Before I write about our adventures in Curaçao, let me take a step back to how it all began…
Paul and I had dreamt about travelling around the various Caribbean islands for a long time… As a kid, I loved watching Das Traumschiff, a West German television show about cruise ship travelling, which regularly featured the Caribbean. Back then, as a kid from East Germany, working as a stewardess on a cruise ship was my opportunity to see the world as even the GDR had a ship (nowadays I could never imagine travelling on a cruise ship, let alone working on one but that’s a story for another day).
We both had been to Cuba and the Dominican Republic (twice in fact) but to none of the other islands. We had read lots about Dominica (also called The Nature Island) and are super keen to spend a bit of time there. We knew we wanted to return to Cuba… and we love Bob Marley’s music and are looking forward to travelling around Jamaica. Which other islands would be on the list was a bit more fluid.
While we used air miles to fly from the US to Ecuador, getting out of Ecuador without paying an arm and a leg (and having to travel via Central American hubs like Panama City or San Jose) proved to be more difficult. We looked at various flight options, we even thought about taking a bus to Colombia or Peru and fly from there… but in the end, we found a reasonably priced flight with InselAir (Curaçao’s national carrier) to Curaçao and on to Trinidad and Tobago. From Trinidad and Tobago, it was going to be easier to continue up the chain of islands. What a beauty… or so we thought.
A few weeks after booking, InselAir reissued our tickets without explanation, putting us on an Avianca flight via Bogota (turning our three hours non-stop flight into a full-day affair with a four-hour layover in Bogota). Turns out, the airline had been grounded (for reasons still not totally clear to us) and barred from flying anywhere else but the former Netherlands Antilles. Hence our flight to Trinidad cancelled altogether… Anyhow, while we had read about Curaçao, and it sounded interesting, it was the flight route that ultimately decided we would start our Caribbean adventure on Curaçao.
We had initially thought about splitting our time between Curaçao and Bonaire but Bonaire turned out to be super expensive, so we decided to stay in Curacao for the full ten days – spending five nights at Cecil Paradise Apartments half-way between the airport and Downtown Willemstad and five nights on the west coast.
For some reason, I had imagined that Curaçao would be very Dutch. While it has beautiful historic Dutch architecture in Downtown Willemstad, it’s capital (particularly in Otrobanda, Punda and Pietermaai), old Dutch plantation homes dotted around the island, and many Dutch tourists (thanks to direct flights from the Netherlands and cruise ships that arrive almost daily), it is a melting pot of Dutch, the Caribbean and South American influences… The official language Papiamento, a mishmash of different languages (for example, bon bini = welcome, bon dia = good morning/ afternoon, si/ no = yes/ no, danki = thanks, dushi = sweet, unu/ dos/ tres = one/ two/ three, pushi = cat), is a great representation of the many influences on the island throughout its history. To our surprise, we were able to speak quite a bit of Spanish in Curaçao.
While Willemstad’s pretty pastel-coloured waterfront of historic Dutch houses is the first thing cruise ship tourists get to see, the first thing we saw, coming from the airport just after nightfall, was the burning chimneys of a massive oil refinery, smack-bang in the middle of the island and just 15 minutes walk away from our accommodation. When the wind blew the wrong way for the first time, we thought we had left the gas on in the kitchen (that’s what it smells like living around the corner of an oil refinery).
Also, while it rained two out of the ten days we were there, the island overall is quite dry. Its vegetation is accordingly adapted with acacias, thorny bushes and many cacti. Whether it was due to its dryness or due to the daily fresh blood delivery in form of tourists I don’t know, but Curaçao had a lot of mosquitoes and even DEET would not always deter them. I had about 20 bites after 24 hours and stopped counting thereafter.
- Do a day drive around the western part of the island, admiring nature’s forces at Shete Boka National Park and stopping at a few beaches along the way;
- Swim and snorkel at Kleine Knip, Groote Knip, Cas Abou (which featured in the National Geographic Top 21 beaches worldwide) and our personal favourite – Playa Porto Mari – where I got to observe my first ever octopus close up;
- Enjoy the pool and watch the sunset, a cool beer or glass of wine in hand, from the beautiful terrace at Blenchi; and
- Explore the eastern suburbs of Willemstad (with some very posh new developments) on the morning of our departure.
While we can’t imagine ourselves to ever live in Curaçao permanently, we had a great time on the island.
We used the proximity of our first accommodation to explore Downtown Willemstad,
- Strolling numerous times across the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge and admiring the architecture (both dilapidated and restored) as we explored the historic neighbourhoods of Punda, Pietermaai and Otrobanda;
- Roaming around the very insightful Kura Hulanda Museum (which depicts the history of slavery with a particular focus on Africa and the Caribbean);
- Observing green iguanas as we walked around the Rif Fort Complex;
- Enjoying some yummy and cheap local lunches at Plasa Bieu, and buying some fresh fruit and veggies from Venezuela at the Floating Market; and
- Replacing some of our gear in Curaçao’s new Sambil Shopping Centre.
We also hiked up Christoffelberg, Curaçao’s highest mountain, one morning. Paul always wanted to climb the highest mountain in a country… any country. He can now tick that one of his bucket list. He even was the first one at the top on 27 March 2017. Thanks to our altitude training in Ecuador’s Andes, the steep climb up the almost 400 metre to the top felt so much more easy for us.
A final tip
We have read about people complaining about the expensive taxi fares in Curaçao. The bus and shared minivan taxi network are really easy to use. Buses and shared minivan taxis leave from the same two bus terminals in Punda (outside the Post Office on Waaigatplein) and Otrobanda (Sebastopolstraat) and often travel the same route (the minivans are more frequent though):
- The bus company website has the latest bus schedule and route maps. You can also pick up a printed copy at the information booth at the Otrobanda Terminal. Buses only stop at designated bus stops (marked with the sign Bushalte).
- Shared minivan taxis display their direction on the windscreen. Minivans with the sign Rond on the windscreen alternate between Punda and Otrobanda, driving in a big loop around Schottegat harbour (not over Queen Juliana Bridge). Minivans which include the word Hato on the windscreen go to/past the airport. Always ask the driver to confirm direction and price. Shared minivan taxis can be waved down (and can drop you off) anywhere along their route.
- To give you an indication of the fares: From Downtown Willemstad to our accommodation (half-way between the airport and downtown), we paid ANG1.70 per person one-way for the bus and ANG2.50 per person one-way for the shared minivan taxi.
- Of course, you can also take a bus or shared minivan taxi from the airport into Willemstad (Bus 4B gets you to the Otrobanda Bus Terminal, Buses 2A and 2C travel to the Punda Bus Terminal). A lot of places are within walking distance from either or you hop on another bus or shared minivan taxi from the respective bus terminal.