Although Curaçao's beaches are inferior to Aruba's, there are nearly 40 of them, ranging from hotel sands to secluded coves. The northwest coast's rugged waters make swimming difficult, but the more tranquil waters of the west coast have sheltered bays that are good for swimming and snorkeling. The best beaches are along the southern coast, west of Willemstad.
Man-made Seaquarium Beach (or Mambo Beach), just east of central Willemstad, charges $3 for beach-chair rental, changing facilities, and showers. Two bars, two restaurants, and a watersports shop are on-site. The calm waters are ideal for swimming.
Northwest of Willemstad, Blauwbaai is the island's largest and most popular beach. The $3 entrance fee is well worth it. Along with showers and changing areas, facilities include a bar and restaurant as well as plenty of shade. Head toward Juliandorp, then bear left for Blauwbaai and San Michiel.
Farther down the west coast, about 30 minutes from Willemstad in the Willibrordus area, Daaibooi draws crowds of locals on Sunday. Wooden umbrellas provide shade, but there are no showers or changing rooms. Rainbow-hued fish and coral attract snorkelers.
Playa Santa Cruz is a multiple-use, mostly local beach where you can take a water taxi, operated by a local celebrity named Captain Goodlife, to secluded diving and snorkeling spots only accessible by boat. He and his wife do business under the name Let's Go Watersports (tel. 599/9-864-0438), and when you come back from the amazing Blue Cave, or lovers' beach, you can have dinner on their balcony overlooking the crescent bay.
Family-friendly Playa Lagun, in the fishing village of Lagun, hides in a narrow cove and boasts tranquil, shallow water, which is excellent for swimming. Snorkelers and divers appreciate the plentiful marine life. Concrete huts provide shelter, and the snack bar, dive center, and changing rooms are open on weekends.
Knip Bay, north of Playa Lagun, has white sand, rocky sides, and turquoise waters, making it suitable for snorkeling, swimming, and sunbathing. The beach is crowded on weekends, often with locals.
Playa Abao, or Playa Grandi, at the northern tip of the island, is one of Curaçao's most popular strands. Thatched shade umbrellas provide some protection, and the small snack bar and restroom in the parking lot address other needs.
On the northwestern tip of the island, Westpunt is known for the Sunday divers who jump from its cliffs into the ocean -- an amazing sight. Colorful boats and fishermen's nets adorn the area, which has no facilities or shade trees. The calm waters are great for swimming.
One of the most spectacular and picturesque beaches in the world is found on the uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao (Small Curaçao), 13km (8 miles) off the southern tip of Curaçao. Sometimes referred to as Castaway Beach, this picturesque stretch of white sand is only accessible by boat and is entirely unpopulated save for some seriously gnarly shipwrecks, a quaint old lighthouse, and plenty of wildlife, including hatchling turtles (May-Aug). A shaded food stand with tables and chairs is where lunch is served as part of the day trip. It's a full-day's commitment but worth the 2 plus-hour rocky journey. A 60-passenger ship called the Mermaid (tel. 599/9-560-1530; www.mermaidboattrips.com) picks up passengers at the Fishermen's Pier on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at 6:45am and shuttles them out and back again at 4pm.