When Rebecca offered to write a travel guide for Curaçao my thoughts were:
“Sure! Uhhhh, where is that again?” and
“Where is the ç on my keyboard?”
Rest assured dear readers that I figured it out and now I’m eyeing this Caribbean island for a winter getaway. One bedroom Airbnbs WITH A POOL start at $66 US!
Related: Airbnb is always an affordable option and if you’ve never used it before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
If you’ve never heard of Curaçao you’re going to want to add it to your must-go list soon! It’s a small island located in the Dutch Caribbean nestled between Aruba and Bonaire. Cleverly, these islands are known as the ABC islands!
Curaçao, the largest of the three, is a unique melting pot of different cultures, cuisines and languages. The most common language heard on the island is Papiamentu, a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, and some Arawak Indian and African influences. But most people also speak Dutch, English and Spanish so you needn’t worry if you’re not multilingual!
I grew up a ‘Yu di Korsou’ (child of Curaçao) and even though I don’t live on the island any more, it still inspires me and my jewelry brand BECK Jewels. Curaçao is still my most precious muse.
MUST GO LOCATIONS IN CURAÇAO
Curaçao’s capital, Willemstad, is divided by water into 4 districts (Punda, Otrobanda, Scharloo and Pietermaai) all of which are recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site. The Queen Emma Bridge is a floating bridge that connects Punda with Otrobanda. This pedestrian bridge hinges open several times a day to enable the passage of cruise ships and large cargo tanks. It is a sight to see while sipping on a cocktail at one of the venues on either the Otrabanda or Punda side.
The most famous site in Curaçao has to be Handelskade, a colorful street lining our main port. The whimsical Dutch colonial buildings set the tone of our island – the most prominent one being the Penha building which was created in 1708. For decades this historical building has been the best boutique on the island for duty-free fragrances and makeup.
When you are done exploring the streets of Punda, I recommend exploring the outskirts of town, where Pietermaai begins. This historic area has flourished recently, with banks, hotels, bars and restaurants buying up crumbling monument buildings and restoring them to their original beauty. Not all buildings are restored, but this gives the area its bohemian vibe.
Take a stroll to the ocean front and stop for a drink at St Tropez and catch the sunset. Other favorites include, Kome, Miles Jazz Cafe and Mundo Bizzaro. If you are in Curaçao on New Year’s day this area is a must! During the day on December 31st these roads are closed and the area becomes a pedestrian party with fireworks and open street bars.
Another wonderful time to visit is during the Curacao International BlueSeas Festival, once again the neighborhood turns into an incredible block party providing free access to international Blues artists in little venues creating a unique Curaçao vibe.
MUST DO IN CURAÇAO
Curaçao is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean; most are easily accessible, with a few gems tucked away in coves. I recommend renting a jeep and go beach hopping through Banda Bou – the western part of the island, where the best beaches are located.
Stop at any of the snack bars along the way for a refreshing beer and a lumpia (fried vegetable filled roll). Here’s a list of Curacao’s beaches (My favorites include Porto Marie and Kenepa) You can rent scuba equipment in Porto Marie otherwise be sure to bring your snorkeling gear and enjoy the coral reefs’ rich with marine live. If you have time, rent a boat or skipper and visit the Blue Room; an underwater cave that is truly remarkable.
VISIT KLEIN KORSOU (LITTLE CURAÇAO)
This small, uninhabited island is just 10 km (about 6 miles) from Curaçao and has one of the most incredible white sand and crystal clear waters in the world. There is a beautiful abandoned light house in the middle of the island.
You can arrange to go with Miss Anne or Mermaid, or you can also charter your own boat for more privacy. I thoroughly recommend spending the day in this remote part of the Caribbean where time seems to stand still.
NORTH SEA JAZZ FESTIVAL
The North Sea Jazz Festival has quickly become the premier musical event of the Caribbean, drawing thousands of fans to Curaçao for the biggest party of the year. Past performers have included Prince, Rod Stewart, Juan Luis Guerra, Mana, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Carlos Santana, Alicia Keys, John Legend as well as some of the island’s best homegrown talent. The 7th edition of Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival will take place on September 1, 2, and 3, 2016.
MUST EAT IN CURAÇAO
Most restaurants serve fresh fish. The local catch normally consists of Grouper, Tuna, Red Snapper, Dradu (Mahi Mahi) and Mula (Wahoo). The fish usually comes with fried banana and is prepared with a bouillon based creole sauce (tip: ask for ‘pika’ a homemade spicy sauce that tastes incredible on everything.)
Two great places for fish are Pop’s Place – a beach shack on Caracasbaai beach, very low key but excellent food. For a higher end dining experience Fishalicious has great ambiance and an incredible menu!
Funchi is a staple food in Curaçao households. Like polenta, funchi is cornmeal stirred into boiling water seasoned with butter and salt. My favorite is Funchi Hasa (fried funchi) salty, crunchy and delicious! Feel free to ask for it even when its not in the menu, most local restaurants will prepare it for you on the spot (be prepared to wait a little bit longer, but it is totally worth it!
One of my personal favorites! A pastechi is a dough patty filled with meat or Gouda cheese and then fried. Chicken, minced beef and salt fish (bakijou in Papiamentu) are popular fillings. You can find them everywhere on the island (snacks, bakeries and supermarkets) I recommend going early in the morning as they sell out quickly.
One of the most famous local restaurants on the island is Jaanchies. Here you can order conch (Karkό), goat (kabritu) and even iguana (yuana). Another wonderful restaurant is Trio Penotti , the specialty is local fish as well as other local recipes.
From the time of the Dutch East Indies, Dutch colonial families were exposed to Indonesian cuisine through their cooks, developing a taste for the spices and dishes. Indonesian dishes are very typical in the Curaçao home and we also have incredible restaurants that serve rijstafel (rice table) which is a tapas set up with numerous dishes that are accompanied by rice. Condiments are laid out on your table and you can season the food to your liking.
Curacao’s culinary world has boomed in the recent years, some of my favorite restaurants include: for laid-back beachside dinner Zest Mediterranean/ Beach Cafe , for a farm to table experience in a renovated landhuis Hofi Cas Cora , for authentic Italian Serafina.
CULTURAL TIPS FOR CURAÇAO
Even though the majority of locals speak English, I’ve always felt that speaking a few words of the local language is a respectful way to start any conversation in a foreign country. These are the most common words:
Bon dia / Bon nochi – Good Morning / Good night
Danki – Thank you (Masha Danki – thank you very much)
Dushi – one of my favorite words in Papiamentu. It literally means sweet, it can be used to describe something that tastes delicious but can also be used as a term of endearment like sweetheart.
For more words, check out this online translator!
CURAÇAO AFFORDABLE LODGES
The best beaches are located in ‘Banda Bou’ – life moves slower in this area. Most locals have weekend houses were they go to disconnect from the busy life in town. In the recent years, savvy tourists have realized the beauty of staying in this remote area of the island and affordable lodges have begun popping up over night. We recommend these below, but be sure to do a quick google search as you never know when a new one will open!
Thanks so much for sharing your insights, Rebecca! Any Curaçao-ians have any thing to add?