Beginning today, I will be sharing a new series on Caribbean destinations. When we think of the Caribbean, we often think of lying on the beach next to the azure blue sea, sipping on a mai tai. While that is certainly enjoyable, the Caribbean is full of history, a melting-pot blend of cultures, and many sustainable travel initiatives.
Every Wednesday for the next several weeks, I will be sharing a new facet of this glimmering jewel to our south. Today's article highlights the authentic, historic, utterly charming island of Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles, 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela.
Far less developed and explored by tourists as many other Caribbean islands, Curacao's charm lies in its history, its authentic experience, and its culture which doesn't strive to present a picture-perfect (read: generic) postcard to its visitors, but rather wraps them in a warm and welcoming embrace. What makes Curacao special among Caribbean islands? Its vibrant heritage is both European and African, representing more than 50 nationalities. You will hear Dutch, Spanish, and English spoken here, but the main local language is Papiamentu, a Creole dialect. Locals and visitors mingle throughout the island - don’t be surprised if someone waves and tosses a friendly “Bon Bini!” (Welcome!) or “Kon ta bai?” (How’s it going?) your way.
The best part of exploring Curacao is that it feels undiscovered, like an exclusive hideaway. There are no “tourist traps” here. It's largely undiscovered by other Americans - only 13% of its visitors are from North America; the rest are mainly from Europe and a few South Americans. It's a secret well worth discovering.
The historic capital city of Willemstad greets you with its colorful 17th and 18th century Dutch architecture, perched above the clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean. This lively port is one of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Caribbean, preserving some 765 buildings as national monuments. Chief among these are Fort Amsterdam, the Governor’s Palace, Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue and the colorful Penha building on the waterfront.
My favorite aspects of Willemstad? The extremely interesting floating bridge that connects the Old Town Punda District with Otrobanda (literally, the other side). 16 pontoon boats support the Queen Emma bridge, named after the 19th century Dutch queen. It's a pedestrian bridge that allows people to walk from one side to the other - until boats need to come through the waterway passage. Then, the bridge swings open using two powerful motor boats. Quite a feat of engineering - especially when you consider that the bridge was constructed in 1888.
In the Punda District, if you walk along the waterfront away from the bridge and Governor's Palace, around the next corner you'll find the delightful Floating Venezuelan Market. Here is a colorful assortment of fruits and vegetables, alongside hand crafted artisan works and fish stalls. The Venezuelans who sell here come back and forth between Curacao and their home country, with their fishing boats doubling as living quarters while they sell at the market. It's a great place to stroll, people watch, and interact with the local merchants and shoppers.
IF YOU GO:
PLAN your trip by visiting the Curacao Tourist Board website at www.curacao.com.
STAY at the Hotel Kura Hulanda just across the bridge from Willemstad, in Old Town Curacao. This charming hotel village was created out of 17th and 18th century Dutch buildings, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Read my review of Hotel Kura Hulanda here. For a beach getaway at the remote, pristine West End of the Island, check out Lodge Kura Hulanda.
DON'T MISS the North Sea Jazz Festival in September! If you can plan your trip to be in Curacao over Labor Day weekend, you will be able to catch this terrific festival, where international artists with some of the biggest names in the jazz, funk, soul, Latin, and R&B worlds perform. Headliners include Lionel Ritchie, Natalie Cole, Simply Red and Austin's own Grupo Fantasma! The festival will open with a free concert by Alberto Barros on Monday, August 30 at Plaza Brion. One-day tickets are $165, two day passes are $300 - and all festival proceeds are donated to charity.
INTERESTING TIDBIT: The tap water is completely safe to drink anywhere in Curacao. In fact, it is some of the highest quality water in the world. They take the sea water, de-salinate and steam it, and provide the entire island with the pure, clean water that results.