Curacao Calling: Unveiling the Enchanting Caribbean Gem

Nestled in the idyllic southern Caribbean lies an extraordinary treasure, Curaçao, a hidden gem untouched by the destructive forces of hurricanes. Positioned just 56 kilometers (35 miles) off the northern shores of Venezuela, this captivating island stands proudly as the distinguished “C” among the ABC islands. With a delightful blend of European influences, Curaçao captivates with its diversity and stark contrasts, drawing in intrepid explorers seeking an unparalleled experience.

Curaçao is also home to oil refineries, an important part of the island’s economic engine.

Every day, as the sun bathes the skies, mighty tugboats gracefully guide colossal tankers and majestic cruise liners into the embrace of Willemstad, the island’s capital. In this bustling port city, the enchanting Queen Emma footbridge elegantly swings open and closed, allowing these maritime giants to pass through the natural harbor.

Willemstad, adorned with charming Dutch colonial edifices adorned in cheerful Caribbean hues, mirrors the picturesque canals of Amsterdam. A visit to this destination unveils a rich tapestry of culture, history, awe-inspiring architecture, delectable cuisine, welcoming locals, tax-free shopping havens, vibrant casinos, and exhilarating water activities.

Discovering Curaçao’s beaches requires venturing into hidden enclaves nestled amidst dramatic cliffs, often necessitating a taxi ride and descending numerous steps. It is these secluded havens that locals frequent, bestowing upon them an authentic ambiance untouched by excessive tourism.

Within the heart of Willemstad, an abundance of exceptional dining establishments awaits, nestled deep within the ancient stone forts or perched atop historic buildings that grace the waterfront.

As you bid farewell to the bustling capital of Willemstad, you embark on a remarkable expedition through a mesmerizing, desert-like countryside reminiscent of the enchanting landscapes of the U.S. Southwest. The relatively arid terrain, adorned with Turk’s cap cacti, resilient aloe plants with their spiny leaves, and divi divi trees bearing foliage shaped by the gentle caress of the wind, captivates all who venture into its embrace.

Language:

English is the main language in the island. Natives of Curaçao, known as ‘Yu di Korsou’, speak also Dutch, Spanish and Papiamentu. This last local language is close to Portuguese and the recent influx of Brazilian tourists have raise the popularity of Portuguese language in Curacao.

Currency:

Curaçao currency is known as Florin but the real name is Antillean Guilder, symbol ANG. The Florin’s exchange rate is fixed to the US Dollar, each 1 ANG = 0.56 USD or 1 USD = 1.80 ANG.

Electricity

Curaçao’s standard power outlets provide 110-130 Volts at 50Hz, using two-pin ‘Type A’ plugs like those in the US. Some devices are compatible with both 110V and 220V, but it’s wise to check beforehand. Bring a plug adapter for other types, or buy one on the island. Certain hotels and apartments offer 220V outlets requiring a standard European plug

How to Reach this Island of Curacao

Because Curacao is an island, travelling to here can be done either by air or by sea. The typical travel for the majority of visitors is to fly into Willemstad Curacao Hato International Airport (CUR), located just few miles from the capital.

Despite its size, Willemstad Airport offers direct flights to Curacao from various global destinations such as Amsterdam, Aruba, Bonaire and Miami, among the other.

Best Perios to visit Curaçao

The busiest months in Curaçao are December to April, with higher hotel rates and activity prices. During this time water visibility for diving and snorkeling is ideal with daily temperature of 87°F (30°C).

For lower rates and fewer crowds, consider visiting between May and November. Curaçao is outside the hurricane zone, providing added peace of mind.

Accommodation Options in Curacao

When it comes to finding the perfect place to stay in Curacao, you’ll discover a diverse range of options to suit your preferences. From vacation apartments to all-inclusive hotels, hostels to exclusive five-star resorts, the island offers a full selection of accommodations to cater to different needs and budgets.

While there are two fully all-inclusive hotels available in Curacao, namely “Sunscape Curacao Resort & Casino” and “Kunuku Aqua Resort”, it’s worth noting that many larger hotels also offer all-inclusive packages. We recommend checking the listings of your preferred hotel to see if they provide such packages to enhance your stay.

It’s important to mention that the majority of hotels in Curacao have restrictions on pets, although exceptions may be made for service animals.

Is Curaçao a safe destination

Curaçao is widely regarded as one of the safest Caribbean destinations, with minimal crime. However, to ensure a worry-free experience, avoid leaving valuables unattended and take standard precautions.

Solo female travelers should exercise caution, such as never leaving drinks unattended and avoiding walking alone while intoxicated.

Scams are rare, but it’s prudent to familiarize yourself with common travel scams. Moreover, Curaçao is rarely affected by hurricanes.

In case of emergencies, dial 911.

Lastly, obtaining comprehensive travel insurance is highly recommended for protection against unforeseen events.

Navigating Curaçao: Tips to Getting Around

Public Transportation

Curacao offers a limited public bus network known as “Konvooi,” primarily serving Willemstad, Punda, and Otrobanda. While the buses run infrequently, they provide transportation within these areas. Fare for bus rides is approximately 2.40 ANG, equivalent to just over $1.

Additionally, 9-person vans labeled as buses can be flagged down for more frequent travel, although they operate without a fixed schedule.

Bicycles

Despite being a Dutch colony, getting around Curacao by bicycle can be challenging. Bike rentals typically cost around 45 ANG per day, or 35 ANG for weekly or longer rental periods.

Taxis

Taxis in Curacao are reliable and safe. While not all taxis have meters, most have rate sheets. It is advisable to agree on the fare before entering the cab.

Taxis are suitable for navigating Willemstad, but longer journeys can be quite expensive. If you’re on a budget, it’s recommended to opt for alternative transportation methods instead of taxis.

Car Rental

Renting a car is a cost-effective and efficient way to explore the island. The average daily rental cost for a multi-day rental is approximately 80-90 ANG. Drivers must be at least 21 years old.

Booking online your rental before arriving is advisable for better rate than airport’s rental.

Hitchhiking

Hitchhiking is very uncommon in Curacao. It is advisable to rely on the bus system or opt for a car rental instead.

Curaçao Cash And Tipping Habits

In Curacao, US Dollars are widely accepted, making transactions convenient. The exchange rate used for calculations is usually 1 USD = 1.80 ANG.

Euros can only be exchanged at banks.

Credit and debit cards are also widely accepted, but it’s advisable to carry some cash, either in US Dollars or Antillean Guilders, especially for certain locations or small shopping on the street.

Restaurants typically include a service charge of around 12% on the bill, while hotels may add a 15% service charge. These charges are separate from tipping, which is left to your discretion as an expression of appreciation for hospitality and services rendered.

It is customary to tip taxi drivers around 10% of the fare, provide porters with approximately 1 ANG per bag, and offer waiters gratuities ranging from 8% to 12% of the total bill.

If you require small currency exchanges, your hotel’s front desk may assist you by exchanging USD or EUR.

Island local cuisine

Curacao’s cuisine is a delightful fusion of Dutch, Caribbean, African, and South American influences. Seafood takes center stage, with mahi-mahi, red snapper, and grouper being popular catches around the island. Fresh fruits also abound, offering a burst of tropical flavors.

For an authentic local experience, head to Marsche Bieuw, the Old Market landmark in downtown Willemstad, where generous portions and unbeatable prices await. Seating operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so arriving early is advisable. Another must-try is the famous roadside “sneks” scattered across the island, offering refreshing drinks, savory pastechis (savory pastries), and more.

When in Curacao, don’t miss the chance to savor local dishes like Kabritu Stoba (goat stew), Yuana (stewed iguana), Keshi Yená (cheese stuffed with meat), Ayaka (spiced meat wrapped in cornmeal dough, served during Christmas), raw herring, fish tacos, fresh mussels, and Oliebollen (small fried donuts).

For those seeking quick bites, sandwiches, burgers, and other fast food options typically range from 8 to 15 ANG per meal. At McDonald’s, a combo meal costs around 20 ANG. A casual seafood or local cuisine meal at a restaurant usually costs around 35 ANG, while indulging in a three-course meal with a drink at a mid-range establishment can be closer to 75 ANG.

Quench your thirst with a beer, priced between 6 and 10 ANG, or enjoy a latte or cappuccino for around 7 ANG. Bottled water is approximately 4 ANG.

If you plan on preparing your own meals, expect to spend around 120-160 ANG on basic groceries for a week. This will cover essentials like rice, pasta, seasonal produce, and some meat or fish.

For vegan options, Vita Vegetarian Cuisine is currently the only strictly vegetarian restaurant offering vegan choices. However, vegetarian options are increasingly available at most restaurants, with many establishments now featuring vegan menu items as well. The dining scene in Curacao has evolved to accommodate various dietary preferences.

If On a Budget: Money-Saving Tips

Being mindful of your expenses is crucial in Curacao, although it remains more budget-friendly compared to other Caribbean islands. To help you make the most of your finances during your visit, here are some effective money-saving tips:

  1. Explore During the low Season – Save up to 50% on accommodation and activities by opting to visit during the shoulder season. Avoiding the peak tourist period allows for more budget-friendly experiences (more details on this below).
  2. Embrace Local Hospitality – Plan in advance to find a hospitable Couchsurfing host in Curaçao. Staying with a local not only provides free accommodation but also offers the opportunity to connect with insiders who can share invaluable tips and insights.
  3. No Taxis – Taxis in Curaçao can be quite pricey, making it advisable to avoid them whenever possible to minimize expenses.
  4. Secure a Rental Car – Renting a car offers the most economical and convenient means of exploring the island, especially when traveling with companions. Not renting a car was my biggest regret during my visit to Curaçao. Sharing the cost of a car rental with other travelers ensures affordability.
  5. Hydration on a Budget – Carry a reusable water bottle and take advantage of the safe tap water available in Curaçao. By reducing plastic waste and using a trusted brand like LifeStraw with built-in filters, you can ensure access to clean and affordable drinking water throughout your trip.
  6. Beachside BBQ Bliss – Join the locals in their popular beachside BBQ tradition, saving a significant amount on food expenses. Many beaches, such as Daaibooi Beach, provide BBQ pits for public use. Opting to cook your own meals will greatly contribute to your savings, so give restaurants a miss.

Cultural Etiquette in Curacao: Embrace the International Atmosphere

Curacao’s cultural norms are best described as international due to its proximity to South America and strong influences from North America and Europe. The locals in Curacao are known for their laid-back, welcoming, and accepting nature, making it easy to fit in seamlessly.

In religious settings, it is customary to keep your voice down as a sign of respect. Additionally, wearing a kippah is required when visiting the synagogue. When entering a store, supermarket, or restaurant, it is considered impolite to be dressed solely in a bathing suit, and you may be denied service.

There is one local tradition that may initially disconcert North American visitors, particularly those from the United States. Between mid-November and early December, Curacao celebrates Sinterklaas, a tradition originating from The Netherlands. This festive occasion is similar to modern Christmas and involves an older father figure, Sinterklaas, who, alongside his helpers known as Petes, brings gifts for children. It’s important to note that the Petes, portrayed by individuals of various ethnic backgrounds, traditionally blacken their faces as part of their costume.

While this may resemble the old American theater practice of blackface, it carries different connotations in Curacao compared to the United States.

By respecting these cultural nuances and traditions, you can fully embrace the diverse and inclusive atmosphere of Curacao.

Cultural Celebrations and Festivals in Curacao

Curacao is known for its vibrant festivities and cultural events throughout the year. The excitement kicks off just days after the new year begins with the start of Curaçao Carnival, which lasts until the evening before Ash Wednesday. The Carnival period varies in date each year, but the main parades take place during the final 10 days of the Carnival.

In April, Curacao hosts noteworthy events such as the Curaçao International Film Festival Rotterdam and King’s Day, offering a blend of film screenings and celebratory activities.

The highly anticipated Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival takes place during the final weekend of August, showcasing world-class musical performances.

Late December and early January are brimming with traditions, including Christmas celebrations, pagaras or fireworks displays, New Year’s Eve festivities, and Fuik Day, a beloved event that takes place on the first Sunday of the year, where boaters gather for a vibrant water party.

Throughout the year, Curacao offers a rich tapestry of cultural experiences and celebrations, inviting locals and visitors alike to immerse themselves in the island’s vibrant spirit.