Without being pretentious, Curaçao, the third and largest of the Caribbean's ABC islands, has it all and has somehow gone this long without everyone knowing it. Well, that's about to change.
Just east of the crowded beaches of Aruba, Curaçao’s draw is not only its warm, year-round sunny climate and breathtaking Caribbean beaches, but its diverse culture (home to 150,000 residents from more than 55 cultures), multitude of European-inspired beach clubs, colorful and historic architecture and worldly cuisine with new restaurants opening by the minute.
With all of this, still, the beauty of Curaçao emanates from the people who live there. From the minute you step off the plane, you’re welcomed in the four different languages spoken on the island. Those welcoming you exude pride and carefree warmth. This slice of Caribbean heaven, their Shangri-La, harmoniously blends a fusion of cultures and preserves its history with such pride. It would be a disservice to visitors and inhabitants alike for Curaçao to remain a secret any longer. Ready to plan your trip?
Where to Stay
Balinese-inspired Baoase Luxury Resort is a boutique, luxury option with only 23-rooms (nearly half featuring private plunge pools) and is tucked on a tranquil man-made beach on the southeast side of Curaçao. The details of this luxurious private oasis is what make Baoase the idyllic spot for a romantic retreat. Following a narrow natural pathway, adorned with lit candles, will lead you to your elegant, secluded suite or villa. All rooms are furnished with decadent, hand-carved Balinese decor, making for a serene and luxe atmosphere. The property also boasts a tranquil infinity pool and an upscale beachfront restaurant which are not to be missed.
Santa Barbara Beach & Golf resort is sprawled across 2000 acres of oceanfront property and is one of Curaçao’s most luxurious resorts. While highlights include the spa, tennis court, 18-hole golf course, three pools and various restaurants on the property (including the delicious fine-dining restaurant, Shore), what really sets Santa Barbara apart is the ultra-private white sand beach and swimming area far from the buzz of town. With all of this at an arm’s length, you won’t want to leave the hotel.
Opened in 1949 and set in a restored mansion in the Pietermaai district, Avila Beach Hotel is the oldest hotel in Curaçao and has done an impeccable job blending its roots with touches of modern luxury. Each of the 150 rooms are modern, nautical, and airy, many with breathtaking ocean views. What Avila does especially well is manage to provide its elite clientele with an upscale experience while maintaining a laid-back, Caribbean atmosphere. The hotel has three restaurants and two bars on property, one being the famous Blue’s Bar & Restaurant, the popular Thursday night spot for live jazz elevated on a stage above the bar.
Where to Eat
Koko’s opened last year on the country's eastern Jan Thiel strip. Rustically chic and inviting, a visit to Koko’s for breakfast (try the fresh ginger juice or the fresh fruit served in a pineapple) will leave you wanting to stay at this bohemian paradise all day.
In the Pietermaai neighborhood, Kome is a favorite among locals serving an innovative take on local comfort food. While it’s one of the higher-end, and therefore, pricier restaurants in Curaçao, you’ll be pleased to find the atmosphere is surprisingly laid-back. As it’s across the street from Saint Tropez Ocean Club, stop there first for sunset cocktails then head to the popular Pietermaai strip for nightcaps after dinner.
Another local favorite set in a pretty courtyard and right across the street from Avila Beach Hotel is Mosa, which has a tapas style menu offering eclectic food from all over the world. Perfect for small bites and sharing plates amongst friends.
Where to Drink
While exploring the town of Otrabanda during the day, pop in to Netto Bar for a beer, a cigar or a shot of their mysterious Green Rum (you’re on vacation, live a little). Blend in with the locals in this charmingly gritty dive bar whose history lives quite literally on its walls.
A night out in Curaçao’s Pietermaai district is a must and wouldn’t be complete without a visit to our favorite spot, Mundo Bizarro, an inviting indoor-outdoor restaurant and bar with an eclectic ambiance. The warmth of the space makes you feel immediately at home among the antique furniture, cuban-inspired artwork and wide open doors and windows. On Saturdays, prepare for salsa dancing to live music by a local latin band.
Just down the road from Mundo Bizarro is Miles Jazz Café, another favorite among locals. Come here for a chill night to listen to jazz on vinyls while drinking from a large selection of local beers. Live jazz on Saturdays.
For the perfect day of drinking on the beach either on beds, cabanas or at communal picnic tables, Zest Beach Café is your spot. Located right on the Jan Thiel strip, you’ll be at the center of the action. And if you’re there on Friday, stay for the Lobster and Fish Fest that evening.
Right in Pietermaai, Saint Tropez Ocean Club is the idyllic spot for sunset cocktails (or a hotel stay in town). Straight out of a Slim Aaron’s photograph, Saint Tropez’s sleek, white design against the backdrop of the colorful rooftops and Caribbean water, there’s no chicer place to cap off your day in paradise. Order the rum and ginger beer spritz then walk to Nieuwestraat for a night of bar hopping.
On the Sea Aquarium Beach, you’ll find many fun beach clubs to visit. Our favorite is Cabana Beach. The 70’s music on full-blast and disco ball hanging from the beach canopy will set the tone for a fun beach day that will inevitably go into the night. (Wednesday nights are the rowdiest with their Nine dot Five party.)
What to Do
WEST SIDE BEACHES IN BANDA BOU:
If you want a break from the sceney beach clubs on the east side of the island, take a 30 minute drive down one long stretch of dusty road to the west side, Banda Bou where you’ll find a treasure trove of divine rustic beaches and the most turquoise water in Curaçao. Most are full-service with beach chairs, food, drinks and restrooms on-site. The beaches in Banda Bou also boast the best snorkeling and diving on the island. Some of our favorite beaches include: Grote Knip, Cas Abou, Porto Marie, Lagun and Karakter.
Spend a day getting lost in Curaçao’s capital, Willemstad, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Within the four historic districts (Punda, Pietermaai, Otrabanda and Scharloo) explore the old, colorful architecture, the floating market selling fresh fruit and Venezuelan delicacies, the abundance of shops and cafes and other historical landmarks like Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Punda, the oldest standing temple in America. Then take in the best view of Handelskade (pictured above) with a drink at Gouverneur in Otrabanda.
A DAY TRIP TO KLEIN CURAÇAO:
Before taking the 2-hour catamaran ride to Klein Curacao (we recommend Black & White), stop at local favorite, Panaderia Libanesa for made-to-order sandwiches served on freshly-made local bread. Board the catamaran at Jan Thiel and prepare for a fun-filled two-hour ride to the uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao on the southeast end of Curaçao. On board, you’ll enjoy an open bar, fresh fruit, a delicious grilled lunch and the company of a lively crew and a crowd of mostly Dutch residents and tourists. Upon arriving to Klein Curaçao, you’re met with transparent turquoise water and the famous Klein Curacao lighthouse in the distance, one of the only structures on the tiny stretch of white sand beach along with an old shipwreck on the other side of the tiny island. The water is so translucent making it a great spot for diving and snorkeling where you’re sure to see sea turtles, beautiful coral and underwater caves.
The beach is rustic, to be sure, with nothing but natural beauty at your fingertips so put your phone down (there’s no cell reception, after all) and enjoy a couple of hours to disconnect. You need it.