Winter is coming. It’s a cold, hard fact – literally if you are located in a climate that experiences the snowy, icy, blustery season people call winter. This is probably the time of year when you start daydreaming about traveling to a warmer climate or moving to a tropical island.
Curaçao is a delightfully lovely island to consider for your next adventure or place to call home. Curaçao is located in the Caribbean Sea and is approximately 37 miles north off the coast of Venezuela. It is part of the Netherland Antilles and the capital is Willemstad. Curaçao has pristine, white beaches and sparkling blue waters. It also enjoys a year-round tropical climate. The official language is Dutch though Spanish and English are spoken widely. Read on for more information about the island and the best things to do in Curaçao.
History of Curaçao
The Amerindian Arawaks migrated from South America approximately 6,000 years ago. They settled on various islands as they traveled north. The tribe that settled in Curaçao was the Caiquetios from nearby Venezuela. The Caquetios lived in small villages which were located near inland bays on the south coast. There were usually approximately 40 inhabitants in each settlement and they traded with Indians from the mainland and other islands.
Alonso de Ojeda and Amerigo Vespucci traveled to the area in 1499 to chart the South American coast and many offshore islands, including Curaçao. It is rumored that the Spanish named the island Curazon, or heart, but the Portuguese mapmakers converted the spelling to the Portuguese word Curaçao. There were about 2,000 Caquetios who lived on the island when de Ojeda “discovered” it.
Soon after de Ojeda’s travels, the Spanish came to explore and settle. They determined by the early 16th century that the island had little gold and only a small fresh water supply, making it unsuitable for large farms. The Spanish deported the indigenous population as slaves to Hispaniola in 1515.
The Dutch West India Company laid claim to the island in 1634 and named the Dutch explorer Peter Stuyvesant as governor in 1642. The Dutch consolidated their claims by building fortifications, especially around sources of drinking water. Building materials and food sources were largely dependent on imports from Europe and the supply was irregular. Food was rationed and the soldiers protecting the island were dissatisfied with the housing conditions and hard work. To avert mutiny, salaries and rations were increased.
Stuyvesant established plantations on the island with their famous landhuizen structures and they were successful in growing peanuts, fruits, and corn. They also found success with the production of salt dried from the saline ponds on the island.
Curaçao’s deep port, protected shores, and several large forts made it a safe place for the Dutch West India Company to conduct business. One of its chief endeavors was the slave trade from Africa. This is when the Papiamentu language became formed. It is a mixture of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, and African dialects and became the main form of communication between slaves and their abductors.
Jewish families from Amsterdam also established settlements on Curaçao which then attracted others Jewish families from Europe and South America who were fleeing from the Inquisition. The Jewish population reached more than 2,000 by the early 18th century and the Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue was established in 1732. It is currently one of the oldest synagogues in the Caribbean and South America which is still in use.
The primary commerce on Curaçao in the 17th and 18th centuries was the slave trade. Those kidnapped from Africa were bought and sold in Willemstad before continuing to their ultimate destinations in Central American and South America. It is estimated that Domingo Grillo and Ambrosio Lomelin shipped 24,000 slaves, assisted by the Dutch West India Company, between 1662 and 1669.
Curaçao became a free port in 1674 which made it an important player in international trade. It became one of the most prosperous islands. The island’s economy and strategic strengths attracted the British and the French who wanted to control the extremely profitable trade routes and sugar plantations.
The Spanish blocked much of Curaçao’s trade with its colonies in South America. It was also not suitable for large-scale farming of sugar cane, tobacco, or cotton. Curaçao’s agriculture became focused mainly on providing food for its own population. The Dutch West India Company went bankrupt in 1791 and Curaçao became a Dutch colony.
Britain evicted the Dutch from 1800 to 1803 and also from 1807 to 1815. The1815 Treaty of Paris settled many Caribbean disputes and returned Curaçao to the Dutch West India Company. It has remained under Dutch rule since 1815. After the Dutch reclaimed the island, slavery disappeared in 1863 and the island faced harsh social and economic conditions for nearly a century with the shift to wage labor.
Curaçao lived on agriculture, trade, and fishing until the beginning of the 20th century. Oil was discovered off of the Venezuelan coast in 1914. Both Aruba and Curaçao became centers for distilling crude oil. The Royal Dutch Shell Refinery became Curaçao’s largest business and employer. Many immigrants came from other Caribbean nations, South America, and Asia to work for the company.
In 1929, Fort Amsterdam was captured by the Venezuelan rebel Rafael Simón Urbina and a force of 250. They stole weapons, ammunitions, and the island’s treasury. They also captured Governor Leonardus Albertus Fruytier and transported him to Venezuela. This act caused the Dutch government to permanently station marines and ships to defend the island.
The Royal Dutch Shell Refinery brought prosperity and modernization to Curaçao, but the wealth was unevenly distributed. In 1969, there was a workers’ revolt at the entrance gate to the Shell refinery. The workers advanced on Willemstad causing destruction and mayhem until the Dutch marines restored order. This led to the government becoming more representative of the population. Shell left Curaçao in the 1980s and the island leased the refinery to PDVSA, the Venezuelan state oil company.
The United States and its allies determined that the Curaçao port and the refinery were strategic enough to establish an American military base near Willemstad during World War II. After the war, the islands of the Caribbean began to demand their independence. The Netherland Antilles was formed in 1954 and granted a measure of autonomy as entities to Curaçao, Saba, Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Martin. The administrative center of the Netherland Antilles is based in Willemstad.
The Dutch government and the islands of the Netherland Antilles agreed to dissolve in 2006. In 2010, Curaçao and Sint Maarten became countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch monarch is the head of state and is represented by a Governor. The head of government is the Prime Minister who presides over a Council of Ministers. There is a Minister from Curaçao who resides in the Netherlands and represents Curaçao. Curaçao has a Parliament with 21 members for a term of not more than five years and voting is open to all residents who are at least 18 years old and have Dutch nationality.
Residents of Curaçao are not part of the European Union and do not have to comply with European law or use the Euro as currency. As an overseas territory, Curaçao qualifies for European funds and residents of Curaçao possess both Dutch and European citizenship.
Things to do in Curaçao
You can be active outdoors in Curaçao year-round and enjoy many beautiful and exciting attractions. Discover all that Curaçao has to offer you!
Tropical islands are famous for their beautiful beaches and the same holds true for the ABC Islands – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Curaçao has more than 35 beautiful beaches to choose from, all unique and different.
Playa Forti is perfect for thrill seekers and allows visitors to jump off a ten-meter high cliff into the water below.
Kenepa Beach is a small cove with lots of white sand and shade located on the west side of the island. It is one of the prettiest beaches on the island. If you venture to the drop-off near the cliffs you may see gorgonian coral, small caves, and schools of fingerling fish. Kenepa Beach is comprised of Playa Kenepa Grandi (Grote Knip) and Playa Kenepa Chiki (Klein Knip). It is also very popular with the locals
Playa Porto Marie is located on the west coast on the private estate of Plantages Porto Mari. It has a beautiful bay with a white coral beach and calm water. Access the unique double reef from the shore for an interesting snorkel or dive. There are also three nature trails which start in the beach’s parking lot for hiking or biking.
Cas Abao Beach has a white sandy beach and crystal-clear waters for swimming, snorkeling, and diving. There are many palm trees and gazebos for shade set in a country setting with all the conveniences of a full-service beach.
Playa Lagun is set in a small bay on the northwest of the island near the village of Lagoon (Lagun). It is a good starting point for snorkeling. There are concrete huts for shelter
Playa Piscado, also known as Playa Grandi, is a fascinating dive site near Westpunt. It is translated as “Fisherman’s Beach.” The waters are covered with amazing fields of corals, turtles, trumpet fish, and snappers. Swim in the waters to view the statue of King Neptune as he watches over his underwater kingdom. Locals anchor their boats off-shore and sell the daily catch on the small dock. The fish remains attracted the turtles who became residents of the beach and can also be viewed in the shallow water about five meters deep.
Playa Jeremi is near Willemstad and it is a narrow and picturesque cove that is not very crowded most days. You can reach the beach via uneven steps cut into the rocks from the parking area. This beach has a different sand structure in the water that is composed of tiny lava stones.
Blue Bay Beach is a wide, sandy beach with sparkling blue water and palm trees. It is approximately ten minutes from Willemstad with restaurants, watersports, and other amenities available.
Daaibooi Beach is a quite beach with shallow water that is perfect for snorkeling. There are some palapas available for shade. This beach was formerly used as a harbor for boats that collected salt at nearby plantations before the salt was transferred to Willemstad as cargo for Europe. There are old walls that the Dutch settlers used to protect the bay.
Kokomo Beach is located near Willemstad and is the perfect beach to enjoy a quiet beach day. There are lounges and arguably the best beach chairs on the island. There is also a professional dive center that will help you explore the remarkable underwater world.
Playa Kalki is located near Westpunt and has a sandy beach with limestone cliffs. Kalki means limestone in Papiamentu. Explore the mushroom-shaped, white coral and limestone formations which gave the beach the nickname as the “Alice in Wonderland” beach.
Playa Boka Santu Pretu is a secluded beach and one of the few with black sand on the island.
Mambo Beach is located on the Caribbean and represents urban living at its best. There is a white sandy beach, a variety of restaurants, watersports, entertainment, and unique island shops. The official name of Mambo Beach is Seaquarium Beach and it is separated into two sections, the westside with more formalized seating arrangements and the more relaxed eastside.
Jan Thiel Beach is located near Willemstad. There is not a lot of sand but beachgoers lounge on cement quays near the open bay. Enjoy the semi-closed wading area that is similar to a swimming pool. There are four unique restaurants, beach tennis, diving, flyboarding, and deep-sea fishing available for your enjoyment.
Playa Santa Cruz is located near Lagoon (or Lagun). It is a wide beach with beach cabins.
Cabana Beach, also known as Kontiki Beach, has azure waters, beautiful palm trees, and live entertainment. Enjoy the large umbrellas with colored lights at the restaurant and lounge. Enjoy watersports, shopping, and scuba diving. There is a wave breaker which tames the surf and calms the sea for children to play in the water.
Playa Gipy is located on the northern tip of the island and it is close to the village of Westpunt. The beach is rocky and small though it is often visited by loggerhead sea turtles.
Water Sport Activities
If you enjoy being in the water, Curaçao has a wide variety of watersport activities to keep you entertained in their pristine, sparkling waters.
The Tugboat is a famous diving and snorkeling location which is only five meters below the surface. It accidentally sand and is now home to many different fish.
The Blue Room is a hidden cave that is located slightly below sea level. Inside the cave, the blue water reflects sunlight on the ceiling and walls.
Dolphin Academy Curaçao has trained dolphins that you can swim with, even in the wild if you have a diver’s certificate. Without a certificate, you can remain in the natural lagoon.
The Underwater Marine Park was established in 1983 and is located off the southeast coast. The park stretches along 12.4 miles of shoreline from Willemstad to the eastern tip of the island and extends to a depth of 60 meters. It includes 600 hectares of fringing reefs and 436 hectares of inland bays, mangroves, and seagrass beds.
Watamula Hole is located on the northern tip of the island in Westpunt. It is a vast blowhole within the rock formations that shoots the sea water out like a geyser when the waves crash against the formations. Visitors can watch as the ocean waters shoot high in the air. There are dozens of smaller blowholes that almost sound like the island is breathing.
The Mushroom Forest is a famous dive site where the coral formations have grown to resemble mushrooms. There is a wealth of marine life beneath these formations which you can observe and photograph.
The Dive Bus
Scubacao Diving Adventures
Relaxed Guided Dives
Caribbean Sea Sports Dive Shop
Duikcentrum van de Ven
The Diveshop Curaçao
Jan Thiel Diving
Curaçao Surf and Sunchild Watersports
B Diving & Watersports
Scuba Lodge Dive Center Pietermaai
Twin Divers Curaçao
Blue Bay Dive & Watersports
Porto Mari Sports
Discover Scuba Diving in Curaçao
PADI Discover Scuba Diving
Snorkeling and boating:
Snorkel Tour by Jet Ski or Aquaboat – explore the southern coast’s sandy beaches, tranquil coves, and mangrove forests
Tugboat and Reef Snorkel – accessible by land for those who may suffer from seasickness
Sea Aquarium Snorkel with Stingrays and Feed the Sharks
Shete Boka National Park and Playa Lagun Snorkel Adventure – travel in an open 4X4 vehicle to access Curaçao’s remote areas
Powerboat Caribbean – travel by powerboat 15 miles to Klein Curaçao, an uninhabited island famous for sea turtles and its white sandy beaches.
Breeze Boattrips – spoil yourself with a yacht trip to Klein Curaçao, the Mushroom Forest, a dive trip to East Point, or a Spanish Water sunset sail
BlueFinn Charters – visit the West Coast, snorkel with dolphins, or enjoy Klein Curaçao on this 75-foot Catamaran.
Blue Room and Beach Tour by Speedboat – travel by speedboat to view the scenic coastline and stop at the Spanish Water Lagoon for a break
Sunset BBQ Trip – board the boat and travel to the Spanish Waters and Fuik Bay then enjoy a delicious barbecue. After dinner, enjoy the sunset and music while returning to the Spanish Waters.
Kayak and Snorkel Adventure – journey to a secluded beach and view historical landmarks and the beautiful coastline.
Curaçao Snorkel Adventure – explore Curaçao’s undersea world
Private Deep Sea Fishing Trip – fish for Mahi Mahi, Marlin, Tuna, Wahoo, and Giant Barracuda aboard a 45-foot sport fisherman yacht with outstanding fishing equipment.
Snorkel Tour – discover the underwater world with a private snorkeling excursion.
Guided Snorkel Tour at Blue Bay House Reef
Private Charter on Casador, a luxury 68 foot sailing yacht.
Sailing Adventure to Klein Curaçao – all-inclusive sailing and water sport day.
Private Deep Sea Fishing Trip – explore the Spanish Waters and Fuik Bay while fishing for barracuda, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Tuna, and Marlin.
Miscellaneous Water Activities
Substation Curaçao – enjoy the deep without getting wet on this submarine that takes you down 500 feet to view the variety of life at this depth.
Zapata Flyboard Caribbean – fly high above the water or dive like a dolphin on this exciting flyboarding adventure.
Curaçao Actief – enjoy everything Curaçao has to offer like snorkeling, visiting natural wonders, private tours, and water tours.
Paddle Board Adventure or Kitesurfing – experience sightseeing by paddling from beach to beach in the sparkling waters. Visit pristine reefs and enjoy the great climate year-round as you enjoy the sights of birds and other animals.
If you are more of a landlubber, or perhaps just want to experience some land-based activities, Curaçao has a lot of options from which to choose:
Christoffel Mountain is the highest point on the island (372 meters) and you can enjoy the view from the top. It is an intense climb and it is recommended to start climbing early in the morning before it gets too hot.
Sea Aquarium is distinctive and internationally renowned because the tanks are in direct contact with the ocean and provides an environment which is as natural as possible.
The Salt Pans of Jan Thiel were an important salt plantation but now, you can enjoy hiking, jogging, or cycling. Watch for flamingos which are attracted to the salt lake.
Curaçao Jeep Experience allows you to discover the beauty of the island on an off-road excursion where you can relax on beautiful beaches, snorkel with turtles, and savor delicious, homemade barbecue.
ATV and Buggy Tours you can choose an exciting ATV or Buggy Tour to enjoy many beautiful parts of the island.
TukTuk City Tour will help you learn about the history and culture of the island as you travel around in a unique TukTuk.
WannaBike tours let you ride through nature on a mountain bike to enjoy the beauty of the trails and learn about the rich history of the island.
Enjoy the natural beauty of Curaçao at one of their many natural parks:
Shete Boka has over 200 hectares and a coastline of ten kilometers with seven coves and bays where sea turtles lay their eggs. Hike the trails to the natural bridge, or Boka Tabla, beaches filled with hermit crabs, the geyser at Boka Pistol, and a cave where you can experience the waves crashing.
Hato Caves are more than 300,000 years old and consist of coral limestone. The caves are reached by walking up 49 steps. Inside the cave is fully illuminated and pathways are lined with handrails.
Flamingo Sanctuary is located at Sint Willibrordus and allows you to view flamingoes in the wild as they scavenge for food in the shallow salt lake.
Queen Wilhelmina Park
Dinah’s Botanic and Historic Garden, also known as Den Paradera, is an herbal garden which contains healing herbs that preserve the knowledge of prior generations.
Historical and Cultural Sights
Relax and enjoy a day of soaking up the historical and cultural sights of Curaçao.
Willemstad is the capital city of Curaçao and a UNESCO World Heritage City. It is divided into two parts, Punda (east) and Otrobanda (west) which are linked by the Queen Emma Bridge. Take time to see Handelskade, the historical waterfront street with a row of colonial Dutch houses. The pastel colors are required by law due to a former Governor who blamed his headaches on the glare of white houses.
The Pietermaai District is also a colorful neighborhood filled with cafés, small shops, restaurants, and nightlife.
The Queen Emma Bridge is a floating pontoon bridge. It opens throughout the day to let ships pass. Make sure you watch for the unique way the bridge opens and moves.
Explore the history and culture of Curaçao with a visit to one of their lovely museums:
The Octagon is an old building where Simón Bolivar stayed to prepare for the battle against Spanish colonial rule.
The Curaçao Museum houses objects from the 18th to the 21st century, similar to a time capsule. View art, traditional furniture, and the cockpit from the first KLM plane that flew from the Netherlands to Curaçao.
The Kura Hulanda Museum is located in the 19th century home of a merchant and slave owner. The museum traces the history of the African slave trade along with collections of Mesopotamian relics, pre-Columbian gold, and Antillean art.
Things to See
Curaçao has a lot of interesting sights and attractions which you won’t want to miss!
Landhuis Chololobo is the birthplace of Blue Curaçao, a popular blue liqueur which is internationally famous. Watch how the drink gets produced and enjoy a tasting.
Barter at the Floating Market where most products arrive by boat. Vendors mostly set up stalls on the dock to sell vegetables, fruit, and fish and you will experience a multitude of languages being spoken such as English, Papiamento, Dutch, and Spanish.
The Queen Juliana Bridge is parallel to the Queen Emma Bridge but it is 56 meters high and was constructed for automobile traffic and high enough for most ships to sail underneath.
The Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue is both the oldest synagogue in the Caribbean and in South America. It attracts worldwide visitors and its floor is covered in sand. The Synagogue illustrates the vast influence the Jewish community had on the island.
Any trip to Curaçao is bound to be filled with fun, excitement, relaxation, and beautiful experiences. With so much to do, you may have a difficult time picking just a few of the incredible experiences that Curaçao has to offer. I recommend that you just make your plans and go – what are you waiting for? It’s a big world out there – travel, experience, enjoy!
Tammy Wunsch loves wine, vineyards, and travel. Her blog, ExpatWriter.com, prominently features these three topics, as well as information about living the digital nomad life. Tammy is the author of "The Navarre Brotherhood," an adventure novel about a search for the Knights Templar treasure. She lives in the Quiet Corner of Connecticut and spends her free time working on a sequel, planning her next trip, and seeking out new wines to share with friends