In most of the places I’ve lived in the United States tap water has been safe, accessible, and drinkable. I know that is not everyone’s experience, especially since regulations are typically regionally dictated, but I’ve never thought too much about where my water is coming from and whether it’s safe for me to drink.
It wasn’t until I began traveling more, specifically outside of the United States, that the echoing question, “Is it safe to drink the tap water?” became a norm I carried along with me to each new place I went. So of course as I prepared for a trip to Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island I didn’t even know existed a year ago, the question arose.
The professor who initially introduced me to Curaçao and inspired my interest in the island lightheartedly explained that the tap water is fine, and that actually much of the bottled water on the island is filled from the faucet anyway. To be honest, I trusted my professor and didn’t think too much more about it until I arrived at a Travel Clinic days before my trip and a health professional pointed to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s warning not to drink tap water on Curaçao.
So…do I drink the tap water or don’t I? I was still pretty confident in the information my professor had given me, and when I looked into it more there is information online about the desalination plant on the island that produces safe and drinkable water for the island’s inhabitants. But even if the water is drinkable, that doesn’t mean my body won’t have a reaction to it if it is different from what I’m used to. Though I was a little wary, I’ll admit that when we landed in the Curaçao International Airport I filled my water bottle from a drinking fountain. Best to find out early, right?
At our hostel in Pietermaai (one of the four districts of the capital city of Willemstad), Nikky checked us in and gave us a tour of the facilities. As we passed through the kitchen she explained a few of the communal rules and then pointed to the sink and said, “It’s fine to drink the tap water in Curaçao.” Ah. Good! It was reassuring to hear it from someone on the island.
Now that I’ve been on the island for a while I’ve had a chance to dive deeper into this question of drinkable tap water. As it turns out a lot of work has been done in the last century to ensure that the water supply on the island is safe and sustainable.
In the early twentieth century, the Royal Dutch Shell company bought property on Curaçao and developed an oil refinery. While this refinery has a complex history on the island (that we won’t get into right now), one of the main issues it presented was that it required a lot of water. This depleted the already limited resources on the island, and in 1928 the government of Curaçao built a desalination plant (Riffort Plant).
In 1957, one of the desalination plants (by then there were multiple on the island) implemented a new system to not only desalinate water but also to produce electricity. The local company that now oversees the desalination plant is called Aqualectra and focuses on environmentally-friendly ways to meet the island’s needs.
On Curaçao drinking water is treated with UV rays, chloride, and calcium. There are laboratories that regularly test the water through chemical bacteriological analyses to guarantee that it is safe to drink. The process the water is put through follows both local and international regulations, including those set forth by the World Health Organization.
In both my research and now my experience on Curaçao, my resounding answer is, yes! Go ahead and drink the tap water. And as long as those ice cube trays are clean, feel free to add some ice to cool off in the Caribbean heat. If you are heading to Curaçao, make sure to pack a reusable water bottle so you won’t be contributing any plastic bottle waste to this beautiful island.