Curacao is by far our favorite island, due to 7 great reasons to choose a Curacao vacation. Curacao offers a gorgeous Caribbean setting with breathtaking sights. We’ve been to many Caribbean islands and traveled extensively. Curacao is our top choice because of its diversity in geology, people, culture, beaches, food, and the sea with wonderful snorkel and dive sites.
Curacao is a great place for people who like variety, lots of activities, and also for those who prefer to relax on gorgeous beaches. There are so many things to do in Curacao, including many free things to do.
Curacao’s main town, Willemstad, is an UNESCO world heritage site. It’s so cute, and filled with waterside restaurants. Curacao has many museums, and rich history crossing many cultures, maritime history, gorgeous natural environments, beautiful birds, and fish life.
Here are 7 great reasons to choose a Curacao vacation:
Diverse beautiful environments
Curacao is naturally arid, like the US southwestern desert areas with flora to match; there are lots of cactus. It is also humid and sometimes rains at night, so the flowers are beautiful, and flowers and palms planted by the resorts are thriving. Whether you prefer land or sea environments, beauty abounds throughout Curacao.
Lovely Curacao is fortunate enough to be south of the hurricane belt in the Caribbean, so weather-related trip interruptions are extremely rare. Year-round the air and water temperatures are very consistent with mostly sunny days ranging from 75-86 F and continuous trade winds that keep the island comfortable 11 months of the year.
With 60 beaches, some private, and many public, you can choose the type of beach you prefer or try different beaches each day. Beaches range in size from cute sandy coves, like Playa Jeremi, to large commercial beaches, like Mambo Beach, also known as Sea Aquarium Beach. There are gorgeous white sand beaches like Cas Abou and Grand Knip, and coral beaches like Playa Kalki, and Playa Piscado.
Some beaches have free entry, and others charge entrance fees. All beaches charge for chair rental. You can snorkel or dive at most beaches.
All of the beaches look out on the gorgeous aqua blue water of the Caribbean. I think the most beautiful beaches are Grand Knip, Cas Abou, Porto Marie, and Blue Bay. The fun – happening beach, offering the most services, is Mambo Beach. No matter your favorite beach activities, there is a beach on Curacao that matches your preferences.
Oh that gorgeous aqua blue sea – it’s a picture of perfection, and definitely one of the 7 great reasons to choose a Curacao vacation! Curacao offers so many choices of things for visitors to do on the water and in or under the water, both free and for a fee. Choose from:
- Paddle boarding
- Kite boarding
- Sailing – Day or evening cruising
- Scuba diving and snorkeling
Snorkeling is fantastic in the clear aqua waters of Curacao. My favorite spots include:
- Playa Grandi (also called Playa Piscado or Fisherman’s beach). Swimming with the turtles in the wild is the draw. While here, don’t miss the best snorkeling on the island for fish varieties because you are following the turtles the whole time. In order to see what I am referring to, swim to the left side of the dock (as you face the water) and along the shore as far east as you are comfortable swimming to see the amazing varieties of fish hanging out along the rocks.
- Playa Lagun, where a school of squid sometimes hangout near shore or out past the bay rock walls, watch the schools of fish that create fish balls while attempting to escape predators.
- At Playa Kalki, I have seen schools of squid and an octopus while snorkeling. There are many fish varieties here, especially swimming away from the beach and toward the east.
- Cas Abou, Tugboat, and Blue Bay are also great snorkel spots.
To the west to visit the Blue Room, and Playa Grandi (or Turtle Beach), and other western spots. There are so many snorkel spots that we have not tried, so let us know about your favorites in the comments below.
Curaçao is rated in the top 25 places in the world to dive. In 2015, National Geographic claimed that “Curacao has one of the healthiest coral reefs in the Caribbean.” The island’s dive sites are protected from strong currents, have excellent visibility, and the waters are generally warm year-round. Along the southwest side of the island, you’ll find a fringing reef extending the length of the island. Curaçao offers more than 70 dive sites in 40 areas. Most sites are accessible from shore with easy entry.
Curaçao has a few special dive spots that require a boat ride. A short boat trip from Playa Kalki is my favorite site, Watamula, which is rated as one of the best dives in the Caribbean. You’ll also find a top 10 Caribbean wreck dive in Curacao – Superior Producer, which can be accessed by boat with Ocean Encounters or on a difficult shore entry when there are no cruise ships in port. Eastpunt is a fantastic boat drift dive, also offered by Ocean Encounters. My favorite shore dives include Blue Bay, Cas Abou, and Playa Grandi with the turtles. There are so many that we haven’t tried even though we have been to Curacao 10 times.
Underwater there’s so much to see – pristine hard corals, fields of colorful soft corals swaying in the current, and many varieties of fish. We often see schools of fish, giant sponges, squid, puffers, and sea horses. In July at Watamula, we were in the water with a pod of pilot whales – that was a first!
Special Sea Experiences
Sea Aquarium at the far east-end of Mambo Beach has been wowing visitors for 30 years with its natural marine habitats, open-water system and natural sunlight where the animals live and perform. In the lagoons are dolphins, sea lions, sharks, rays, and turtles.
Substation Curacao is a mini-submarine that can take up to 5 tourists to ocean depths of 1000 feet; depths that divers cannot reach. This makes it possible for people who can’t or won’t scuba dive to see the ocean’s underwater beauty up close.
Or go Lion Fishing with Ocean Encounters. They are located at Lions Dive by Sea Aquarium.
While people often associate islands with beaches, Curacao has mountains too. If you prefer cultural, hiking or biking, golf or even shopping activities, there’s plenty of choices. It’s easy to drive in Curacao and renting a car is the best option, as taxis and excursions are expensive.
Visit Christoffel National Park to hike Christoffel Mountain and see the flora and local birds; stand at the island’s highest point and take in the gorgeous 360 degree view.
Visit the Savonet Museum in the park; it’s a restored historic Landhuis where you can learn about the area’s history, first peoples, and people who lived on Curacao through time.
Just west of Christoffel is Shete-Boka, on the north side of the island, where you can experience the waves pounding on coral rock formations, and exploding in bursts into the air as they hit land. It’s spectacular. Check out the video – Shete-Boka also has hiking trails, and a cave.
Explore the Hato Caves near the airport in Willemstad. When slaves escaped, they hid in these caves and lived for a month at a time. The Indians used them for shelter. You’ll find 1500 year old petroglyphs here. A very interesting and low cost excursion.
Other land activities include mountain biking, cycling, ATV tours, and golf.
Culture and the City
Curacao is a culturally vibrant island, and a melting pot with the majority being Afro-Caribbean people who have shaped much of the traditions of Curacao. As part of the Nether Antilles, the Dutch have influenced the development of Curacao.
The Otrobanda side of the picturesque main town of Willemstad is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Colorful Curacaon Baroque-style architecture is customary in Otrobanda Mansions. On the Punda side of town, adorning the shore of the Santa Anna Bay and creating a picture-perfect setting are the bright Caribbean-colored buildings. Connecting Otrobanda and Punda is the famous Queen Emma Bridge; it is the only bridge of its kind – a floating pontoon bridge that requires a captain to open the bridge. When visiting Curacao, it’s a must to visit downtown Willemstad and walk across the floating Queen Emma bridge – it is colorfully lit at night.
Charming Punda is filled with shops and outdoor cafes with pedestrian-only walkways. There are galleries showing and selling local artists works, like that of Nena Sanchez and Serena’s ChiChi Dolls. If you want to take home something to remind of the island, artwork from either of these galleries is very affordable and will always prompt a smile.
For a cultural experience that includes the truly local Afro-Caribbean food, don’t miss the Old Market or Ronde Mrkt. I recommend eating lunch here. At Ronde Mrkt, there are also various homemade products sold by local vendors. Be aware that souvenirs are likely all imports.
Kura Hulanda Museum in Otrobanda – This Anthropological Museum is focused on the slave trade. It tells the story of and shows artifacts from the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, from African slave capture to delivery to the New World.
Jewish Cultural-Historical Museum – Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue is the oldest continually utilized synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The floor of the synagogue is sand brought from Israel; visit to learn why there is a sand floor. Or visit to experience the beauty of this mystical building and its unique architectural features. The museum houses a collection of treasures that have in the past or may still play a part in religious rituals.
Maritime Museum – Curacao is the island where international maritime trade routes meet, and offers excellent harbors to protect ships. The Dutch West India Trading Company identified Curacao as a valuable center for trade. The history of shipping and trade in Curacao was important in the development of the New World; Curacao lies at the center of this history. Do a self-guided tour or take a guided tour to learn about the interesting maritime history.
Forts – Whether you are a history buff or not, Curacao’s forts are worth visiting. It’s hard to miss the forts that protected the Santa Anna Bay as they stand at the entry to Curacao’s main harbour in Willemstad. From the early 17th century, the Dutch built forts at vulnerable spots in Curacao to ward off attacks from Spain, France, England, Venezuela, and Germany. While some are in ruins others are preserved or restored to their original state, and some serve as museums, shops, or restaurants. Several smaller forts were built to protect different parts of Willemstad. Eight forts have survived; some have famous associations, like Fort Waakzaamheid that was attacked by Captain Blight of “Mutiny on the Bounty” fame. Six of the 8 forts have been preserved and can be easily visited.
Or Landhuizen, are country houses that were used as plantation houses in the 18th and 19th centuries. Plantation homes throughout Curacao standout being bright yellow and set on hilltops. Many throughout the island have been refurbished. Once you see one, it’s easy to identify others, as their architecture and the materials used for building are similar. Visit the landhuises and learn about the history of the island, and slave rebellion that led to slave freedom.
Some can be visited for free, others require entrance fees. Free entry can be had at the following Landhuises:
- Jan Kok in Sint Willibrodus, is the main Nena Sanchez gallery.
- Landhuis Ascenion – Ascension is open to public on the 1st Sunday of each month with local artists showing their works and local musicians filling the day with music.
- Landhuis Dokterstuin, opposite Ascension, is a Creole restaurant with some historic furnishings.
- Landhuis Chobolobo is the home of Curacao liqueur. For a self-guided visit, entry is free.
- Landhuis Daniel is a restaurant and small hotel. Visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
- Landhuis Habaai is an art gallery and cultural center.
There are many other landhuises , to learn more check out – https://www.curacao.com/en/directory/do/landhuizen/.
Art galleries abound throughout Curacao. Many artists also have studios that are open to the public. Artists range from locals to internationally famous artists; they use all mediums in both 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional art. Some of the artists’ works can be seen adorning Willemstad, like wall murals or ChiChi Doll sculptures in Punda. There’s an outdoor sculpture collection at Blue Bay surrounding the golf club and resort office. These are free things to do in Curacao.
Every other year in late February – early March, many local artists open their studios for free touring, called Open Atelier Route. In 2015, we did this gallery tour and met sensational artists throughout the island. We brought a 3-D painting home that today adorns our family room, reminding us of Curacao and the creativity that abounds there.
In recent years, Curacao’s culinary scene has seriously upped its game. From local traditional dishes like goat stew, iguana, funchi and fresh caught fish, Dutch and Indonesian cuisine to the top visiting chefs from around the world and organic farm to fork offerings, Curacao will please the ‘Foodie’s’ taste buds.
The local food and nouveau cuisine of Curacao are influenced by Creole, Dutch, African, Caribbean, and Indonesia. From the tomato creole or peanut sauces, to the varieties of Gouda cheeses, plus fresh caught tuna, wahoo, and mahi-mahi, the food is a delight.
With close proximity to South America, Curacao has fresh fruits and vegetables (something that I have found lacking on other islands). Be sure to ask what comes with your meal; if it doesn’t have enough vegetables, most restaurants will replace starches with veggies.
Here are a few of my favorite restaurants:
- Cactus Café – is my #1 favorite restaurant; it was previously called Trio Penotti. It is located near Westpunt within Christoffel National Park, and open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday. I recommend the African peanut soup and coconut sea bass; Tom likes the saffron chicken best. It is one of the best meals you can get on the island and quite reasonably priced.
Four peacocks spend the night roosting in a local tree by the restaurant, so as part of the dining experience, enjoy their antics as they settle in for the night. As sun sets, parrots fly by heading home each evening; it’s so different than the seaside restaurants and equally as enticing an atmosphere.
- de Vesserij – In English, it’s the Fishery, but the sign says de Vesserij. Located at Piscadera Bay, near the Hilton and Marriott, and frequented by locals and tourists is this favorite restaurant of Tom’s. Casual, open air, looking out on the bay, you can go in shorts and flip flops. Line up at the 1st window to order the type of fish you want, and how you want it cooked, plus sides. You can choose the amount of each fish portion; they charge by the 100 grams. Next choose your picnic table adorned with checkered clothes and looking out at the bay and then go to the drinks window to order those.
Watch the fish being cleaned and cut up and also cooked in the open prep and cooking areas. There is a video playing in the restaurant that shows their fishermen catching the bounty that is served up.
- de Buurvrouw – A Dutch restaurant serving local and Dutch specialties, pizza, and excellent skewers, is a new find for us. We had several good meals here. It’s a lovely atmosphere set under a giant palapa, and off the Wegnaar Westpunt road in Grote Berg (about 15 minutes west of Willemstad). Make a reservation!
- Green House – We go for a consistently good, reasonably priced meals at Mambo Beach. We have only had the Mediterranean food here; they also have sushi and steak.
- Fishalicious – Indoors, Fishalicious in Petermai has a romantic setting, and outdoors is a bar/restaurant courtyard. For the ‘real feel’ of the place, I recommend eating inside. Everything is cooked just right so you’ll have good food and it’s quite expensive compared to more causal restaurants that serve similar things. Personally, we prefer the more casual restaurants.
- Landhuis Misje – In Westpunt is a lovely small landhuis serving delicious Caribbean, seafood, and vegetarian specialties. We have not been here in a few years, and we have always liked it in the past. It is more expensive than most of the restaurants nearby and serves very good food.
I suggest staying away from the fish stew everywhere on the island. Fish left out in a stew pot goes bad quickly in the heat.
Punda is filled with waterfront cafes and restaurants both bay-side and throughout the pedestrian walkways in town. If you try one that you like, please tell us about it in the comments.
Buying fresh fish directly from the fisherman is my first choice for a great dinner. First, it’s a cultural experience to observe and do business with the fisherman. And how often do you get fresh caught fish? Tuna, wahoo, and mahi-mahi are among my favorites. When I go to Westpunt, I take a cooler with ice to buy fish at Playa Grandi (Fisherman’s Beach); it’s the place to snorkel with the turtles in the wild at no cost. On day 2 of our recent 6 week stay, I bought a whole fresh Tuna – 4.5 kilos (or 10 pounds) for $25 US. The fisherman at Playa Lagun also sell their ocean bounty.
Purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables is also both a cultural experience and an inexpensive way to eat. When Curacao and Venezuela are on good terms, on the Punda side of Willemstad is the floating market filled with Venezuelan small boats laden with farm fresh vegetables and fruits. Or the de ronde market in Punda has local vendors selling fruits and vegetables. Of course local supermarkets, like Centrum, carry everything needed for great meals; prices are listed in florins.
Curacao offers so much more than most islands, from its history and culture to the variety of beaches, water sports and extensive food options. This is why it is we believe that Curacao is the best Caribbean vacation island.