Curaçao is a unique Dutch Caribbean island, famous for its candy-colored colonial architecture, tucked-away beaches and electric blue liqueur. Although Curaçao may not draw as much attention as the nearby islands of Aruba and Bonaire, you shouldn’t miss out on this Caribbean gem. Filled with surprises and countless ways to explore, Curaçao is like no other island. Friendly locals make you feel welcome. Rugged, semi-arid landscapes and fascinating historical sites await you. A vibrant capital city, brimming with shops, cafes and art, could keep you busy for days. There’s something for every kind of traveler in Curaçao, an island that combines multiculturalism with coastal paradise.
Curaçao is in the southern Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. It features mostly flat terrain with hills in the west, and boasts warm temperatures year-round, clear skies and a cooling ocean breeze. Curaçao is one of the Caribbean islands least likely to get hit by a hurricane.
Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda discovered Curaçao in 1499, though historians believe the Arawak Indians settled there as many as 6,000 years ago. In 1634, the Dutch conquered the island. Over the years, the British and French fought to take over Curaçao, with the Dutch regaining control in 1816.
Throughout history, people from all over the world migrated to Curaçao, contributing to its unique diversity and culture. There are three official languages in Curaçao: Papiamentu, Dutch and English. Locals may also speak Spanish, Portuguese, French, German and other languages, due to a large number of immigrants on the island. Over 160,000 call Curaçao home, with most of its residents living in Willemstad, the island’s capital city.
Things to Do in Curaçao
Cruises to Curaçao allow you to explore the island’s many riches. As home to one of the most lively cities in the Caribbean, Curaçao is the ideal location for travelers who want to combine beautiful beaches with urban amenities. It also offers thrills for outdoor lovers who want to experience the island’s wild side. Here are some of the best ways to spend a voyage to Curaçao.
Dig Your Toes in the Sand
Do you enjoy the feeling of warm, soft sand beneath your feet? Could you happily spend your life bathing in sunlight before an endless sea of turquoise? If you’re a beach addict, you’ll find your slice of heaven in Curaçao. The island offers over 30 beaches, and here are some of the best.
- Playa Lagun: Playa Lagun is a small cliff-flanked cove featuring shallow, crystalline water. It’s the perfect place for snorkeling and swimming among colorful fish, sea turtles and coral reef.
- Klein Curaçao: If you prefer solitude with your beach experience, consider spending the day at Klein Curaçao. Klein Curaçao is a small, uninhabited island located about 15 miles off the coast of Curaçao and is only accessible by boat. Here, you’ll find pristine beaches, an old lighthouse, a shipwreck and numerous photo-taking opportunities.
- Shete Boka Park: Shete Boka Park is for beachgoers who like to venture off the beaten path. Discover 10 pocket bays where sea turtles lay eggs. If you enjoy nature’s drama, explore Boka Tabla, where huge waves surge into an underground cave, and Boka Pistol, where the sea collides with limestone hills in an aquatic explosion.
- Playa Knip: Playa Knip is a well-loved swimming spot for travelers and locals alike. Located on the west side of the island, it’s where you’ll find calm, clear waters, a rugged coastal landscape and usually, a batido stand selling refreshing fruity smoothies.
- Playa Porto Mari: Playa Porto Mari is a popular beach, but don’t let that deter you from visiting. It’s a fun place to spend the day and is where you can rent snorkeling gear on-site, explore nature trails or refuel at the beachside restaurant and bar.
- Cas Abao Beach: Loved for its palm umbrellas, convenient facilities and gorgeous scenery, Cas Abao Beach is where travelers and locals go to feel pampered. Here, you can snorkel to see an array of sea life, relax in the shade or get a massage right on the beach.
Hike the Rugged Terrain
If you want to spend your time at Curaçao immersed in nature, consider heading to Christoffel National Park. Christoffel is the largest national park on the island and a must-see for nature lovers. The park is rich with local flora and fauna, including species that may be hard to find elsewhere on the island. Admire wild orchids, for example, or look for the rare barn owl. Enjoy eight scenic hikes, which include a stroll through a former plantation. You can expect to see unforgettable natural beauty here, as well as historically and culturally fascinating sites.
Shop for Unique Souvenirs
Shopping is part of the Curaçao experience, and there are numerous ways to enjoy it. Most of Willemstad’s shops are in the Punda shopping district along Heerenstraat and Breedestraat. Here, you can browse items from around the world as well as local treasures, including wheels of Dutch cheese, decorative wooden shoes, French perfumes, delftware and more. Enjoy the pastel European-style buildings as you shop at the heart of Willemstad.
Eat Local Food
One of the best parts about exploring a new place is getting to taste the local fare. While you’re in Curaçao, grab a picnic table at the open-air Old Market to try authentic grub like goat stew and pumpkin pancakes. Make sure to wash it down with a glass of fresh lemonade. Sometime during your journey, try the island’s signature baked dish, keshi yena, which generally consists of cheese, seasoned chicken, raisins and olives. You might try keshi yena at the well-known Restaurant and Cafe Gouverneur de Rouville, which specializes in local and international cuisine.
If you want more of a casual on-the-go eating experience, there are plenty of food trucks, or “truki pan,” in Curaçao whipping up local treats.
Visit Historical Treasures
Curaçao is overflowing with history and fascinating relics. The historic area of Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and includes Punda, Otrobanda, Pietermaai and Scharloo. Just by walking around Willemstad, you’ll get to see a well-preserved example of a Dutch colonial trading settlement and how the city developed over time. You can enhance your history-themed tour of Curaçao by visiting the following attractions.
- Queen Emma Bridge: Queen Emma, also called the “Swinging Old Lady,” is a floating pedestrian bridge dating back to the 19th century. The bridge stretches across the St. Anna Bay and connects Punda and Otrobanda. A row of pontoon boats supports the bridge, which swings open sideways to let ships through. Grab a coffee and watch the boats sail by, or take a stroll across the bridge to experience it firsthand.
- Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue: The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue and Museum is the oldest continually used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. View the cultural artifacts in the museum, or book a tour and immerse yourself in the Jewish history of Curaçao.
- Rif Fort: Built in 1828 to protect Otrobanda from pirates and other invaders, and once used as a brothel and a prison, the Rif Fort now guards the Renaissance Mall. Fort visitors can climb the stairs to take in the view and feel the history surrounding them.
- Kurá Hulanda Museum: The Kurá Hulanda Museum, located inside a former merchant’s house, chronicles the African slave trade in Curaçao. View photographs, artifacts and captivating exhibits during your visit, or take a guided tour provided by a master storyteller.
Explore an Ancient Cave
Hato Cave, located on the north side of the island, is a natural marvel waiting for you to explore. Once used as a shelter by the Arawaks and runaway slaves, Hato Cave is over 300,000 years old. To get to Hato, you’ll climb the staircase going past cave layers until you reach the third terrace. Once you’re inside Hato Cave, you’ll take a guided tour and walk past beautiful coral limestone formations, waterfalls and clear pools.
Visitors are welcome to stroll through the cactus garden after the tour or walk the Indian Trail to observe the local flora and fauna and Indian petroglyphs estimated to be at least 1,500 years old. A visit to Hato Cave only takes a couple of hours, so you’ll have plenty of time left over to explore Willemstad or enjoy another attraction.
Interact With Sea Life
Curaçao makes it easy to meet sea creatures, whether you go snorkeling or take a trip to the Curaçao Sea Aquarium. The aquarium uses an open-water system that keeps animals connected to the sea, along with coral and sand from the surrounding waters. Here, you’ll find lagoons, only separated by the sea with boulders, housing dolphins, sea lions, sharks, turtles and rays. There are many ways to enjoy your visit, including swimming with dolphins, feeding sharks and viewing fish from the underwater observatory.
Get Inspired by Art
The colors, landscape and cultural diversity of the island blend to form the perfect inspiring potion for local artists. It makes Curaçao an excellent place for art collectors and artists in need of a creative jolt. Visit the vibrant street murals in Pietermaai for photos or inspiration. If it’s Saturday night, stop at the Miles Jazz Cafe to fill your soul with live music.
There are also several galleries and studios to visit, such as Gallery Alma Blou, which is the oldest and largest gallery on the island featuring Caribbean and local art, and the Landhuis Bloemhof, a cultural center which houses contemporary art and sits among lovely garden surroundings.
How to Prepare for a Cruise to Curaçao
To prepare for a cruise to Curaçao, you mostly need to consider when to visit and how you want to spend your time there. Curaçao has pleasing weather year-round, and many locals speak English, particularly in popular areas. And, although the Antillean guilder is the currency used in Curaçao, many merchants accept U.S. dollars and credit cards. In other words, Curaçao is easy to visit, and it’s even easier to enjoy. However, let these tips help you prepare for the most memorable journey.
- Decide when you want to go: Since Curaçao sits outside the hurricane belt and offers warm weather year-round, there is no wrong time to visit the island. One way to decide when you want to go is to consider tourism activity. Off-season runs from May to November and is when you can expect the fewest crowds. From December until April, many vacationers flee to Curaçao to escape the winter cold. However, if you also want to get away from freezing temperatures or wish to experience a special wintertime event, it may be worth traveling to Curaçao during its busiest season.
- Plan what you want to see and do: Consider how much time you want to reserve for Curaçao in your cruise itinerary, and plan your visit accordingly to make the most of your experience. Make sure not to cram your schedule with too many activities and leave time for meals, souvenir shopping or relaxing and watching the people go by. Also, consider how you’ll get around as you plan your day. While Willemstad is very walkable, it’s easiest to access sites outside the city by car. If you have a U.S. driver’s license, you can drive in Curaçao, or you can always hail a taxi.
- Pack light, but don’t forget the essentials: Traveling to an island that sees year-round mid-80s temperatures means you can leave bulky jackets at home. Plan to pack swimsuits, cover-ups and comfortable, airy clothing. Also, although Curaçao is a laid-back destination, it never hurts to bring a dressier outfit if you plan to go dancing or out to an upscale restaurant. Lastly, make sure to bring other essentials like sunscreen and a pair of water shoes to keep your feet from getting scratched by coral.
Curaçao Cruises With Windstar
Curaçao has a spirit unlike any other island in the Caribbean. On this eclectic desert island, it appears that a town from Europe had fallen from the sky and planted itself there for centuries. It’s where you’ll find paradisal beaches close to museums and historic sites, and cacti adorning limestone cliffs. It’s where you’ll hear locals speaking several languages, proud of their heritage. With so much diversity and so much to love, it’s no wonder Curaçao comes from the Portuguese word meaning “heart.”
If you’re excited to cruise to Curaçao, consider sailing with Windstar. At Windstar Cruises, we take our guests to noteworthy ports and hidden gems strewn throughout the Caribbean Sea, including Curaçao. Aboard one of our small, comfortable ships, you’ll sail to must-see destinations filled with wonder, culture and adventure. If you’re ready to explore the Caribbean and Curaçao in your unique traveling style, browse our cruises today, or contact a Vacation Planner to learn more.