Going Dutch...Antilles, that is
A travel guide to the Netherland Antilles island of Curaçao—From the Colonial Dutch architecture of Willemstad to jeep safaris in Mt. Christoffel Park to feeding the sharks at the sea aquarium
The colorful colonial Dutch architecture with a Caribbean paint job that has made Willemstad so famous is now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Photo by Reid Bramblett)Curaçao has a bit of the middle child syndrome amongst the Leeward Netherlands Antilles.
Aruba is more famous. Bonaire has better diving. If Curaçao is known for anything it’s the violently blue Curaçao de Curaçao liqueur—which, locally, also comes in green, yellow, clear, and flavored varieties. Well, that and the local lingo, Papiamentu, a Creole mixing Portuguese, Dutch, and just enough other tongues to be almost incomprehensible—though just about everyone also speaks English, Dutch, and Spanish.
Aside from a snorkeling or dive trip by boat, few visitors make it beyond Willemstad, a real looker of a Caribbean capital with a pair of stony fortresses, a waterfront lined by colorful colonial Dutch architecture. There's more to this town than just the pastel buildings, the Western Hemisphere's oldest synagogue, and a floating fish market.
They then spend the rest of their stay on the beach, by the pool, and gambling in the casinos (though I have it on good authority—a couple of muscle-bound DEA agents I met on a snorkel boat trip and later went drinking with—that many of the casinos are actually money-laundering operations for Syrian drug smugglers).
But there's so much more to Curaçao than candy-colored buildings, the standard Caribbean beach pleasures, and helping Middle Eastern heroin kingpins recycle their cash.
Feeding a herring to a lemon shark—and giving thanks to the inventor of Plexiglas, which is all that is keeping these beasties from surrounding me and attempting to nibble off my fingers (that was a fun day). (Photo by Aline van Kampen)You can get a hands-on lesson in Caribbean cuisine with the dinnertime cooking classes given by Angelique, or drop by the Curacao Aquarium to feed the sharks ...by hand while scuba diving, no less. Also take the time to explore the island's rugged West End where you can take an ATV tour of Shete Boca Park and a jeep safari through Mt. Christoffel Park.
Curaçao is always warm—low 80s, both air and water—usually dry, and lies outside the hurricane belt.
It's most crowded December to April; July and August can be a bit hot. Twice daily direct flights from Miami to Curaçao on American Airlines make transfers simple.
The Curaçao tourism board (www.curacao.com) has island info and an accommodations guide.
In Willamsted, the San Marco Hotel (011-5999-461-2988, www.sanmarcocuracao.com, $93) is in the heart of town. The simple Buona Sera (011-5999-465-8565, $50) is near the water, a ten-minute walk from downtown.
Sunset over Curaçao; the view from the Kura Hulanda Lodge in Westpunt.For a beachside boutique hotel outside town, try the all-suites Floris Suites Hotels (011-5999-462-6111, www.florissuitehotel.com, $165–$210 rack rates, from $130 online).
If you have the scratch, I highly recommend the Kura Hulanda (011-5999-839-3600, www.kurahulanda.com; book it). One of the properties is a gorgeously restored village in the Otrobanda section of Willemstad. The neighborhood's houses have been turned into idiosyncratic, designer rooms and suites, the cobblestone streets have become the hotels "hallways," and the courtyards have been turned into outdoor restaurants, some filled with the owner's extensive collection of antiques from around the world, others splashing with fountains (starting at $220–$290 rack rates, from $194 online).
The other Kura Hurlanda property is an eco-lodge of seaside duplexes overlooking the water from atop a low cliff out on the west end of the island (Westpunt), with a private beach, lovely open-air restaurant serving pan-Asian dishes, and a small Zen garden at one end leading to a sinkhole cave of tide pools that was once a sacred spot to the natives (starting at $175–$300 rack rates, from $163 online).