So you're planning a trip to the Caribbean island of Curacao. Or maybe you already have it booked and you're looking for a little inspo to get you excited for what's to come. It's been a long pandemic (never thought in my lifetime I'd be saying such a statement so nonchalantly, alongside a sharp exhale filled with calamity and lassitude, but... as are the times), so naturally, I was excited once Canada's borders opened up and I was safely able to go out and see a new part of the world again. I set my sights on Curacao, for a number of reasons. For one, I wanted to go somewhere safe; where my presence in the times of Covid would not disrupt or harm the local's way of life, and things we're taken seriously enough that I could put that part of my mind at ease. Two, I wanted somewhere hot, but knowing it was hurricane season in the South, I needed to avoid being on the belt. Next, I want to get more into diving, so I was looking for somewhere with crystal blue waters and a beautiful, lively reef. Also, I didn't want to just sit around at a resort sipping Mai Tais all day (although, having some days set aside for just that was also part of the plan) - I wanted culture, local cuisine, and a chance to experience nature in a place where I could do it all with an air of ease and restoration. My search led me to the island paradise of Curacao.
I won't lie, Curacao was never on my radar. I had never really looked into it much. It was a kind of on-the-whim decision I booked just a couple of weeks prior, so needless to say I arrived with zero expectations and little planned. Let me tell you, this little Dutch island captured my heart and blew me away in so many ways. Not only was it exactly what I needed after a ruthless couple of years in lockdown (for my fellow Canadians reading this, are you okay? No, really... are you okay...) but in just a short amount of time, it has become a place I cherish and would recommend time and time again to anyone, and would gladly come back to if the opportunity presents itself.
It didn't take long after stepping foot onto this island to fill our calendar. Though she be small in size, she makes up for in excitement and enterprise. Whether you have a couple of weeks or a couple of days, below I'll share some tips for traveling through Curacao; things to see, do, eat... There's still so much more that I missed, but as with anywhere, that's just another excuse to come back.
Explore the UNESCO town of Willemstad
Since 1997, Willemstad has been listed as one of UNESCO's world heritage sites, and for plenty good reason. This vibrant little city is adorned with colourful, pastel homes and buildings along with Dutch baroque architecture and cobblestone avenues. Its bright, bold colours with symmetrical uses of straight line and archways fill the streets with an amorous charm. Being a part of the Dutch Antilles, you get a sense of European tradition blended with African and American influences. There are two sides of the town, named Punda and Otrobanda, separated by a unique floating pontoon bridge called the Queen Emma where, as vessels make their way through the canal, the bridge breaks apart only to be sewn back together once the ships have sailed past. For larger ships that require the bridge to be kept open for longer, since it is the only way to get across the split, a free ferry is offered.
Something I really liked exploring while in town was the Rif Fort, an old fort you'll find crossing the bridge from Punda and taking a left along the waterfront. Its walls and secret stairways have been entirely preserved, while inside the fortress walls hosts a variety of shops and restaurants (and it is open-concept, so free entry). There are many towering viewpoints throughout to see Curacao's ultra-blue water, as well as catch a glimpse of its iconic city skyline.
While the beloved floating market was not operating during our visit, we did get a chance to walk through the old market, which has a variety of food stalls serving home-cooked Caribbean soul food at fair prices.
With plenty of shops, churches, and dining options, you could gladly spend an entire afternoon exploring the town of Willemstad.
Dive the Reef
If there's one absolute must while in Curacao, it's to experience it from the ocean floor. The warm yet energizing waters are home to a magnificent reef and marine life that will no doubt be a highlight for any diver or snorkeller. The natural reef is accessible only meters away from shore, so snorkelers and divers alike can rejoice. However, it doesn't take too deep before you can really be one with the wildlife. At only about 6 meters, you'll start to be face to face with sea horses, turtles, moray eels, eagle rays and so much more.
Brilliant corals of sea fan, sponges, and elkhorn from yellow, to pink, to green line the expansive reef. Dive shops are plentiful all over the island, as many ex-pat dive instructors choose Curacao to set up shop as it has some of the best scuba diving in the world. I recommend booking with the Dive Bus. Whether it's your first dive or your 40th, Mark and the team make it a fun, safe, and exhilarating way to spend a day on the island and experience Curacao from down under.
ATV the West End
You probably wouldn't expect it, but Curacao has some wicked off-roading. We booked an afternoon with Eric's ATV Adventures and spent 6 hours exploring the West side of the island. After a quick ride through town, we were off to the cacti-lined red sands of the San Pedro Plateau.
This rigid and wild terrain led us to our next stop, a welcomed one at that. Now, when I tell you there are not a whole lot of things in this world that scare me, I can get down with basically anything... but bats - I do not like bats. However, when in the 40-degree heat for hours in the middle of the Curacaoan desert you're presented with a dark and chambered bat cave away from the sun, you jump on the opportunity. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience at Kueba Di Brua cave. Kueba Di Brua stands for "witchcraft" (more/less) and is named after the voodoo rituals which would take place inside its stalactite and *chills* bat thronged interiors. It later became a safe haven of refuge for the locals to hide when the pirates would invade.
Afterward, we visited a natural blowhole and a stunning viewpoint before heading to my favourite part of the West end: Daaibooi Beach. A local treasure, this secluded bay had some of the clearest water I've ever seen, brimming with marine life alongside its limestone cliffs and shallow sea caves. I also loved how the beach wasn't crowded whatsoever; there was no one bothering you to pay hourly for a beach chair or palapa, it had a low-key bar/restaurant and is also one of the only beaches on the island where you can bring your own bbq - a local gem and a must-visit when in Curacao.
While we didn't have the time to explore every single beach on the island (bummer), consider taking a day and renting a car to see more of the 38 beaches in Curacao. In addition to Daaibooi, I really enjoyed our resort beach at Suncape, which was attached to the stunning reef we scuba-dived in and offered nightly mind-blowing sunsets. Some other honourable mentions are Playa Forti, Playa Jeremi, and Santa Cruz. There are also two separate lagoons with lookout points where you can view flamingos in their natural habitat. These flamingoes fly freely between Curacao, Aruba, and Bonaire.
Enjoy the Local Cuisine
While I did (surprisingly) really enjoy the food at our resort, resorts have to try and cater to a melting pot of different palates, so you can only get a glimpse into authentic, local cuisine. To get the real deal, you need to venture out. Our ATV guides took us to one of their favourite spots for lunch one day called 4th of July Snack (I know, it sounds American, but bear with me). This unassuming roadside stop has a charming side patio with string lights, roaming chickens, and a very persistent little kitten who was too cute to not give half my meal to. With very decent prices and massive portions, this place is as authentic as it gets (bless my guide's heart and patience as he had to explain each menu option to me). It did not disappoint and was one of my favourite meals of the whole trip. We got the Galina Smoor (smoked chicken with rice, fried plantain, fries, and a side salad), and the Kapsalon Galina, which was a hearty dish of fries and cheese topped with marinated, shredded chicken, lettuce, and a garlic sauce drizzle. If you go out to eat here, I strongly suggest setting aside some time for a beach nap right afterward.
I truly appreciated the hospitality and kindness of the locals during my stay, and the unique and playful experiences along the way - memories I will never forget. I really did not know what to expect arriving into Curacao, but what I do know is I left with a full heart, a full stomach, and a gratefulness for this island and everything about it.
Note: any business recommendations mentioned in this post are from my own personal experience and are not paid/sponsored.