Curaçao: 5 Days, 5 Ways

February 1, 2018

Originally written for Mélange Travel & Lifestyle Magazine. Re-printed with permission.

Curaçao. The word had only come to my ears once as a child when my mom mentioned something about the ABC islands. Other than that, I knew nothing of the place. So, when work called one day and said I’d have to cover some flights there for 10 days, I leaped in the air with excitement at the prospect of going somewhere different, not necessarily to Curaçao.

It turns out there was plenty to leap about. Curaçao reminds me one of those multi-coloured quilts of a million different hues and patterns: it’s a cultural patchwork of varying skin shades, diverse languages, and titillating sights and sounds destined to enrapture the curious tourist. Discovering this early in my stay, I packed my days with as much sightseeing and entertainment (oh yeah, and some work too!) as possible. Here are my 10 days of gallivanting shrunk into a 5-day to-do guide for the soon-to-be Curacao lover:

Day 1: Island Tour

The Genuine Curaçao Liqueur factory, home of Blue Curaçao (Photo: David Turner)

This is a nice way to get around and see different parts of the island. My tour people picked me up in front of my hotel in an air-conditioned bus. There weren’t too many people on the bus so it was a bit like a private tour. My tour guide was quite knowledgeable and in the casual conversations between site visits, revealed that she spoke close to 5 languages and that her young daughter was following in her footsteps. Apparently this isn’t uncommon for the average Curaçao native, who primarily speaks Dutch and Papiamento (a Dutch-based Creole spoken in the Dutch islands). The presence of tourism makes English important from an early age and immigration from nearby countries introduces Spanish, French and Portuguese. Enter the “cultural patchwork” reference from before!

Back to the tour: we visited several historical and cultural sites like The Genuine Curaçao Liqueur factory, where a walk through the history and production process of this 121-year old spirit ended with a sampling of its  different flavours. We cooled off at a quick beach stop and for lunch delighted in (later on, it wasn’t so delightful for me!) the sampling of some iguana meat. And yes, it tasted like chicken!

Day 2: Beach Day/Dancing at Night

Mambo Beach is always lively! (Photo: Robert Walker)

Day 1 as a full time island-trotter means you deserve a break! You can’t come to Curaçao without having a beach day, so here it is, with a twist: today, it’s Mambo Beach, with the usual pearly-white sand, gentle blue waters, and…..topless bathers? Yes, that’s right. I remember passing a lady reclining in a beach chair casually flipping through a magazine while the sun bronzed her bare breasts. My first thought was “she must be European”, remembering their notoriously laid-back attitudes about beach attire. What for me would be a very anxious undertaking was totally normal for her!

Refresh yourself with a quick dip and then it’s back to the club on Mambo Beach for a night of Latin dancing. On my night there, high energy filled the open-air space with swivelling bodies, flowing drinks, and salsa rhythms that grabbed even non-dancers out of their seats. My fellow pilots and I revelled in the colourful blur of spinning dresses fanned by pleasant night breezes, silently wishing we could join in the action.

Day 3: Shopping in Punda and the Duty Free Zone

The scenic shopping district of Punda  (Photo: Marcela Correa)

Ladies, this is your day: SHOPPING!! And boy, is there great shopping in Curaçao! Luckily I was staying in Otrobanda, one half of the city of Willemstad (the island’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage site). All I had to do was cross the Queen Emma swinging bridge to find myself in the shopping mecca of Punda, the other half of Willemstad. Behind a line of towering pastel-coloured buildings reminiscent of old European architecture are tons of small bustling shoe and clothing stores. My eyes opened wide in anticipation at the prospect of a monumental retail adventure! I remember summoning the Venezuelan salesgirl and telling her to follow me around her crowded store as I grabbed outfit after outfit and then sent her to claim a change room for me, all the  while trying on endless shoes, of course!

The next road over teemed with a rainbow of souvenir and duty-free shops selling everything from keychains to perfume to miniature bottles of The Genuine Curaçao Liqueur, a product of the island. On another day, we ventured into the duty-free zone, where vendors purchase clothes and other goods in large quantities to be sold in shops overseas. It was quite the shopping experience: my fellow pilots who had initially laughed at me for bringing such a large suitcase ended up having to buy an additional one to hold all their purchases!

Day 4: Day in Otrobanda

Gouverneur de Rouville Restaurant and Café in Otrobanda offers local, Caribbean, and international fare (Photo: Rodrigo Mosto)

Today we check out the action centre of Otrobanda, and this day I was again thankful for the company’s decision to put me there. There is so much to do and it was all within a 10 minute walk of my hotel! Art galleries featuring everything from custom-made sandals to digitally-reproduced pieces dot the city on both sides of the Queen Emma Bridge. More a museum lover, my love of history led me to check out the Money Museum Yotin Kortá, an exploration of the currencies used in Dutch Caribbean history, and Museum Kurá Hulanda (Papiamentu for “Dutch courtyard”: it sits on the grounds of a former merchant’s home and slave yard), home to the largest collection of Atlantic slave trade artifacts in the Caribbean. For the gamers, there are casinos on the ground floor of most of the hotels in the area, and what’s a big win without good food and drinks to match? Night time was prime time, as the neighbouring restaurants and bars literally burst alive after sunset. Rock and pop music wove its way through the blackness to mingle with cheery voices and the clinking of glasses. The relaxed, casual vibe enticed me to sample a few spots before settling on my favourite.

Day 5: Day trip off-island

Up close and personal with marine life on the Sea Trek in Aruba! (Photo: De Palm Tours Aruba)

To be able to say you’ve visited the ABC islands, you must touch the “A” and “B”, Aruba and Bonaire. A short flight away, these smaller but equally idyllic corners of paradise tell a slightly different version of the Dutch Caribbean story. My initial thought was that they were quieter and more laid-back than Curaçao, but with an abundance of eco-tours, water activities, historic sites, and cultural events, there’s no time to relax (unless you really want to!). Need ideas? Here are some off-the-beaten-path ones: gear up in a specially-designed helmet and stroll a walkway 20 feet below the water while rubbing noses with brilliantly coloured marine life in Aruba, or go snorkelling in combination fresh/salt water in the dark and deep of one of Bonaire’s 400 caves. #ExcuseToExtendTheDayTrip!

So ended my Curaçao adventure, and my only regret was that my company couldn’t extend my stay. There was so much to do and still much more to discover! What started out as a unique step away from my usual (English-speaking) Caribbean foray transformed itself into a warm, smiling invitation to come back again!

Historic salt ponds near Jan Kok Plantation  attract flamingos (Photo: Nancy Duemling)

Live entertainment at Mambo Beach (Photo: Isai Reiziger)

 

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