthetically striking and a spectacular experience for both amateur and professional golfers. Designed by the renowned Pete Dye, the course measures approximately 7,200 yards and includes an 8,000-square foot pro shop and restaurant, SHOR.
If you still have time and energy for more activity, there's plenty more to take advantage of here - such as the three outdoor pools, four tennis courts managed by Peter Burwash International, jogging trails, volleyball courts, bicycles and a marina offering daily diving trips, water sports and other aquatic activities provided by Ocean Encounters.