Curaçao, where the sea is the colour of liqueur, offers lovely swimming and diving. But the Caribbean island has a richer palette than that. It has a varied and magnificent nature – and at times very cruel history.
The temperature on the island varies only by a few degrees over the year. Curaçao is one of the southernmost islands of the Caribbean which lies just north of Venezuela. It is the largest of the so-called ABC islands, which attracts tourists with its white beaches, aquarium-water and excellent surfing opportunities.
Walking on the fine sand at one of Curaçao´s beaches is like strolling in paradise – the water is turquoise, warm and salty, beaches are covered with swaying palm trees and corals are magnificent. Additionally, there is a variety of beaches to choose from, many of them accessible only by car. Beaches are located in small coves along the island’s southern coast and have different landscapes and degrees of convenience.
Most bays are famous for snorkelling and many of them offer an advanced diving. Those who are skilled divers can also make a day trip to the small island of Klein Curaçao, reached by catamaran. Dozens of dive centres are available on the island with courses at all levels. Yes, above all, it is the beach life that people come here for.
However even if Curaçao – as blue as the liqueur – is a paradise for holidaymakers, the island has a dark past. Over the centuries it was an important centre for the slave trade. The island has been under Dutch rule since 1638.
Cargo ship after ship came ashore here, at many times after horrific voyage, from the coasts of Africa. In Willemstad, Curaçao´s capital, ships loaded off the Africans who were still alive and sold them to America, and what would become the United States. Some of the people who were sold remained as possessions for landowners here.
In the Kura Holanda there is a rich collection of objects, stories and photographs that illustrate how the slave trade began and why it disappeared. A final section here describes the civil rights movement in the United States and the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
The southern part of Curaçao is dominated by paradise beaches, the northern part has a considerably harsher landscape. The island may be the largest of the ABC islands, but it is relatively easy to get around Curaçao. Shete Boca national park stretches along the north coast with several places to stay at to watch the dramatic landscape. The wind blows almost always here.
Curaçao has been independent since 2010, but it still shares defence and foreign policy of the Netherlands and is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. US dollars are accepted almost everywhere and the colonial history explains why there are three official languages: Dutch, English and the little creole Papiamento. Most people speak at least two of these languages.
Many of the older houses in Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, are painted in bright pastel colours and are wonderfully luminous in the sun. Today, the gaudy colour scheme helped to place Willemstad city centre on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Large parts of Willemstad have changed rapidly however, it is still segregated and houses are simple and predominantly black in the neighbourhoods that run south from the central city. The same applies to the run-down areas out towards the airport.
A few kilometres south from the centre is the area with Sea Aquarium, Mambo Beach, tourist-oriented shopping, cocktail bars and simple restaurants, as well as holes in the wall with selling frozen yoghurt, bubble tea and waffles.
Willemstad has around 125,000 inhabitants and is divided in half by St. Anna Bay. On one side lies the small, old centre Punda, on the other Otrabanda. The canal that you can walk along has the incomparable Queen Emma Bridge, the only one of its kind in the world. The floating wooden bridge was built in 1888, originally as a toll bridge, and rests on the 16 boat-shaped pontoons.
There is a “floating market” in Punda, where fresh fish and vegetables are sold from boats along the quay. A short distance away is the old market, Plasa Bieuw, a large open space with street food vendors. Worth seeing in Willemstad is also the Synagogue Mikve Israel-Emanuel, home of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest, still active Jewish community. The floor of the synagogue consists of fine sand.
The oil industry is an important source of income for Curaçao, which gets its crude oil from Venezuela. To go around the outskirts of the city (in all directions) is exciting. There are both sand-coloured villas areas which characterize particularly wealthy Dutchman living and more Spartan areas (you should avoid those around the airport). If you stay fo a longer period of time, the are frequent connections to the A and B islands as well, Aruba and Bonaire (despite the small distance, the islands have completely different character). But there are several reasons to stay on Curacao: sea, sand, wind and waves.