The most precious treasure of the Netherlands cannot be found inside the countries windmills, nor hidden in its tulip fields. In fact, if you want to look for this Dutch jewel, you need to sail away from the old continent, heading towards the Caribbean sea and stopping about 40 miles away from the Venezuelan coast. The best way to see these islands is by yacht charter, and once there, surrounded by pristine turquoise waters, you will find Curacao; a constituent country of the Netherlands.
The name Curaçao derives from the Portuguese word for heart. Although the shape of the island does not resemble this vital organ, the warmth associated with this symbol permeates every spot of this nation. No wonder dushi (sweet) will be the most common word in Papiamentu that you will hear during your stay.
Although Curaçao is a tiny island, measuring only 171 square miles, you will find a place full of wonders that offers the best combination of services: the hospitality of the Caribbean people mixed with the attentive and organized assistance of the Dutch.
Curaçao is the largest and most inhabited of what is known as the ABC islands Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao all three belonging to the Kingdom of Netherlands. Since October 2010, Aruba and Curaçao run their own autonomous and self-governing states, while Bonaire is still consider a special municipality.
A colorful capital
The capital of Curaçao, Willemstad, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, and is characterized by its colourful houses that border both sides of the city. In one quarter, you can find Otrabanda, which in Papiamentu literally means the other side. Otrabanda is known as the newer face of the capital, full of shopping malls, fancy hotels and restaurants.
In Punda, which in Dutch means point, youll find Willemstad downtown area. Composed by a maze of boutiques and restaurants, Punda is the most charming quarter of the capital. At the end of the day, grab a glass of wine at one of the dining rooms facing the bay at the remarkable waterfront terrace. It wont come cheap, but watching the sublime sunset from this spot is an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Punda and Otrabanda are linked by the Queen Emma bridge; a pedestrian floating structure composed of little boats. This bridge, also called Swinging Old Lady, slides every time a ship sails towards the port, making pedestrians wait for the green light to cross to the other side. Nonetheless, the wait is worth if you plan to get a panoramic view of the colorful houses and take one of the best postcard pictures of the island.
If you need further assistance to decide about your leisure options, you can stop by the tourism kiosk close to the clock on Pundas side, where you can pick some fliers and the tourism officers will gladly make suggestions and reserve turs on your behalf.
Staying in Curaçao is not cheap: Different from other destinations, backpackers will notice right away the lack of low cost accommodation. If you want to save some money, make sure that you plan ahead and book a room at one of the three best cheap choices. The San Marco Hotel, in the center of Punda and above a casino with the same name, offers rooms with Internet and breakfast for about 80 dollars. So as the Academy Hotel, a clean and pleasant establishment that also houses a training facility for tourism students. The fanciest choice is the Plaza Hotel, the sole high building in Punda, which offer scenic views to the Santa Anna bay harbor from its rooms. In the mid-high range category, you may try the Avila Hotel, a beachfront resort about five minutes from Willemstad. It offers a private beach, swimming pool and a great jazz night every Thursday. But in order to find good prices, the golden rule is to book your room well in advance. Most hotels allow you to cancel your reservation without charging you an extra fee, so take profit of this service.
Although there are plenty of museums to visit and shopping to do in Willemstead, the best attraction of the island is the diversity of beaches, ranging from partly sandy spots to small secluded ones hidden between natural coves.
Renting a car will guarantee that you reach as many options as you can enjoy. Although public transportation will take you to a number of the popular beaches, visiting some of the most beautiful ones – such as Port Mari and Knip is only possible if you have your own vehicle. There are some local companies that offer cheap deals if you rent a car for more than three days. However, you can also book ahead through the sites of well-known enterprises, such as Hertz, Avis or Budget, which usually offer good prices if you rent for several days as well. You can find their offices at the airport and some resorts. As the shuttle to your hotel costs around 30 dollars per person, you might consider picking up a car as soon as you arrive.
Youll find that some beaches charge a small entrance fee (from 3 to 5 dollars) and others dont. Although certain free beaches are the most splendid ones, sometimes its worth paying the price to have access to facilities, such as bathrooms, restaurants, bars and diving shops. If you can handle the sun without a parasol, dont miss entering the small roads with the signs to: Knip, Kalki, Kenapa and Jeremi. If youre looking for more comfort, try Cas Abou or Port Mari.
Mango and Hooks Hut are two other great options if you want to enjoy a day at the beach closer to Willemstad. You can literally walk to Mango, where youll find an incredible artificial beach and a nice restaurant. From five oclock on, this beach club celebrates the most famous happy hour in the island, featuring different attractions every night.
Reproducing a pirates tavern, the Hooks Hut is located in Piscaderabay, about ten minutes by car from Willemsted. The restaurant serves exquisite Asian flavor plates and delicious cocktails, which can also be savored as you lay down in one of the deckchair at the Hooks Hut small beach. For more info on this trip, visit Yacht Charter Specialists
Your trip wont be complete if you dont take a tour to Klein Curaçao. This small island surrounded by coral reefs lies about two-hours away from Curaçao, and symbolizes the paradise for divers, families, windsurfers and the ones who just wish to set back and relax at the beach. The tour starts in the Spanish Water Bay with a hot cup of coffee or tea early in the morning as the boat sets sail. During the trip, you might surprise yourself watching a flock of flamingos flying over you head or a pod of dolphins swimming close by.
Although this tour might sound expensive about 90 dollars per person be assured that it is worth every penny. As you set foot in Klein Curaçao, your only worries will be on how to make the most out of your day. The crew will set a hefty table of food for breakfast and at later on theyll barbecue some meat for lunch. Soft drinks, water, juice and a special fruit punch will also be available during your stay in the island. Besides enjoying the sun and the long stretch of white sand, you can borrow some snorkelling equipment to look for some turtles in the crystal clear sea, or take a walk to the abandoned lighthouse.
No language barriers
Visitors should not encounter any language barrier in Curaçao. As tourism is one of the main economic sources; students are encouraged to learn several idioms during their school years. Also since Papiamentu, the local language, is a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, English and Dutch; most people dealing with tourism and commerce can easily communicate in one or two of those languages.