The “C” of the “A.B.C.” islands (alongside Aruba and Bonaire), Curaçao has its own incredibly unique culture, food and language. This tiny Dutch West Indies island in the Southern Caribbean Sea is one of the most intriguing islands in the Caribbean, blending Venezualan culture (from just 40 miles away) with Dutch and African culture. Known for its 17th century colonial Dutch architecture, untamed private and public beaches, native tropical wildlife, and museums, and home to the oldest synagogue in the Americas and a UNESCO World Heritage site of a capital, Curacao is a must-experience. Curaçao is said to be more European (Dutch) than Aruban, and it’s still wild, developing and far more laid back than Aruba, while Bonaire remains the least touristy of the three.
Curaçao is a long, arid, and generally flat island, stretching 38 miles southeast to northwest, so once you fly in and arrive to airport, if you’re staying at the Mangrove Beach Corendon Curaçao, you will be greeted with a rose and picked up in a vintage ‘50s Mustang, as classic cars are popular on the island. Most resorts do offer pick-up.
Corendon All-Inclusive Resort is a solid option for an all-inclusive in the capital. It has four swimming pools and a beautiful private stretch of private beach with a water swing. There are six restaurants ranging from the buffet to Italian, fresh seafood, and barbeque. There is also a cigar lounge and multiple bars, including the swim-up Coco Pool Bar, where you can grab a tropical smoothie with or without booze to enjoy by the pool or beach. It even has its own water with six water slides; the biggest and baddest, King Cobra, is a long, winding delight. You can live out your kid fantasies or take your little ones for a memorable, instagrammable, kitschy good time.
After breakfast at the buffet, start with a bus tour to scope out the island. FBTT tours of Willemstad pass by the colonial Dutch architecture and the colorful homes and vibrant street art in Skala. Then head to Christoffel National Park, the largest and most bio-diverse park on the island, for a short walk or hike. Visit the nearby Shete Boka for its crashing waves, hidden coves and limestone cliffs that are otherworldly. For gorgeous views you should stop at the Aloe Vera farm where 150,000 aloe vera plants are harvested monthly; you can purchase curaloe products that include digestible aloe and skin care and see a short demonstration of how the products are made. If time permits on the bus tour, stop at one of the biggest ostrich farms outside of Africa. If you have the time afterwards, head to Amazonia, the lost island of dreams, for a jungle experience popular with children, or the famous Curaçao aquarium to see all the wonders in one place.
A sunset cruise is a perfect way to end the day, bookable through Corendon hotel or with Groove ??Diving. Enjoy snacks and wine on a catamaran while keeping an eye out for dolphins. You will have time to stop at a public beach to lounge in the Caribbean Sea like Porto Marie, where you can grab a fresh made smoothie, or the wonder-filled playa lagoon that has wild sea turtles lined with more limestone cliffs and colorful fishing boats. Have dinner at either the Wine Cellar, a French fine dining spot, or Baoase Culinary Beach Restaurant for a more indigenous meal at a top luxury resort with tropical ambience.
After breakfast the next morning, take a $2 bus ride for 30 minutes to the town of Jan Kok. Here you can watch flamingos at their sanctuary and also relax at less populated beaches. For the absolute best beaches you may have to go to the uninhabited nearby island of Klein Curaçao by boat, but the sand and sea on the main island is pretty beautiful on its own. Snorkeling is a fantastic option and the best place to do it is at Tugboat Beach, where you can see an authentic tugboat wreck under the water. You are also guaranteed to see lots of wild turtles.
Back in Wilemstadt, go straight to the number one attraction on the island, the Curaçao Liqueur distillery, owned by the Sephardic Jewish Senior family since 1896. It’s a tiny self guided museum downtown that shows how the liqueur is made from laraha, a Caribbean citrus fruit much like a tiny round orange. The fruit is soaked in water and kosher alcohol for several days, spiced, and heated in 120 year old copper and kosher food dye in orange, red, green or blue, which are all the same orange flavor, or newer flavors like tamarind. You can order a creative Curaçao liqueur cocktail afterwards, like a peach mule, which is included in the price of admission. Have lunch at the iconic Marsche Bieuw old market food court where there are various stalls of local delicacies like iguana, cactus or okra soup, stewed cucumber, and a wide variety of goat dishes. Try the cactus drink and keshi yena, the most famous Curaçaoan dish, a fried cheese shell (literally an Edam cheese rind) filled with spiced meat, usually chicken. Nearby is a local arts market with lots of trinkets, and on Columbustraat is the famous Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Willemstad, Curaçao, a world heritage site and the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas, with sand floors that absorbed some of the sound of their prayers. Wander around old town and see the landmark Queen Emma Bridge, affectionately called the “Swinging Old Lady” that connects the two halves of Willemstad. It opens to allow ships to enter and leave the bay without being timed, and locals say to just run when it starts to move. For dinner check out one of your resort’s restaurants, or venture out to the local’s favorite Nulwintig for fine dining with eye dazzling presentations of seafood and steak (with a day beach club for classy lounging). You can also head to De Visserij Piscadera for the freshest and prettiest seafood dishes. Later, check out Pietermaii for nightlife. Go to St. Tropez Ocean Club to be seen in your finest upscale nightclub looks, or chill out at the authentic Cuban spot Mundo Bizarro, which is relaxed and artsy. The restaurant Mosa/Caña and ObaAr, an authentic Brazilian night lounge, are both popular for drinks. All have outdoor seating.
Curaçao is a beautiful Caribbean gem that is more unspoilt than upscale. Between its history, its fine dining, and its well-preserved wonders of nature, it’s a perfect way to spend two days in the Caribbean.
Alyssa Pinsker is an award-winning travel writer and writing and publishing coach based in Boulder, Colorado. She has visited 45 countries so far and lived in five. Follow her at @girlgoneglobal or visit alyssapinsker.com.