So you’re thinking about traveling to Curaçao? Amazing! I fully support your interest and think you’ll have an incredible experience. Though the Caribbean island doesn’t experience seasons like I know them (I’m from the Midwest, folks), there certainly are some things to know about the time of year you’re planning to visit. Not familiar with the history of the island? It’s a pretty rich one (think transatlantic slave trade, and World War II among other things). I can point you to some stops on your trip to learn more. Interested in pristine beaches and exciting nature spots? I have a few suggestions. Looking for a place to eat or shop – I’ll share a few of my favorites!
Disclaimer: I have only spent two weeks on Curaçao. While I tried to fill this time with lots of learning and exploring, I definitely did not reach everything. If you have an experience on the island that deserves mentioning, please share your experiences in the comments!
- Curaçao is a Dutch Caribbean island. It is recognized as independent within the Kingdom of the Netherlands = Many Dutch tourists
- Tourists from throughout Europe, South America, and the United States
- Prominent languages spoken: Papiamentu, Dutch, English, and Spanish
- Curaçao Tourist Board can provide lots of information about travel, neighborhoods, places to visit, etc.
- Looking into flights? Find more information here.
Things to know about seasons:
- December through March/April is tourist season
- October through February is the rainy season (though rain usually happens at night and is no where near as consistent as a typical rainy season of other regions of the world)
- Curaçao is not in the hurricane belt, but its proximity to the belt means that it will experience rain and wind changes throughout the year
- September is the hottest month on Curaçao because the hurricane belt sucks up the usual winds
- They were not a problem while I was there (in June), though we did see more of them in the evenings when we were in a less populated area near a beach on the west side of the island
- You can purchase bug spray at the grocery stores on the island
- The wind typically kept the mosquitoes away, so I can imagine they may be more active when the island experiences less wind
Places to learn about the island:
- Kura Hulanda (Otrobanda, Willemstad)
- The Kura Hulanda Museum provides an opportunity to learn more about the role Curaçao played in the slave trade. While I’ve grown up learning about the transatlantic slave trade and how it impacted the world and the way the United States (I’m American) developed, I had no idea that many of the enslaved persons who eventually arrived in the United States were first transported to Curaçao. I wholeheartedly suggest that you visit Kura Hulanda during your visit to Curaçao – I recommend the guided tour as a complement to walking the museum on your own.
- NAAM (National Archaeological Anthropological Memory Management)
- When we visited they had an exhibit “Isla den Nos Bida: 100 aña refineria na Kórsou“. Though the exhibit may not be open to the public any more, it is well documented on the website and will take you through the history of the oil refinery that has had a strong influence on the island since it was built in 1915. The refinery impacted the island’s economy, population, global relations, society, and environment, and now looms as a complicated presence for the future of the island.
- Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue
- The synagogue is well known as the oldest continuously operated synagogue in the western hemisphere. It is located in the midst of the bustling Punda city center, so if you’re wandering the area you might even unintentionally bump into it. Visitors are welcome to enter the Synagogue, though make sure you are dressed appropriately.
- Savonet Museum
- This museum is housed within Christoffel National Park. It documents the history of the land throughout its history as a plantation. If you plan to visit Christoffel Park for any of the various nature attractions, you should definitely consider stopping through Savonet Museum (it’s included in your entrance ticket cost).
- Museo Tula
- Museo Tula is a interesting museum that documents a variety of topics related to slavery and plantation living on Curaçao. It is not a huge museum, but if you are up on the west side of the island it’s worth spending some time stopping by.
- Tula Monument
- Desenkadena (breaking the chains/cut the shackles) is located near the shore west of Rif Fort. Nel Simon, an artist from Curaçao, created this sculpture in 1998 to commemorate the slave rebellion of 1795. Simon also created a stunning sculpture that serves as the vocal point in the courtyard in Kura Hulanda.
- There are multiple monuments on the island that commemorate the history of slavery, and those who fought against it. Look here for more information on the seven statues created by Yubi Kirindongo that mark a trail of the famous revolution in 1795.
You can also check out this article for more information about the history of the island.
Beaches and Nature:
- Christoffel National Park (especially the mountain!)
- If you’re up for the challenge, climbing Christoffel mountain is a rewarding and outstanding experience. You’ll need to get to the park early (check in and buy your ticket across the street from the park entrance). We started our hike a little after 7am and even though the heat wasn’t as intense as it would become later in the day, we were still sweating. Be prepared to face a steep incline, climb up boulders, and get distracted by a consistently breathtaking view of the island. As you climb higher the western side of the island becomes more and more visible, as does the surrounding ocean. When you reach the top you’ll have a full 360-degree view of the dazzling landscape. Make sure to bring plenty of water and perhaps a snack or two. Wear good hiking shoes or sneakers and prepare to sweat!
- Watamula (experience the Eye and Breath of Curaçao)
- Magnificent experience. You get the opportunity to stand on the very tip of the island. It’s a bit of bumpy ride to reach this site (don’t expect any paved roads), it’s definitely worth the extra time and care of winding your way out there. When you arrive, watch your step, there are salt deposits among the sharp volcanic rocks (best not to wear flip flops). Look closely and the Eye of Curaçao will stare back at you from the ocean. Listen intently and you will hear the Breath of Curaçao bubbling in the rhythm of the waves. Listen to the breath with your eyes closed – it was an incredibly meditative experience.
- Playa Lagun
- Snorkel here. We swam the first time without goggles, then returned later with goggles and discovered an entire system of life beginning right on the brink of the shallows.
- Playa Jeremi
- Beautiful and lesser-populated white sandy beach. The water here is gorgeously clear. If you’re feeling daring, see if you can find the ladder on the left rock outcropping in the cove (great place to show off goofy leap, but step lightly, the rock surface is sharp!)
- Playa Fortí
- PHENOMENAL view of the sunset. There are a couple restaurants near the beach that offer the view along with a meal.
- We also checked out Kleine Knip/Playa Kenepa Chiki and Grote Knip/Playa Abou – both were larger areas with more beach-goers. We’re talking pristine white sand and extraordinary blue ocean hues.
Other Recommendations in Willemstad:
- To read more about our experiences in Pietermaai, as well as some places we’d recommend checking out, look here.
- Wandú Café
- Wandú Café has phenomenal coffee and a variety of other drinks, snacks, and foods. If you are looking for something sweet, try the cashew cake (a local favorite)! The atmosphere is one of a polished but casual place to gather and take a break from the heat of the city.
- Le Atelier
- We stumbled by chance onto a side street of Punda that houses three local art shops. Le Atelier, the middle of the three shops, snagged our hearts. Five local artists showcase their work in the small shop – headbands, handbags, necklaces, earrings, anklets, greeting cards, and more will greet you when you step inside. The artists are friendly and excited to tell you about their work and ask about your time on Curaçao.
- San Pedro Supermarket
- Near the Ronde Markt, San Pedro Supermarket was a common stop while we were staying in Willemstad. When I travel, I think it’s insightful to move beyond the restaurants (especially those catering to tourists) and stop by a local grocery store or market. Not only am I able to learn more about the products sold in the area, but I can save some money along the way (let’s be honest, eating out all the time does add up).
- Ronde Markt (New Market)
- Ronde Markt is housed in a large round building located slightly outside of the streets of Punda. Once inside, the market is filled with music, chatter, foods, and souvenirs. Wander the circle and you can find fresh fruit smoothies, Surinamese meals, and innumerable tables spread with trinkets.*
- Depending on when you visit Ronde Markt, you may find a student art installation (Ora Marshe Para Ketu) on the second floor. The artists responsible for the installation used their work to give commentary on the market and are more than willing to chat with you if you stop by.
*If you are looking for souvenirs on your trip, please consider that not everything you see in souvenir shops is actually produced on Curaçao (this is something to keep in mind wherever you travel). When you buy products that have been mass produced and imported, the local community is seeing little of the profit. If you want to be mindful of your role in the economics of tourism, put in the extra effort to buy locally to most effectively give back to the community that has welcomed you.
- Queen Emma Swinging Bridge
- The Swinging Lady is a pontoon bridge that connects Punda and Otrobanda (two of the main districts of Willemstad). A plaque near the bridge explains that the bridge opens approximately thirty times a day to let ships pass in the St. Anna Bay. When the bridge is closed, it is an exciting (and slightly wobbly) trek across its floating surface. When the bridge is open, foot traffic can either wait for the bridge to close again, or take advantage of the free ferry that will transport you from one side of the Bay to the other.
- Rif Fort
- If you’re arriving on Curaçao from a cruise ship, this is where you’ll let out when you step foot on the island. A waterfront path will guide you from the ship to the Renaissance Mall, where you have access to a variety of stores and restaurants. The path will lead you through all this to the entrance into Otrobanda.
- If you are coming from a cruise and only have a couple hours on the island, it’s definitely worth it to move beyond Renaissance Mall to see the city more authentically.
- If you’re coming from the city, it’s worth it to stop through.
- Make sure to climb up the fort for an amazing view.
- There are seven signs that start from the cruise ship dock and end in the courtyard of the fort. Each sign will explain (in English and Spanish) some information about Curaçao. It doesn’t take long to read them, and they are definitely worth checking out!
- Garrick Marchena Murals
- Throughout Willemstad you may stumble upon beautiful street art by local visual artist Garrick Marchena. Read more about Marchena and his work here.
I would love to return to Curaçao to experience even more of the island, but I would also love to return to many of these places. The island has an extraordinary variety of ways to learn about and explore its history, its environment, and its lively culture. My experiences are just one of many, but they made for a very positive and meaningful trip!