I’ve traveled to the Caribbean for all kinds of reasons—family vacations, cruises, bachelorette weekends, dive trips, you name it. And after nearly a decade as a scuba diver, I knew I was overdue to visit Curaçao, whose brilliantly clear waters make for stellar diving experiences.
This October, I made it! During a blissful five-day getaway with my husband, I witnessed plenty of fascinating underwater life. But we also discovered a welcoming melting pot with plenty to offer adventurers like us along with history buffs, foodies, and those who want to soak up the local culture and easy-breezy pace.
Take a lesson from me: drop everything and visit Curaçao the first chance you get. Here’s why.
The weather. Autumn marks the height of hurricane season for many Central American destinations and Caribbean isles. But rarely does Curaçao get touched, thanks to its location just outside the hurricane belt. (During recent Hurricane Matthew, the island only received a series of strong waves.) The desert climate, punctuated with dry heat during the day and a welcoming, gentle breeze at night, makes it pleasant to visit year round.
The lack of crowds. Curaçao’s positioning to the far south of the Caribbean (just north of Venezuela) translates to limited cruise ships—no more than four a week. Compare that to more easily accessible islands up north that may be overrun with four shiploads of visitors in a single day. As a result, the waterfront hasn’t been built up to the point of resembling a theme park, downtown Willemstad isn’t overcrowded, and neither are the island’s 35 sandy beaches. Instead, you have the space to explore and immerse yourself in Curaçao’s blend of cultures, present in everything from the architecture to the native language, Papiamentu. You can mingle with artists who stretch out along the Otrobanda side of the bay just before Rif Fort and barter with the fish and produce vendors at the floating market of Punda.
The artisans. As if the candy-colored homes of Willemstad weren’t enough to please the eye, artist Garrick Marchena has created a series of haunting angel installations throughout the historic town. Nearby, Serena’s Art Factory is filled with local women who paint ceramic Chichi dolls, while down the road Dinah Veeris tends a thriving garden full of tropical plants and medicinal herbs that she uses to make herbal lotions, oils, and other bath products. And at Landhuis Chobolobo, a 19th-century mansion that’s now the workplace of Genuine Curaçao Liqueur, a small team uses the native laraha orange to produce the island’s famed triple sec liquor, as well as colorful products such as Alcolado Glacial, a bright green cooling lotion, and tamarind and coffee liqueurs.Kristin Luna
The diverse food scene. Curaçao is a real feast for the senses. Its Dutch influence, for starters, means European-owned restaurants are common. At Cabana Beach, a sprawling outdoor entertainment venue, Italian fare like gnocchi and carbonara are house favorites, and gourmet pizzas round out the menu. Ginger, meanwhile, fuses Caribbean ingredients with Indian flavors in highly satisfying ways. Craving farm-to-table? Hofi Cas Cora serves a lavish brunch spread in a scenic ranch setting on weekends. And for a local spin on fast-casual dining, head to Plasa Bieu, an open-air food hall where vendors cook up specialties like goat, iguana stew, and pumpkin pancakes, or Sea Side Terrace, a converted beachfront shipping container that serves fresh catches of the day like red snapper or Mahi Mahi.
The marine life. The sparkling blue seas surrounding Curaçao offer fantastic visibility and support a healthy reef teeming with fish, large and small. In short, this is a scuba diver’s paradise. Whatever your skill level, Ocean Encounters will oblige: it sends out boats for experienced divers and certifies newbies. It also provides courses for lionfish culling to help cleanse the area of the invasive predator; opportunities for wildlife enthusiasts to feed sharks and turtles; and open water dives in an enclosed lagoon alongside dolphins. The company even participates in a coral restoration project to repopulate elkhorn and staghorn coral. Inspired visitors are welcome to help out with their efforts at the coral nursery. If you prefer a more leisurely water sport, Aquafari’s sub-propeller submersible scooters are the perfect way to see below the surface without exerting too much effort.Kristin Luna
© 2017 AFAR Media