Bon Bini! Curacao has it all in one very small island

By | Category: Travel destinations, Travel tips & opinions

Irene Thomas found Curacao the most successfully diverse country she has ever visited – and one of the most beautiful as well

On a placid, cove-like 1,500-foot Caribbean beach, protected from erosion and forceful waves by a manmade rock barrier, I’m enjoying the gorgeous view here on the island of Curacao in the Netherlands Antilles. Just 35 miles from Venezuela in the southwestern Caribbean, Curacao boasts a rather astonishing mix of ethnic diversity, recreation and activities beyond compare and more, but at this moment, I’m simply stunned by its beauty.

Just out of reach of the Caribbean’s hurricane zone, Curacao, along with its sister islands of Aruba and Bonaire, make up what was known as the Leeward Netherlands Antilles, or the Dutch Antilles.  These islands, were an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands until 2010, but are now under a different legal status, still part of the kingdom but now called Constituent Countries.

Over 40 per cent of all visitors come from Europe and, of those, over three-quarters come from the Netherlands. The number of Brits travelling there is small – we make up less than half a percent of all visitors – so Curacao is relatively unknown to us. Apart from the drink that is. The well-known blue or orange coloured liqueur is derived from a citrus fruit – the laraha – which is bitter and generally only used in the manufacture of the drink. So few people realise it is an island as well!

While Aruba and Bonaire are fairly desert-like in environment, Curacao offers lush foliage yet low humidity, some of the world’s best snorkelling and diving, spectacular beaches and lavish casinos along with import and duty free shopping galore. The island is charming, with its sidewalk cafes and neat streets filled with outdoor markets. Some 765 protected buildings dating from the 1600 and 1700s still exist in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. A few don’t misses are Fort Amsterdam, The Governor’s Palace, and the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue.

 

Reminiscent of Amsterdam, the homes are painted in brilliant ice-cream colors, bedecked with frills and trims, carved moldings and gabled roofs, topped with bright terra-cotta tile. This lively port is one of six UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Caribbean, joining the ranks of Old Havana, Old San Juan, and Colonial Santo Domingo.

Reminders of centuries and slavery long since gone can be found in the 55 landhuizen that still survive. This is where the owners of the many plantations lived and, today, many of these are open for visitors to re-live the past. Visit Landhuis Knip. It may not be the oldest landhuizen in Curacao but it was here in 1795 that a number of slaves downed tools and refused to work. They marched and as they did so, their numbers grew. Eventually 1,000 or so arrived in Santa Cruz where they were met by the police. The ringleaders were executed and their lives and those of others are recalled in the museum that is housed here in the restored building..

Visitors can stay at various large all-inclusive properties (especially convenient when travelling with children or multi-aged groups, at posh resorts, or at small independent B&B’s and inns. Wherever you stay, don’t miss out on exploring Curacao – this is not your run-of-the-mill beach vacation island.

 

Willemstad, the island’s main town, is chock-full of pastel-painted historic homes (particularly lovely in the old walled Punda sections) and a bustling, multi-ethnic (50 nationalities!) community.  Here narrow alleys reminiscent of Dutch cities and towns clash with the bolder colours of the homes. You won’t find colours like this in the Netherlands.

Here, you’ll find the Western Hemisphere’s oldest continually operating Jewish synagogue, with a healthy and active congregation in an exquisite building with white sand floors and dark mahogany seating, a large Venezuelan community (no surprise) many Chinese and Dutch immigrants and many more. Indeed, most people in Curacao speak four languages, with the primary one being a Creole dialect called Papiamentu, the others are Dutch, Spanish and English. ‘Bon Bini‘ means ‘welcome’ in Papiamentu – and you’ll hear those cheery words often from the warm, friendly locals.

Curacao’s 160,000 permanent residents enjoy a much higher standard of living than found in much of the Caribbean. The destination is renowned for its remarkable lack of religious, racial or ethnic strife. Intermarriage between ethnic groups is common and the entire island seems like a mini-United Nations.

A fun time to visit is during Carnival, which takes place in February or March, depending upon the calendar. The main marches are the product of weeks of enthusiastic preparation, featuring fantastic floats, costumes, and characters, plus Carnival royalty elected during large beauty contests. There are two big parades — Curaçao’s Gran Marcha (‘The Grand Parade’) — and the Marcha Despedida (‘The Farewell March’) a couple of days later. The Farewell march has floats are adorned with sparkling lights and at the finale of the parade at midnight, the Momo (a big straw-filled doll) is burned. Carnival celebrations usually last until the eve of Ash Wednesday.

Curacao also markets itself as a family-friendly destination and with good reason. Besides the calm, safe beaches, the island hosts various attractions for children, such as the Ostrich and Game Farm (the largest outside of Africa) and the Hato Caves, filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

Additionally, the renowned Curacao Sea Aquarium features protected encounters with sea lions: swimming in a lagoon with nurse, lemon and reef sharks; tropical fish and sea turtles; as well as feeding, training and swimming with dolphins in the Dolphin Encounter program.

 

NEED TO KNOW


Getting there
There are no direct flights to Curacao from the UK or Ireland. The most convenient way to get there would be to take one of the many regional KLM flights to Amsterdam and change to the direct flights there. Air Berlin has flights from London via Dusseldorf.

Currency
Although you might think that the Euro would be used here, it is the Antillean guilder that is the local currency. The US dollar is widely accepted

For more information about Curacao, click here

 

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