Anyone who has been to Curaçao or knows the island is familiar with the cute, colourful buildings overlooking the water in the city of Willemstad. The city is divided into two parts – Punda and Otrabanda and on both sides you’ll see the most picturesque, vibrant buildings which really make the city unique.
Years ago, almost every building in Curaçao was painted white. One day the mayor announced that the reflection of the light from the white buildings was causing him severe migraines and he decided that everyone should paint their houses, or the buildings which they owned, in their favourite colour. This resulted in the beauty we know today. Years after his death, it was revealed that the mayor owned the only paint shop on the island.
Not a good look for the mayor but his financially rewarding tricks led to the distinctive beauty that is Willemstad.
Three friends and myself spent four days in Curaçao in October on a girls trip. It was amazing! We booked the trip through World Travel Agents, a Trinidadian travel agent and have no regrets. Curaçao isn’t a big island but there’s quite a bit to do and we tried to do as much as we could in the space of time. Here’s a breakdown of our lah hay in Curacao!
Flight & Accommodation
The World Travel Agent package gave us four days and three nights at a pretty good all inclusive hotel in Curaçao (double occupancy) and return flights on Surinam Airways for just under $5000 TTD. This was a great package as unless you plan to explore the island, you can literally stay in the hotel for the entire time and not spend another cent.
We stayed at the Sunscape Curacao – all you can eat buffet style breakfast and lunch and restaurants to pick from for dinner. There was a seafood, Japanese and Italian restaurant as well as a steakhouse. The drinks were really good – especially the margaritas and mojitos but overall, aside from the Japanese restaurant the food wasn’t great. The rooms were comfortable and clean and the staff were all friendly and polite. I’d recommend it and suggest dinner at the Italian and Japanese restaurant (go early though because everywhere fills up quickly – we spent almost 2 hours waiting for a seat at the seafood restaurant).
If you’re not about that all inclusive life and rather pay less and get your own food on your own time, a trip to Curacao from Trinidad will cost about $3500 for accommodation and flight. You can get an AirBnb or a cheaper hotel in the city. This saves you on transport money and you’re in the heart of the action.
One thing I regret was not having enough local food. This is one downfall of staying in an all inclusive. After spending money on a package you’re less likely to spend money on food while exploring. While the hotel did have some local dishes which showcased the Spanish and Dutch elements of Curaçao’s culture, most of what we ate wasn’t native to the Dutch island.
While exploring, I did try three things though, Stroopwafel from Dushi Wafels, a Batido and Bitterballen. The Stroopwafel was essentially two thin waffels with caramel in the middle – on the sweet side but very yummy. The Batido was a blended fruit drink which was also on the sweet side. The Bitterballen looked so yummy on the outside but it was a beef and flour based ball of something I wasn’t a fan of. I also sampled a fried, peas-based flour snack which was nothing to write home about either.
I have a long layover in Curacao later this year and my main goal for that day is to eat all the great things I didn’t have because I know they’re out there!
Things to do
We had a long list of must do’s and a very packed itinerary for Curacao because there is so much to do, especially if you go on a short trip. I’ll give you my top five things:
- Mambo Beach Boulevard
The environment at Mambo Beach is great. The beach was a 10 minute walk from our hotel, very beautiful with beach chairs and cabanas which seemed like you had to pay for them but no one did. The water was clear, calm and yummy.
There were a lot of clothing stores and restaurants, bars and even a club around. We weren’t able to return but it seemed like it could be a potential vibe in the evenings. The Curacao Sea Aquarium is also quite close to the boardwalk. It’s $25 USD to enter and they have dolphin and sea lion shows as well as stingrays, flamingos and fish.
2. Explore Punda
Punda is a beautiful town filled with tourists, quaint cobbled streets, street art, bars and restaurants galore. There’s outdoor dining overlooking the sea, floating fruit markets and the Queen Emma swinging bridge.
As I mentioned before, Curacao’s capital Willemstad is made up of two sides; Punda and Ortrabanda (which literally means other side). Punda was where all the action was at first, until it became overcrowded and they decided to move some of the vibes to the other side of the island. The only problem was that water separated the two sides. Naturally a bridge was the solution.
The only issue with building the bridge was that ships and boats used the waterway quite regularly. The best solution: a moving bridge. The bridges in Curaçao are named after Queens (and a Princess) of the Netherlands. This swinging bridge which is named after Queen Emma literally dances on the water while you walk from one part of the city to the other. When boats or ships need to pass, the bridge closes and moves halfway or fully out of the way. It’s great to see and happens so often that you’re bound to see it happen at least once while exploring Willemstad.
One way to see the entire city is through the Trolley Train Tour. It’s a restored ‘train’ with a guide which takes you around the city and gives you a detailed historic and cultural tour. It costs $25 USD. You can also opt to take a $15 USD walking tour of the city instead. To do this tour visit the tourist information booth in Punda. The booth is opposite the entrance to the bridge- very easy to find.
If you’re in Curaçao on a Thursday, there’s Punda Vibes where they have dancing, music, sales, food and fireworks. This happens every Thursday from 6PM in Punda.
3. Kura Hulanda Museum
If you’re into history, particularly African history, this is a must. The museum is minutes from the city centre harbour where enslaved Africans were once traded alongside goods. We didn’t do a guided tour but you should – I think it’ll help you to appreciate everything that the museum has to offer a bit more. The museum took you through the rise and fall of many of African kingdoms and also looked at enslavement in the Caribbean and North America. There was a replica of a slave ship, slave huts and also a lot of great art and a sculpture garden. For $10 USD it was more than worth the experience.
4. Half Day Customized Tour of the island
This tour is done by the company Sand and Stilettoes and I loved the concept. Once you indicate interest, the owner sends you a form to complete indicating what kind of tour you’d like to do (historical, cultural, water sports, food, ‘off the beaten path’, typical tourist areas etc). She then creates an itinerary based on your interests, picks you up and off you go. A four hour tour will cost you $55 per person.
5. Snorkelling and Kayaking with Adrenaline Tours Curacao
Well boy was this an experience. I honestly didn’t think I’d live to tell the tale. So I love snorkelling and Curacao is known for great snorkeling spots. There was free snorkeling at our hotel, people snorkeling by the aquarium…the water was so beautiful you literally wanted to live and breathe in it. I needed to snorkel in Curacao. When we snorkeled in Barbados a nice, secure boat took us out to the snorkeling site. For some reason most of the affordable companies in Curacao wanted you to swim out to the snorkel areas. I wasn’t on that one bit. ‘Luckily’ I found Adrenaline Tours Curacao which offered a kayak and snorkel tour. You kayak out to a sunken ship where most of the fish and other aquatic life would be found and snorkel there. I read all the reviews – people had nothing bad to say so we made reservations and went to the place pumped and ready. I thought we’d be kayaking for ten minutes in calm, beautiful clear water out to the snorkel site. NOPE.
My hands still tremble when I talk about this experience. Firstly, none of us are fit or pro kayakers, but the two guys in charge seemed to think that this didn’t matter. They promised to stay close to our kayaks in case something happened, but as soon as we got on the water, one sped off in front and the other was literally lost in dreamland. We took SO long to get control of the kayak and figure out how to paddle to move in a straight line. We actually almost ended up in Bonaire. This was mostly because one of the guys gave us the worst tutorial at the start and we were literally almost moving in circles in the water for 30 minutes before the other came and saved us.
We kayaked and kayaked and kayaked around a huge ship, a bridge, an oil platform and three continents before we reached the snorkel site. When we got out of the kayak I almost collapsed out of sheer exhaustion. The snorkeling itself was really enjoyable – we were able to see many different types of fish and enjoy the water.
But then we had to kayak back.
On the way back we almost collided into a ship, nearly got turned over by waves and kept drifting into the dark blue water they explicitly told us to keep away from. Thankfully we made it back to shore, traumatised and burnt but alive. There will be no kayaking in my near future but the experience was certainly memorable.
Curaçao is a beautiful island. Its multicultural heritage is evident especially in its language Papiamento which is a mixture of Dutch, French, English, Portuguese and Spanish. Almost everyone on the island speaks at least three languages – Papiamento and then they learn Dutch, Spanish and English from preschool and French in high school. That fascinated me.
The pride they take in their history was also really evident – they seem almost obsessed with their buildings. The government manages the restoration of many of their old buildings and maintenance of the others with annual paint jobs and fixings.
I’ll definitely lah hay back over to Curaçao. I’m dying to take my mom soon, I still want to explore the Western side of the island, their National Parks and get in on the food I didn’t have. Unless you want to relax in a hotel I’d say skip on the all inclusive, get an Airbnb in Punda and get in on the dushi (sweet) living!