The first streaking rays of the rising sun dance along the sparkling surf and illuminate the white sand of the beaches at Curacao. Only the intrusion of an occasional jogger brings this natural setting into the 21st century. Nevertheless, the awesome beauty of this southernmost of the Caribbean islands is still as much a magnet to people today as it has been throughout recorded history!
Even though in modern times, baseball has put this tiny island on the map, Curacao is one of those destinations that send the curious to their computers to check their global maps. Unless you’re a geography teacher or seasoned Caribbean traveler, Curacao may be a complete mystery.
Though the Dutch are no longer technically in charge, they’re still a big part of life on Curaçao because it was a Dutch colony for nearly 400 years. This 38-mile-long island is part of the Lesser Antilles and is located just off the coast of Venezuela. It rests outside the hurricane belt between the smaller islands of Aruba and Bonaire. In fact, the three islands are often referred to as the ABC Islands.
Low humidity and cool eastern trade winds characterize the climate. The average temperature is 82 degrees. U.S. dollars are widely accepted throughout the country, but the national currency is still the Netherlands Antillean guilder.
If you aren’t familiar with the country, you may be aware of its signature liquor blue Curacao made from the rinds of island-grown Laraha oranges. Although its blue color occurred naturally during its original fermentation process … that process was lost. Today it is available in blue, as well as other colors, but the color is artificially added.
Drink all the water you want because Curacao is home to one of the world’s first desalination plants. All its water is treated there and is arguably the cleanest in the Caribbean.
Tourism is now the island’s key industry, and Curacao’s only city, Willemstad, is its capital. Actually comprised of two distinct areas, Punda and Otrabanda, separated by Saint Anna Bay, Willemstad is a compelling mix of colonial and modern architecture filled with shops, restaurants and nightspots. The Handelskade (Merchant’s Wharf) is a good spot to hang out, but take the time to wander the winding streets of the city where you’ll find inviting bars, authentic dining spots and the technicolor floating market, where fruit vendors from Venezuela dock to sell their wares. The market itself doesn’t actually float, but boats tie up in their brightly colored stalls full of mangoes, plantains and papayas for sale.
Finding a Curacao resident close by who can communicate with you is easy. The island’s schools teach children Dutch, English and Spanish. Portuguese is also popular among the island’s residents. Locals blend all of these languages into their own unique dialect called Papiamentu.
Catching some sun on a white-sand beach is reason enough for most guests to visit, and its southwestern coast is usually calm and clear. Curacao also offers a wide array of water activities including dive and snorkeling areas that boast many individual dive locations.
Outdoor recreation isn’t restricted to the water. Duffers and experienced golfers alike will appreciate the gorgeous golf courses. There are also opportunities for horseback riding, hiking, swimming with dolphins, mountain biking, paintball and rock climbing. When not taking advantage of the recreation opportunities, shopping and sightseeing are popular for whiling away a few hours.
No matter when or why you visit, you’ll be greeted with a hearty “Bon Bini na Korsou” or “Welcome to Curacao!” The island is a very friendly, diverse and spectacularly picturesque part of the Caribbean scene, and you won’t easily forget your experiences here!
Photos: by Bill Vanderford