What is Curacao?

Curacao is a Caribbean island located off the north coast of Venezuela that is known for its eclectic architecture and vibrant culture. It’s the largest and most populous of the ABC islands, which also include Aruba and Bonaire.

Brief History

The original inhabitants of Curacao were the Arawak people. In the 15th century, the island was colonized by the Dutch. The capital city Willemstad was established as a trading port. Curacao was an important hub for the Atlantic slave trade from Africa. After slavery was abolished in 1863, the economy transitioned to become more focused on tourism and oil refining. Today, Curacao is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Geography

Curacao is located about 40 miles north of Venezuela. It has an area of 171 square miles, making it the largest of the ABC islands. The climate is generally hot and dry with an average temperature of 82°F. The landscape consists of hills, cactus, and the rocky northern coast.

Culture

Curacao has a rich blend of over 50 different cultures. There is a strong African influence from the slave trade days. The local language spoken is Papiamento, a mix of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English and African languages. The culture is also influenced by Dutch colonial architecture and Caribbean traditions. Music and dance are an important part of everyday life.

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Economy

The main industries supporting the economy are tourism, oil refining, and financial services. Major companies operating in Curacao include the Curacao Tourist Board, Curacao Airport Partners, Curoil, Carib Petroleum Refining, and InselAir. The local currency is the Netherlands Antillean guilder.

Who Lives in Curacao?

The population of Curacao is around 150,000 people. The ethnic makeup is:

  • Afro-Caribbean – majority of the population
  • Latin American
  • Dutch
  • Portuguese
  • Levantine Arabs
  • East Asians

The official languages spoken are Dutch, English, and the local creole language Papiamento. The majority of the population is Roman Catholic.

How to Get to Curacao

There are a few options for traveling to Curacao:

By Air

  • Fly into Hato International Airport (CUR) – Direct flights from the U.S., South America and other Caribbean islands. Major airlines flying here include KLM, Air France, TUI, American Airlines, Delta, United, JetBlue.
  • Fly into Banda Abou International Airport (CBD) – Smaller airport on the western end of the island. Mostly regional flights from Aruba, St. Maarten, Venezuela.

By Cruise Ship

Many cruise lines stop in Curacao’s port as part of Southern Caribbean itineraries. The cruise terminal is located right in downtown Willemstad. Top cruise lines include Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America.

By Ferry

  • Daily ferries connect Curacao to nearby Bonaire and Aruba.
  • Ferries also run between Curacao and Venezuela.

How to Get Around Curacao

Once you arrive in Curacao, there are several options to get around:

Rental Car

Renting a car is a popular choice to explore the island freely. Major rental agencies include Hertz, Avis, Budget, Thrifty, Dollar. An International Driver’s Permit is recommended along with your normal license. Driving is on the right side of the road.

Taxis

Taxis are available at the airport, cruise port, and around major hotels. Fares are set in zones from the fixed point of origin. Rates are given in both USD and local currency. Tipping is customary.

Public Buses

Public buses provide an inexpensive way to get around. Routes cover the main parts of the island. Buses are typically mini vans or buses. Cash payment is required when boarding. Buses run daily from early morning to late evening.

Private Transfers

Many hotels and tour companies offer private transfers to and from the airport or cruise port. Rates are fixed based on the pick-up and drop-off points. Transfers provide convenience especially for groups.

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Best Things to Do in Curacao

Curacao offers many great activities for visitors including:

Explore Willemstad

  • Wander around the colorful Dutch colonial architecture in downtown Punda and Otrobanda.
  • Visit sights like the floating Queen Emma Bridge, Fort Amsterdam, Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue.
  • Shop and dine in areas like Handelskade and Pietermaai District.

Visit Beaches

  • Relax on white sand beaches like Playa Porto Mari, Cas Abao, Daaibooi, Grote Knip.
  • Snorkel and scuba dive along the sheltered leeward coast.
  • Admire views from places like Westpunt, Klein Curacao, Christoffel National Park.

Try Local Cuisine

  • Sample dishes like keshi yena (cheese casserole), funchi (polenta), local seafood.
  • Visit places like Jaanchies Restaurant, Plasa Bieuw, Old Market.
  • Try Dutch specialties including pancakes, cheese, sweets.

Explore Culture

  • Learn about history at places like the Kura Hulanda Museum, Landhuis Kenepa.
  • Visit plantations like Savonet Museum, Christoffel National Park.
  • Enjoy live music and dancing at venues like Blues, Miles Jazz Cafe.

Outdoor Activities

  • Hike at parks like Christoffel National Park and Shete Boka National Park.
  • Snorkel or scuba dive at places like Mushroom Forest and Tugboat wreck dive sites.
  • Join a kayaking, sailing, or fishing tour along the coast.

FAQ About Visiting Curacao

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about visiting Curacao:

Do I need a visa to visit Curacao?

Citizens of the U.S., Canada, UK, EU, and many other countries can visit Curacao without a visa for up to 90 days. Just need a valid passport.

What currency is used in Curacao?

The official currency is the Netherland Antillean Guilder (ANG). The exchange rate is about 1.8 ANG to 1 USD. U.S. dollars are widely accepted, but it’s best to carry some local currency as well.

What language do they speak in Curacao?

The official languages are Dutch, Papiamentu, and English. Most locals speak Papiamentu, a creole language, as well as Dutch and English. Signage is usually in Dutch and English.

Is Curacao safe to visit?

Yes, Curacao is generally considered very safe. However, travelers should still exercise normal precautions as petty theft can occur near beaches or crowded tourist sites. Avoid isolated areas after dark.

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What is the best way to get around Curacao?

Renting a car is the most convenient way to fully explore the island. Taxis, public buses, and private transfers are options as well. Driving is on the right side of the road.

What is the weather like in Curacao?

Curacao has a warm tropical climate year round. Temperatures average 82°F. The dry season is January to September, with less humidity and rain. October to December is the wet season.

Do I need travel insurance for Curacao?

Travel insurance is highly recommended in case you need medical treatment or need to cancel your trip unexpectedly. Make sure to confirm your plan covers Curacao specifically.

Methods for Visiting Curacao

Here are some key steps for planning your ideal trip to Curacao:

Choose Travel Dates

Decide when you want to visit based on weather, crowds, and events or festivals happening during specific months. High season runs December to April.

Get Your Documents in Order

Check your passport has 6+ months validity. Arrange any necessary visas. Have travel insurance coverage.

Book Flights and Accommodation

Find a good flight deal and reserve a hotel, resort, apartment or villa for your preferred dates and trip length.

Create an Itinerary

Map out how to spend your time – top sights, activities, restaurants, and tours you want to book. Allow time for relaxation too.

Book a Rental Car or Arranged Transportation

Reserve a rental car or setup private transfers from the airport for convenience. Understand driving laws.

Learn Key Phrases

Learn some basic Papiamento, Dutch or English phrases to use during your travels. Download translation apps too.

Pack and Prepare

Make checklist of what to pack. Get local currency. Notify credit card companies. Confirm reservations.

Enjoy Your Trip!

Maximize your time exploring beaches, culture, cuisine, nature and more. Be open to new experiences that arise too.

Summary

From picturesque beaches and vibrant culture to outdoor adventures, Curacao provides an idyllic Caribbean getaway. With proper planning and preparation, you’re sure to have an exceptional and memorable trip to this island paradise. The friendly locals and fusion of African, Latin, European and Caribbean influences make Curacao a unique destination to discover.