Curaçao is the “C” or the ABC islands in the Caribbean. It’s a 15 minute flight from Aruba – literally up and down. Unfortunately there are no ferries (because they would take like 8 hours…I looked into it). Flights are super cheap and definitely worth it for a night or two!
Curaçao is a fairy tale European-looking little island owned by the Netherlands. Because of this, they speak Dutch and Papiamento (the indigenous language, a mix of Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and African languages with basic grammar), along with French and English for tourism. A river divides the capital, Willemstad, in half which leads to a larger harbor; the two halves of the city are Punda (meaning “Point”) and Otrobanda (meaning “Other Side”). Punda is the historic center of the city, with restaurants and bars lining the waterfront, and colorful buildings in northern European style line the street. Farther inland you will find shopping, tourist souvenir shops, authentic cuisine, famous pastel-colored houses, museums, old colonial architecture, the governor’s palace in Fort Amsterdam, and the sand-floored Mikve Israel-Emanuel, the oldest synagogue of the western hemisphere dating back to the 1600s.
From Punda, cross the Queen Emma Bridge (also called the “Swinging Old Lady” because it’s a 168-meter floating pontoon bridge made of wood that swings back and forth to let ships pass through the inlet – the only one of its kind in the world!) It hinges on the Otrobanda side and if you’re caught on it after the gates close, you get to swing with the bridge until it docks again.
Otrobanda is more residential although still has many streets lined with shops and a nice wide walkway lining the waterfront. There are also waterfront restaurants in Otrobanda, especially in Rif Fort, where the river meets the sea. There are plenty of hotels on this side of the river at a more reasonable rate.
Rif Fort was built in the 1800s to protect the entrance to the bay from ships trying to enter from the sea. It was bomb-proof and armed with 56 cannons, barracks, a gun powder magazine, and water tank. Today, it’s a tourist shopping mall with restaurants and bars inside the fort.
Where To Stay
This section won’t be long because we only spent one night in Otrobanda and didn’t even see any other hotels. I highly recommend the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino!!! It’s pretty spectacular, especially if you upgrade to a waterfront room. Some rooms have no view or face the inside hallways, others face the city. Spring for a waterfront room, you won’t be disappointed. The Renaissance offers free bottomless mimosas upon arrival, so if you get there early and your room isn’t ready yet, there’s nothing to fear, mimosas are here! Also, there’s a gym and shopping center in the hotel. The sand beach leads to the infinity pool, which along with the regular pool has an incredible ocean view. The south end of Curaçao doesn’t have a natural beach; it’s all rocks, but at the edge of the infinity pool, you can look down on the rocks to see sea animals and look out to the horizon.
Where To Eat and Drink
In Rif Fort in Otrobanda, there are plenty of places to try. Bistro le Clochard is built into the fort with outside seating right on the inlet. It’s a little on the fancy side, but perfect for a date night. The seafood is fresh and the food is delicious! (Ironically, I got chicken curry, but it was the best chicken curry I’ve ever had! James got seafood.)
Across from Bistro le Clochard in Rif Fort is Sopranos – a growing chain in the ABC islands. Sopranos is a piano bar that started in Aruba and has spread to 2 other locations in Curaçao and Bonaire. The Curaçao location doesn’t disappoint! It has a great atmosphere (although in Curaçao it’s a sports bar instead of a piano bar) with stiff drinks (that are slightly overpriced).
In Punda, we ate lunch at a little bistro called Iguana Cafe right on the water. The restaurant itself was across the street, but the waiters played Frogger to deliver food and drinks and let us dine in a beautiful setting. It was slightly expensive for what it was, but you’re paying for the atmosphere.
How To Get Around
You can rent a car for about $45/day at the airport. Curaçao is a small island and it’s easy to get from one side to the other to explore all the sites.
If you’re going for a short time, this might be a good option, or if you’re staying in Willemstad, a taxi might be just as well. Taxis cost about $20-$30 US from the airport to the capital city (taxis are negotiable). Taxi drivers also double as tour guides!
There are also two buses in Curaçao: BUS. (9-12 passenger vans that look like a taxi) and Konvoi (large, infrequent metro-style buses which cost about $1 US). BUS. prices are non-negotiable, but the route is (so the driver can take you as close to your destination as you can negotiate)!
Finally, there is a ferry service between the islands shopping points, but remember, there’s no ferry between the ABC islands.
What To Do
Curaçao does have lovely beaches, located mostly on the southwest coast. We didn’t make it that far because we didn’t have a car, but there are 16 beaches (some private, some with restaurants/bars, some strictly beaches with no facilities).
The island is popular for scuba diving, with many dive shops/centers. The average rate for scuba diving is around $50 with gear included. A popular diving and snorkeling spot is Tugboat, which has a coral wall through a tugboat wreckage.
There are 3 museums, 2 national parks, an aquarium, Hato Caves (coral and limestone caves carved out below the sea), an ostrich and game farm, Fort Amsterdam, Fort Nassau, the Floating Market, Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the small deserted island of Klein 15 miles off the coast of Curaçao famous for its long, white, pristine beaches and sea turtles, and Amazonia The Lost Cultures (a one hour guided tour with more than 100 exotic reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and big birds surrounded by ancient ruins, temples, and pyramids).
The climate in Curaçao is the same warm temperatures year round with little rain, so whether you visit in the summer or winter, you’ll be sure to get great weather.
All natives in Curaçao speak Papiamento, but almost everyone also speaks English. Most people also speak Dutch, Spanish, French, Portuguese, or German, or a combination. I found their English to be perfect!
Curaçao is outside the Schengen area, so you will need a passport. There’s an exit fee at the airport, so make sure you have cash (credit cards not accepted). The exit fee is $5 for connecting flights, $10 to Bonaire, $20 to Aruba, and $39 for international destinations.
The tap water comes from a desalinization plant and is some of the freshest and best-tasting water in the world.