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Curaçao
Curaçao is a small island (around 170 square miles) located off the north coast of Venezuela. Culturally diverse, with influences from Europe and West Africa, Curaçao is home to approximately 150,000 residents. UNESCO has the recognized capital city, Willemstad, as a World Heritage Site, and the brightly colored buildings are one of the country's most recognizable features. Curaçao has three official languages: Dutch, Papiamentu, and English. Tourism is a key industry, and the island capitalizes on the concept of dushi, which means sweet, nice, or good.
Many tourists come to Curaçao for the small, secluded beaches. If you're looking to take part in local life, get to a beach on Sunday and join the Curaçaoans for a day of barbecues, socializing, and relaxation. The capital of Willemstad is an historically-significant city and a busy seaport. Learn more about the island and the region at the Curaçao Museum, and visit the Museum Kura Hulanda for information about the region's role in the slave trade. The main shopping area is in the Punda quarter, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its brightly colored buildings.
Although many international and vegetarian dishes are available in Curaçao, make sure you don't miss out on traditional fare. You might want to start with keshi yena (stuffed cheese), a savory dish prepared with spiced meat which is so popular that some claim it is the national dish. Other local dishes include red snapper or cod with rice and beans, funchi (a cornmeal mush similar to polenta), cactus—either fried or in soup—and stewed plantains. Okra soup and iguana stew are also specialties on the island, so be sure to come hungry.
With influences from the indigenous Arawak, Europeans, West Africans, and Latin Americans, Curaçao has a fascinating culture. There are three official languages, but Papiamentu, a Creole dialect, is spoken most widely in daily life. Many foods are imported to Curaçao, and prepared alongside the typical Caribbean ingredients of goat, plantain, sea food, and fruit. Similarly, the art and music of the region is simultaneously local and international. People are welcoming, and the concept of dushi (sweet or nice) is both a tourist draw and a way of life.
Most shopping on Curaçao takes place outdoors—and rightfully so. With its temperate climate, ocean breezes, and infrequent rain, island life tends to take place in the open air. For the freshest of fresh fish and vegetables, head to the Floating Market in Punda, where boats dock with wares from Venezuela. Curaçao Beach Boulevard near Mambo Beach is a new family-friendly beachfront shopping, dining, and recreation area. For something a bit more local, head over to the area near Jan Thiel Beach. A smaller district, many of the shops are locally owned and operated here.
Curaçao's climate is tropical, with a short and unpredictable rainy season between October and February. High season is December through April, and no visas are required for entry. Taxis are easy to flag at the Hato International Airport in Willemstad and in other popular locations but must be pre-arranged by a hotel or other business for more remote areas. Most visitors rent a car. The local currency is the guilder but most places accept U.S. dollars and credit cards. Tipping is 15–20% and American appliances will work on the island without an adapter.
Ashley Castle AFAR Contributor