WILLEMSTAD, Curacao, June 25, 2012 — The island of Curacao is one of the ABC islands, along with Aruba and Bonaire. While there are plenty of beaches on the island and Curacao is known for its scuba diving, there is much more than just sand and sun on this Caribbean hotspot that is worth exploring.
Located off the coast of Venezuela, Curacao — or Dushi Korsou, as the locals call it — was a part of the Netherlands Antilles until 2010.
The island’s name, according to one theory, is derived from Spanish and Portuguese words meaning healing or heart. That’s likely because sailors centuries ago found a cure for their scurvy in the island’s natural fruits and the Vitamin C they contained.
Discovered by Europeans in 1499, Curacao has long been an important shipping destination, thanks mainly to St. Anna Bay, a natural deep water harbor that to this day welcomes freighters and tankers by the dozen; watching the harbor’s traffic makes for a peaceful way to spend the afternoon.
The harbor also serves as a natural divide for Willemstad, the island’s capital city.
On one side is Punda, which translates into “The Point” and is recognizable because of the array of colorful buildings that stand along the waterfront. Here, the earliest settlers built a fort to protect the island from invaders.
Across the harbor is Otrobanda, which means “other side.” The two sides are connected by the Queen Emma floating bridge, a famous floating pontoon bridge that first opened in 1888. Throughout the day, the bridge — nicknamed “The Old Swinging Lady” —swings out of the harbor, allowing ships to enter or exit the bay.
The bridge, as much a part of the city’s landscape as the colorful buildings that line the waterfront, might be open for a few minutes for smaller boats or the better part of an hour for larger vessels.
While the bridge is intended to handle the city’s high volume of foot traffic, it makes for a great tourist attraction — and a fun ride when it starts swinging out of the way of an approaching vessel.
Pedestrians can cross the bay in a free ferry when the bridge is open for extended periods.
To gain a deeper understanding of the island’s history, be sure to visit one of the many museums. For starters:
- The Kura Hulanda Museum explores how slavery shaped the island’s history and how many cultures turned this island paradise into the cultural melting pot that it is today.
- An incredible collection of artifacts and stories about the island’s inextricable connection to the sea is on display at The Maritime Museum.
- One of the most moving sights on the island is the Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue, the “oldest synagogue building in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.” The Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue & Jewish Museum chronicles the congregation’s history and the role its members played in the island’s history.
Although the island has an arid climate, Curacao is home to a vast array of flora and fauna. Nowhere is that more apparent that at Christoffel National Park. This expansive national park is located on the northwestern side of Curacao and is easily accessible from anywhere on the island, making it the perfect day trip.
The park offers an array of roads hiking trails, including a path to the summit of Mount Christoffel. Here, travelers can see the spectrum of local nature - from the Palabrua (a rare barn owl) to wild orchids and cacti to the Curacao White Tailed deer (a very rare species).
One of the island’s earliest plantations, Plantation Savonet, is located within the park and is currently being reworked into a museum.
While renting a car is an option (the island’s roads are paved and easily navigated), the best way to get a feel for the rest of the island is in the back of an off-road vehicle. Yellow Tourism, for example, offers tours from the major resorts to many of the island’s attractions outside of the city, using a fleet of vehicles, ranging from air conditioned buses to open-air off road vehicles.
Prices range from about $60 to $100 per person, depending on the tour.
When it comes to choosing a place to stay, it’s worth noting that Curacao is a deep-water island. That means there are few natural beaches on the island; most major resorts do offer man-made options.
Major hotel chains – including Hilton, Hyatt Marriott and Renaissance – have resorts on the island. Located in Otrabanda, the Renaissance Curacao Resort & Casino is the island’s newest, while the Marriott Curacao Beach Resort & Emerald Casino, located about three miles from downtown Willemstad, might be the most luxurious.
Travelers looking to experience the island’s heritage might also consider the Kura Hulanda Resort. Rooms are located in refurbished in 18th and 19th century Dutch Colonial buildings.
For travelers arriving in Curacao on a cruise ship, don’t spend your whole time here shopping. While the island has a complete duty-free shopping experience, its cultural offerings make it unlike many Caribbean destinations.
Cruise Ships dock near The Rif Fort in Otrabanda, about a 10-minute walk to the Queen Emma floating bridge.
For more information, visit www.curacao.com. For more, see Andrea Poe’s 2010 article, “Raven’s Eye: Curacao, An Authentic Caribbean Island.”
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