What is this?
As I am always asked for tips on doing stuff in Curaçao, I thought I would write them down here.
Geography and Weather
Curacao is a very small island. It’s about 40 miles long and about 5 miles wide. It’s as if you cut off Cape Cod at the Canal and straightened it out. However the roads are not as good. Still, the longest drive you can make without doubling back is around 45 minutes.
It’s basically tropical. Or desert. It’s always around 80 degrees and with a good breeze. In the “summer” there’s almost never rain, sunny, blue skies every day. In the “winter” it might rain a little more.
If you wear shorts, bring multiple sets. I wear only shorts almost all the time. No need for a sweater of any kind.
Bring sunglasses, a hat, and suntan lotion
Driving is pretty easy. Google maps will work, better still if you download the maps so you don’t need to use your data plan. Driving is on the right, just like the USA. However the signs will not all be familiar, but common sense. Yes people drive a little crazy but really not more than Boston.
Restaurants here are 1) expensive and 2) have kind of slow service. Those are generalizations but it’s good to set expectations. That way you won’t be surprised.
Everything you eat here, almost, has to be imported, by plane or containership. Also it’s a tourist destination which also add to the costs.
Overall the food will be familiar to you. You will have no trouble with the menus. Many of them are in Dutch, but almost all of them will have an English menu if you ask.
You will see standard “American” food, or “French” food. You will also see Indonesian (because Indonesia, like Curaçao used to be a colony of the Netherlands.) Also a lot of “Dutch” food.
- Kome: A favorite “nice” restaurant. It would feel at home in Boston.
- Sambal: A nice, outdoors, Indonesian restaurant. Different days of the week have different special menus. Rijstafel is the classic.
- The Grill: Outdoors, informal, decent and good for kids.
- Omundo: Near Sambal. Slightly fancier, and not outdoors. General purpose modern cuisine
- El Grill: Outdoors casual restaurant near the very nice BLVD shopping and restaurant area
- Green House: Another outdoor casual restaurant along BLVD.
- Scuba Lodge: Fantastic spot right on the water, in Pietermaai district. I especially recommend the Sate Special on Sunday Night (of course check yourself, because that schedule may change.)
Must See Site Seeing
- Snoa – Mikve Israel Emmanuel Synagogue. One of the top tourist sights. The home of the Curaçao Sephardic Jewish Community. The building has existed for something like 350 years, and the community itself is older. Happens to be where I had my Bar Mitzvah. There’s a great Jewish Museum there too.
- West Punt – The town at the western most tip of the Island. From Willemstad it’s about a 40 minute drive depending on traffic. It’s only about 30 miles, and a lot of the time is spent getting through the outskirts of Willemstad.
- Boca Tabla – On the way to West Punt. A view of the northern coast of Curaçao, where the ocean is always very very rough. There are no beaches and the coast is very rocky. At Boca Tabla you can walk right up to the edge. It’s safe but exciting. There’s also a small seawater grotto/cave that’s very interesting.
Other places to go
These are not “sight seeing” necessarily, they include destinations that might have a bunch of good restaurants together, or a fun thing to do, or stuff to look at. I list “beaches” separately.
- Zuikertuintje – A small local shopping district or small mall. A nice Bookstore (mostly Dutch and Papiamentu and local books, some English.) Also home of the Omundo and Sambal Restaurants
- Lion’s Dive/BLVD/Mambo beach area: Not a sight seeing place, but really lively area along one Long Beach. It has many many restaurants, multiple places to swim, several hotels. Fun for a visit, maybe to swim, or maybe for a meal.
- Seaquarium – This is a very nice, tropical version of a Seaquarium. Lots to see (fish tanks, lobsters, flamingos, sharks) and also Dolphin and Sea lion shows.
- “Punda” – The eastern “half” of Willemstad, with shops and restaurants. Lately has gotten a little seedy in places but definitely worth a visit. Dutch architectural features on many of buildings, from the 18th and 19th century.
- “Otrabanda” – The western “half” of Willemstad. Along the water there are fun restaurants and in particular, see “Rif Fort” below.
- “PieterMaai” – A really lively district right along the water in the outskirts of Punda with restaurants, small beaches, boutique hotels. All walkable to the center of Willemstad.
- “Fort Beekenburg” – An old fort that is very interesting and relatively close to things. A lot of stairs but easily accessible, once you find your way over to it. Even once it is in sight it is a little tricky to navigate the car up to the entrance area.
- “Rif Fort” – An old fort turned into cozy shopping and restaurant area.
Not as good as they sound
- Zoo or Botanical Garden: This was very nice when I was a kid but it has gotten super run down. Very sorry to see this happen. There seem to be a move afoot to improve it.
- Ostrich Farm: Not at all like a safari which is what the ads claim.
- Janchi (or Jan Kristian) restaurant: Back in the old days, this was an excellent “typical Curaçao” restaurant. But in my biased opinion it’s nothing special now, a little seedy, food is so-so.
Everyone in Curaçao accepts US dollars. The local currency is “guilders”, abbreviated as NAf (Netherlands Antilles Florin). The exchange rate is NAf 1.75 / 1 US$. You will very rarely find a merchant who tries to apply a different rate, but really it is near universal so it would be appropriate to protest. Also there are ATMs everywhere, but beware that many US Debit Cards will charge a fee (sometimes as much as 5%) on transactions outside of the US.