Curaçao, a Dutch Caribbean island, is known for its beaches tucked into coves and its expansive coral reefs rich with marine life. The capital, Willemstad, has pastel-colored colonial architecture, floating Queen Emma Bridge and the sand-floored, 17th-century Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. It’s also a gateway to western beaches like Blue Bay, where scuba divers can access a vertical coral wall from the shore.
This unique destination has been shaped by an interesting mix of historical events and several cultural influences. Ideally located just outside the hurricane belt, Curaçao boast a practically perfect year round climate. Many adventure travelers seek out this destination know for its eco-tourism and pristine diving conditions. Of course those looking to relax and unwind on one of the 30 or so gleaming white beaches will be just as content. Nature lovers and historical buffs will be just as enthralled by the many gardens, parks, museums and estates to visit.
Other activities include an 18-hole championship golf course, a dolphin interaction program, a floating market, caves, and even an Ostrich farm. Accommodations vary from luxury resorts, seaside villas and personable guesthouses. A lively nightlife awaits you in one of the many clubs, bars or casinos.
Curaçao specialties vary tremendously with their Dutch, Spanish, Creole and Indonesian influences, to name a few. The local flavours are mix so well with the many imported products.
Traditional dishes include: Erwten soep, a thick pea soup with pork, ham, and sausage; Nasi goring, bean sprouts sautéed with chunks of meat and chicken; Bami, long noodles with vegetables and meat; Saté, skewered meat with peanut sauce; Rijsttafel, a table serving rice with up to 20 accompanying dishes; Yuana, stewed iguana; and Kabritu, stewed goat. For breakfast enjoy a Dutch pancake with a sliver of Gouda or Edam cheese.
Of course let us not forget to satisfy our sweet tooth with a few local treats. Sunchi are meringue "kisses", made of sugar, egg whites, and food coloring. Panseiku are toasted peanuts and almond essence, cooked in a brittle glaze of dark brown sugar. Kokada are freshly grated coconut patties, held together in sugar syrup, tinted with food coloring.
Culture With such an eclectic ethnic mix, Curaçao embraces many languages. Dutch is the official language but many residents speak Papiamentu, which is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English, African and Arawak Indian. English and Spanish are also widely spoken.
The Dutch influence is particularly present, such as in the architecture of colonial buildings, especially on every level of society, like in the legal, educational and governmental systems. To this day, almost 4% of Curaçao's population was born in Holland. Another greet influence came from Jewish community fleeing persecution. They too have shaped the island's economy, politics and culture. The African culture is quite strong as well since African descendents make up the majority. Their influence can be seen in the language of Papiamentu, the Tambú musical style, food and religion.
Curaçao is home to a few prolific artists, such as the painter Nena Sanchez and the sculptor Jolanta Pawlak.
Music is a big part of every day life and it is a tribute to the wide array of ethnic groups. The Waltz, French quadrille, Spanish dansa and Bohemian polka make up the European influences. But it is the African rhythms that are most recognizable, with the Tambú, Seú and Tumba styles. Labour songs were sung by the slaves during digging, rowing, and other labour. Over 1,500 of these songs are known. Today's sounds include merengue, calypso, reggae, salsa, and cha-cha-cha all with a Curaçaoan twist.
Geography Curaçao is part of the ABC islands, together with Aruba and Bonaire, and is only 56 km north of Venezuela. The island measures 61 km in length and 3 km to 12 km in width.
Some areas of the island may seem a bit rather barren with desert landscapes. To the north, the coast is characterized by rough limestone cliff set on top of ancient volcanic rock. Lush green hills lie to the west where you will find the highest point on the island, Mt. Christoffel, at 375 m above sea level.
History The Arawaks Indians were the first to settle this island back in 600 AD. There still remain traces of them, through petroglyphs, in the caves where they once lived. The Arawaks lived peacefully until the arrival of the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. Within a few years the Arwaks were almost completely exterminated through forced labour. The Dutch West Indies Company claimed the island in 1634, after fighting of the French and English. The plantation system soon became the backbone of the economy and an extensive slave trade soon began with West Indian and African slaves. Slavery was finally abolished in 1863.
Following the Spanish Inquisition, many Jewish families came and found refuge on the island of Curaçao during the early 1700s. This new community established the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which today continues to be the oldest still operating synagogue in the Western Hemisphere.
An oil refinery was built on Curaçao following the discovery of oil in Venezuela. Curaçao became an independent entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1955. The capital city of Willemstad was added to the UNESCO list in 1997. Curaçao became constituent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands on 10 October 2010.
Nature Curaçao's vegetation has adapted well to its dry environment with its desert landscape covered with cactus trees, aloe plants, rough bushes and several rare orchid species. One of the most characteristic trees is the Divi-divi tree, always growing in the direction of the tradewinds. Other plant species include several types of palms. Do avoid contact with the Manchineel tree as its fruits are poisonous to touch, causing skin irritations and burns.
No large land mammals roam the island. Donkeys, wild goats, iguanas and geckoes, the Curaçao deer, and many species of birds make up the islands fauna. Hummingbirds, parrots, bats, and Trupial birds are common sights.
Sports With so many kilometres of coastline, one is sure find all the water sports facilities right at their finger tips, whether it be swimming, sailing, fishing, kayaking, windsurfing or any other water activity. Curaçao's underwater world is famous worldwide amongst diving and snorkelling enthusiasts, with its 40 different dive areas and 65 individual sites.
There are plenty of activity options for those who prefer to stay on land, such as horseback riding, hiking, cycling, mountain biking or tennis. Golfers will rejoice at the Blue Bay Golf & Beach Resort, an 18-hole championship golf course and at the Curaçao Golf & Squash Club, a 9-hole course.
Curaçaoan are big soccer and drag racing fans.
Willemstad Currency : Netherlands Antillean guilder, also called the Florin. Driver's License : International license recommended. Must be 21 to 25 years old, depending on the rental agency, and have a credit card. Electricity : 110-130 V, 50Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -4hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Parliamentary democracy, as an autonomous part of Kingdom of the Netherlands. Land size : 444 km2 Language : Dutch and Papiamentu. English and Spanish are also widely spoken. National Airlines : Dutch Caribbean Airlines is based in Curaçao Population : 160,000 approx Religion : Catholic 80%, others include Protestants, Jews and Muslims. Required Vaccines : None Tourist Season : December through March
Banks & Money
In Curaçao, the legal tender is the Netherlands Antillean guilder, also called the Florin. Although prices are listed with the national currency, US dollars are accepted readily so you may not need to exchange your money at all. Large notes of US $50 and US $100 can be hard to cash.
Other currencies can be exchanged in the many banks and change offices. Banks ATMs are available throughout the more populated areas of the islands, with a few selected branches distributing US dollars. All major credit cards and traveller's cheques are accepted.
Climate Curaçao enjoys a warm and sunny climate, with an annual average temperature of 27° C, and refreshing trade winds that helps keep the humidity low. Although there is a rainy season, from October through February, it is mostly defined by short nightly showers. The water temperature hovers around 26° C.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The international code is 5999. Most local telephone numbers are seven digits. The island is covered by a GSM network. Most hotels offer internet services and there are many Internet cafes available as well.
There are several daily newspapers on the island. The leading papers are: Extra in Papiamentu; Amigoe in Dutch and English; and La Prensa, the oldest Papiamento newspaper. Cable TV is available in most hotels.
Health The tap water is distilled from the sea and is safe to drink. Gastro-intestinal complaints, known as the turista, are rare. Mosquitoes and flies can be bothersome in the rain forest or during the odd rain shower, so bring repellent.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever.
Official Holidays January 1 - New Year's Day March/April - Good Friday, Easter Monday April 30 - Queen's Day May 1 - Labor Day May - Ascension Day July 2 - Flag Day October 21 - Antillean Day December 25 - Christmas Day December 26 - Boxing Day
Safety Curaçao is considered relatively safe and enjoys a low crime rate. However as a tourist you are more likely to be a target of petty crime.
Use good judgement, take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels, do not leave valuables unattended in public and carry your wallet and camera discreetly. Also make sure to lock your hotel room and rental car.
Shopping The island has two main shopping areas located in the capital city. The first is a five block shopping district called Punda. The second district is called Otrobanda. The Heerenstraat and Madurostraat streets are pedestrian areas. Even though there are no duty-free shops, exceptional rebates can be found due to low import duties.
Purchases include perfumes, Dutch Delft blue souvenirs, electronics, jewellery, linens, silks, lace work and leather goods. You can also buy Gouda and Edam cheeses, local rum, and of course the famous blue Curaçao liqueur.
Head to the New Market for a fun shopping experience, where local produce and handicraft are sold here. The Floating Market is a peculiar set up where Venezuelan merchants sell their fresh produce from small authentic fishing boats which double as living quarters.
Taxes & Tips Hotels, restaurants and all purchased goods or services add the 7% government sales tax. Hotels usually add a 12% service charge. Restaurants also normally include a 10% service charge to the bill but you may leave a bit more change at your discretion. Taxi drivers may be tipped 10% and porters should receive $1 per bag.
The departure tax of around US$32, per person, is payable at the airport when leaving the island.
Transportation There is one international airport on the island. Short flights between other islands are easy and affordable with small charter companies. There are two docking spots for ships and boats.
Every taxi has a taxi meter with fixed rates for your journey. Taxi stands are situated at the airport, hotels, in Punda and in Otrobanda. Car rental are available at the airport or at major hotels. Motorcycles and bicycles can be rented in town. The public bus system and the collective cars or vans called "bus", are an inexpensive and reliable way to travel between the districts.