Curacao, Netherlands Antilles

Since I have a little bit more time to blog this week, I wanted to do a post on a destination I spent longer than an extended weekend in. Back in May, a good friend who lives in California joined my boyfriend and I on a trip to Curacao, a Caribbean island in the Netherland Antilles. The perhaps underrated island of Curacao is located just north of Venezuela, part of the A-B-C islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). We chose it based on the eponymous liqueur (perhaps not the best strategy) and the fact that tickets were cheap (FYI, Guadeloupe is $228 from NYC for the first week of December #getaway). Curacao is known as an LGBTI+ destination, and was adequately ~lit~ as a result.

The Queen Emma bridge in Willemstad, lit up for its 150th anniversary.

We elected to stay near the capital city of Willemstad, and this is where the “perhaps” comes into the “underrated”. I think we made a fundamental mistake in optimizing to stay near the capital. Collectively, we suspected that proximity to the capital would equal better access to resources, as the island doesn’t have much of a tourist infrastructure yet. If I had to do it again, I would have selected a resort with full features (i.e., private beach, restaurants on site, shuttle to other beaches on the island) rather than the slightly cheaper hotel we ended up at (no complaints; it was a beautiful hotel with adjoining suites, a pool, two free drinks at daily happy hour, great price point). The problem lay in the effort needed to get to the different beaches across the island; there are many, almost none of which are anywhere near Willemstad.

Fortunately, this was our hotel’s beach.

This became a problem for us in terms of price: we anticipated renting a car for one day (approx. $75, costs a little extra to get automatic transmission), hoping to get to the beaches at the north side of the island. However, we ended up needing to take taxis to and from Willemstad whenever we wanted to visit the historical sites or grab dinner, at prices designed to gouge tourists (not surprising). Then, we had to compromise on visiting a couple beaches, because we didn’t want to keep the car for a second night. So, we prioritized the must-do items and compromised on some others. For the underrated part, the island is an incredible place to visit if you have an adventurous spirit and want to get in before tourists fundamentally change the island’s culture.


Let me be clear: if you want to visit an island which still retains absolutely untouched beaches, minimal tourist infrastructure, and you don’t mind Dutch food, you’re in luck. The beaches in Curacao are truly pristine, and the prices for drinks and other food are incredibly cheap (and the proximity to Suriname and colonial influence from the Dutch meant great Indonesian food).


Our resort had a small beach, pictured in the two photos above. On our first night, we grabbed dinner at a local beach restaurant, dipping our toes in the sand while waiting for our food. I got a red, blue, and white drink for the Dutch flag, and we tried the Indonesian curry, which was fairly good (I lived in Indonesia for three years, so I’m a little biased about the quality).

The next day, we rented our car, and after a couple wrong turns, were off to Christoffel Park, the nature reserve on the north side of the island, which boasts incredible views of the island and some hiking. Unfortunately, the park was closed when we arrived (again, tourist infrastructure isn’t quite there, and adverts weren’t correct), but at least we could see the mountain from the drive (womp). We also visited Playa Lagoon, where we grabbed lunch, fed some very hungry iguanas lettuce, and went on an incredible snorkeling trip in some of the most clear, exquisite water I’ve ever seen.


If you’re interested, check out our friend’s amazing drone video of our trip in Curacao, which includes amazing footage of this site (lol @ my water shoes). I’m not a huge water person, but being able to see the fish so clearly gave me an almost child-like appreciation for what is normally a relatively meh experience punctuated by fear of seaweed strangling me. After lunch and our snorkeling trip, we wanted to visit a beautiful cave only available by private boat ride, and drove to Playa Bon Bini to visit the man with the speed boat that would get us there. Amidst the noise of a TV program, the caged birds chirping, the dog, and the waves slapping the beach, it was a bit difficult to fully understand the person who finally came out to greet us, and learned no tours would be happening that day (again, not a tourist infrastructure). Disappointedly, we went to a beach a couple miles back towards Willemstad, Cas Abao.


The neat thing about Cas Abao is the fact that it has a great sampling of Surinamese and Indonesian food. The reason that Indonesian culture has come to the Caribbean is similar to why many of the people from the “West Indies” have India-Indian heritage – colonialism. The Dutch, who still have sovereignty over Curacao, brought Indonesians over as cheap labor, and they brought with them their food and culture. This is more prevalent in Suriname, but Curacao’s proximity and similar colonial legacy are similar.

After the beach, we drove to a great seafood restaurant in Willemstad, where we had a great meal and good drink (unfortunately since I was driving, I wasn’t able to indulge, but the drinks looked good!). Of course, we got lost both driving too and from the restaurant, but we did get to appreciate some of the neighborhood where locals live across the bridge.


The next day, we turned in the rental car, and explored Willemstad using the shuttle the hotel provided into town (we unfortunately only got it one way, which was a little frustrating). The town itself is quite nice, although there are limited activities to do and it was almost like a ghost town as we were there on a Sunday morning. There is a fort overlooking the old city, which has now been turned into something of a small shopping center and viewpoint, with tiered decks overlooking the ocean.


There are candy-colored buildings and the Queen Emma bridge, which “swings” out to let ships pass between the capital island and the mainland. We explored the city, taking in the vibrant colors, baking in the heat.


We settled on having lunch at a small cafe, where we saw a man with a pet cayman. We also saw the cute sign of Curacao.


Wandering the city was fun, although there isn’t too much to do/see (again, why we ended up wishing we’d stayed elsewhere). One neat thing is the local market, which includes several local fishing boats and grocery stalls lined up against the canals.


We ended the evening at a nice restaurant called Gouveneur de Rouville, which is a nice restaurant in a colonial building. We ordered local favorites, like the goat curry and a flan.


One thing to note is that the cruise ships fill up restaurants fairly quickly, so try to eat at off times if you’re looking for a sit down location. I would also suggest avoiding a cruise if it is only going to pull into Willemstad – you miss so much of the island’s culture and vibe if you only see the town.

The next day, we went on what was perhaps our best experience during our time on the island: a chartered boat trip to Klein Curacao, an uninhabited white sand island only visited by private tours. We left at sunrise, and watched the sun come up over the Caribbean.


We rode past the rocky outcroppings of the island until we we couldn’t see land, and then we raced across the choppy water.


The white sand beaches complement the warm water, and the great thing is that we had the whole thing, including a decommissioned lighthouse and old World War II vessel, to ourselves to explore.


From the shore, the lighthouse looks quite far, but it ended up being about a 30 minute walk across the small island to see it in more detail.


There’s also an overturned yacht, which several members of our party enjoyed using for a photo shoot. Overall, a fun walk. We then returned to the private beach to finish enjoying our day in the sun, taking a brief stop to snorkel among the rocks.


The following day, we headed back to the US, a little more sunburned, but definitely more relaxed than we had been before the trip. Overall, we enjoyed our time in this little Caribbean island.

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