A thin and slender tadpole of an island that forms the mid-point of the ABCs, Curaçao is a Caribbean destination with a difference.
Ringed by picture-perfect beaches and craggy headlands clad in the occasional bloom of palms and sea grasses, spiny cacti and divi-divi groves, the terrain isn’t your usual soft sands and jungle.
It’s a little more chiselled than that, with hidden coves like Playa Lagun hosting sunbathers between its duo of rocky outcrops and the salt-buffeted Shete Boka park just a vision of the wild tropics.
Add to that the throbbing, enthralling capital of Willemstad, clutching its own inlet on the south-western edge of the isle, and you get an historical and cultural dimension to boot.
There are old Flemish townhouses and pontoon bridges, historic forts (the namesake of Amsterdam no less) and oodles of interesting museums here.
Yep, there really is plenty to do on sun-kissed Curaçao! Check it out…
1. Witness natural wonders in the Christoffel National Park
Bats flit through the boughs of divi-divi trees in the early evening, as the glow of the Caribbean sun descends behind the mighty outline of Christoffel Mountain, peaking the horizon like the chiselled Matterhorn of the tropics.
Yep, this national park that sprawls out over a whopping 4,500 acres of land in the north is a truly breath-taking affair.
Travelers can come and hit the rocky hiking tracks and conquer the massive stone peak – a walk that takes around two hours from bottom to summit.
Others will want to seek out the cottontails and rare deer, the scented Lady of the Night (a particularly beautiful orchid) and the wealth of pretty hummingbirds in the air!
2. Wander through the Otrobanda and Punda at Willemstad
The historically rich area of Otrobanda is the undisputed focal point of the island’s capital at Willemstad.
Tagged by UNESCO for its sheer wealth of elegant Dutch homes and pastel-painted terraces of Flemish-esque townhouses, it’s got a real charm.
Come and wander here and pass the handsome stretches of the Brionplein, just abutting the courses of St Anna Bay, see the painted colonial homes of Hoogstraat.
Across the water is the Punda area.
Here, you’ll discover the elaborate facades of the Penha Building from 1708, along with the palm-peppered lawns of Wilhelminapark.
3. Delve into island history at the Savonet Museum
Set in the very midst of the beautiful Christoffel National Park, where the great peak on the north side of the island rises to a summit above the jungles, the Savonet Museum is one of the go-to places for travellers interested in the history of Curaçao and the ABC Islands.
It’s housed in a restored plantation building – once the Savonet Plantation and one of the oldest on the land – and comes complete with collections that chronicle the long life of human habitation in these parts.
Expect stories of Arawak Indians going back four millennia, tales of piracy on the high seas, and a look at the symbiosis of Curaçao’s tropical nature and its people over the centuries.
4. Attend the Curaçao Carnival
Get ready for a kaleidoscopic blowout of colour and creativity at the Curaçao Carnival.
Developed over centuries, the great cultural celebration is one of the most immersive in the region.
It takes place each year in the early spring, and brings troupes of local samba dancers to the streets, their clothes imbued with bright and bold Caribbean colours.
There’s oodles of Calypso and the island’s own Tumba music too, along with curious masquerades and dance processions.
It’s also a chance for travellers to see the ritual burning of King Momo, whose great effigy goes up in flames and fireworks at the close of the festivities.
5. See turtles in the coves of Shete Boka National Park
Joined at the hip to the much more famous reserve of Christoffel, the Shete Boka National Park cascades down from the cactus-clad hills on the northern side of the island to where the wild Caribbean Sea crash into the coves.
Famed for its series of several little inlets, the region is a well-known turtle nesting hotspot.
Folk come from far and wide to see the endangered green sea turtle and other carapace-topped creatures from the ocean.
Others will come to conquer the rugged cliffs and limpet-spotted headlands on foot, following the maintained Wandomi Trail or Pistol Trail.
6. Cross the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge
Connecting the two historic halves of Willemstad city – the Otrobanda and Punda – this series of pontoon boardwalks in the very midst of the capital has become something of a symbol of the whole of Curaçao.
Originally built in 1888, the structure started life as a toll bridge.
Today, travellers come to cross the wooden planks and enjoy great views over the colourful mansions and Dutch-style homes that line the water’s edge.
Wait and watch to see the bridge swing to the side to let ships pass in and out of the harbour – it’s one of the curious little traits of the landmark, and the reason it’s known endearingly as ‘Our Swinging Old Lady’.
7. Sunbathe between the cliffs at Playa Lagun
Be sure to pack the snorkels, sun cream and swimming gear for your trip to Playa Lagun on the north-western edge of the island.
A quiet and hidden little enclave of Caribbean sand, it occupies a prime position between two colossal headlands of rock.
Coral reefs out at sea teem with packs of squid and pipefish, while a spattering of reclining chairs and loungers on the beach itself makes for prime lazing.
You can also have a great time people watching on Lagun, with the locals drifting in and out of the bay on their colourful fishing boats from morning until night.
8. Dive underwater on a SCUBA excursion
Going underwater in the straits that run between the ABC Islands and the Venezuelan coast to the south promises a SCUBA experience like nowhere else in the Caribbean.
With dry, desert climate dominating the land, there are few rivers and streams entering the oceans here, meaning no brackish waters or unexpected currents throwing up dust and silt, making visibility second-to-none.
There are also awesome dive sites aplenty, like the great urchin-studded wreck of the Superior Producer, the bulbous underwater plant life of the so-called Alice in Wonderland spot in Kalki, or Snake Bay – home to dolphins, rays and turtles!
9. Between the turquoise see and sparkling sand on Playa Cas Abou
Perhaps the most quintessentially Caribbean looking stretch of sand on the whole island, the little run of white that hides between the rocky cliffs of Playa Cas Abou is a great place to come and kick-back, swim, snorkel and soak up the tropical warmth.
There are oodles of thatched umbrellas and large granite boulders for shade, plenty of water sports outfitters for those sea kayaking sessions, and even an out-at-sea playground for travellers with kids in tow.
However, it’s the drinking holes that really draw the crowds, with cocktails flowing from Daiquiri Bar well into the evening!
10. Dine in style at Baoase
One half culinary masterclass and one half luxurious resort, Baoase sits just a stone’s throw back from the boulder-spotted coastline of Curaçao, south out of Willemstad.
The restaurant enjoys sweeping views over the hotel’s sparkling private lagoon and Bibi’s Island on top of it, with deck spaces and thatched cabanas hiding the timber tables.
The menu, a medley of refined Carib foods with a twist of the European kitchen, rarely fails to impress.
Expect the likes of lionfish and avocado mashups, wagyu beef and tuna tartars, all rounded off with some sizzling Asian themed evenings and cooking workshops.
11. Boat across to Klein Curaçao
A tiny little shaving of land that’s set out in the Caribbean swells between southern Curaçao and Bonaire, this satellite island offers a great destination for boaters.
Hit the seas and head across the straits to see its sun-splashed shoreline of low sand banks and swaying sea grasses.
You’ll spot thatched tropical shacks, countless bobbing fishing boats manned by locals, and plenty of sunbathers enjoying the undeveloped shore.
And then there are the dolphin pods and rays that drift below the waves of the ocean – making for some great sea safari opportunities along the way.
12. Enjoy pretty Blauwbaai
Encompassed by the palm gardens and golf holes of the Blue Bay Resort just north of Willemstad city, much-loved Blauwbaai is a truly handsome little beach.
Favoured by locals and travellers alike, the bay is fringed by breeze-buffeted palm gardens and little cliffs.
And while the sands offer great sunbathing and beachcombing throughout the day, it’s the underwater that really pulls the crowds.
Blankets of corals clad the ocean floor and there are schools of multi-coloured tropical fish aplenty, making this cove a hotspot for snorkelers and swimmers.
13. Tour Fort Amsterdam
Although the handsome buildings of Fort Amsterdam are still in use as the governmental offices of Curaçao, they can still be visited just a short walk away from the historic quaysides of the capital.
Painted in pretty mustard-yellow hues, the elegant facades and frontispieces that adorn the UNESCO World Heritage Site look plucked straight from the streets of a Low Country city.
Head into the central courtyard for some of the best photograph opportunities, and don’t forget to see the historic protestant church (dating from way back in 1786) that adjoins the complex.
14. Understand the darker side of the island at the Kura Hulanda Museum
Set over the grounds of an old trading building in the midst of Willemstad, this acclaimed institution offers a sobering and often startling glimpse at the decades when the slave trade drove economics in these parts.
The collections take a look at the treatment of kidnapped peoples coming across the Atlantic during the height of the era, and also focus on how the legacy of that dark period has come to forge and re-forge aspects of Carib culture in Curaçao.
There are also relics from Mesopotamia, and others pertaining to the Arawak Indians that inhabited the island before the coming of Columbus.
15. Go subterranean at the Hato Caves
Scrawled with petroglyphs and peppered with colossal stalactites and stalagmites, the underground caverns of the Hato Caves tell the tale of Curaçao as a whole.
Once the home of native Indian tribespeople, they later figured as a refuge for escaped slaves from the plantations.
Today, large parts of the underground system can be toured, and travellers can spy out the bulbous rocks and boulders below ground, all of which come brilliantly illuminated by lighting and the occasional plug-hole descending down from the forest floor above.