advertisement

The "C" in the Dutch ABC islands, Curacao is the largest, most populous, and most cosmopolitan of the former Lesser Antilles. It has in the colorful capital of Willemstad a picturesque trove of colonial Dutch architecture and a World Heritage Site. Like Aruba, Curacao boasts a warm, friendly polyglot populace, but it also offers a rich history, a vibrant art scene and world-class diving. Just six miles wide and 37 miles long, this semi-arid landscape is dotted with spiny-leaf aloe, mesquite and divi-divi trees.

Beaches

Curacao has nearly 40 beaches, ranging from tranquil bays to secluded coves. Seaquarium Beach (Mambo Beach), just east of Willemstad, offers placid waters perfect for swimming and bars and restaurants on site. The largest and most popular destination for sunbathing, Blauwbaai has showers and changing facilities and plenty of shade. Hang with the locals on pristine sand at Daaibooi, south of Willemstad, where you can snorkel in clear reef waters. Shallow, tranquil seas tucked inside a narrow cove make Playa Lagun a prime spot for families.

Things to Do

Sip a cool drink at a Willemstad cafe as you gaze upon the colored lights illuminating the Queen Emma Bridge, a floating pontoon across Saint Anna Bay. A short walk away, scores of schooners parked along the canal comprise a Floating Market selling crafts and tropical fruits and vegetables. Admire the colorful Dutch architecture in the colonial capital, Willemstad. The unusual collection of artifacts and oddities in the Museum Kurá Hulanda includes fertility dolls, fossils, musical instruments, and even slave quarters.

Eating and Drinking

The island's Dutch heritage surfaces in specialties such as keshi yena, a traditional baked dish with spicy chicken, dates, raisins, olives, and Gouda cheese. Feel the warm breeze at the open-air Belle Terrace, a 200-year-old mansion where you can dine on international fare fused with such island flourishes as tu tu (local polenta with beans). Soul-satisfying Creole cooking reigns at rustic, leisurely Jaanchie's Restaurant in Westpunt, with iguana soup, goat stew, and fresh fish served with rice and beans.

Nightlife and Entertainment

Locals kick back here more than the tourists -- or so it seems. The biggest party is Carnival, which runs for several weeks and ends on Mardi Gras. Otherwise, the capital's Salinja district forms the scene's thumping heart. In Penstraat, Blues, a restaurant and bar perched over the water, features live jazz. Sundays are devoted to salsa at Mambo Beach's bar, which sometimes shows classic movies under the stars. Casinos offer live music nightly and great people-watching.