The charms of Dutch Colonial Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its rainbow palette of gabled buildings accented with louvered shutters and white gingerbread trim, never lose their appeal. The winding cobblestone streets and alleyways of this 17th century city, located on Santa Anna Bay, are crowded with art galleries, restaurants, shops and little plazas shaded by acacia trees.
Enjoy a scoop of Lover’s, a super creamy island made ice cream or a slice of Dutch Apple Cake at the Iguana Café while watching the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge swing open and close letting walkers cross between Punda and Otrabanda districts of the city.
Stroll to the Floating Market, a Curacao tradition where boats from Venezuela, 38 miles away, tie up in early morning along the quay, displaying their wares of brilliantly colored fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers, mounds of glistening fish and such Caribbean specialties as tamarind candies and sugar cane. Take in the smells — and if you’re hungry, the tastes — of the foods cooked by vendors along the docks. Pause in Jo Jo Correa, a lovely plaza just across the street where artisans sell their wares.
The eight forts still standing on Curacao reflect the island’s need for security through the centuries. Waterfort, originally built in 1634 and replaced some two hundred years later and 182-year old Rif Fort, with its long terrace running parallel to the water, now house restaurants and shops and is adjacent to the spectacular new Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino.
Need a place to stay? The historic ocean front Sirena Bay Estate which dates back to the 1700s was where Emily Maynard spent nine days pondering who to give a rose in last year’s finale of The Bachelorette and is available for weekly rentals.
But no matter the allures of Willemstad, there is more to Curacao than just this jewel of a Caribbean city. Stretch out in the sun on one of the islands 38 pristine beaches. Don snorkels or dive suits and explore the myriad of dive spots including the 12.5 mile National Curacao Underwater Park and such favorite sites as the sunken Tugboat, the Mushroom Forest, considered a top dive because of its coral formations and even the remains of a wrecked plane.
Hop on a charter boat or rent a catamaran and sail through turquoise waters. Swim with the dolphins at the Dolphin Academy and visit the Curacao Sea Aquarium where, if you’re feeling very brave, there’s snorkeling with sharks and sting rays.
Head west to Christoffel Park, traveling along the coastline through the wild and rugged outcroppings of rock where delicate orchids peek from tiny crevices and flowering cacti and twisted divi divi trees are part of the arid landscape known as kunuku.
Whether it’s a milestone birthday, a big life changing event or recovering from an illness, many islanders prove to themselves and the world that they are back in the game by trekking to the top of Curacao’s highest point, the 1237-foot Cristoffel Mountain. But you don’t need a reason to enjoy the climb or the park’s wild life such as blue iguana (get over it, they’re all over the island), the rare Curacao white tailed deer said to have been imported from South American some 500 years ago, brightly colored birds and even an occasional donkey or two.
Not up for a mountain climb? You can also tour the park on horseback, rent a mountain bike or take a Jeep tour. The park is also crisscrossed with hiking trails geared towards all abilities from the challenging Orchid Route to an easy meander that leads to the magnificent Landhuis Savonet.
Built in 1662, burned by the British almost 150 years later and then rebuilt shortly after, Landhuis Savonet is one of the oldest of Curacao’s 55 remaining landhuizen or plantation houses. Situated at the park’s entrance, the fabulously restored landhuis now houses the Museum of Natural and Cultural History known for its state of the art exhibits.
Head to the charming village of Westpunt nestled atop a ridge at the western point of the island. Try the fried iguana — an island specialty — at Jaanchies in Westpunt, a family run business which opened 75 years ago. Or order pizza fired in a wood burning stove using island woods and topped with locally sourced toppings at Sol Food.
Check out two unique Westpunt’s beaches — Playa Santu Pretu and Playa Forti tucked away in secluded coves and famed for their black sand made from surf pounded volcanic beach stone.
On the way back, take a turn to visit the gallery of artist Serena Israel who creates vividly painted and voluptuously shaped figurines called Chichis, the island name for eldest daughter or sister. Visitors to Serena’s Art Factory, her studio in Santa Caterina near the Curacao Ostrich Farm, can paint their own Chichis during a two-hour workshop that Israel offers. The less artistically inclined can buy one of these hand-painted and individually designed ladies.
Be sure to visit Den Paradera, the magical botanic and historic gardens tended by famed herbalist Dinah Veeris. Take a guided tour through the Curacao Ostrich Farm and try an ostrich steak with garlic mayonnaise and an African milk tart at the farm’s Zambezi Restaurant which specializes in African cuisine.
And remember, there’s never enough time to do it all in Curacao so plan on coming back soon.