Curaçao: The Best Bang for Your Buck in the Caribbean
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 island just holds a special place in our heart and we love the feel, the vibe, and the relaxed lifestyle of the island. The people are grossly friendly, the water is some of 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 60s and 70s. 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 even a bit seedy, the pollution is a problem, and 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 some of the nicest, most welcoming people you’ve ever met. I think you visit Curaçao with an open mind, it will become your 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 is 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 Hazel in 1954, Anna in 1961, Felix in 2007, and Omar in 2008. However, a landfall of a hurricane in Curaçao has not occurred since the United States National Hurricane Center started 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. Most of the time you will see a high of 85 and a low of 75.
The weather in Curaçao really is great year-round. Curaçao has a tropical climate with a dry season from January to September and a wet season from 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 mosquitoes, 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. You can find the ones I use HERE.
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.
Stay tuned for more Curacao posts. I'll be sharing Where to Stay, Where to Eat, What to Do and Curacao's best beaches later this week!