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A unique gem in the southern Caribbean, located outside the hurricane belt just 56km (35 miles) off the north coast of Venezuela, Curaçao is the "C" of the ABC islands. With more European flavor than anywhere else, Curaçao is an island of diversity and contrast; an inspiring and unique destination for those who want to party with the locals (who hail from nearly 50 countries thanks to its massive oil refinery). On any given day, tugboats guide a huge tanker or cruise liner up the deep, natural harbor of Willemstad, the capital, causing the port city's swinging pontoon footbridge, the Queen Emma, to open and close. Willemstad's charming Dutch colonial buildings, done up in cheerful Caribbean colors, make this picturesque waterfront resemble an Amsterdam canal. Visitors come for the island's distinctive culture, history, architecture, fine dining, warm people, duty-free shopping, lively casinos, and watersports.

The beaches in Curaçao are tucked away amid dramatic bluffs, often requiring a taxi ride and several dozen steps. Perhaps owing to their out of the way locations, they are frequented by locals more so than most in the Caribbean, and lack a too-touristy vibe.

Excellent dining options in Willemstad abound, many of which are nestled deep within or perched atop the thick stone forts and historic buildings that line the waterfront.

After leaving the capital, Willemstad, you plunge into a strange, desertlike countryside evocative of the U.S. Southwest. The relatively arid landscape is studded with Turk's cap cacti, spiny-leafed aloe, and divi divi trees, with their windblown foliage.

Visitor Information

The Curaçao Tourist Board-North America has an office at One Gateway Center, Ste. 2600, Newark, NJ 07102 (tel. 800/328-7222). You can also get information online at www.curacao.com. Once you're on the island, visit the Curaçao Tourist Board, Pietermaai 19, Willemstad (tel. 599/9-434-8200). The readily available and free glossy magazines Curaçao Events and Curaçao Nights are published by the tourism board and provide a good overview of where to go and what to see. Also pick up a copy of the weekly dining and entertainment guide K-Pasa (www.k-pasa.com) at any tourism office or hotel lobby. It is also available in many shops and restaurants. The board also distributes an island map with useful tips and island facts. Curamap (www.curamap.com) is an online guide with road maps, general information, and a street index. A detailed road map of the island is also available through the Curaçao Chamber of Commerce, Kaya Junior Salas 1, Willemstad (tel. 599/9-461-1451; www.curacao-chamber.an), Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.