The “C” of what’s known as the ABC islands, Curaçao—Aruba and Bonaire being the A and B, respectively—is a wee island of just 171 sq. miles. But don’t let its size fool you—this itty-bitty piece of paradise is packed with authentic culture, distinctive food and a rich history.
This editor has been to her fair share of Caribbean islands and, like everyone else, loves the swaying palms, cocktails with pineapple and paper umbrella, and hotel rooms decorated in colors like you’d find in a pouch of Tropical Skittles, but Curaçao is different—it’s a world apart from other Caribbean islands and one whose essence is conducive to experiencing island life like the locals.
And experience island life like the locals we did from the moment we arrived at the airport gate and got vacuumed into “island time” with a 2-hour delay both going there and coming back. In fact, whoever was responsible for determining world time zones left one out, because island time is as real as any other time zone, and it’s tricky, too. If you set your watch anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours behind, you’ll probably be right on time. We adjusted our watches accordingly and Curaçao didn’t disappoint.
air travel like it used to be
We flew with Dutch Antilles Express (DAE) on its inaugural nonstop flight from Miami to Curaçao on June 1 (a 2.5-hour flight, with seats going for $159 each way). Whether the aforementioned delay was due to new route preparations or something else, we don’t know…but the airline’s free checked bag policy, included meals and open bar (yup, with top shelf liquors!) certainly put us into an island state of mind. Even while we were waiting, DAE footed the bill for all passengers to enjoy a handcrafted beverage at the airport coffee shop. With that kind of hospitality, it’s hard to hold a grudge.
We stayed in the UNESCO World Heritage City of Willemstad, where you can almost envision the history as you walk along its cobblestone roads, through perfectly preserved stone forts and past rows and rows of brightly colored colonial Dutch structures. The city, also historically favored as a port town, is separated by Saint Anna’s Bay, a narrow river that separates Otrobanda (the west side) and Punda (the east).
Otrobanda features the historic Rif Fort and shopping area, as well as a large plaza perfect for hosting carnivals and outdoor events. Meanwhile, a walk across the floating bridge will drop you off in Punda, which offers all of the shopping any girl could dream of. Although they’re nearly surrounded by water, neither side has a beach to speak of, instead huge, sharp rocks and enormous crashing waves make up the coastline. Still, this obviously urban city makes do with a laid-back, beachy feel.
The island differentiates itself from its Caribbean neighbors in activities, too. With such a rich heritage, Willemstad offers less of the jet skiing, parasailing and banana-boating and instead offers a handful of activities that might prove much more interesting to the intrepid traveler.