Caribbean Destination Series Part 10-Curacao


Curacao
Overview
Introduction

Curacao is a curious place. Its Dutch colonial buildings painted in shades of yellow, orange and blue are reminiscent of Amsterdam, yet the dry climate, barren soil and cacti are more akin to the southwestern U.S. But Curacao’s greatest natural beauty lies offshore—around the island’s coral reefs, which are drawing an increasing number of divers and snorkelers.

Some of the things that set Curacao apart have little to do with tourism. With its unique buildings and natural harbor, the capital Willemstad became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The town is a big, bustling port (and the largest dry dock in the region). Huge ships sail right through downtown, and the Queen Emma Bridge creates a unique sight when it turns sideways to let them pass.

Much of the shipping traffic revolves around the island’s large oil refinery, second only to tourism as an economic factor for the island. When Shell Oil ran the refinery, Curacao became one of the more prosperous parts of the Caribbean. Shell left in 1987, and the government now leases the facilities to a Venezuela company that runs it on a much smaller scale. When winds are high, the refinery can emit an unpleasant odor and pollutants around the immediate area and downwind; a filter tower has been installed in an attempt to combat the problem.

With a mixture of 55 different nationalities on the island, Curacao has a fascinating multicultural aspect. It also has a cosmopolitan character: The majority of residents speak at least four languages—English, Spanish, Dutch and their own Papiamento.

Must See or Do

Sights—Spelunking in the Hato Caves; scuba diving through the Mushroom Forest; exploring nature trails and caves at Christoffel National Park; touring the island’s landhuisen, or plantation houses; exotic drink flavors at the Curacao Liqueur Distillery; Dutch heritage along the streets of Willemstad.

Museums—Curacao history at the Curacao Museum; slave history at the Kura Hulanda Museum; Jewish history at the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, Mikve Israel-Emanuel.

Memorable Meals—Authentic Curacao dishes, known locally as kriollo, at the Old Market food stalls; keshi yena at Belle Terrace Restaurant; terrace dining and Italian specialties at Cielo; watching the cruise ships come and go over fine French cuisine at Bistro Le Clochard.

Late Night—Weekend beachfront dance parties at Mambo Beach; table games or slots at one of the island’s casinos; a casual drink and a nice view of the sea at Waterfort Arches.

Walks—Discovering natural cures along a walk through Den Paradera; a stroll across the floating Queen Emma Bridge to Fort Amsterdam; a walking tour of Willemstad.

Especially for Kids—Feed the sharks at the Curacao Sea Aquarium; a motor tour of the Ostrich Farm.

Geography

Curacao’s rolling hills are covered by thorny bushes and towering cacti. It is 38 mi/62 km long and between 2 and 7.5 mi/3 and 11 km wide.

History

The largest and most developed of the ABC islands of Dutch heritage (the others are Aruba and Bonaire), Curacao was first inhabited by the Caiquetios, a branch of the Arawaks. The first European visitors were the Spanish in 1499, who didn’t find any agricultural potential on the island and more or less ignored it.

The Dutch, recognizing the potential of its natural port, took Curacao in 1634, developing it into a mini-Holland. As the Dutch West India Company built up an important mercantile center, Curacao also became a Caribbean center for the slave trade from Africa.

There are as many legends about Curacao’s name as there are nationalities. One claim is that it stems from the days when seamen ate only meat and bread and often died from scurvy, a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C. In the early 1500s, one captain marooned several very sick sailors on the island—not out of cruelty, but so they could die in peace. When the captain returned several months later, the sailors had fully recovered. They had eaten native limes, a good source of vitamin C. The captain, Amerigo Vespucci, promptly named the island Curacao—Portuguese for “the big cure.”

A fascinating multicultural mix formed as Curacao grew: Portuguese Jews joined Africans, Arabs, Indians and Europeans of all nationalities. Today, the island is notable not only for its many ethnic groups and religions, but also for the easygoing tolerance and harmony of its people.

Snapshot

The island’s main attractions include shopping, historic Dutch architecture, nightlife, diving and snorkeling, caves, swimming, the Sea Aquarium, casinos and restaurants.

Curacao is a good choice for veteran Caribbean visitors who want to do more than lie on the beach. Its distinctive culture and varied attractions make a pleasant mixture of things not often found together in the Caribbean.

Port Information
Location

Megaliners and larger ships dock at the updated Mega Port, near Riffort at the tip of Otrobanda in Willemstad. Smaller cruise ships are able to enter the channel and dock at the Mathey Wharf in Santa Anna Bay.

The Mega Port has an open-air terminal with a few shops, phones, restrooms, a mail slot and tourist information. Taxis, rental cars and tour companies meet passengers there. About a three-minute walk away is Riffort Village, which offers a much larger choice of shops, cafes and facilities.

A pedestrian bridge connects Otrobanda (“the other side”) to Punda (“the point”), or the east side of town where most of the tourist attractions and shops are located. It takes 10-15 minutes to walk from your ship across the bridge to Punda. The main office of the Curacao Tourist Development Bureau is in Punda, at Pietermaai 19 (phone 434-8200).

Shore Excursions

Consider signing up for the excursions offered by your ship. They may not be the least expensive way to see the island, but you won’t have to waste your limited time making arrangements yourself—and you won’t have to worry about missing the ship.

Shore excursions—and their prices—vary from cruise line to cruise line. Most ships offer diving and snorkeling excursions. Other typical tours include a trolley tour around Willemstad; a bus trek around the island to the Hato Caves and the plantation where Curacao liquor is distilled; and a dolphin-encounter experience.

In addition, passengers may choose an active off-road adventure by Land Rover, ATV or dune buggy. Those who prefer a water adventure can sign up for snorkeling, diving or a beach day with all sports equipment included. Some shore excursions are suitable for passengers with limited mobility and may include transportation by lift-equipped van.

Check with your ship’s shore-excursion staff or your travel agent for additional information.

Potpourri

A series of windmills on the northeast coast, propelled by Curacao’s near-constant winds, helps to produce the island’s electricity.

Be assured, locals are not calling you a donkey. They are saying danki, meaning “thank you” in Papiamento.

If you hear someone refer to a curioso, they are not being inquisitive: This Papiamento word refers to a traditional healer who uses herbs in their ministrations. Dinah Veeris, owner of Den Paradera, is the most famous curioso in Curacao.

Curacao deer have been residents of the island since long before the time of Columbus. Guided deer-watching tours are offered at Christoffel National Park. Reservations are required (phone 462-6262).

The green iguana, once an endangered species, is now being “ranched” for food and for pets. Considered a delicacy by locals, it is served in some restaurants.

Rainstorms are rare, but when they do occur the countryside breaks out in wildflowers that last a few days.

You’re likely to see buildings in Willemstad that appear to be crumbling from the inside out. Known as “wall cancer,” the problem is caused by the salt leaching out of the sea sand and stones that were used for building materials.

During “coral spawning” in September and October, divers can witness several types of coral, urchins and brittle stars releasing their eggs to be fertilized in the open waters around the reef.

See & Do
Sightseeing

Curacao is unlike most Caribbean islands for two distinct reasons: The landscape is arid and more similar to the southwestern U.S. than a tropical island, and the historic center of the capital city of Willemstad is totally preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both distinctions make Curacao the ideal island for visitors who desire more from a vacation than beach activities.

The preservation of Curacao’s landhuisen (plantation houses) has helped define its past. They are perhaps the most important architectural and cultural symbols of the island’s history. The diversity of its numerous cultures is mirrored in the many ways these landmarks have been used. Pick up brochures about the landhuisen from your hotel or the tourist office. The Information Magazine, published by the tourist office, also has a descriptive page on the estates, as well as a map showing their locations.

Sightseers will want to mix cultural locations with natural sites, perhaps starting with a guided full-island tour. Several operators organize comprehensive group tours that hit all the highlights, and some taxi drivers act as private guides for customized tours. Any sightseeing tour should allow ample time to explore historic Willemstad, the capital of Curacao, which is best seen on foot. A rental car is best for leisurely exploration of the rugged countryside and diverse coastline.

Historic Sites

Landhuis Bloemhof
This landhuis is now a spacious art gallery devoted to local artists. The barn and storehouse holds a collection of books and photographs that belonged to the former occupants and artists, Max and May Henriquez, who hosted writers and artists in their home during the later part of the 20th century. The coach house and gardens display sculptures by May Henriquez. Open Monday-Saturday 9 am-4 pm. Admission 3.50 ANG. Santa Rosaweg No. 6 (near the Promenade Shopping Center, about 15 minutes by car from Willemstad), Curacao. Phone 737-5775. http://www.bloemhof.an.

Landhuis Chobolobo
This is where you’ll find the Curacao Liqueur Distillery, home of those exotic Curacao drink flavors for “Blue Whales” and “Tropical Sunsets.” The not-so-secret ingredient is the island’s laraha orange (a Valencia orange that grows small and bitter in Curacao’s soil and climate). Although most brands of the drink are produced elsewhere, this small distillery continues to operate in Curacao, making it the only brand labeled as “original and authentic” and “the Curacao of Curacao.” The tour is self-guided, there is no entrance fee, and free samples are available. Monday-Friday 8 am-noon and 1-5 pm. Near Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-3526. http://www.curacaoliqueur.com/pages/tours.htm.

Landhuis Groot Santa Martha
This historic plantation provides a guided tour of its expansive grounds, including bird-watching, and sells crafts made in its workshops by handicapped artisans. Daily 7:30 am-4 pm. 5 ANG. Near Soto, Curacao. Phone 864-1323. http://www.tsoshal.org.

Landhuis Knip
Probably the most historically significant is Landhuis Knip (or Kenepa), site of the island’s most important slave uprising, which occurred in August 1795. Some 50 slaves from this plantation encouraged those at nearby estates to join them, and the rebellion lasted several weeks. Each August, it is remembered at the site in a much less violent manner—with folkloric and cultural events. The museum also displays antique domestic appliances. Monday-Friday 9 am-4 pm, Sunday 10 am-4 pm. Phone 864-0244.

Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue
Consecrated in 1732, this is the oldest existing synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and a marvelous example of Dutch colonial architecture. It still serves an active Jewish congregation, which is thought to be the oldest in the New World. The sanctuary floor is covered in sand to represent the desert where ancient Israelites lived after escaping slavery in Egypt. Many precious antiques furnish and decorate the interior. Services are open to appropriately dressed visitors each Friday at 6:30 pm and Saturday at 10 am. The museum admission fee includes entrance to the synagogue Monday-Friday 9-11:45 am and 2:30-4:45 pm. 8.85 ANG. Hanechi di Snoa No. 29, Curacao. Phone 461-1067. http://www.snoa.com.

Museums

Curacao Maritime Museum
Near the Floating Market, the Curacao Maritime Museum details the lives of the island’s seafaring residents, from the earliest Amerindians through the European explorers and traders of later centuries. Displays include naval artifacts, model ships and maps. The museum is housed in a historic 17th-century renovated mansion. Tuesday-Saturday 9 am-4 pm. 17 ANG. Van de Brandhof Straat 7, Scharloo, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 465-2327. http://www.curacaomaritime.com.

Museum Kas di Pal’I Maishi
Built about 130 years ago, Museum Kas di Pal’I Maishi was the home of a former slave, whose family still owns it today. The house is constructed of thin tree branches braided together and covered with adobe and plaster. Loosely translated, the name means “sorghum stalk house.” It’s surrounded with a cactus fence, called a kadushi, that is typical of that era. Lunch, featuring local dishes, is served in the backyard. Monday-Friday 9 am-4 pm, Saturday and Sunday 9 am-6 pm. Dokterstuin 27, Ascension (about 20 minutes north of Willemstad), Curacao. Phone 864-2742.

The Curacao Museum
The Curacao Museum in Otrobanda is small but interesting. Displays include the archaeological history of Curacao, a few Caiquetio artifacts, a traditional plantation kitchen and a unique carillon with 47 bells. The Snipgallery houses the cockpit of the first KLM plane to cross the Atlantic in 1934. Monday-Friday 8:30 am-4:30 pm, Sunday 10 am-4 pm. 5.50 ANG. Otrobanda, Curacao. Phone 462-3873. http://www.curacaomuseum.an.

The Jewish Cultural Historic Museum
A rare collection of religious relics is housed in two 18th-century structures set across a courtyard from Willemstad’s historic synagogue. Among the most fascinating are the 250-year-old mikvah (used for ritual bathing), an ancient Torah scroll that probably was brought to Curacao by Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, and a 300-year-old Chair of Elijah, where the godfather is seated while holding his infant godson during ceremonial circumcisions. Open Monday-Friday 9-11:45 am and 2:30-4:45 pm. 8.85 ANG. Hanechi di Snoa No. 29, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-1633. http://www.snoa.com.

The Kura Hulanda Museum
The Kura Hulanda Museum traces the history of the region and the people (especially those of African descent) that have made Curacao the place it is today. The section on slavery is very realistic and includes the hold of a simulated slave ship. The owner’s private African art collection is amazing. Daily 10 am-5 pm. 15 ANG adults; 9 ANG children and seniors. Otrobanda, Curacao. Phone 434-7765. http://www.kurahulanda.com/museum.

Nature

Hato Caves
On the northern coast, you’ll find the Hato Caves. They were opened as a tourist attraction in the early 1990s with lights, walkways and guided tours. Although this gives the caves a more sterile appearance, it makes exploring a lot easier and safer. Caiquetio drawings and several bat species can be seen at Hato. There’s a souvenir shop and snack bar on the terrace. Phone 868-0379.

Parks & Gardens

Den Paradera
Discover natural cures for a surprising number of ailments at Den Paradera (The Herb Garden). This botanical garden offers both guided and self-guided tours along stone-lined paths. A leaflet explains not only the plant names but their curative powers, as well. The highlight is meeting the woman behind this venture, herbalist Dinah Veeris, who is passionate about helping the elderly. The extensive supply of bottles and potions (on sale in her shop and by mail order) is sure to cover whatever ails you. Several tour companies include Den Paradera on their route. Monday-Saturday 9 am-6 pm. (Guided tours Monday-Friday 10 and 11 am). 10.70 ANG adults. Seru Grandi 105A, Weg Naar Fuik, Curacao. Phone 767-5608. http://www.rootsandmedicine.com/curacao/den_para.html.

Zoos & Wildlife

Curacao Sea Aquarium
Just east of Willemstad is the Curacao Sea Aquarium. It has one of the most complete collections of Caribbean fish in the world. In the Animal Encounters program, you can feed sharks and interact with stingrays, angelfish, tarpon and groupers. The latest exhibit is a Dolphin Encounter that lets you swim with these intelligent mammals. Daily 8:30 am-5:30 pm. Aquarium admission is 33 ANG adults, 17 ANG children. Additional fees for Animal Encounter and Dolphine Encounter programs. Bapor Kibra z/n, Curacao. Phone 461-6666. http://www.curacao-sea-aquarium.com.

The Ostrich Farm
More than a decade ago, 13 ostriches were imported from South Africa, the owner’s homeland, to test their survival in Curacao’s climate: The group quickly grew to 120. Now there are 600 birds housed in large open pens, viewed from a truck on the 45-minute motor tour of the vast acreage. You’ll learn fascinating facts about these birds. Try an ostrich burger or steak at the palapa-style restaurant and browse the African-art and gift shop. Tours offered daily 9 am-4 pm. The farm is open 8 am-5 pm. Admission 17.75 ANG adults, 12.50 ANG children. Phone 747-2777. http://www.ostrichfarm.net.

Recreation

Watersports are the focus of most Caribbean holidays, and they are a huge part of Curacao’s appeal. Sailing, snorkeling and scuba fill most days, but the fascinating countryside and vast national park are ideal for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and ATV touring.

Two golf courses allow guests to play, and there are well-maintained and lighted tennis courts at sports clubs and resorts.

Beaches

Curacao officially has 42 beaches. They tend to be tucked into tiny inlets. Many are rocky, and the longest and widest stretches of beach are in front of the resorts. Beaches on the sheltered southwestern coast have calm, clear turquoise water. The northern coast has powerful surf and a strong undertow—beaches there are not suitable for swimming.

The island has both public and private beaches, but many “private” beaches will admit anyone who pays the admission fee. Public beaches are more often free, though some charge admission or parking fees. Not all beaches are easy to find—some are located down long, winding dirt roads. We recommend you rent a small Jeep-type vehicle if you want to visit these off-the-beaten-path spots.

Sea Aquarium Beach is an artificial beach that was created as part of the Sea Aquarium complex, east of Willemstad. It tends to be crowded with young people on weekends, and topless sunbathing is tolerated. A fee of 5.30 ANG allows guest to use all the facilities, which include restrooms and showers, a watersports shop, and several bars and restaurants. The calm water and soft sand are especially enjoyable.

Some of the best, and most popular, beaches are at the northwest end of the island, near Westpunt (20 mi/32 km from Willemstad). On Sunday, these beaches are packed with locals. Playa Knip is a free beach in a beautiful cove. It’s actually made up of two separate areas: Big Knip, which is shaded by pergolas, and Little Knip, which is shaded by manchineel trees. (Be careful not to touch the manchineel trees, or stand under them when it rains: Their sap causes a painful blistering of the skin. The fruit is also poisonous.) There’s a snack bar (with a tiny restroom) open on weekends. Playa Abou is another free beach near Westpunt. It has several pergolas set back from the beach.

Nearby is a stretch of volcanic pebbles called Westpunt Beach, which is also made up of two beaches. One is a busy place used primarily by fishermen, and the other is for swimming, snorkeling and diving. Local youths jump from nearby cliffs into the ocean below. The Kura Hulanda Lodge sits above the beach, atop a 25-ft/7.5-m bluff, and has a poolside restaurant and bar, which can be reached by stairs from the beach.

Blue Bay Beach is a popular family beach because of the calm water and shaded sand. Located near the village of St. Michiel, just northwest of the capital, facilities include restrooms, showers, lounge chairs, a playground, restaurant and bar, and a watersports center.

Jan Thiel Beach is east of Willemstad in a resort area with many amenities. An entrance fee of 6.50 ANG per car is charged Monday-Friday, 8.80 ANG per car Saturday and Sunday. Restrooms, showers, lockers, dive center and a watersports hut are located along the sand, and waterfront restaurants serve take-out or eat-in meals and drinks.

Boating & Sailing

You may want to take a boat trip to observe shallow reefs at close range. At the large hotels, charter boats are available for touring as well as for sailing and waterskiing.

Windsurfing is possible on Curacao, but it can be a challenge: The eastern trade wind blows out to sea, so if you’re not careful, you could be in Venezuela before you know it. Sheltered bays provide safe water for beginners, and equipment can be rented at several locations. Spanish Waters and Mambo Beach are best for novice surfers, while those with more skill prefer the windward Playa Konao.

Schedules for kayak trips, canoe safaris, snorkeling trips and fishing expeditions are listed weekly in the K-Pasa entertainment guide, which is available free of charge at hotels, restaurants and the tourist office. Large watersports shops rent kayaks, canoes, windsurfers, Jet Skis and small boats on the most popular beaches, such as Spanish Water and Mambo.

Fishing

Private boat charters are available for fishing, mostly for marlin, sailfish, tuna, wahoo, dolphinfish and barracuda.

Golf

Blue Bay Golf Club and Resort
Championship 18-hole course and a full-service pro shop. Greens fees 144 ANG (mornings) or 108 ANG (afternoons). Landhuis Blauw z/n, Curacao. Phone 868-1755. http://www.bluebaygolf.com.

Curacao Golf and Squash Club
The greens at this nine-hole course are made of hard-packed sand; there’s also a pro shop where you can rent clubs, but not carts. Greens fees are 52.50 ANG. Wilhelminalaan, Curacao. Phone 737-3590.

Scuba & Snorkeling

Though still overshadowed by neighboring Bonaire as a dive site, Curacao has some lovely underwater scenery. Experienced divers will want to see Curacao’s steep walls. Another highlight is a site known as Mushroom Forest, which is home to unusual fungi-shaped coral formations. Snorkeling is also great at the Sponge Forest, offshore of Pos Spano, where you’ll find a spectacular array of sponges, some as tall as 6 ft/2 m.

There are several wrecks to explore. The Superior Producer, which sank in 1977, is sitting upright on the sea floor, with its keel at a depth of 110 ft/37 m and its wheelhouse at 80 ft/24 m. The wreck is beautifully overgrown by corals. The Oranje Nassau, close to the Sea Aquarium, ran aground in 1906 and offers good snorkeling. At the Car Piles dive site, about a seven-minute swim from shore, you’ll find coral-encrusted 1950s automobiles. The government sank two barges full of wrecked vehicles to create this reef.

You can snorkel off almost any of the beaches. (Go to the edges of the bays adjacent to where the cliffs protrude from the water for the best sea life.) However, the coral reef is often deep in these locations. There are a few spectacular dive sites on the north coast, but they are recommended only for the most experienced and adventurous divers because of the rough surf.

Every major hotel has its own dive center offering dive and snorkel excursions by boat, rental equipment, dive packages and instruction. Expect to pay about 88 ANG for a one-tank boat dive, not including equipment. Most hotels offer introductory courses (sometimes called “resort” or “discover scuba” courses), which provide basic instruction and an accompanied dive on a shallow reef. If you are not taking one of the introductory courses, you must be a certified diver and present your C card to rent equipment and go diving.

In the event of a diving emergency, St. Elizabeth’s hospital has a decompression chamber for treatment of decompression sickness, and staff physicians are qualified to treat other dive-related emergencies. St. Elizabeth’s is located at Breedestraat 193, Otrobanda, Willemstad. Phone 462-4900.

In addition, the Diver’s Alert Network (DAN) will provide treatment advice and, if necessary, arrange for evacuation. Phone 919-684-8111 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              919-684-8111      end_of_the_skype_highlighting to connect to DAN’s headquarters in the U.S. DAN also answers health-related questions about diving. For more information, call toll-free 877-595-0625 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              877-595-0625      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. http://www.DAN.org.

Nightlife

In Otrobanda, Clochard’s Harbour Side Terrace, near Riffort, is a pleasant place to stop for a drink. For a nice view overlooking the sea, we recommend the Waterfort Arches, on the Punda side of town, and Riffort Village, across the bridge on the Otrobanda side. Both have several restaurants, cafes and bars with terraces overlooking the water.

Most of the major hotels offer nightly entertainment, and most have casinos, including the Curacao Marriott Beach Resort, Hotel Kura Hulanda and the Hilton Curacao. Casinos are open daily, with slot machines available as early as 10 am, game tables beginning play around 3:30 pm, and doors closing about 3 am. Check with the individual hotels for special events, exact hours and dress codes.

Beachfront parties are a nightlife staple on Curacao; two of the best are held on weekends on the Sea Aquarium Beach.

For a comprehensive listing of all nightlife activities on Curacao, pick up a free copy of K-Pasa, which is widely available around the island, or see the calendar online at http://www.k-pasa.com.

Bars, Taverns & Pubs

Hemingway’s
Features a Cuban Night buffet and salsa band entertainment on Sunday night 6:30-9:30 pm. Happy hour specials, more than two dozen cocktails and a varied wine list are available at the bar. Open daily. Located at Lion’s Dive and Beach Resort (on the beach adjacent to Mambo Beach Club on Sea Aquarium Beach), Curacao. Phone 465-0740. http://www.hemingwaybeach.com. http://www.lionsdive.com.

T.M.F. (The Music Factory)
This is the place to hit when each member of your group wants something different. You can play billiards, groove to the DJ, sip and snack out on the terrace, or sing along with the karaoke machine. Open Monday-Saturday 8 pm-3 am. Salina 131, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-0631.

Dance & Nightclubs

Club Xclusive
This is a trendy spot with an international crowd. Music and dancing nightly. Open daily 9 pm-2 am or later. Dress code requires resort-casual attire; no beachwear. Cover charge 10 ANG. Schottegatweg Oost No. 144, Salina, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 525-75620.

The Mambo Beach Club
This popular beach party has live music and an outdoor dance floor. Open Monday-Thursday till midnight, Friday till 1 am, Saturday till 4 am, Sunday till 2 am. Sea Aquarium Beach, Curacao. Phone 461-8999. http://www.mambocuracao.com.

Wet N Wild Beach Club
Offers a barbecue on Friday, DJ-spun dance music on Saturday and a lively happy hour on Sunday evenings. Sea Aquarium Beach, Curacao. Phone 465-3464 or 465-6042.

Live Music

Sopranos Piano Bar
This is the place for live music, terrific cocktails (it offers more than a dozen types of martinis) and Cuban cigars. Check the Web site or call for special events. Riffort Village, Otrobanda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 465-4007. http://www.sopranospianobar.com/curacao.

Shopping

Most shops of interest to tourists are conveniently located within a six-block area in downtown Willemstad. Two of Punda’s main shopping streets are Heerenstraat and Madurostraat, both of which are wide pedestrian malls closed to vehicle traffic. The main shopping street in Otrobanda is Breedestraat/Roodeweg, which is always bustling with shoppers.

Bargaining is not common on Curacao—except at the Floating Market and the nearby vegetable market. Price tags are mostly in Antillean guilders, but in town, they might be in U.S. dollars, too. U.S. dollars are widely accepted, and prices will be happily recalculated.

Good buys include Curacao, a liqueur named for the island. Look for bottles labeled “Curacao of Curacao,” which is the only true version made according to the original recipe with dried peels of the laraha, a bitter, orangelike fruit that is native to the island. Other liqueurs called Curacao do not adhere to the 1886 recipe and are not produced on the island.

European and Latin American goods are widely available. Look for French perfumes, Swiss watches, Madeira linens, handbags from Argentina and Italy, Italian sportswear, Dutch dolls, Dutch chocolates and cheeses, and Japanese cameras and electronics. Locally made ceramics (tiles and plates) are also good buys.

Be sure to check prices at home before you buy to ensure that great “bargains” really are bargains. Ask if Curacao’s 5% sales tax is included in the tag price.

Shopping Hours: Monday-Saturday 8 am-noon and 2-6 pm. Shops in the suburbs stay open continuously 9 am-6 pm, and some remain open later a few evenings each week. If two or more cruise ships are in port, most Willemstad stores stay open during lunchtime, and they also open on Sunday for ship visitors

Department Stores

Penha
Near the floating bridge on the Punda side, this upscale department store occupies one of the oldest buildings in town. It specializes in perfume at duty-free prices as well as name-brand cosmetics and designer casual wear. Heerenstraat 1, Punda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-2266. http://www.jlpenha.com.

Galleries

Carib Fine Art
There are three don’t-miss displays at this gallery: an exceptional collection of antique maps and sea charts plotting the New World; original works of internationally acclaimed artist Romero Britto; and glass, sculpture and ceramic art made by Caribbean artists. Hotel Kura Hulanda, Langestraat 8, Otrobanda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 465-5759.

Kas di Alma Blou
The name means “House of the Blue Soul” in Papiamento, and the gallery displays a diverse selection of art by local and international souls. The gallery itself is an historic Dutch-style villa, or landhuis, with three sunny exhibit rooms. The sculpture garden is shaded by a large mango tree and designed for peaceful reflection. Snacks and drinks are available, and the gift shop sells books and CDs as well as art pieces. Landhuis Habaai, Frater Radulphusweg 4, Otrobanda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 462-8896. http://www.galleryalmablou.com.

Mon Art
Members of the local artists association Artevishon show their work at this gallery. It is located in the 200-year old Riffort, which guards the Otrobanda side of Santa Anna Bay. Riffort No. 409, Curacao. Phone 462-2977.

Shopping Areas

Promenade Shopping Center
Located in the Piscadera Bay area, this shopping center includes an open-air cafe, pharmacy and modern shops. Schottegatweg Oost (about 10 minutes from Willemstad by car), Curacao.

Salina Galleries
This mall has a variety of upscale boutique shops selling everything from toothpaste to European fashions. Located in the Salina area (about 5 mi/8 km from town), Curacao.

Specialty Stores

Affaire de Femmes
As the name suggests, this boutique carries a fine selection of women’s fashions. Labels include Anne Fontaine-Paris and Cambio jeans. In addition, paintings and sculptures by Philippe Zanolino are on exhibit. Salina Galleries C-101, Salinja (east of Willemstad), Curacao. Phone 465-8485.

Bamali
Fashions are inspired by Indonesia, but everything in the store is designed by the owners. Look for original styles made of natural fabrics, unique jewelry and trendy accessories. Breedestraat 2, Punda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-2258. http://ilonapawlak.com/bamali.

Boolchands
Prices are better than at home on leading brands of cameras, watches and electronics, but do some research before your vacation and know what you want and what you should pay for it. Breedestraat 50, Curacao. Phone 461-6233. http://www.boolchand.com.

Europa
Stylish fashions found there include Hugo Boss, Martinique for Men and GerryWeber. The knowledgeable staff helps with sizing and style tips. Salina Galleries D-109, Curacao. Phone 465-4044. http://www.europa-fashion.com.

Little Holland
Among the best buys are souvenirs, hand-embroidered linens, cigars and name-brand clothing, including Nautica and Ralph Lauren for adults and children. Braedestraat 37, Punda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-1413.

Little Switzerland
Well known and highly respected, Little Switzerland offers designer jewelry, china and crystal, and Lladro figurines as well as Rolex, Cartier and Omega watches. Breedestraat No. 44, Punda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-2111.

New Amsterdam
In business since 1925, this shop runs an ongoing 50%-off sale on its large selection of hand-embroidered tablecloths, Hummel and Delft figurines, and gold jewelry. Da Costa, Gomezplein 14, Punda, Willemstad., Curacao. Phone 461-3239.

Itinerary
Local Tours

The largest local tour company on the island is Taber Tours, which offers a variety of tours. Phone 868-7012. http://www.tabertours.nl.

Other local companies include Yellow Jeep Safari (phone 462-6262; http://www.tourism-curacao.com) and Curacao Actief (phone 433-8858; http://www.curacao-actief.com). Tours include an ecotrip to Christoffelpark, West coast beaches and salt lakes, and a full-day Island Explorer trip.

There’s also a trolley train that goes around the city. For reservations, contact Atlantis Adventures. Phone 461-0011. http://www.atlantisadventures.com.

Day By Day

Some travelers visit Curacao as a day stop on a cruise itinerary. Others visit on an island-hopping vacation that includes Aruba and Bonaire. Curacao is a relatively large island, so a tour is an efficient way to see most of the attractions. We suggest you include visits to Christoffel National Park and the Curacao Sea Aquarium in any itinerary.

Day Plans

To help you make the most of your time in Curacao, we’ve designed three different itineraries. PLAN A

Goin’ Downtown

Stroll to the floating pedestrian Queen Emma Bridge, affectionately called the “swingin’ old lady” by locals, and walk across. Following a restoration that added lights, reinstalled wooden boards and replaced aging pontoons, the bridge is a magnificent sight. It is quite an experience to feel the bridge moving under your feet. (Some people actually get seasick.) The little cabin on the Punda side is the command room. A whistle will blow indicating that the bridge is about to swing sideways; a blue or orange flag indicates how long the bridge will remain open. (While the bridge is open, a free ferry takes pedestrians across Santa Anna Bay.)

Once on the Punda side, walk first to Fort Amsterdam. As you go under the arched drive into a central courtyard, you will pass right under the home of the former Netherlands Antilles governor. Inside the courtyard are several government offices and the old Protestant church. Step in and admire the huge, restored pipe organ. Then, browse through Punda’s melange of shops, which sell a wide variety of goods. The main shopping street, Heerenstraat, is closed to car traffic.

Be sure to check out the Floating Market, a string of small fishing boats that hug the Waaigat shore along Sha Capriles Kade, just around the corner from the Handelskade. Venezuelan merchants sell fish and fresh produce from the boats during the day and sleep on them at night. The Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue’s museum is also interesting.

Pass by the architectural confection known as the “Wedding Cake House” that now houses Curacao’s archives. Lunch with the locals on stews and fungi at Marshe Bieu (the Old Market). Or, for more conventional dining, continue toward the sea to the Waterfort Arches, a former fort that guarded the harbor but is now a delightful collection of waterside restaurants and cafes.

Walk along Handelskade to get a closer look at the Dutch Colonial buildings before crossing the bridge again (or taking the ferry) back to Otrobanda. There are some interesting shops along the main street, Breedestraat, and also at Riffort Village. The Kura Hulanda Museum, in the hotel’s complex, has an excellent African collection and a grim exhibit on slavery. End your day with a massage in Kura Hulanda’s peaceful spa.

PLAN B

The Sea Aquarium

Take swim gear, a towel and a taxi to the Sea Aquarium. After swimming with dolphins and feeding the sharks, take a self-guided tour around the premises. The aquarium fits nicely into the local environment—it uses natural breezes and lighting, and the water in the tanks is continually refreshed with seawater pumped over the exhibits, all of which feature marine life of the Caribbean. Watch as divers feed sharks, stingrays, angelfish, tarpon and groupers at the underwater observatory. Then, take a look underwater in the small semisubmersible. Don’t miss the touch pond.

After lunch on the premises, head to the Sea Aquarium Beach. Admission is included in your ticket. The beach is well-kept and clean with various facilities, including beach chairs, a bar, a surfboard shop and a beach-clothes shop.

PLAN C

To Westpunt

Go to the public bus stop in Otrobanda, near the Howard Johnson Hotel, and take the bus marked “to Westpunt.” It’s a nice way to see the island. Ask the driver to alert you when you arrive at the entrance of Christoffel Park (about an hour’s drive). Explore the park and visit the small museum. If you like hiking, pick up a trail map from the receptionist. The longest trail takes three hours, so dress for hiking, take water and plan this for morning hours—not in the afternoon heat.

After your hike, take the bus to the church of Westpunt. Use this church as your reference point. From there, you can walk to several different beaches. Looking toward the sea, with the church at your back, you will see the fishermen’s beach to your right. A snack bar sells food and drinks. If you go the other way, you can reach the recreation beach by walking down the stairs. For a more substantial lunch, try Jaanchie’s (around the corner from the church), a popular island spot known for good local dishes, such as fresh fish, stoba (stewed meat) and iguana soup.

An interesting return to town could include stops at a few landhuisen, such as Landhuis Groot Santa Martha near Soto. These historical plantations have been put to a variety of uses today.

Dining
Dining Overview

Curacao cuisine, known as Kriollo (pronounced Kree-O-yo), uses lots of Caribbean spices. East of the Floating Market, the Old Market is a good place to sample Kriollo dishes. You’ll get hearty plates of grilled fish or meats with rice and “peas” (which are actually beans) from your choice of six open stations manned by local cooks. The food is inexpensive, and you can dine alongside locals at picnic tables set with cloths, candles and flowers. Try keshi yena (Gouda cheese stuffed with meat) or yambo (okra soup) followed by funchi (much like polenta).

Because of the mixed population on the island, you’ll also find dishes from the Netherlands, Venezuela, Indonesia, Suriname, France, Argentina, Chile, Italy, Thailand and China. Curacao is also an excellent place to sample a rijsttafel (an Indonesian smorgasbord or rice table). There are good Dutch cheeses, chocolates, coffee and beers.

Most restaurants serve breakfast 7-10 am, lunch noon-2:30 pm and dinner 6-11 pm.

Expect to pay within these guidelines for a meal for one, not including drinks, tax or tip: $ = less than 18 ANG; $$ = 18 ANG-45 ANG; $$$ = 46 ANG-70 ANG; and $$$$ = more than 70 ANG.

Local & Regional

Angelica’s Kitchen
Take your appetite and apron to this hotspot: Angelique Schoop’s 100-year-old restored Willemstad home. When she’s not off traveling the world, Angelique hosts parties of eight to 12 diners in her kitchen to assist in the creation of the evening meal, which is western European with a Caribbean flair. Guests must arrive by 6 pm. Reservations required. Prices vary. Hoogstraat 49, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 562-3699. http://www.angelicas-kitchen.com.

Belle Terrace Restaurant
The best place to try the traditional Antillean dish keshi yena. Also offers generous servings of Dutch and Danish dishes with a dash of local spices. Favorites include herb-crusted lamb chops with potato pancakes and pan-fried sea bass with potato-carrot mash. The setting on a terrace by the sea can’t be beat. Weekly theme nights include live entertainment. Belle Terrace is open daily for lunch and dinner; breakfast is served daily at the adjacent Avila Cafe. Reservations recommended for dinner. $-$$$. Most major credit cards. Avila Hotel, Pennstraat 130, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-4377. http://www.avilahotel.com/dining.

Jaanchie’s
In the middle of Westpunt village, this restaurant has a lazy atmosphere, good seafood and local cuisine, and Jaanchie, the walking, talking menu. His son runs the business now, but Jaanchie still runs the customers. Ask for the catch of the day or, if you don’t want a whole meal, try a bowl of fresh fish soup. This is the place for iguana and tasty goat stew. Daily for lunch and dinner. $$. Most major credit cards. Westpunt 15, Curacao. Phone 523-3119 or 747-5555. http://www.jaanchiescuracao.com.

Cuisines
Asian

Jaipur
Located in the villagelike complex of Hotel Kura Hulanda, this romantic, open-air restaurant serves dishes inspired by India. Diners can watch the exotic meals being prepared in the open kitchen from tables arranged on a candle-lit patio overlooking a waterfall swimming pool made of natural rock. An Asian buffet is served on Thursday night, and selections are available from the extensive menu other evenings. Daily except Tuesday for dinner. Reservations recommended. $$$. Most major credit cards. Langestraat No. 8, Otrobanda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 434-7700. http://kurahulanda1-px.trvlclick.com.

Sawasdee Thai Restaurant
A friendly Thai and Indonesian dining spot crowded with locals, where you can sample spicy meats, fish and vegetables in sweet-and-sour and peanut sauces, all served on a hot plate at the table. Many vegetarian items are available. Daily except Monday for dinner. Reservations available. $$. Most major credit cards. Mercuriusstraat 13, Curacao. Phone 462-6361.

Italian

Cielo
In Italian, cielo means under the sky, and that’s just where you sit at this restaurant—on a terrace at the Hilton Curacao, with a view of the sea and the stars above. If you’re a risotto fan, this is the place to get it. The seafood risotto is perfection, and the tiramisu tops off an excellent meal. Open Monday-Friday for dinner. Aqua, a more casual restaurant, is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. $-$$$. Most major credit cards. John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Curacao. Phone 462-5000. http://hiltoncaribbean.com.

La Pergola
This Italian charmer still does homemade pasta. Along with seafood, carpaccio and other standards, you’ll find a variety of mouthwatering pizzas. La Pergola takes great pride in its tiramisu. Daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended. $$-$$$. Most major credit cards. In Punda’s Waterfort Arches 47, Curacao. Phone 461-3482. http://www.waterfortterrace.net/la-pergola-page.htm.

Continental

Bistro Le Clochard
In the heart of historic Riffort Village, this bistro boasts a Swiss chef who blends his French tastes into a tempting selection of gourmet dishes. Delicate sauces add just the right flavors without overpowering the entree. As an added treat, you can watch the nearby cruise ships as they turn on their twinkling lights prior to departure. Daily for lunch and dinner. Happy hour 5-7 pm. The terrace offers a light menu all day. Reservations recommended. Most major credit cards. Riffort Otrobanda, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 462-5666. http://www.bistroleclochard.com.

Fort Nassau
No longer needed to defend the harbor, Fort Nassau now houses one of the best restaurants on Curacao. The old walls were built in 1797 by the Dutch and are a UNESCO heritage site. Diners enjoy an extraordinary view of the harbor and Willemstad from this hilltop fortress as they enjoy grilled seafood and meats topped with creative sauces, such as ginger, pesto or mustard-seed. Starters include creamy pumpkin soup and garlicky escargots, An extensive wine list is available, and popular desserts include creme brulee and chocolate mousse. Reservations recommended. $$$-$$$$. Most major credit cards. Schottegatweg Oost 82, Willemstad, Curacao. Phone 461-3450.

Steak Houses

The Grill King
Combine your seaside dining at Waterfort Arches with this restaurant’s great surf-and-turf combos: sizzling steaks and giant lobsters. In addition to good food, you have a great vantage point for people-watching. It’s a very relaxing spot. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner; till midnight Friday and Saturday. Reservations recommended. $$-$$$. Most major credit cards. In Punda’s Waterfort Arches, Curacao. Phone 461-6870. http://www.waterfortterrace.net/grill-king-page.htm.

Other Options

Blues
This unique pavilion over the water at the Avila Hotel features everything from tapas to seafood and vegetarian dishes. The menu is on an LP record encased in an album cover. Live jazz Thursday 7-10 pm and Saturday 9-11:30 pm. Daily except Monday for dinner. Reservations recommended, especially on Thursday and Saturday. $-$$. Most major credit cards. Penstraat 130-134 (Avila Hotel), Curacao. Phone 461-4377. http://www.avilahotel.com/dining.

Security
Personal Safety

Curacao is generally a safe destination, although street crime and car theft are growing problems in Curacao. The best way to avoid trouble is to remain aware of your surroundings and exercise common sense. Stay away from less-traveled streets and stick to well-lit areas. Lock your car, and never leave valuables unattended in cars or in public places.

Steer clear of people selling drugs such as marijuana or hashish; both are illegal in Curacao.

Avoid unlighted areas after dark, especially the narrow back streets of Otrobanda. The main tourist areas in both Punda and Otroband are considered safe, even at night, but it is always best to stay with a group.

For the latest information, contact your country’s travel-advisory agency.

Health

You can eat the food and drink the water on Curacao, and a desalination plant provides water to the entire island. The sun can be intense, so plan to take plenty of sunscreen and moisturizer, and carry bottled water with you. Also take a hat, sunglasses, insect repellent and a pair of comfortable walking shoes.

Steer clear of the manchineel tree—the applelike fruit is poisonous, and any moisture (such as rain, dew or sap) dropping off the tree can blister your skin. If contact occurs, rinse the area well with water—the burning sensation normally won’t last longer than two hours.

There are three adequate hospitals on the island. The St. Elisabeth Hospital, the largest on the island, is considered one of the best in the eastern Caribbean and has a 24-hour emergency room and a decompression chamber for diver injuries. It’s located at Breedestraat 193, Otrobanda (phone 462-4900).

The other two hospitals are private clinics: The Taams Clinic (phone 736-5466; http://www.taamskliniek.com) and The Antillean Adventist Hospital (phone 737-1992).

Emergency numbers are 910 for the hospital, 911 for police and fire, and 912 for an ambulance.

For more information, contact your country’s health-advisory agency.

Disabled Advisory

Many accommodations, restaurants and attractions on Curacao are equipped for travelers with disabilities, and tour operators may have vans with wheelchair lifts.

Accessible Curacao specializes in hotel reservations, transportation and sightseeing tours for travelers with disabilities or limited mobility. The staff is well trained and multilingual. Contact the service through Tio Taxi at 560-5491. http://tiotaxi.com/accessiblecuracao.

For additional resources, contact the tourism bureau with specific requests. Phone 434-8200. http://www.curacao.com

Dos & Don’ts

Don’t use spear guns or remove any coral or sea creatures when diving in the underwater park. Such actions are illegal.

Don’t touch a stonefish if you see one while wading or snorkeling in shallow water off Curacao; their spines contain a deadly poison.

Do conserve water. The island depends on costly desalination for all of its drinking water.

Do make time to experience a tambu, an ancient form of drum-driven dance music brought to the island by its early African inhabitants and preserved despite past bans by the Catholic Church and slave masters.

Don’t leave valuables unattended on the beach or in the car if you are in a remote area; they may be gone when you return.

Hotels
Hotel Overview

A hotel construction boom has been under way for some time on Curacao—including the arrival of familiar brands such as Hyatt, Renaissance and Clarion—and several properties have changed management or ownership. These changes have brought Curacao’s accommodations in line with those of neighboring islands. Hotel space can still be limited during peak vacation times, however, so book as far in advance as possible. Accommodations range from full-service, deluxe resorts to basic, no-frills cottages.

Some of the older properties can be spartan by North American standards, but they serve the European market well. Visitors should check Web sites and other sources in advance of booking to make sure they will be accommodated in a room that meets their expectations. (For instance, inquire about air-conditioning.) Also, take note of the property’s location (proximity to water and town) and whether it offers extras such as tennis, golf, scuba diving or a casino.

Room rates are usually an accurate indication of the facilities offered. And be prepared: There is a 7% government tax on accommodations, plus a 12% service charge that most hotels add to food and beverage purchases and other services.

Facts
Geostats

Passport/Visa Requirements: All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico. Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.Passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda.

Arriving passengers may be asked to show proof of onward passage and sufficient funds for the intended length of stay on the island.

A departure tax of about 56 ANG must be paid at the airport, if it is not included in your airline ticket. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.

Population: 130,300.

Languages: Dutch is the official language, but Papiamento, English and Spanish are also widely spoken.

Predominant Religions: Christian (Roman Catholic, Protestant), Jewish.

Time Zone: 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (-4 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.

Voltage Requirements: 220 volts, 110 volts.

Telephone Codes: 599, country code; 9,island code;

Money
Currency Exchange

Following the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao’s official currency will change. It was previously the Netherlands Antilles guilder.

The U.S. dollar is accepted in all but the smallest and most remote places. U.S. citizens need to exchange only a small amount of money to pay for taxi fares, tips and small purchases. Other currencies are easily exchanged at banks.

Major credit cards are accepted for most transactions, but small businesses may require cash.

ATMs are common in Willemstad, and some accept major foreign credit cards. ATMs issue Antillean guilders, euros or U.S. dollars. Most banks are open Monday-Friday 8 am-3:30 pm. The bank at the airport is open Monday-Saturday 8 am-8 pm, Sunday 9 am-4 pm.

Taxes

The government sales tax is 5%; the hotel tax is 7%. In addition, most hotels add a 12% service charge to all bills.

Tipping

Restaurants do not routinely add gratuity to the bill, and a tip of 10%-20% is customary. If a service charge has been added to the bill, find out if it goes to the waitstaff before deciding the amount to tip.

Tip airport porters and hotel bellhops 1 ANG per bag. Tip cab drivers 10% of the fare.

Weather

There is no bad time to visit—the weather is nearly perfect year-round (70s and 80s F/23-32 C during the day and 60s and 70s F/15-27 C at night). Curacao lies outside the main hurricane belt, so a good time to visit is July-October, when hurricane season threatens the rest of the Caribbean. October-December is the rainy season, but the rain seldom lasts long. The coolest months are January and February, and the hottest are August and September.

What to Wear

Willemstad is a cosmopolitan city, so residents tend to wear professional or business-casual clothing in town on weekdays. Visitors often wear casual outfits, as do residents on weekends. Both locals and visitors dress up a bit in the evening, but resort-casual is appropriate in all except the most exclusive restaurants.

In areas outside the capital, typical vacation wear is expected, but Curacao’s citizens do not approve of swimsuits anywhere other than the beach or pool. Don’t wear sneakers, shorts and T-shirts to a fancy restaurant or nightclub. Ask about dress codes when making reservations. Public nudity is illegal, but topless sunbathing is tolerated at certain beaches and pools in resort areas.

Take—and use—adequate sunscreen, hats and other protective clothing to mitigate damage from the tropical sun. No matter what time of year you go, take a sweater for cool evenings. Wear long pants if you hike in the countryside. They will protect your legs from cacti and devil’s nettles, a plant with white flowers and poisonous barbs.

Communication
Telephone

Public phones are scattered around town, at the cruise-ship dock and at stores along the country roads. Phone cards can be purchased from the post office, phone company, snack bars, bookstores and other shops.

Cell phone coverage on the island is excellent, and international connections are clear. For information on renting a cell phone or setting up service for your own phone, contact Digicel at Schottegatweg Oost 19, Willemstad (phone 736-1056; http://www.digicelcuracao.com). Alternatively, try RentAFone in the Salina Galleries, Unit D-106 (phone 465-8844).

Internet Access

Major hotels have business centers, and Wi-Fi access or in-room Internet service is becoming common in all but the smallest properties. Properties such as the Curacao Marriott and Hilton Curacao offer high-speed wireless Internet access in guest rooms.

United Telephone offers wireless Internet service with island-wide hot spots, as well as all types of cell phone options. Phone 777-0101. http://www.uts.an.

Internet cafes can be found in Willemstad and in Salinas Galleries. Try the Wireless Internet Cafe at Hanchi Snoa 4, Punda (phone 461-0590); Swift Internet Cafe at Blok Steeg 6, Punda (phone 465-9630); or CT Telecenter at Brionplein, Otrobanda (phone 699-9517).

Mail & Package Services

There are several post offices on the island. The downtown post office is in Punda, near the Floating Market. It’s open Monday-Friday 7:30 am-12:30 pm and 1:30-5 pm, except Friday, when it closes at 4:30 pm.

FedEx service is also available at Schottegatweg Oost No. 169, Galmeyer’s Building, Willemstad. Phone 737-3000.

Newspapers & Magazines

Pick up a copy of K-pasa, a weekly dining and entertainment guide to the island (http://www.k-pasa.com).

Curacao Nights, also a free publication, lists current events, provides money-saving coupons, and gives information on tourist services, shopping, accommodations and attractions (http://www.nightspublications.com/curacao.php).

Transportation

There are many choices for getting around the island, but the narrow streets, limited parking and aggressive drivers around Willemstad tip the scale more toward taxis or local buses.

Rental cars are available at the airport and major hotels, however, and provide the best transportation for independent touring and sightseeing outside Willemstad. Island-wide roads are in good to excellent condition and most streets are clearly signed, though often in Papiamento or Dutch.

Air

Hato International Airport (CUR) is 7.5 mi/12 km northwest of Willemstad. Its state-of-the-art terminal can accommodate up to 1.6 million passengers annually, with the possibility of expanding to handle up to 2.5 million annually.

A staffed customer information counter is located between the check-in area and the departure hall (phone 839-1000). The terminal also houses a sports bar and grill, ice cream shop, coffee shop and a gift shop. http://www.curacao-airport.com.

Taxis meet all incoming flights and wait curbside. Blue Angel Tours provides airport to hotel transfer service by private bus. Phone 567-6770 for reservations. http://www.blueangletour.com.

Bus

Public buses have regular routes that circle the island 6 am-midnight. The last bus leaves town at 11 pm. Depots in town are located in the Floating Market/Post Office area in Punda and behind the Howard Johnson Hotel in Otrobanda. Check signs to determine which buses run full routes and which are only partial; the large yellow or blue Konvooi buses operate on the longer routes. The larger ABC buses and the smaller AC buses are reliable and safe.

The fare is about 1 ANG-1.50 ANG on most Konvooi routes, which include many major tourist spots. Smaller buses and vans (with “BUS” license plates) run on shorter local routes and typically charge about 1.25 ANG-1.75 ANG. Schedules are available at the terminals in Punda (phone 641-6257) and Otrobanda (phone 462-8359) or by contacting the main office (phone 868-4733). http://www.businesscuracao.com/abcbusbedrijf.

Car

Curacao has many rental car companies. You will need a valid driver’s license and a credit card to rent a vehicle. Major rental car companies are located at the airport, with desks in most hotels. Expect to pay 70-110 ANG per day.

Driving is on the right side of the road, and Curacao’s drivers are aggressive. Car theft can be a problem on the island, but some rental cars without alarm systems are now equipped with “the Club” to lock the steering wheel. Be sure to use it.

Don’t try to drive in Willemstad—the streets are crowded and narrow, and it’s difficult to find a parking space.

Ship

Several cruise lines include Curacao on their Caribbean itineraries, sailing into Santa Anna Bay, a narrow channel on the island’s Caribbean coast that opens into a large inner harbor. The capital city of Willemstad lies on both sides of the channel and wraps around the harbor. Megaships dock outside the harbor at the larger Megaport.

Taxi

Taxis are not metered, but there is an official tariff chart with preset fares to different destinations. Officially licensed taxis have “TX” on their license plates. To avoid hassles, always confirm the fare with the driver before departure. There’s a 25% fare surcharge after 11 pm. It is customary to tip taxi drivers 10%.

Some taxi drivers are available for sightseeing tours for about 53 ANG per hour. Cab fare from Hato Airport to Willemstad will typically cost 35 ANG-43 ANG.

Other

Mopeds, motorcycles and bicycles can be rented (if you are older than 18), but it is not advisable to use them around Willemstad. The Bike Shop specializes in Harley-Davidson, Honda and Suzuki motorcycles and ATVs (phone 560-3882).

Additionally, Wanna Bike gives bike tours (phone 527-3720; http://www.wannabike.com); Eric ATV Adventures offers ATV tours (phone 524-7418; http://www.curacao-atv.com); and dune buggy tours are run by Curacao Buggy Adventures (phone 523-8618; http://www.scooterscuracao.com).

For More Information

Tourist Offices

Curacao: Curacao Tourism and Development Bureau, Pietermaai 19, Willemstad. Phone 599-9-434-8200. http://www.curacao.com.

U.S.: Curacao Tourism Corporation, One Gateway Center, Suite 2600, Newark, NJ 07102. Phone 973-353-6200 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              973-353-6200      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Toll-free 800-328-7222 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              800-328-7222      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. http://www.curacao.com.

Curacao does not have a tourist office in Canada.

Curacao Embassies

Curacao is represented by Dutch embassies.

Canada: Embassy of the Netherlands, 350 Albert St., Suite 2020, Ottawa, ON K1R 1A4. Phone 613-237-5030 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              613-237-5030      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Toll-free 877-388-2443 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              877-388-2443      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. http://www.netherlandsembassy.ca.

U.S.: Embassy of the Netherlands, 4200 Linnean Ave. N.W., Washington, DC 20008. Phone 202-244-5300 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              202-244-5300      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. Toll-free 877-388-2443 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              877-388-2443      end_of_the_skype_highlighting. http://www.netherlands-embassy.org.

Foreign Embassies Serving Curacao

Canada: Maduro and Curiels Bank N.V., 2-4 Plaza Jojo Correa, Willemstad. Phone 599-9-466-1115.

U.S.: J.B. Gorsiraweg 1, Willemstad. Phone 599-9-461-3066. http://curacao.usconsulate.gov.

U.K.: British Consulate, Jan Sofat 38, Willemstad. Phone 599-9-747-3322.

Recommended Guidebooks

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao ALIVE by Harriet Greenberg (Hunter Publishing).

Pocket Adventures Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao by Lynne Sullivan (Hunter Publishing).

Adventure Guide to Aruba, Bonaire & Curacao by Lynne Sullivan (Hunter Publishing).

Caribbean Ports of Call by Kay Showker (Globe Pequot).

The Complete Guide to Diving and Snorkelling Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao by Jack Jackson (New Holland).

Events
Calendar

Curacao celebrates something almost every month, whether it’s local music, a historic anniversary or a worldwide holiday such as Christmas.

Carnival is an extended celebration (usually in early February) that includes jump-ups (open street parties at which people dance), the Children’s Parade, the Grand Parade and the burning in effigy of Rei Momo, the king of Carnival.

Just prior to Carnival is the Tumba Festival, a four-day revival of a uniquely Curacao music tradition. The winning tumba dancer participates in the Grand Parade. http://www.curacaocarnival.info.

Anglers gather in March for the International Blue Marlin Release Tournament. Boats leave from the Curacao Yacht Club. http://www.curacaoyachtclub.com/tournaments.

In August, there’s the Salsa Festival, drawing music lovers from across Latin America. http://www.curacaosalsatour.com.

The Culture Cuisine and Heritage Experience takes place annually August-November with discounted or free museum tours, music and dance performances and local food fairs featuring the island’s best chefs. http://www.curacao-event.com/ccch.

The Curacao Dive Festival is held in May. Hotels and dive shops participate in package tours, and scheduled events include guided dives, workshops and expert speakers, along with plenty of partying. http://www.curacao-event.com.

The annual Amstel Curacao Race is a 50-mi/80-km cycling tournament held in November for invited champions and recreational bikers. In addition to the race, there are concerts, beach parties, biking clinics and appearances by well-known cycling champs beginning a week in advance. http://www.amstelcuracaorace.com.

Curacao’s Dutch heritage is especially evident in its Christmas celebrations. It starts with a Dutch Santa Claus sailing into St. Anna harbor in late November. On St. Nicholas Day (6 December), children leave buckets of water along with shoes filled with carrots and hay for St. Nicholas’ horse. If they’ve been good, children find their shoes filled with gifts the following morning. Christmas Day is also a holiday, with all banks and businesses closed.

For a current list of events, festivals and public holidays, contact the Curacao Tourism and Development Bureau. Phone 599-9-434-8200 or 599-5-434-8213. http://www.curacao.com.

Bounty Adventures
The flagship of this boating company is the Bounty, a 90-ft/27-m wooden schooner with five masts, which goes out three days per week on sailing adventures that include lunch, open bar and snorkeling. Adults 122 ANG and 62 ANG children. Other boats in the fleet include a 54-ft/16-m catamaran that sails to Klein Curacao with lunch and snorkeling included for 158 ANG adults, 80 ANG children; and a fully outfitted twin diesel trawler used for full-day deep-sea fishing at a charter rate of 1,239 ANG for up to six people. Phone 560-1887. http://www.bountyadventures.com.

Dutch Dream
Kayak and canoe trips are scheduled daily, and the company will pick up passengers from the cruise-ship dock. Transportation also may be arranged from island hotels. Call for rates and information about the large range of activities. Phone 461-9393. http://www.dutchdreamcuracao.com.

Insulinde
The Insulinde is a 120-ft/36.5-m steel ship that sails scheduled trips three days a week. It can also be chartered for multiday excursions or private parties. Five-hour snorkeling trips with drinks and snacks cost 88 ANG per adult, 62 ANG per child. Phone 560-1340. http://www.insulinde.com.

Kitesurf Curacao
Kitesurfing or kiteboarding is not for the meek. Learn to love the sport or try your skills at St. Joris Bay. Lessons and rentals available. More advanced surfing spots are recommended for experienced kitesurfers. Phone 566-5748. http://www.kitesurfcuracao.com.

Mermaid Boat Trips
Offers a barbecue cruise to Klein Curacao, an uninhabited island 15 mi/24 km (about two hours) away by boat. The cruise allows time for snorkeling and diving on the close-in coral reef and vertical wall, which has caves to explore. Captain Cor has a beach house on the island, where a barbecue lunch is served. The Mermaid sails this full-day trip Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. 133 ANG adults, 66.40 ANG children. Fishermen’s Pier at Spanish Waters, Curacao. Phone 560-1530. http://www.mermaidboattrips.com.

Miss Ann Boat Trips
In addition to fishing and snorkeling trips, Miss Ann rents kayaks at Spanish Waters. Call for rates and reservations. Jan Sofat 232-A, Spanish Waters, Curacao. Phone 767-1579. http://www.missannboattrips.com.

Windsurfing Curacao
Rents windsurfing equipment and gives lessons. Caracas Bay Island, Curacao. Phone 738-4555. http://www.windsurfingcuracao.com.

NORTHSTAR Travel Media, LLC. ©2010 All rights reserved. 

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