People often ask my husband and me why we keep going to Curaçao. The truth is, we can’t really put it into words—the place just holds a special place in our heart and we just love the feel, the vibe, and the relaxed lifestyle of the island. The people are grossly friendly, the water is the clearest and bluest I have ever seen, and it’s still a relatively untouched part of the Caribbean, so it has that paradise feel that I imagine most of the Caribbean islands were like back in the 50s and 60s. If you’ve been to places in the Caribbean like the US Virgin Islands, the Grand Caymans or the Bahamas, don’t expect this little island to resemble those—Curaçao is less glitzy, a little grungy, and less developed. It’s a bit seedy, the pollution is a problem, their infrastructure is nearly nonexistent, but despite all these things, we still have a love for that little island that’s indescribable. It’s our little slice of paradise—“our island.” You will not find a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton. But what you will find is the most beautiful blue turquoise water you’ve ever seen, some of the best diving you could ask for, and the nicest, most welcoming people you’ve ever met. I think that if people go with the understanding that they aren’t going to find five star luxury and are understanding of the culture, it will become their island too.
There are a lot of reasons to choose Curaçao for your next vacation. It also happens to be one of the most budget-friendly Caribbean islands. You won’t find the absurdly inflated prices that you would in the British Virgin Islands or the Caymans. You can get beers at most beaches for around $3 a piece, and as long as you stay away from the super touristy restaurants, you’ll pay about half the price of US restaurants for food. Save even more if you try the street food or a locals only joint—which are always excellent.
Another notable fact is that the Dutch ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are all former Dutch territories) are outside of the hurricane belt. So while planning trips to other parts of the Caribbean during the fall is nearly out of the question, Curaçao is generally a safe bet. Curaçao is still occasionally affected by hurricanes, as for example Hazelin 1954, Annain 1961, Felixin 2007, and Omarin 2008. However, a landfallof a hurricanein Curaçao has not occurred since the United StatesNational Hurricane Centerstarted tracking hurricanes.
What to Know Before Going
Don’t Worry About What Your Weather App Keeps Telling You
If you’re like me, you’re probably checking the weather at your upcoming destination weeks or even months out from your trip. I tend to obsess over these types of things sometimes, as weather in tropical destinations can sometimes ruin a trip. When we first went to Curaçao back in September of 2013 for our honeymoon, I was of course checking the Apple weather app on my iPhone incessantly in the weeks before we were going. September is hurricane season in the Caribbean, so everything we had read about going to a Caribbean island in the fall said to be sure to get travel insurance because of the high chance of a major hurricane sweeping through. So naturally, when my weather app showed those terrifying thunder cloud icons every single day, I panicked and started to try to convince myself that even if we were relegated to the inside of our hotel room, our trip wouldn’t be ruined. Much to my dismay, even though the forecast continued to look the same when we got there, we didn’t see a drop of rain. It rained lightly very late at night while we were sleeping and we actually had the pleasure of watching a really cool lightening storm off the coast, though we still never felt a drop of rain.
This weather forecast issue has remained a constant in the many years I have been going to Curacao. In the fall, the forecast almost always says thunderstorms every day, despite the fact that you won’t be affected by any. What it does say, however, is that every single day is a forecasted high of about 91 and a low of about 81. That is true—the weather is almost always the same each and every day. There is a very consistent 10-degree temperature swing year round, though the highs and lows vary depending on the time of year.
The weather in Curaçao really is great year-round. Curaçao has a tropical climate with a dry seasonfrom January to September and a wet seasonfrom October to December. The locals will tell you that there are three seasons in Curacao—the rainy season (from October to February), the windy season (from March to July) and the summer season (from August to November).
High season runs from December to April, when all the Canadians, Dutch, and Northeastern Americans are trying to escape the bitter cold. It’s also cooler in Curacao during this time though (high 70s to low 80s), so we actually prefer the low season. Again, thee temperatures are relatively constant with small differences throughout the year, so unlike a lot of other destinations you can take advantage of the beautiful weather even in the low season. The trade windsbring cooling during the day and the same trade winds bring warming during the night. The coolest month is January with an average temperature of about 80 °F and the warmest month is September with an average temperature of 84 °F (see what I mean about it being the same year-round??).
I think the summer season really is the time to go, unless you are looking for a more temperate climate for vacation. The locals always complain of the heat and the humidity in the summer season, though we found that is actually our favorite time to go because we love that Caribbean heat. The only negative is that with the heat, the humidity and the lighter winds, comes the mosquitos, which eat me alive. Just be prepared and bring some bug spray and you’ll be fine. Though most bug sprays come in large, non-carry-on size cans, both off and Avon Skin So Soft make travel size spray cans and towelettes.
Unlike a lot of places I travel, there aren’t many ATMs in Curaçao. They’re only easily accessible in town (Willemstad), so if you’re out and about, you’ll want cash. Cabs don’t take cards and there are of course no Ubers. You will also want to have cash to purchase fruit or handmade gifts in the open air markets. It’s almost always cheaper if you pay in NAƒ—the Netherlands Antillean Guilder, so if you can either exchange money or take NAƒ out of an ATM, that is probably the most economical. However, you can’t order this currency online (at least not in the US, to my knowledge—Bank of America did not offer this currency in their exchange program that I’ve used several times before for other currencies), so you’ll have to either get cash out of the ATM at the airport (which is not advisable because of the exchange rate and the fees) or wait until you get to town to use one of the many ATMs in town. Good news, however, is that almost everywhere will take either dollars or euros.
General Advice for Doing Curaçao on a Budget:
One of the things that can make a vacation so expensive is having to eat out for every meal or rely on the resort’s mini-mart, which typically has absurd pricing. Another thing that can get expensive (if you like to drink like we do) is ordering beers from the resort all day. One way we are able to save money while vacationing here is by hitting up the grocery store on the front end of our trip. Grocery stores are easily available in town, but there’s also a great supermarket down the street from where the Marriott used to be, and so it’s also close to resorts like the Hilton and the Floris Suite Hotel. The Centrum Supermarket, located at Weg Naar Bullenbaai, is about halfway between Hato International Airport and Piscadera. If you are headed from the airport to Otrobanda (where the Renaissance is located), this is also on the way. They sell those old school styrofoam coolers (they’re usually on top of the aisles—you might need to ask for one) and so we pick up ice for the cooler, beers, bread, lunch meat and cheese for sandwiches, condiments, fruit and snacks. If you plan to do this, you may want to bring a bottle opener, a knife (if you are checking a bag) and some ziplock baggies to stash sandwiches in and take on the road. Since there are so many incredible beaches in Curaçao that are pretty far outside of town, we like to pack a few sandwiches and a bunch of beers, throw them in the car, and have a picnic at the beach when we drive out to places like Playa Kalki, Playa Grandi, Klein Knip and Grote Knip out in the Westpunt area.
Where to Stay
Marriott Emerald Beach & Stellaris Casino
I won’t spend too much time on this one because unfortunately it closed back in 2016, when it was sold to The Piscamar Beach Resort of the Orco Group. In a 2016 press briefing, we learned that the new hotel group has agreed to invest $33.7 million dollars into the property to completely refurbish it and even add an additional store. I hope that actually happens, but if Curaçao history says anything, it is a very large possibility that they won’t follow through with the project. For whatever reason—whether it’s political, monetary, or for logistical reasons (I’m not sure the answer, perhaps it’s a combination of some or all of these factors)—a lot of projects fail in Curaçao, which is probably a good explanation for why there aren’t a lot of great resorts on this beautiful island. Many of the hotels that were built in the late 60s and early 70s (the Hilton in particular) have not been redone since being built and are in a state of disrepair The Marriott, built in the early 90s, wasn’t nearly as bad as the Hilton, but it definitely needed some work. I’m sure the Hilton, for example, must have been redone at least several times since it was built nearly 60 years ago, but it sure doesn’t look like it (Side note: don’t stay there, no matter how much money you save—it’s foul).
Prior to closing, the Marriott Emerald Beach and Stellaris Casino was our favorite place to stay because it’s a Marriott chain and required very little rewards points to book, so we could stay an entire week there on points and not spend a dime. It also had decent rooms with beautiful ocean views, several restaurants on property, and myriad bars strewn about the property. There was a beach bar in particular called the “Board Room” that we absolutely loved. Right on the water, you could sip cocktails either on the deck where you can watch the crabs scatter across the rocks or sit in a swing at the other side of the bar. The Marriott also had this great arrangement where they would have happy hour (2 for 1 drinks) at the pool bar at 5 pm, happy hour again at the Board Room at 6 pm, and then happy hour at the main hotel bar at 7 pm. So what that meant is that all the booze-hounds (like us…) would follow each other from one bar to the other each night. It turned into a bit of a ritual and meant that we easily made friends on each trip.
Unfortunately, it looks as though we’ll need to find a new hotel now though. Despite the fact that there have been reports that it’s being remodeled and will open sometime soon (though no reports of exactly when that might be have surfaced), a quick drive-by of the resort this last April revealed that not much progress—if any—had been done. Yes, the entire property is fenced off and we did see a few pieces of heavy machinery, but other than that, it did not look like much was going on. The staff at the Renaissance in town (another Marriott umbrella hotel) even said to us that it was supposed to reopen next year, and that it was going to remain a Marriott. I remain skeptical, but my fingers are crossed. I will update this post if I hear new news.
This place is easily the nicest resort on the island. It has a Rosewood-like feel, with a lot of luxury amenities. The entrance to the resort actually feels like Bali, with lush tropical gardens, stonework and Balinese buddha statues strewn about. There’s a beautiful, protected private lagoon with a beach that can only be enjoyed by hotel guests or those willing to pay the $50 per person beach day pass. They offer free use of kayaks, snorkels, and paddle boards, so you won’t get bored. And the restaurant—claimed to be the finest on the island—has beautiful views of that blue Curaçao sea.
The price difference between this place and the next nicest resort is astronomical though—rates here are about $5-700 a night for their base rooms (which will run you almost $4,000 for a 5 night stay after taxes) and as much as $1,800 a night for their Superior Private Pool Villa, which will set you back $9,000 for only five nights. However, with that price tag comes the service and exclusivity that you would expect from someplace like a Rosewood or a Four Seasons, and the private villas are insanely beautiful and well-appointed. Whether it’s worth it for the money is a whole different question though. Curaçao is known for being cheap, and the other resorts reflect that. The next nicest resort on the island—the Santa Barbara Resort (below)—is only about $200 a night.
Santa Barbara Resort
The Santa Barbara resort is a nice happy medium between the absurdly overpriced Baoase and a dump like the Hilton (again, please don’t stay there). The resort is well-appointed, has nice finishes and actually looks as if it belongs in beautiful Santa Barbara, California (where I lived for many years and still live close to), with red tile roofs, cream colored stucco and dark mahogany wood finishes. The property has great king bed rooms for as low as $100 a night if you can take advantage of one of the hotel’s many online “sales” or for about $200 full price in the high season. During their “Summer Cyber Sale”, for example, you can get a Premier Water View King for only $114 (regularly $229) a night or their 960 square foot Sunset Suite for $414 (regularly $829). They also offer a series of high-end suites that can sleep up to four and have a full kitchen, a dining room, living room and multiple bathrooms with stunning balconies that overlook the sea.
The property has several great restaurants, an adult pool, a kids pool, pool bar and private beach. And if you’re a golfer, you’re in luck—the Santa Barbara Resort is home to the Old Quarry Golf Course, rated “Best Caribbean Golf Course” by USA Today. It’s a Pete Dye Course with absolutely stunning ocean-view holes. They also have tennis courts and a world-class spa. The Santa Barbara Resort has a little bit of something for everyone.
The only negative I should point out about the Santa Barbara Resort (though I suppose it wouldn’t be a negative for everyone) is that it’s a bit far out of town. The Santa Barbara Resort is situated at almost the furthest point on the southern portion of the island, putting it about 30 minutes out of downtown Punda or well over an hour to get to Westpunt in the northern part of the island where the best beaches are. So if you want to enjoy the best beaches, scuba or free dive, or party in town, staying at the Santa Barbara Resort will mean a lot of driving to and from Westpunt or spendy cabs to get you to and from town. If you are one of those who enjoys unplugging and not leaving the resort, then this is probably still a good option.
The Lodge at Kura Hulanda
If you came to Curaçao for the sole purpose of diving, staying in Westpunt is your best bet. There aren’t any major resorts there, but there are a number of small family-owned and run boutique hotels and lodges, just like the Lodge at Kura Hulanda, which is located just above Playa Kalki beach and near all the best dive sites. The Lodge has two restaurants, which both serve excellent meals (a bit more upscale, with prices to match). Request to eat on the terrace for an incredible view while you dines. You can also schedule a massage at the lodge, whether you’re staying there as a guest or not. If the Lodge isn’t for you, they also have a sister property in town, the Hotel Kura Hulanda.
Rent a House
You can get a killer deal on stunning, gigantic homes with ocean views and private pools on VRBOor HomeAwayfor a fraction of the cost a similar house would run in the States.
Where to Eat
Nieuwestraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
Ginger is easily one of our favorite restaurants on the island. The restaurant, located n the Petermaii district of Punda, is actually owned by a Dutch ex-pat who actually owns the adjacent Petermaii Boutique Hotel and several other restaurants and bars on the same block. Ginger serves eclectic, vibrant dishes in a beautiful, dimply lit outdoor patio. They call it “Carib-Asian” food, but really it’s probably more accurately described as tourist-friendly Indian and Thai food, with menu staples like spring rolls, tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala and palak paneer. Don’t let my “tourist-friendly” description scare you away though—the food is EXCELLENT. They also make a great mojito and have wonderful after dinner adult dessert drinks.
Miles Jazz Cafe
42 Nieuwestraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
Just around the corner from Ginger is the Miles Jazz Cafe, which is just the cutest little bar serving up classic cocktails, cigars and live jazz nightly. Here you’ll find locals and tourists alike dancing salsa or simply enjoying some Caribbean jazz. Head to the Jazz Cafe after Ginger for a nightcap and some music—the perfect ending to a great meal.
Johan van Walbeeckplein 6, Pietermaai
Kome is a cool little new restaurant that we found in Punda that has a more modern, Western-style restaurant feel. It was similar to the types of trendy restaurants that we have all over California. The food and the service were both excellent—the waiters were super stoked to have a couple of Americans there (I think they see mostly Dutch locals and tourists) and were about as friendly as you could imagine. What’s even better is that the food is actually as good as the staff is friendly. We enjoyed a beautiful, house-made burrata, lavender and honey appetizer, a really well made caesar salad, some stone-fried flatbread and a really interesting, yet tasty duck dish. What’s even better is that everything is really reasonably priced for the quality of the food, ranging from $12 to $29.
Rif Fort, Renaissance Curacao, Otrobanda
I’m sad to say that although the food at this restaurant has remained noteworthy, the new location is a bit of a bummer. When we came to Curaçao back in 2013 and 2015, we dined at this restaurant both times. The old location, which was located across the Waiigat bay from downtown Punda and the floating market, was situated on the water with incredible views of Punda and the nightly sunset. This location, however, was slightly difficult to get to and not accessible by foot, so I’m assuming that’s perhaps why they decided to move. They recently moved to the Rif Fort, where the Renaissance is located, which is clearly more convenient but does not offer the same incredible atmosphere and views.
As I mentioned, the food—despite all that I said above—is still very good. We fell in love with their whole fried red snapper dish and seem to get it every time. They also have great lobster, sushi, and steaks. It’s on the pricier side of restaurants in Curaçao, but does meet that higher end restaurant feel, which is actually quite difficult to find in Curaçao. Main dishes range from about $20-35 and it has a beautiful outdoor patio, with a decent ambiance that is sometimes enhanced by live music.
St. Tropez Ocean Club
Pietermaai 152, Willemstad
St. Tropez Ocean Club is a super sexy, sleek little ocean club that boasts stellar views, great music and good food and cocktails. This place is about the most instagram-worthy club in Curaçao. All white buildings and structures, coupled with an infinity pool overlooking the ocean and purple lounge cushions combine to make an easily photographable setting. Day or night, this place is a must-see.
For truly authentic, local food, head over to Jaanchie’s located out in Westpunt. They serve stew, iguana, goat, grilled fish, pork chops and chicken dishes and on most days you will find only locals there. Jaanchie’s is very close to Sol Food. There is no longer an ATM there, so bring cash. They take guilders or dollars. Don’t be in a rush; it may take a while if it’s busy and they are definitely on “island time.” Just sit back and enjoy it.
Things to Do:
Rent a Car and Drive the Island
We found that just driving around the island was not only relaxing and a great way to see the scenery, but this also allows you access to some of the most beautiful, uncrowned, untouched beaches. As mentioned above, Byron and I like to head to the supermarket right after we arrive on the island and stock up on snacks, beer and things to make little sandwiches to go. We fill up our disposable cooler (or on the last occasion, a bucket with ice in it because the store was out of coolers) with pre-made sandwiches and beers, and drive from beach to beach. When you get closer to Westpunt, there are fewer restaurants and mini-marts to buy food or beer (though some of the beaches sell beer), so it’s smart to just bring your own stuff if you can. Bring lots of cash, as many of the beaches require an entrance fee and will require small change to get in. We also found cash to be handy when our beers ran out or we didn’t feel like eating warm sandwiches.
Renting a car and driving around also gives you the opportunity to see a number of historical sites on your own without having to take one of those cattle-car tours. We often like to drive out toward Westpunt and work our way back, stopping at different monuments along the way. One place is Ascension, an old landhuis where they housed the slaves who were sick. The locals swear there’s a ghost who haunts the property; the story is that the mean old landowner was buried just outside the property walls and haunts the area, which is the reason they cite lack of cell phone coverage. And right before Ascension is Has di Pal’l Maishi, or “house of corn”, which belongs to the ancestors of one of the first freed slave to be given owned land on the island. You can also drive to the beautiful, iconic church situated on top the hill: St. Willibrordus. You an also drive out to "Willywood" and see the flamingos. These are all must-see landmarks in Curaçao. But having the freedom to drive back and forth to each of the beaches is truly the main reason you need a car in Curaçao.
With that said, here is a list of some of Curacao’s best beaches:
Playa Kalki is really the first of a long string of beaches running north to south along the northwest side of the island. At Kalki you will find insanely beautiful water, a white sand beach, and facilities to use. They have a small restaurant and rent chairs for use. As I talk about more below, this is where Go West Diving is located, and just off the beach are several of Curaçao’s best shore and open-water dive sites. This is probably one of my favorite beaches, but for some reason we never seem to stay all that long. I think it’s probably because Kalki is usually our first stop in the long line of beach stops for the day, and we are usually excited to keep moving and see the other beaches. The snorkeling is good here, and even though it’s one of the more beautiful beaches, there are usually less people because it is a coral beach. Bring water shoes if you can so you can easily get in and out of the water without hurting your feet.
Also at the far end of Westpunt, Playa Piskado (also known as Playa Grandi) is a famous little beach where local fisherman sell fish daily. From Jaanchie’s, if you take a right you will immediately see the painted octopus on a rock, signaling that’s the way to the beach. Note: the road is small, there’s very little parking and sometimes it’s difficult to get in and out on a busy weekend. In addition to the fish you can purchase directly from the fisherman, there is also local food, serving fish soup and chicken on the weekends at the fishermen’s huts. There’s also a small concession stand that sells beers for $3. Occasionally there is also a DJ playing local music.
f you head back on the main road (heading towards town) from Playa Knip, you will drive through the roller-coaster like roadway with a sign that says “spasm”, warning you that there’s a bump in the road. Just after that, you will see the turnoff for Playa Jeremi. This beach is a favorite among locals so it can tend to get a bit crowded on weekends. Playa Jeremi is one of the few beaches on Curaçao that has a different sand structure in the water; the sand is made of tiny lava stones so it's a different but very pleasant experience compared to the other beaches. The water here is crystal clear--perfect for snorkeling--and if you go on a weekday you will have a big chance of having this beach for yourself. Entrance is free. There are no facilities, restaurants or water sports companies here, but there are a few palapas that can be used for shade. Do not leave valuables in your car though—this place is notorious for theft.
Playa Lagun is one of my favorite little beaches. The photograph above with the colorful boats on the sand was taken here. Rocky cliffs adorn the sides of this little cove, while fishing boats rest on the sand. Playa Lagun is a favorite site for divers and snorkelers alike (there is a dive resort and restaurant located on the cliffs to the right). Playa Lagun is accessible and easy to find and located right in the village of Lagun. Reef fish are plentiful along the cliffs and at the drop-off, where you will also see healthy coral coverage and large sponges. Immediately after playa Jeremi is the town of Lagun. The beach and the dive shop will be on your left. The dive shop now serves lunch and dinner Monday through Sunday, with live music one night a month. The snorkeling as well as the diving is great here. Bahia Inn nearby also serves dinner every night and snacks or lunch during the daytime.
Playa Forti (cliff jumping)
After the church you will see Playa Forti. You can have a drink at the restaurant and take some fantastic photos of Westpunt Bay. The view from above Playa Forti is right out of a postcard, a perfect shot of the fishing boats and a panorama of the island's western tip. Here you'll find pleasantly different coarse, brown sand and tiny smooth pebbles but almost no shade. There are several snack bars and a restaurant at the parking area above Curacao Playa Forti, with a steep ramp and steps down to the water. If you’re particularly adventurous, you can jump off the cliff right there at the restaurant. It’s about a 40 foot drop, but is easy if you can be sure to land straight (Ladies—hold on to your tops. It’s a far enough drop to take it right off!).
Grote Knip & Klein Knip
A couple miles down the road from Playa Fort is Playa Knip. A knit is a greenish red cherry-like berry, that is similar in appearance to a miniature plum. Landhuis Knip nearby has a slave museum with a lot of fascinating information about Tula, the leader of the Curaçao slave revolution. Entrance to the landhuis is only $3 and they offer guided tours (in English) if you would like. After you turn down the small road to get to the beach, you will first find Klein (or little) Knip, which is a cute, quaint little beach. You can dive here but it’s a relatively long surface swim from the beach to the reef. The snorkeling is also great here because of the rocks. They now have beach chairs to rent as well.
At the end of the road to Playa Knip is Playa Cas Abou. It is picture perfect. They sell food and rent chairs here as well. Knip Beach lets you swim and sunbathe in one of the most beautiful surroundings on Curaçao. For decent swimmers, the reef can be reached from the beach, and the snorkeling from here is insane. For children and the less advanced swimmers, snorkeling can also be done much closer to the shore near the rocks on either side of Knip Beach.
Playa Santa Cruz
Playa Santa Cruz is the next beach. It’s one of the more picturesque beaches, but the water is a bit murky due to the amount of sand. Here you will find "Captain Goodlife" of Let’s Go Watersports, who offers water taxis for hire, diving tours, snorkeling tours and kayaks for rent. From here you can also take a water taxi service to the Blue Room. Captain Goodlife will drop you off for a dive and then come back and get you. I've also heard the kayak route out to the Blue Room is one of the more enjoyable ways to get there. It’s about a half an hour paddle to get to the Blue Room, but a nice enjoyable little trip. Ryan de Jongalso offers guided kayak tours through the mangroves and out to the Blue Room.
Playa Largo is another beach that boasts a great shore dive. "Beach" is maybe not the correct word because there is hardly any sand here. The beach is covered with coral rocks and pebbles. This is not a good beach for sunbathing or relaxing, but wonderful for diving and snorkeling. Just off the shore you will find a great variety of Elephant Ear sponges, large Touch-me-not sponges, Tube and Stove-Pipe sponges, Barrel sponges, Vase sponges, several types of Encrusting sponges and large Rope sponges. On the shoulder of the reef, there are also large amounts of soft coral. There are no facilities or dive tanks here, so you have to bring your own. It’s a small dirt road that’s not advisable for small cars, so jus be careful if you got stuck with one of those tiny little island cars (side note: we always rent a small SUV because there are so many dirt roads in Curaçao).
Playa Cas Abao
Just down the road is a newly developed community called Cas Abou. You can’t miss it—ther is a giant, brightly colored sign along with billboards advertising their newly built homes for sale (they are some of the nicest on the island). Cas Abou is a great beach with beautiful views and a lot of amenities. Those amenities come at a cost though—it costs 10 guilders ($6 per car) to get in and 5 guilders per chair. Cas Abou has a little bit of everything though; there’s a waterspouts shack that rents dive gear, kayaks, and stand up paddle boards, food, drinks and beach chairs. You can even get a massage. The first time we came to this beach in 2013, the beach was still one of the more popular ones but was not developed. Our visit this year revealed that they are putting a lot of work into the beach, adding a bar and restaurant with beachside seating, and most of the beach was under construction.
Further down the road is the turn for San Juan. If you see the San Juan Snack, you’ve just missed the turn. The entrance to San Juan is on private land and will cost 8 guilders (or about $5) per car, but once inside the property you have access to a number of beaches here. These are all coral beaches, so you will need water shoes, but because of this they are almost always completely deserted. The snorkeling—because it’s a coral beach—is excellent too.
Just after Car Abou on the main road heading to the airport, you will come to an intersection with the Willywood sign, which is where you will find the flamingos. There is a shallow bay here that is home to the beautiful pink birds. Park on the left, and then across the street you will find Landuis Jan Kok and Nina Sanchez’ art studio and gallery.
Playa Porto Mari
You will drive straight in front of the church to get to Porto Marie. This is the beach with the pigs and is one of the island’s more popular beaches. Playa Porto Marie has an entrance fee of 3.50 guilders and also charges for sun beds. There is also a dive shop here, as Porto Marie has a double reef to dive and the snorkeling is also good. This beach is known for turtle and manta ray sightings. They also have a masseuse and a nice restaurant here. The restaurant serves pannekoekens, which are traditional Dutch pancakes that are thicker than a crepe but much thinner than American-style pancakes.
Nestled between the spectacular rocky cliffs by the beautiful sparkling clear waters and sunny skies lays beautiful Daibooi Beach, which is. a favorite with both locals and tourists for its unspoiled nature and excellent facilities. This beach has a lot to offer. Hikers can walk on several trails in the area on both cliffs enclosing the beach and in the so called Saliña, a dusty gray landscape in the dry period and wetland in de rainy period boasting a variety of flora and fauna. Local fisherman are often seen working on their boats, while visitors of the beach enjoy barbecues, kids playing in the sand, tourists sun bathing and enjoying the calm water at the other end—this is a typical Curacao beach scene.
Daaibooi is also known for shore diving. Divers can find numerous types of sponges, star corals, pillar corals, brain corals, Elkhorn corals, and gorgonians as well as lots of typical reef fish.
Kokomo Beach is a really cool beach with a restaurant and other facilities to enjoy. The beach is small, but the convenience of a full service restaurant makes this place a must-see stop on the list. They often have live music in the evenings too. It's also one of the most Instagram-worthy spots on the island. Chances are, if you look up #Curacao on Instagram, you'll catch a few dozen photos of people on the swings in the water--these were taken at Kokomo beach.
Mambo Beach is a well-known party beach located on the eastern end of the island. If you've noticed a pattern, you might have seen that I don't focus on many beaches on the Eastside. That's because I personally think the beaches on the west end are better, as they usually have less people, are less developed, and the water is often much clearer. But Mambo Beach, located just outside of Punda, is worthy of making the list. The official name of this beach is Seaquarium Beach.
Mambo Beach has a number of open-air boutiques and restaurants, with chairs to rent out on the sand and plenty of water sport rental opportunities. It is often crowded though, so keep that in mind before going. On the Eastside of the Seaquarium beach, where Lions Dive is located, it is more relaxed though. Here you can lay between the palm trees and you don't have to sit in rows. Keep in mind that non Lions Dive guest will have to pay for the sun beds and beach chairs.
The club at Mambo Beach is also the most frequented on the island. They do day parties and have something going on just about every night. The last time we were there, they had a "floatie" day party, where club-goers were encouraged to bring their own floaties (for those of you who went to UCSB, this party is similar to Floatopia).
Check out the Open Air Markets
Curaçao has a number of beautiful open air markets in town, which sell everything from handmade gifts to fresh fruit from Venezuela. There are the Ronde Markt and the Floating Market right off the square on the Punda side of Willemstad, named the floating market because the panga boats pull up alongside the dock and sell fruits and vegetables right out of the boats.
The day trip out to Klein is one of my favorite things to do in Curaçao. Though the more enjoyable way to spend the day out at Klein is by taking a private charter, there are dozens of charter companies that do group day trips at a reasonable cost. Most trips leave around 8 in the morning and get back at about 4 pm, cost around $100 per person and include a light breakfast, lunch, and unlimited soda and alcoholic drinks (which for us always meant that we got our money’s worth). You use the engines to get out there in the morning (it takes about an hour and a half and is pretty choppy—take Dramamine if you get seasick as this ride is not for the faint of heart) and then you can sail on the way back, enjoying a much smoother ride. We like the catamaran Jonalisa, operated by Bounty Adventures.
One of the biggest reasons people choose to travel to Curaçao is to dive its incredible clear waters. Though Curaçao is a generally arid, almost desert-like island, the sea life and coral forests beneath the sea are full of life and color. Westpunt is the most popular place to stay for divers because that is where a large majority of the great dive sites are. Westpunt is at the far west end of the island and quite a ways from Willemstad so if you are planning to spend a lot of time diving while you’re there, pick a place in Westpunt to stay (here’s an interesting fact: Westpunt did not have running water until the 1950s). There are a number of dive resorts out there that set you up with everything you need.
Playa Kalki is a beach at the far northwest side of the island that has insanely beautiful water, a white sand beach, and facilities to use. That is where Go West Diving is located, where they teach all levels of PADI courses. It also happens to be situated right next to one of Curaçao’s most famous dive sites—Alice in Wonderland. They also do air boat dives to sites like Watamula, Alvin’s Plane Wreck and Redhio. You can rent gear and air and they have two tank morning boat dives and one tank in the afternoon. Their snorkel trips are on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Also ask about their sunset cruise, which I hear is lovely though I have never done one.
Go West Diving also rents kayaks and paddle boards, so even if you aren’t planning to dive, you can rent from them and still enjoy the beautiful beach. There is also food available (there’s a small restaurant) and beach chairs for rent.
Many of the beaches have dive shops with tanks to rent. You can generally rent air for about $6-$9 a tank at Kalki, Lagun, Cas Abou, Porto Marie, and Coral Estates. Each of these spots have either a restaurant or a small snack shack, so you can have lunch during your surface time as well.
Free Dive the Sunken Tugboat
You don’t need to book a snorkel tour to see this beautiful dive site. In fact, you should avoid doing so in order to dive the sunken tug boat without a couple dozen people swimming around you. The last time we went, we swam out to the tug boat (it’s only about 100 yards from the shore) and had the entire place to ourselves. Here are the directions from Otrobanda to the sunken tug boat:
Start off on Arubastraat heading north toward the bridge. Then make a right on Kon. Julianabrug to go over the bridge and drive along Presidente Rómulo Betancourt Boulevard. After you’ve made it to the other side (the Punda side), turn right onto Berg Carmeleweg. Continue onto Nieuwe Pareraweg, then turn left onto Kaminda Salina. Keep right and continue on Nieuwe Caracasbaaiweg. Then continue onto Caracasbaaiweg and drive as far as you can until you reach the beach. Park anywhere and walk down to the little bar/dive shop.
Dance Your Ass Off
Curaçao is known for having a bunch of festivals in general, and really great music festivals. While Carnevale is obviously the most well known festival on the island, Curaçao boasts fantastic EDM, reggae and soul music festivals.
There are also a lot of regularly scheduled parties and dance nights at the various clubs and restaurants around the island. Head over to Krakkeput Mei Mei on Mondays, enjoy reggae at Ay Carumba on Tuesdays, and live music at Hooks Hut on Wednesdays. Fhursdays and Fridays you can go to DeHeeren. Also on Fridays is Asia De Cuba. There is salsa dancing on Saturdays at De Korea at Waaigat, and then also Fridays and Saturdays at Bermuda. Sundays are spent at Hemongway’s and later at Mambo Beach. Mambo beach is pretty much guaranteed to have something going on Friday, Saturday and Sunday of every weekend.
Generally, Thursday nights are a good night to go out in Punda because they have their weekly event called “Punda Vibes.” Every Thursday, the bars in town offer specials on drinks and live music. On the first Thursday of the month is also “City Vibes”, a free jazz walk from venue to venue all evening.
Because the southern side of the island is wind protected, there is no swell on the south side of the island. However, there are good waves on the north end—if you are experienced enough to deal with the rip currents and the reef breaks. Playa Kanoa is a popular place for surfers and is one of the only major waves I know of on the island. Since my husband is an obsessive surfer, we of course had to check this place out. It’s pretty deserted (and actually seemed a bit sketchy). You basically drive though the mangroves, which the locals use as a trash dump, to get out to the deserted, rocky beach. There were definitely surfable waves here, but Byron didn’t get a chance to surf because he didn’t bring a board. Note that this is for more advanced surfers, not beginners though.
Hike Mount Christoffel
Though I’ve never actually done it, I hear that the hike up Mount Christoffel is an incredible way to see the entire island all at once. You will see old ruins, a copper mine and fantastic panoramic views. Not only will you enjoy incredible 360 degree views once at the top, but Christoffel Park is where you will also find more species of flora and fauna than anywhere else on the island, including rare cottontail rabbits and white tailed dear.You can drive in and hike the park. Curacao Actief takes guided hiking and biking tours through the park and also offers moonlight hikes, tours to find the elusive white tailed deer, and sunrise and sunset excursions. But be advised—the park closes at 4 pm and they lock the entrance gates to the mountain so I would recommend getting there before 12:00 to make sure you’ll be able to get up and back in time.
Mount Christoffel is the highest point of Curaçao and reaches a hight of 372 meters. The hike takes about an hour and a half each way. You’ll need good shoes (not sandals), and a lot of water. And don’t forget to wear sunscreen. For a more in-depth explanation of hiking Mount Christoffel, check out this blog.
Visit Shete Boca Tabla
On the far northwest side of the island, located inside Christoffel national park, is a place called “Boca Tabla” where volcanic action from thousands of years ago created a number of natural bridges, small caves, and natural water blow holes. “Boca Pistol”, for example, is named because the force of the waves against the rock formations creates a spray that looks like it was shot from a pistol. You will notice that the topography on the north side of the island is totally different—it almost resembles the west side of Hawaii’s big island, with mostly rocks and volcanic structures. The park has a number of walking trails. During the day there is an entrance fee of 10 guilders (about $6) to get in. On the weekends the locals often sell food.
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