With its delightful Dutch colonial architecture, thriving art, culinary scenes, and excellent history museums, Curaçao feels like a little piece of Europe at the edge of the Caribbean, with glorious hidden beaches, wondrous caves, amazing snorkeling and diving, and a wild, undeveloped windward coast dotted with prickly cacti and whiptail blue lizards.
Culture & History
The culture of Curaçao lends itself to many backgrounds, with the island home to a majority of Afro-Caribbean, along with Dutch, French, Latin American, and Asian folk. There is also a significant Jewish input. Though English is widely spoken, the native tongue is Creole of Portuguese descent. Dutch and Spanish can also be discerned in everyday conversations.
With its mostly Dutch upbringing, Curaçao retains a distinctive air in its architecture. You will notice this, especially in Willemstad, with its typical multicolored, Dutch-style building. The cuisine is a mixture of the various peoples, with Dutch goodies and seafood particularly prominent.
The best way to get a feel for the Afro-Caribbean heritage is to attend one of the festivals. Carnival is a big hit with locals and tourists alike and shows off the dress, drumming music, and dance of the Afro-Caribbean locals.
Curacao’s cuisine is quite diverse and food has become the way of the land since it is as diverse as the many ethnicities and languages of its people. From upscale restaurants to street food stalls, there is something to appease any gourmet. Just about every taste of Curacao is a testament of its eventful past, with flavors so rich you’ll be saying “dushi” (a local term for sweet) with every bite.
When you think of street art, Curaçao is probably not on your radar, but that’s where you would be mistaken. Colorful murals sprawl across Willemstad’s buildings, particularly in the Otrobanda and Pietermaai neighborhoods, the latter of which is the city’s coolest new avenue for food and night life. Designs range from geometric shapes to realistic portraits to political commentary.
Curaçao’s art scene also thrives in several museums and galleries. Learn about the Chichi figurine at Serena’s Art Factory or pick up a colorful print at Nena Sanchez’s downtown gallery. To see Willemstad's largest collection of works by Curaçaoan artists, head over to Gallery Alma Blou.
For all its daytime activities, Curaçao certainly doesn’t get sleepy at night. Live music fills the air every night of the week in styles ranging from jazz to pop to soca, and festive bars offer ideal havens to tip back a few drinks. One of the island’s most well-known spots for live musical entertainment is Blues, a jazz and blues bar located in the historic Avila Beach Hotel, a property built around a historic 18th-century mansion.
Outdoors & Adventure
While it only takes about an hour and forty-five minutes to drive Curaçao from tip to tip, it’s home to over 35 beaches, each with their personalities. Playa Knip, the island’s most famous beach, offers up crystal-clear waters and good amenities, while Playa Lagun is a more intimate and quirky spot, with weathered rowboats strewn across its golden sand. If you’re looking for a little more space to move around, head over to Porto Mari, a wide expanse of beach with breathtaking waters – sit on the pier for a jealousy-inducing photo opp, or grab a cold Amstel Bright at the conveniently located beach bar.
Looking for something to get the heart pumping? The island’s largest national park, Christoffelpark, is a perfect place to burn off some energy – hike its namesake mountain and get a taste of the Curaçaoan outdoors. Eight trails varying in difficulty are available for exploration, and all can be completed without a guide. Should you want a little guidance, the park office can book many different informational tours – take a pickup safari, or catch a bird watching excursion or history tour.
To get a sense of nature’s power, make the drive up to the northernmost point of the island to visit Shete Boka National Park. It’s one of those scenes that you hear before you see – as you walk the path through the sparse volcanic landscape, a roar bounces off the rocks from a source eclipsed by the grey horizon. Walk a bit further and the land gives way to a spectacular coastline where massive azure waves pummel the cliffs with unsettling force.
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