Beyond the Beach: The 9 Best Things to Do in Curaçao

Reach beyond the beach and soak up local food, art, culture, and more.

The 8 Best Things to Do in Curaçao

You’ll feel transported to the Netherlands on a walk through Curaçao’s capital city of Willemstad.

Photo by fokke baarssen/Shutterstock

Welcome to Curaçao—or, as local residents say, Bon Bini. On this Southern Caribbean island, sunny skies and blue waters abound, and as one of the western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles, Curaçao offers balmy temperatures year-round (between the mid-70s and mid-80s Fahrenheit) and has very few hurricanes.

It’s a beach lover’s dream, with some 38 beaches to choose from. At these sandy spots, visitors can couple a lazy few hours with a range of other activities, including snorkeling, cliff jumping, and cave swimming. But there’s more to experience in Curaçao than warm weather and beaches—taking a deeper dive into history rooted in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, for example, or sampling local food while roaming the captivating capital city, Willemstad. Here are the best things to do in Curaçao, including art, culture, and outdoor activities.

Vibrant historic buildings line the waterfront on the Punda side of Queen Emma Bridge.

Vibrant historic buildings line the waterfront on the Punda side of Queen Emma Bridge.

Photo by Z. Jacobs/Shutterstock

1. Take a stroll on Queen Emma Bridge, overlooking Handelskade

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.

Learn to bake traditional Afro-Curaçaoan bread at the Kas di Pal’I Maishi museum.

Learn to bake traditional Afro-Curaçaoan bread at the Kas di Pal’I Maishi museum.

Photo by Simone’s Kitchen/Curaçao Tourist Board

2. See how Afro Curaçaoan people once lived, and break bread at Kas di Pal’I Maishi

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 Indigenous people. Most Curaçaoans, however, are the descendants of enslaved Africans, and that oft-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.
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 Será, a round bread that Afro Curaçaoans have baked for generations in an outdoor stone oven, long before there was a bakery on the island.

Colorful murals in Curaçao’s Otrobanda neighborhood

Curaçao’s Otrobanda neighborhood is full of colorful street art.

Courtesy of Curaçao Tourist Board

3. Discover street art with Art Now Tours

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 ($15 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 popular—and peruse the haggle-friendly shops for jewelry, crafts, and other locally made products. Additional tours explore the art scene in Otrobanda and Scharloo.

The Kurá Hulanda Museum houses the Caribbean’s largest collection of African artifacts.

Located on a former slave yard, the Kurá Hulanda Museum houses the Caribbean’s largest collection of African artifacts.

Courtesy of Curaçao Tourist Board

4. Get a history lesson at Kurá Hulanda Museum

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 Museum, 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 Caribbean. Take a reflective walk through the outdoor sculpture garden, home to friendly island cats and a breathtaking bronze sculpture that from one side shows a woman’s face and from the other the continent of Africa.

5. Salute to a hometown hero at the Tula Monument

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 more than a month, and thousands of enslaved people were liberated. After his capture, however, Tula was executed on October 3, 1795 on the south coast of the island in Otrobanda. That historic quarter of Willemstad is where you’ll find a monument honoring this freedom fighter.

Dinah Veeris looks at the herbs in her garden.

Explore more than 300 species of healing plants at the Dinah Veeris Herb Garden.

Courtesy of Curaçao Tourist Board

6. Find natural remedies at Dinah Veeris Herb Garden

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, which have more than 300 species of plants. Veeris 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.

7. Eat like a local at Marshe Bieu

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.

You can eat well across Curaçao, whether you’re in the mood for grilled chicken, red snapper, or green rum. Other dishes not to miss include goat burger, keshi yena (stuffed cheese), and frites canard (fried cornmeal with duck confit).

For an authentic souvenir, pick up a Chichi sculpture at Serena’s Art Factory.

For an authentic souvenir, pick up a Chichi sculpture at Serena’s Art Factory.

Courtesy of Serena’s Art Factory

8. Pick up a parting gift at Serena’s Art Factory

In Papiamento, “chichi” is a nickname for an older sister, and the curvy and colorful figurine of the same name represents Caribbean 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.

9. Explore Christoffel National Park

Curaçao’s largest national park is home to 263 bird species, nine species of reptiles, and a host of mammals including deer, rabbits, and bats. You’ll also find the Savonet Museum, on the site of a 19th-century plantation house, which tells the story of the period of slavery, its abolishment, and the country’s independence in 2010.

This article originally appeared in July 2021 and was updated in February 2024 with new information.

Tracy E. Hopkins is a travel and culture writer.
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