Home Destinations Highlights of Curacao and why this colorful, Caribbean island is our favorite

Highlights of Curacao and why this colorful, Caribbean island is our favorite

by Jan Schroder
colorful buildings in Curacao

I looked down at the tugboat nestled on the bottom of the Caribbean, marveling that I’d never seen so many fish while snorkeling. It was one of the highlights of my first visit to Curacao.

Others included riding an electric scooter through the narrow mural-filled streets, strolling through a historic mango plantation, experiencing the nighttime energy of Punta Vibes, indulging in tastes of the island on outdoor patios and spending time at the spa and pool at 8 Experience Curacao. I stayed at two hotels, a small one with a minimalist boho vibe and a large Dutch Caribbean-style beach resort.

curacao sign
The Curacao sign is a popular spot for photos.

First, a bit about the island. Curacao, an island of around 150,000 people, has a diverse population with three official languages – Dutch, Papiamentu, and English – with many natives speaking several languages. The locals also tend to be well-traveled and well-educated, having studied in the U.S. and Holland.

The island was established by Europeans by the Spanish in 1499, with the Dutch taking over in 1634. In the 17th and 18th centuries, it was a center for the slave trade with ships docking at Willemstad to sell slaves to work in Central and South America. Slavery was abolished in Curacao in 1863. It is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Netherlands.

One of the 30+ beaches in Curacao.

Possibly due to the influence of the Dutch, who have a reputation for cleanliness, Curacao is one of the cleanest Caribbean islands I’ve visited. It also has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean, and the main industries are oil refining, financial services and tourism.

The 171-square-mile island has more than 30 beaches, ranging from remote to those with restaurants and other amenities.

Here are highlights of my first trip to Curacao.

Riding electric scooters through Willemstad

One of the colorful murals we saw during our scooter ride.

Fortunately, we took time to practice riding the scooters from Iguana Ride Curacao in Punca before we took off to explore Curacao’s capital city. I made a few laps around the parking lot until I felt comfortable with the sensitivity of the handlebar accelerator.

Once our group felt comfortable, we took off, and I loved the freedom of riding on the scooter, although it was a challenge to keep my eyes on the road while also taking in the sights of Willemstad.

Jan Schroder on scooter
I had a blast riding through Willemstad on this scooter and was proud of myself for not falling off or injuring pedestrians.

We crossed over the Queen Emma Bridge, dodging cruise ship passengers heading to the shopping area downtown, to explore the restored colonial buildings and art galleries in Otrobanda, which means the other side.

After parking our scooters, we took off on foot to explore Kurá Hulanda Village, which dates back to 1707 and was restored in the early 2000s by Dutch entrepreneur Jacob Gelt. The village now has several shops and restaurants housed in colorful buildings.

The bright colors lend Curacao a happy, carefree air, the perfect vibe for an island vacation.

So, what’s up with all the brightly colored buildings in Curacao? The buildings were originally white, but the story goes that in 1817, Governor Albert Kikkert claimed the reflection off the white buildings was too blinding and gave him headaches. He ordered them all to be painted. It is also reported that he was part owner of a paint company.

On the return trip we had to wait a bit for the Queen Emma Bridge to open and shut to accommodate a ship, which gave us a perfect chance to view the row of colorful Dutch houses across the bay in downtown Willemstad, an iconic image of Curacao.

Strolling through Hofi Mango and posing with “The Hands of God”

the hands of god in curacao
It was worth climbing the 88 steps at Hofi Mango for the views and to see “The Hands of God.” (Photo by Lisa Mowry)

Hofi Mango opened as a plantation in 1707 and now visitors can explore its 60-acre property with centuries-old mango trees, an historic sugar mill from when rum was produced here and a hill that leads up to a huge area with magnificent views of the island and the large sculpture “The Hands of God.”

A restaurant, Kultura Kòrsou, recently opened at Hofi Mango serving Creole cuisine and is a nice spot for lunch or for a taste of delicious mango products.

Snorkeling at the Tugboat

This sunken tugboat is one of the most popular spots for snorkeling and diving on Curacao. (Photo courtesy of Curacao Tourist Board)

We met our guides from Myronchi Trips who provided our snorkeling gear. Rather than a life vest that I usually wear when snorkeling, we each got a colorful pool noodle. We weren’t going in very deep water and I found it more enjoyable to use the noodle rather than be encumbered by a bulky vest.

We got our pool noodles and headed out to the tugboat from Tugboat Beach.

After a short walk over the rocky terrain of Tugboat Beach, I eased my way into the slightly chilly water and swam towards the sunken tugboat, which has been resting on the sands for 30 years. I soon adjusted to the temperature and got excited about the dozens of colorful fish just below me in the water.

Spa day and lounging poolside at 8 Experience Curaçao

spa pool at 8 experience
After my massage at 8 Experience I swam a few leisurely laps in this gorgeous pool.

Facedown on a massage table, I felt the gentle breezes and heard the waves as I got a massage at 8 Experience Curacao in Coral Estate Luxury Resort. After my treatment I relaxed in the quiet spa pool in a lushly landscaped area.

The spa also offers other body treatments and facials and has a salon, steam room, sauna and igloo room kept at 41 degrees, a temperature I do my best to avoid despite whatever benefits frigid temperatures may offer.

Heading downtown for Punda Vibes

restaurants outdoors at Punta Viges
Bars and restaurants were full during Punta Vibes.

In an effort to draw locals and visitors to this neighborhood in downtown Willemstad after 5, Punta Vibes was created, a weekly street gathering held every Thursday.

Our group strolled through the streets, teeming with visitors, stopping to watch a fireworks display and people dancing to live music. There were also pop-up craft markets and street food vendors.

Enjoying dining outdoors at delicious restaurants

The entrance to Kome restaurant. (Photo by Eduardo Gato)

Curacao boasts a mixed heritage, with Dutch, Spanish, African and Caribbean influences, all of which you can experience at its many restaurants. With the exception of breakfast at the charming La Reina Coffee, Food & Lifestyle where I had a bagel with salmon, egg and avocado and a delicious lunch at Kome, a modern Caribbean where we indulged in fungi fries and pickled Curacao vegetables, all of our meals were outdoors.

tacos at Mosa Cana in Curacao
One of our shared taco dishes at Mosa Cana.

We sat on the back patio of a restored mansion and had breakfast at Number Ten. My choice was the breakfast burrito that came with chipotle and fresh fruit.

One day for lunch we sat on a thatched-roof deck on Jan Thiel Beach at Koko’s while another day we dined with an ocean view at Koraal Rooftop Terrace at Coral Estate.

Breakfast burrito at Number Ten.

Every one of my four dinners in Curacao were so amazing I couldn’t pick a favorite. Our first night we shared several small plates at Mosa Caña Bar & Kitchen, a Latin/Caribbean bar where the beef tacos were a standout.

I felt a South Beach vibe at the Saint Tropez Ocean Club that serves items like seared tuna steak, chicken satay, vegetarian lasagna and the curiously named porn star martini cheesecake for dessert.

On our last night we dined with our feet in the sand and the ocean just steps away at our resort at the Chill Beach Bar & Grill, which serves salads, burgers and skewers of meat.

My most special dining experience was at Caleo Crudos & Parilla, a sister restaurant to Mosa Caña in a gorgeous setting in Kura Hulada Village. Again, our group shared several dishes that included Spanish octopus, seabass filet, pork rib and roasted sweet potato with miso butter.

Staying at two hotels: one in the “Soho” of Curacao, one at the beach

Boho Bohemian courtyard
The inviting courtyard at Boho Bohemian.

I spent the first two nights at a small boutique hotel called Boho Bohemian, a 21-room Tiffany-blue-colored boutique hotel with a small courtyard with a jacuzzi and barbecue area. The rooms are in the Dutch-style, which includes a bow to minimalism, I was told.

room at boho Bohemian
My room at Boho Bohemian. Check out the gorgeous tiles in the bathroom.

While the room was beautiful, comfortable and had a large balcony and spacious bathroom with gray-and-white tiles, there were no bedside lamps or comforter. I did enjoy my room and the unique rambling style of the hotel, plus it had an ideal location for exploring the Pietermaai District, a lively, walkable neighborhood of bars, restaurants and hotels that has been compared to NYC’s Soho district.

view from LionsDive resort Curacao
The view from my room at LionsDive included the Olympic-sized pool.

For the next two nights we moved to LionsDive Beach Resort, a huge rambling 137-room Dutch-Caribbean-style resort on a private beach with four restaurants and lively beach bar. It also has three outdoor pools, fitness and spa facility and Ocean Encounters dive shop where you can become a certified dive instructor. It’s also steps away from Mambo Beach Boulevard with dozens of shops and restaurants.

I was in a two-bedroom suite with a friend, which turned out to be lucky for me. I went outside on the wraparound balcony to enjoy the gorgeous view with the pool and the ocean beyond, then discovered to my dismay and confusion that there were no handles on any of the doors to get back inside. I had my phone with me so she kindly came rescue me. Of all the places I’ve been locked out of, this was the most scenic.

room at LionsDive resort
My room at LionsDive. Notice to fancy hospital corners on the duvet.

We had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, living room and full-size kitchen. It would be a perfect choice for two couples or a family. Other accommodations include cabanas, suites, apartments and a penthouse.

Some free activities include sunrise yoga on the beach, hiking on the salt plains, beach bootcamp and a snorkeling outing. The resort also has free shuttle service to downtown Willemstad and the supermarket.

Chill beach bar & grill in curacao
There’s live music at Chill Beach Bar & Grill on Friday and Sunday nights, attracting guests and locals.

LionsDive has beautiful grounds and a long beach with lots of chairs for lounging and good swimming areas. The pool closest to my apartment was huge, great for lap swimming. On Friday night, Chill Beach Bar & Grill was packed with hotel guests and locals, while Saturday night it was quiet, perfect for a grilled dinner, sitting at a picnic table with our toes in the sand, our last night on this lovely island.

— Jan Schroder, Editor-in-chief

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