The island of Curaçao in the Dutch Caribbean is well worth a visit -- and like neighboring Aruba, it's outside the hurricane belt so you can plan your vacation without worrying too much about Mother Nature.
In addition to lounging on a beach chair, you can visit Curaçao's capital, Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is filled with beautifully-restored, 18th- and 19th-century Dutch colonial buildings, great shopping, waterfront restaurants, and historic sites.
The local languages are Dutch and Papiamentu (Curaçao creole), but almost everyone speaks English and Spanish.
As of October 10, 2010, the Netherlands Antilles will no longer exist as such. Both Curaçao and St. Maarten will become autonomous, as Aruba did 25 years ago. That leaves Bonaire, St. Eustatius & Saba as the BES Islands. All will still come under some form of Dutch jurisdiction. Also, there's talk of all -- or some -- of the islands going from guilders to dollars (not euros, go figure).
1. Sign Up For a Culinary Walking Tour and Caribbean Cooking Class
Angelica's Kitchen (Hoogstraat 49, Otrobanda, Willemstad; tel. 9/510-3699; www.angelicas-kitchen.com)
A wonderful way to explore Curaçao's culture is through food. Go on a culinary stroll through the old town of Willemstad, stop for a fruit smoothie in the Otrobanda neighborhood, then cross the bridge into the Punda district. Check out the fresh fruits and veggies at the Floating Market, examine the day's catch at the new Round Market, then have lunch with the locals at the Old Market (Yvonne di Plaza's booth is a good pick). Or learn how to cook local specialties back at Angelica's Kitchen.
2. Try Herbal Remedies
Aloe Vera Plantation (West Groot Sint Joris, Santa Catharina; tel. 9/767-5577; www.aloecuracao.com)
Aloe Vera contains more than 75 nutrients. The gel is considered a "miracle cure" for the skin and the juice is recommended as a nutritional supplement. Learn how it's harvested and processed and pick up some pure aloe products.
Den Paradera: Dinah Veeris' Botanical Garden (Seru Grandi Kavel 105A, Banda Riba; tel. 9/767-5608; www.dinahveeris.com)
Dinah Veeris provides traditional, Caribbean herbal treatments by propagating over 300 species of wild medicinal plants in her botanical garden. Visit and try some of the remedies from herbal creams to coconut soap.
3. Get Up Close to an Ostrich
The Curaçao Ostrich Farm (West Groot Sint Joris, Santa Catharina; tel. 9/747-2777; www.ostrichfarm.net)
If you're traveling with kids, take a "photo safari" ride through the farm and learn all about these weird and wonderful birds; it's a fun and educational experience. Afterwards, if you're brave enough, chow down on an ostrich burger in the lovely open-air restaurant.
4. Visit a World-Class Museum and Art Galleries
Kurá Hulanda Museum (Klipstraat 9, Otrobanda, Willemstad; tel. 9/434-7765; www.kurahulanda.com/en/museum)
After soaking up some rays, spend time in this anthropological museum. The exhibits focus on the predominant cultures of Curaçao offering a world-class chronicle of the Origin of Man, the African slave trade, West African Empires, Mesopotamian relics and Antillean art.
You can also take home some meaningful souvenirs -- artwork by local talent:
Gallery Alma Blou (Landhuis Habaai, Frater Radulphusweg 4, Otrobanda, Willemstad; tel. 9/462-8896; www.galleryalmablou.com) has a lovely collection of Curaçao paintings, photographs, pottery, sculpture and handmade jewelry.
Mon Art Gallery(Rif Fort-Unit 103, Otrobanda, Willemstad; tel. 9/462-2977; www.monartgallerycuracao.com) represents a first-rate group of Curaçao and Caribbean artists.
Landhuis Bloemhof (Santa Rosaweg 6, Saliña, Willemstad; tel. 9/737-5775; www.bloemhof.an) This landhuis (plantation), built in 1735, has been a venue for art exhibits since the 1950s, showcasing local and international artists.
5. Get Married
After exploring Curaçao, you might fall in love with the place and with each other. No matter what your religion, you'll find a wedding planner to help you organize the big day.
Mikvé Israel-Emmanuel (Hanchi di Snoa 29, Punda, Willemstad; tel. 9/461-1067; www.snoa.com)
This is the oldest synagogue continuously used for religious services in the Western Hemisphere. It was built in 1732 by a Sephardic Jewish community that relocated from Amsterdam. With its sand floor, cobalt-blue windows, dark mahogany interior and candle-lit, brass chandeliers, the synagogue is a stunning place to exchange vows.
Fort Church (Fort Amsterdam, Punda, Willemstad; tel. 9/461-1139; www.fortchurchcuracao.com) Built in 1769, this is Curaçao's oldest Protestant church.
Basilica Santa Ana (Breedestraat 31, Otrabanda, Willemstad; tel. 9/462-3507) Founded in 1752, Santa Ana was elevated to basilica and co-cathedral status by Pope Paul VI in 1975.
Where to Stay in Curaçao
From apartment rentals to resort hotels, there are all kinds of accommodations in Curaçao. Here are two nice options:
The Hyatt Regency Curaçao Golf Resort, Spa & Marina (Santa Barbara Plantation, Porta Blancu, Nieuwpoort; tel. 9/840-1234; www.curacao.hyatt.com)
This is one of Curaçao's newest resorts and, if you're into golf or just want to relax, it's a lovely place to stay. On 27 secluded acres, the hotel looks out on Spanish Water Bay and the Caribbean Sea. There's great diving and water sports, three pools, a private beach, tennis courts, hiking trails, and biking paths. The Old Quarry is the island's only 18-hole championship golf course, designed by Pete Dye. And, for kids ages 3 to 12, there's Camp Arawak.
Kurá Hulanda (Langestraat 8, Otrobanda, Willemstad; tel. 9/434-7700; www.kurahulanda.com)
This is a great place if you'd like a unique, in-town experience. The Kurá Hulanda is made up of beautifully-restored, little townhouses in the Otrobanda section of Willemstad. You feel as if you're staying in a small European village, not in a hotel.
Talk with fellow Frommer's travelers on our Curaçao Forum.