Photo by Z. Jacobs/Shutterstock
Photo by fokke baarssen/Shutterstock
You’ll feel transported to the Netherlands on a walk through Curaçao’s capital city of Willemstad.
Reach beyond the beach and soak up local food, art, culture, and more.
Welcome to Curaçao—or, as local residents say, “Bon Bini.” On this southern Caribbean island, sunny skies and azure blue waters abound, and as one of these western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles, Curaçao offers balmy temperatures year round and very few hurricanes.
But there’s more to experience in Curaçao than satisfying weather—from taking a deeper dive into history rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to sampling local food while roaming the captivating capital city, Willemstad. From art and culture to outdoor activities, here are the best things to do in Curaçao to experience all it has to offer.
Named in 1888 after a Dutch queen and affectionately called the “Swinging Old Lady,” the floating Queen Emma Bridge swings open to let ships into the St. Anna Bay, and connects Willemstad’s two districts, Punda and Otrobanda (“other side”). On the Punda side, you are greeted by Handelskade, a row of historic buildings on the waterfront painted in vibrant colors.
Curaçao is a multi-ethnic Dutch colony with a population of about 150,000 people who speak Papiamento, a Creole language that blends Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and English, as well as dialects from Africa and the Arawak indigeneous people. Most Curaçaoans, however, are the descendants of enslaved Africans, and that often overlooked legacy is preserved at Kas di Pal’I Maishi, a traditional adobe house that typifies how Black people lived in rural Curaçao until 1950.
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This arid, cacti-lined area is especially hot, so wear sunscreen and protective clothing. A guide explains how slavery shaped the island and gives a tour of the small house, transformed into a museum displaying common household artifacts, such as dolls, clothing, and cooking utensils. For an even more immersive experience, sign up for a workshop to make Pan Sera, a round bread that Afro-Curaçaoans have baked for generations in an outdoor stone oven long before there was a bakery on the island.
Take an urban art-filled excursion in Willemstad with Art Now Tours, founded by local artist Avantia Damberg. On the popular two-hour Punda Art Walk tour (Saturdays, 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm; $10 per adult), you will meet local artists and designers, get the inside scoop on the neighborhood’s eye-catching street art—the Punda Wings mural is a favorite—and peruse the haggle-friendly shops for jewelry, crafts, and other locally made products. Additional tours explore the art scene in Otrobanda and Scharloo.
This anthropological museum sits on the site of a former slave yard and merchant’s home—and boasts the largest collection of African artifacts in the Caribbean. At Kurá Hulanda, you’ll get a comprehensive overview of the proud legacy of West African kingdoms, the harrowing Middle Passage, and the brutality of the trans-Altantic slave trade in the African Diaspora, which included the Americas and the Carribbean. Take a reflective walk through the outdoor sculpture garden, home to friendly island cats and a breathtaking bronze sculpture that shows a woman’s face from one side, and the continent of Africa from the other.
In August of 1795, a Black man named Tula led a rebellion with his fellow enslaved people on the island. In response to their inhumane treatment by Dutch slave owners, Tula declared, “We have been tortured enough. We don’t want to harm anybody. We do want our freedom.” The bloody revolt lasted for over a month, and thousands of enslaved people were liberated. After his capture, however, Tula was executed on October 3, 1795 at the Reef on the south coast of the island in Otrobanda. That’s where you’ll find a monument honoring this freedom fighter.
Dinah Veeris is Curaçao’s herb lady, and locals and tourists flock to her shop for holistic health advice and immunity-boosting teas and tonics. Guests are invited to explore her tranquil garden grounds with more than 300 species of plants. Veeris, a striking older woman who wears a regal head wrap, calls her garden Den Paradera (“the place where you feel at home”) after the Paraguiri Indians, who at one time grew healing herbs on the east side of the island.
Known as the Old Market, this enclosed open-air food court in Punda houses several vendors serving authentic and affordable Curaçaoan cuisine. Sharing plates of freshly prepared fish, chicken, and vegetables served family style with heaping sides of rice, salad, and plantains at tidy, communal picnic tables is part of the charm, but you can also take the flavorful grub to go.
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In Papiamento, “chichi” is a nickname for an older sister, and this curvy and colorful figurine represents Carribean queens well. The first Chichi sculpture was created by German artist Serena Israel, owner of Serena’s Art Factory. For a memorable souvenir, pick up a handmade chichi in the size and pattern of your choice, hand painted by one of Serena’s artists or take a workshop and design your own cheeky chichi.
>>Next: The AFAR Guide to Curaçao
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