Let Curacao capture your attention
Geschreven door Ryan Wolstat – January 4, 2020
WILLEMSTAD, Curacao — Many islands in the Caribbean are well worth a visit, but few can match the beauty, flair and authenticity of Curacao.
Whether it’s pristine beaches with serene blue waters you seek, diving, off-roading adventures, discovering architecture and heritage, checking out a world-class music festival, or dining on an endless variety of exquisite cuisine, Curacao has something for everyone.
Curacao often flies a bit under the radar. It doesn’t get a ton of publicity and doesn’t tend to end up on many must-visit lists. That’s a shame, because so many people are missing out when they head to more popular locales.
Locals will tell you Curacao is a lot more authentic than many islands. It is different than its two Dutch ABC Island cousins Bonaire (considered one of the world’s great diving spots) and Aruba (a desired tourist destination because of its beaches and shopping). Aruba is more Americanized and tourism-focused but, having also been to Aruba, I can say it’s a solid choice as well — albeit one with a completely different vibe than Curacao.
Though it still caters to visitors with all kinds of options and has white sand beaches, Curacao is a more rustic and authentic place — one that is great for snorkelling and diving, but also has a thriving arts scene.
Curacao is known for its colourful colonial European architecture, crystal blue waters, secluded beaches and excellent weather. It is located in the southern Caribbean, close enough to Venezuela that, like with Aruba, there is a considerable Venezuelan flavour owing to past ties, primarily in the oil field.
Though English, Spanish, Portuguese and the local Papiamento are widely spoken, the Dutch influence is everywhere, even though the weather screams Caribbean relaxation.
The Punda area of Willemstad was established in 1634, when the Dutch captured the island from Spain. The Otrobanda section was founded in 1707. The Sint Anna Bay inlet separates the two areas. A floating bridge (Queen Emma Bridge, also known as the “Swinging Old Lady”) connects them (and is beautifully lit up at night), while the Queen Juliana Bridge, which is further inland, is the highest in the Caribbean and was built to allow oil tankers to pass through the bay.
The Floating Market, which features boats selling food and crafts from South America and other West Indian islands, is fun when it is running, and there are also museums, mansions, Fort Amsterdam, and the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.
The annual North Sea Jazz festival brings some of the world’s biggest acts to the island for Labour Day weekend. Past festivals have featured some of the biggest acts on the planet, including Stevie Wonder, Prince, Bruno Mars, Rod Stewart, Sting, Santana, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Wyclef Jean and so many more.
The most recent fest hosted the likes of Maroon Five, Mariah Carey, Pitbull and The Black Eyed Peas, along with standout reggae bands like Inner Circle and other well-known artists like Earth Wind and Fire, Kenny G, Gladys Knight and Nicky Jam. The event has something for fans of all ages and musical tastes, and if you can arrange a visit when the festival is on to end your summer with a bang, do it!
Whether you want to check out the many beaches, or do something a bit more active, getting out and seeing the island — which is 28C and hurricane-free year-round — is a must.
Our fun started with a trip to Playa Piskado, where we investigated for sea turtles in the deep blue sea on a SeaBob. What’s a SeaBob, you ask? Think a James Bond-esque personal submarine crossed with a Jet Ski. You’ll have a blast with the easy-to-use underwater scooter, which can jet around above the water, and then descend underneath for exploration for as long as you can hold your breath. This was a true highlight of the trip.
Lunch followed at the Blue View cliffside restaurant. Our group dined while people (including one member of our crew) cliff-jumped from across the way.
If you like off-roading and exploring, an ATV tour is a must. When I walked into Eric’s ATV Adventures in Willemstad for a safety briefing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. A plaque on the wall documented a private visit by Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes and noted how much they liked the tour. Given Cruise’s penchant for doing stunts, that’s not surprising, but for the less adventurous, don’t worry, the ATV ride isn’t too crazy.
We tied up bandanas over our mouths for the dust, put on our helmets and hit the road. We trekked across Curacao’s eastern end, checking out an aloe plantation, ostrich farm, the coast and did a short hike, explored a cave and learned one theory of how the island got its name (sailors with scurvy in the 1500s would often heal up when left behind on Curacao, so it was called Ilha da Curacao, which means Island of Healing).
Be sure to grab some Blue Curacao, one of the most famous liqueurs in the world. It’s concocted in a 19th-century mansion, which is the only distillery in the world that produces the drink.
Curacao is not for everyone. If you want a raucous, all-inclusive, non-stop party filled with American-style tourist traps, you might want to look elsewhere. This is a beautiful place with a slower pace mixed with European flair, plenty of fine dining, activities and gorgeous beaches to be enjoyed.
It’s a true hidden gem in the Caribbean.
WHERE TO STAY
There are all kinds of lodging options in Curacao. From all-inclusives, to boutiques to the splendid new Curacao Marriott Beach Resort, which our group previewed as the final touches were put on the extensive renovation.
We stayed at a truly unique place, Plantation Jan Thiel Lodge. This historic plantation house has six different rooms in the main house, as well as a private apartment with two bedrooms. The apartment has its own dipping pool and outdoor shower and offers a little more privacy. The main house has amazing views of the ocean. The lodge offers accommodation for up to 20 guests, as well as delicious daily breakfast cooked by the amazing hostess, Loeki.
GET TO KNOW CURACAO:
— Located in the southern Caribbean, about 65 km north of Venezuela.
— Has more than 35 beaches.
— Is one of the Dutch ABC islands.
— Year-round temperatures of 28C and situated outside of the hurricane belt.
— Population of around 160,000 and about 444 square kilometres in size.
— Multiple languages are commonly spoken.
— The capital is Willemstad, and its city centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its unique architecture and harbour entry.
— Curacao International Airport is situated 12 km north of Willemstad and serves two million passengers annually.
— Air Canada offers direct flights from Toronto to Curacao several days a week, while WestJet has direct flights there on Sundays. The flights are about five hours. Travellers can also connect through the United States, commonly Miami or New York City.
— Curacao was recently named “Top Cruise Destination in the Southern Caribbean” by Cruise Critic.
— Like Aruba, owing to the Venezuelan connection, baseball is hugely popular on the island and five-time Major League Baseball all-star Andruw Jones hails from Willemstad, along with current star Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and standout Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies, among others who have played in the Majors.