Underrated Curacao should be the next place you go in the Caribbean

Geschreven door Rachel Vigoda – February 11, 2020

Playa Lagun
Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

Curacao is an island treasure

Nearby Aruba gets most of the attention among travelers coming from the United States. But with its small beaches tucked into hidden coves, colorful Dutch colonial architecture, affordable hotels and non-touristy vibe, Curacao is an under-the-radar Caribbean island that should be on your list of sun-soaked destinations. 

Many of the resorts on the southeastern side of the island front beaches overly packed with loungers. Instead, split your time between exploring the UNESCO World Heritage city of Willemstad and the rugged western side of the island for the best vacation experience.

Playa Porto Mari
Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

Sunny skies year-round

Set outside the hurricane belt, Curacao doesn’t have a bad season. The weather fluctuates slightly, with the fall and early winter seeing more rain than the rest of the year, but the occasional showers pass through quickly to cool you off just enough before the sun pops out to heat things up again. 

Playa Kenepa
Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Beach-hoppers’ paradise

If you’re looking for a long stretch of beach lined with resorts, you’re on the wrong island. Curacao’s coast is dotted with small coves, where you can sit back on a curve of sand surrounded by cacti-covered hills while gazing out onto the endless turquoise water ahead.

Beach-hopping between coves, never knowing quite what the next one will look like, is a perfect way to spend a day. Start at the popular Playa Kenepa, where a $15 ticket gets you two beach chairs and an umbrella at two neighboring beaches.

A sea turtle in Curacao
Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Swim with sea turtles

And don’t skip Playa Piskado (also called Playa Grandi), where the sea turtles aren’t fazed by visitors: they’ll swim right up.

Sleepy pigs on a Curacao beach
Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

Lounge alongside beach-loving pigs

Spot pigs napping on the soft white sand at Playa Porto Mari. It’s also worth stopping here to stroll out to the end of the long dock for serene views of the beach and bright turquoise water, even though the serenity doesn’t always carry over to the narrow beach itself, which can get too crowded.

Ask for a table by the open windows at Jaanchie's to watch the birds flit between hanging bowls of sugar
Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Lunch at a local legend

Break up a day of beach-hopping with a lunch stop at Jaanchie’s. The airy, laid-back restaurant is known for serving iguana to curious tourists, and owner Jan “Jaanchi” Cristiaan, who stops at every table to go over the day’s menu, will be sure to point out that iguana is an aphrodisiac.

But if you’re in the mood for fish, chicken or meat, or a vegetarian plate with polenta, plantains and rice and beans, those are all options too.

The pool at Lagun Blou overlooks the ocean
Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Remote seaside hotels

The pool overlooking the ocean, umbrella-shaded terrace and spacious, bi-level rooms with private balconies feel like enough, but at Lagun Blou Resort, there’s a secret showstopper. Follow the path past the pool to a secluded ledge that’s perfect for jumping straight into the ocean (there’s also a ladder).

Bring your snorkel and mask; there are plenty of fish to see right here. The peaceful hotel, where well-equipped apartment-style accommodations go for around $150 a night, is set on a cliff over the water, with a small beach a few minutes’ walk away

Avila Beach Hotel in Willemstad
Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Best-of-both-worlds hotels

If you’re looking to stay closer to the action, a beachside hotel near the heart of Willemstad is the perfect compromise. Avila Beach Hotel, the longest-running hotel on the island, is set in a former governor’s mansion with a private beach, an elegant open-air restaurant and a blues bar perched above the water.

You’ll also get choice of room style, which includes modern rooms set along a pier. The city’s bars, restaurants and cultural sights are all just a short drive away (taxis are expensive in Curacao, so renting a car is often the better option).

The Baoase hotel
Photo courtesy of Baoase Luxury Resort

Five-star stays

Low-key Curacao is more about comfort than luxury, but there are high-end options. With only 23 rooms and villas built around a man-made lagoon, Baoase Luxury Resort feels like an exclusive hideaway. The pampering Balinese-style hotel includes multiple pools, a private beach and a restaurant.

Inside Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, a sand-floor synagogue in Curacao's capital
Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Curacao’s place in history

You can feel the history as you walk on the sand floor at Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest synagogue in the Americas. And it’s still in active use today.

A timeline exhibit next to the temple lays out the history of the world, the island and the Jewish people side by side – it’s fascinating to see local events explained in the context of what was happening throughout the world at the same time.

The Kura Hulanda museum in Curacao's Otrobanda neighborhood
Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Not-to-miss exhibits

Across the bay in Otrobanda, the Kura Hulanda museum offers another look at how the past shapes the present. It’s known as a slavery museum but it’s much more, starting with ancient African and Middle Eastern artifacts and moving through the transatlantic slave trade (which used Curacao as a base) to the myriad ways African cultures have influenced life on the island.

Curacao is known for its colorful buildings
Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

Architectural photo ops

If you’ve seen only one image of Curacao, it was likely the picturesque row of candy-colored Dutch colonial buildings that line the harbor in Willemstad. Those bright colors continue through the historic city, making for plenty of photo ops as you wander around Punda or check out the revitalized Pietermaai District.

Kome in Curacao
Photo courtesy of Kome

A night on the town

After a day exploring Willemstad, stocking up on souvenirs and taking in the cultural sights, it’s time for dinner and a cocktail or two. You’ll have your choice of trendy restaurants serving international cuisines in Curacao, such as Kome, a sleek spot in the Pietermaai neighborhood led by an American chef, or Cana Bar & Kitchen, a hip gastropub with a seafood-focused Latin-Caribbean menu.