Curacao is a perfect place for diving, but as you will find, our island has so much more to offer. There are dozens of undiscovered adventures to be enjoyed. Ranging from practicing water sports to visiting 17th century architecture sites, from enjoying tennis to enjoying world-class cuisine, from playing golf in our sunny climate to visiting high-standard casinos. Sun, sea, and sand lovers will find secluded bays that are ideal for sunbathing, snorkeling and just relaxing. Nature enthusiasts can climb Mt. Christoffel and explore the underground Hato caves. So if you are looking for more than just studying, Curacao has something out-of-the-ordinary for everybody.
Most cruise-ship passengers see only Willemstad — or, more accurately, its shops — but you may want to get out into the cunucu, or countryside, and explore the towering cacti and rolling hills topped by landhuizen (plantation houses) built more than 3 centuries ago.
Willemstad was originally founded as Santa Ana by the Spanish in the 1500s. Dutch traders found a vast natural harbor, a perfect hideaway along the Spanish Main, and they renamed it Willemstad in the 17th century. Not only is Willemstad the capital of Curacao, but it’s also the seat of government for the Netherlands Antilles. Today it boasts rows of pastel-colored, red-roofed town houses in the downtown area. After 10 years of restoration, the historic center of Willemstad and the island’s natural harbor, Schottegat, were inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The easiest way to go exploring is to take a 1 1/4-hour trolley tour, visiting the highlights of the city. The open-sided cars, pulled by a silent “locomotive,” make several trips each week. Tours leave at 10 or 11am. The tour begins at Fort Amsterdam near the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. The cost is $20 for adults, $10 for children age 2 to 12.
The city developed on both sides of the canal. It’s divided into Punda (Old World Dutch ambience and the best shopping) and Otrabanda (“the other side,” the contemporary side). A pedestrian walkway, the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, connects both sections. Powered by a diesel engine, it swings open many times a day to let ships from all over the globe pass in and out of the harbor.
From the bridge, there’s a view of the old gabled houses in harmonized pastel shades. The bright colors, according to legend, are a holdover from the time when one of the island’s early governors had eye trouble, and flat white gave him headaches. The colonial-style architecture, reflecting the Dutch influence, gives the town a storybook look. The houses, built three or four stories high, are crowned by steep gables and roofed with orange Spanish tiles. Hemmed in by the sea, a tiny canal, and an inlet, the streets are narrow, and they’re crosshatched by still narrower alleyways.
Except for the pastel colors, Willemstad may remind you of old Amsterdam. It has one of the most intriguing townscapes in the Caribbean. But don’t let the colors deceive you: Up close, the city can be rather dirty.
In addition to the pontoon bridge, the Queen Juliana Bridge opened to vehicular traffic in 1973. Spanning the harbor, it rises 59m (194 ft.), which makes it the highest bridge in the Caribbean and one of the tallest in the world.
The Waterfront originally guarded the mouth of the canal on the eastern or Punda side, but now it has been incorporated into the Plaza Hotel. The task of standing guard has been taken over by Fort Amsterdam, site of the Governor’s Palace and the 1769 Dutch Reformed church. The church still has a British cannonball embedded in it. The arches leading to the fort were tunneled under the official residence of the governor.
A corner of Fort Amsterdam stands at the intersection of Breedestraat and Handelskade, the starting point for a plunge into the island’s major shopping district.
At some point, visit the Waterfort Arches, which stretch for .4km (1/4 mile). They rise 9m (30-ft.) high and are built of barrel-vaulted 17th-century stone set against the sea. At Waterfort, you can explore boutiques, develop film, cash a traveler’s check, or purchase fruit-flavored ice cream. You can walk through to a breezy terrace on the sea for a local Amstel beer or a choice of restaurants. The grand buildings and cobbled walkways are illuminated at night.
The Curaçao Museum is located in the western part of Otrobanda in an historic building dating from 1853. This spacious museum, Curaçao’s largest, showcases works by traditional as well as contemporary local and foreign artists. A permanent collection of antique period furniture, including some exquisite mahogany pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, antique maps of Curaçao and the Caribbean, and Indian art are also on display. Special exhibitions are organized regularly. The large shaded grounds are a pleasant place to stroll; children love the real locomotive.
In addition there are other museums including Maritime Museum, Jewish Cultural Historical Museum, Postal Museum, Fort Church Museum, Numismatic Museum and Tele Museum.
The Floating Market–A few minutes’ walk from the pontoon bridge, at the north end of Handelskade, is the Floating Market, where scores of schooners tie up alongside the canal, a few yards from the main shopping area. Boats arrive from Venezuela and Colombia, as well as other West Indian islands, to dock here and sell tropical fruits and vegetables — a little bit of everything, in fact, including handicrafts. The modern market under its vast concrete cap has not replaced this unique shopping expedition, which is fun to watch. Hours are daily 6am to 6pm — arrive early or stay late.
En route to Westpunt, you’ll come across a seaside cavern known as Boca Tabla, one of many such grottoes on this rugged, uninhabited northwest coast. In the Westpunt area, a 45-minute ride from Punda in Willemstad, Playa Forti is a stark region characterized by soaring hills and towering cacti, along with 200-year-old Dutch land houses, the former mansions that housed slave owners.
Out toward the western tip of Curacao, a high-wire fence surrounds the entrance to the 1,800-hectare (4,446-acre) Christoffel National Park in Savonet (tel. 599/9-864-0363), about a 45-minute drive from the capital. A macadam road gives way to dirt, surrounded on all sides by abundant cactus and bromeliads. In the higher regions you can spot rare orchids. Rising from flat, arid countryside, 369m-high (1,210-ft.) St. Christoffelberg is the highest point in the Dutch Leewards. Donkeys, wild goats, iguanas, the Curaçao deer, and many species of birds thrive in this preserve, and there are some Arawak paintings on a coral cliff near the two caves. The park has 32km (20 miles) of one-way trail-like roads, with lots of flora and fauna along the way. The shortest trail is about 8km long (5 miles) and, because of the rough terrain, takes about 40 minutes to drive through. There are also various walking trails; one takes you to the top of St. Christoffelberg in about 1 1/2 hours. (Come early in the morning, when it isn’t too hot.) The park is open Monday to Saturday from 7:30am to 4pm, Sunday from 6am to 3pm. The entrance fee is $10 per person and includes admission to the museum.
Next door, the park has opened the National Park Shete Boka (Seven Inlets; tel. 599/9-864-0363). This turtle sanctuary contains a cave with pounding waves off the choppy north coast. Admission to this park is $2.50 per person.
Just northeast of the capital, Fort Nassau was completed in 1797 and christened Fort Republic by the Dutch. Built high on a hill overlooking the harbor entrance to the south and St. Anna Bay to the north, it was fortified as a second line of defense in case the waterfront gave way. When the British invaded in 1807, they renamed it Fort George in honor of their own king. Later, when the Dutch regained control, they renamed it Orange Nassau in honor of the Dutch royal family. Today, diners have replaced soldiers.
In 1984, the Curacao Seaquarium was developed. This unique complex, built on the oceanfront at Bapor Kibra next to Lions Dive hotel, with a healthy coral reef within no more than a stone’s throw from the entrance, makes a great family outing. This beautiful aquarium complex is one of the most unique in the world because of its “open-water-system,” meaning that seawater is continuously pumped into the aquariums. During visiting hours, the aquariums, theatre and museum are open for the public, and you can enjoy watching feeding shows. Part of the fun learning experience of Curacao’s underwater world is a big “touch tank“ for touching live animals.
During the feeding shows you can touch and learn about the animals. For some real fun, you can snorkel or scuba dive and hand feed stingrays, sea turtles, sharks and many other colorful tropical fish. After all that excitement, you can relax in the coolness of the museum and theatre. Watch a feeding show, shop for souvenirs, have lunch in the restaurant, and swim off the sandy beach.
Curacao Seaquarium, off Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard at a site called Bapor Kibrá (tel. 599/9-461-6666; www.curacao-sea-aquarium.com), has more than 400 species of fish, crabs, anemones, sponges, and coral on display in a natural environment. Located a few minutes’ walk along the rocky coast from the Breezes Curacao Resort, the Seaquarium is open daily from 8:30am to 3:30pm. Admission is $15 for adults, $7.50 for children 5 to 12.
Special features of the aquarium are sea lion encounters and dolphin encounters, costing $58 to $179 for divers or $34 to $154 for snorkelers. Divers, snorkelers, and experienced swimmers can feed, film, and photograph sharks, which are separated from them by a large window with feeding holes. In the animal-encounters section, you can swim among stingrays, grouper, sea turtles, and other marine life, feeding and photographing these creatures in a controlled environment where safety is always a consideration. The Seaquarium is also the site of Curacao’s only full-facility, palm-shaded, white-sand beach. There is also a 3-D slide presentation in the mini theater.
Sea world Explorer is a semi submersible submarine that departs the Seaquarium daily in the mornings (times vary) on hour-long journeys into the deep. You’re taken on a tour of submerged wrecks off the shores of Curacao and treated to close encounters of coral reefs with rainbow-hued tropical fish. The Explorer has a barge top that submerges only 2 or so meters (6 1/2 ft.) under the water, but the submerged section has wide glass windows allowing passengers underwater views, which can extend 33m (108 ft.). Reservations must be made a day in advance by calling tel. 599/9-560-4892. It costs $30 for adults, $20 for children age 11 and under.
Curacao Underwater Marine Park (tel. 599/9-462-4242), established in 1983 with the financial aid of the World Wildlife Fund, stretches from the Breezes Curacao Resort to the east point of the island, a strip of about 20km (13 miles) of untouched coral reefs.
The Hato Caves, F. D. Rooseveltweg (tel. 599/9-868-0379), have been called mystical. Every hour, guides take visitors through this world of stalagmites and stalactites, found in the highest limestone terrace of the island. Actually, they were once old coral reefs, which were formed when the ocean water fell and the landmass was lifted up over the years. Over thousands of years, limestone formations were created, some mirrored in an underground lake. After crossing the lake, you enter the Cathedral, an underground cavern. The largest hall of the cave is called La Ventana (“The Window”). Also on display are samples of ancient Indian petroglyph drawings. The caves are open Tuesday to Sunday.
Curacao is a pleasant, safe place for students and teachers with families. They’ll find all the expected conveniences of home without many of the headaches; a small town atmosphere prevails across the island. Food purchased at roadside snack bars (“Snacks”), the market, or anywhere else is safe to eat; the tap water is pure and drinkable. Larger supermarkets are well stocked with familiar foods from the U.S., South America and Europe, as well as other items.
Curaçaoans are child-oriented people. Most people come from large extended families and are used to having lots of children around. Feel free to ask CMU’s administration about children’s programs.
Day care for babies and toddlers, after school care, clubs and courses are available for all ages. There are also a lot of public and private organizations that cater to the needs of our youngsters.
But adequate skills are not only for the young to master, there are myriad possibilities for adults to further themselves: From language courses to technical training, and from general knowledge to cookery classes.
There are many public and private schools located on the island. Public schools are free, and attendance is required. The educational system on Curacao is based on the Dutch system, and schools on the island meet the high standards applicable to institutions in the Netherlands. Most primary schools teach the first years in Papiamentu and switch to Dutch when children reach 5th grade, when they are approximately 8 years old.
The Curacao educational system includes schools for elementary, secondary, technical, higher and limited university education, as well as schools for vocational training, in Dutch. Those attending the University of the Netherlands Antilles (UNA) at this time may pursue degrees in Law, Technical Engineering, Business Administration or attend teacher Training College. Recently a Medical university and a general University have settled on the island.
Completely Dutch/Dutch based and American style education is also available.
Get married on Curacao White sandy beaches, picturesque allies, stately plantation houses… Curacao has it all and it provides the perfect romantic background for your dream wedding. And that is the reason why Curacao rates in the top three of romantic wedding destinations of Dutch wedding magazine ‘Bride and Groom magazine’. Bridal couples to be are very welcome on our lovely island. A lot of hotels offer special arrangements and our intriguing history, beautiful bays end friendly people will make for an unforgettable honeymoon. To make sure your wedding day is free from care, we give you some information about the procedures you need to follow. If you are both living abroad make sure to make known your wish to get married at least two months in advance. You need to send a letter to the Curacao Registrar’s Office stating the date and time you wish to be married. With this marriage petition, signed by the both of you, you have to send several documents:
- Birth certificate
- Copy of valid passport (Signature & Photo page)
- Declaration of unmarried state
If you are divorced or widowed you’ll need to send the relevant documents (divorce decree, death certificate)
Please note that all these documents have to be the originals, not copies, they need to be legalized and may not be older than six months. Depending on your circumstances you may be asked for more documents, but if this is the case you will be notified in time.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
Carnival is a main event in Curaçao which usually takes place in late February. Many carnival groups come up with unique and interesting themes, colorful costumes, and large floats that they display during the parade. Preparations always start several months in advance. The carnival is not government funded and groups have their own way of raising money. One of the main fund raisers every year are the so called Jump-Ups that start in January. Bands on trucks playing carnival music followed by a dancing crowd move through the streets of Willemstad and party.
Participants have to purchase a T-shirt and get music, drinks, and fun in return. Most importantly, everybody is getting into the carnival mood and bands can practice their carnival songs for the year. The actual carnival parade usually takes several hours and is done twice, once during the day and once at night, resulting in two very different looking displays. Every year one of the groups participating is chosen to be the winner based on their theme and their appearance. In addition to those groups, popular bands on trucks and drumming groups are contributing with live music, and floats with Miss Curaçao etc. are participating. Carnival is known to be the busiest time of the island since many international spectators come to visit.
After the official opening day of the Carnival season Carnival groups assemble and organize different events to raise money for their participation in the Gran Marsha (`The Grand Parade`). One of these events is a Jump up where they and go around dancing in the streets following musical bands, wearing T-shirts so the audience can recognize the name of the group.
One of the main events before the Parades take place is the Tumba Festival. The Tumba Festival is a four-day musical event where the best local composers, singers and bands from all over the island compete for the honor of having their piece selected as the year’s official Carnival road march Tumba song.
Also, a separate Children’s Tumba Festival allows aspiring young singers to show off their talent. The winning tumba becomes the road march song for the children’s carnival parade.
The main parades, the product of months of enthusiastic preparation, feature hordes of fantastic floats, costumes, and characters, plus the Carnival Queen and Prince and Pancho elected during contests. There are two big parades, one on Sunday in the daytime – Curacao’s Gran Marsha – and the Marsha di Despedida (`the Farewell Parade`) on Tuesday evening. The Marsha di Despedida is very special, the floats are adorned with sparkling lights and at the end of the parade at midnight, Rei Momo (a big straw-filled doll) is burned, marking the end of Carnival.
Jan 1 – New Year’s Day
Feb 6 – Carnival Monday
Apr 14 – Good Friday
Apr 17 – Easter Monday
Apr 30 – Queen’s Birthday
May 1 – Labour Day
May 25 – Ascension
Jul 2 – Curaçao Flag Day
Oct 21 – Antillean Day
Dec 24 – Christmas Eve (half day)
Dec 25-26 – Christmas
Dec 31 – New Year’s Eve (half day).
NATURE & LANDSCAPE
At first glimpse Curacao may seem a rather barren island, and it’s true-due to the scant rainfall, there is certainly a limit to the types of plants and animals that can survive here. But on closer inspection, you’ll be amazed at the variety nature has to offer. What at first seems to be a monotonous desert landscape, turns out to be a scenery teeming with life. Curaçao’s total surface area is 444 square km. The stretched northern coast of the island is characterized by rough limestone cliff formations set on top of eons-old volcanic rock, and weather-beaten terrain. At the western end of the island you will find expansive, hilly landscapes. The Christoffel Park encompasses most of the landscapes. Inside the park you will find the highest point on the island-the 375m high Mt. Christoffel. The east end of the island comprises flat and mostly barren plain, with few settlements and some secondary roads weaving to and from its coastal inlets.
Local plants have ingenious mechanisms allowing them to weather the dry, desert climate, scant rainfall and the ever-present trade winds. These include marvelous adaptations to their roots, leaves and stems. Total vascular flora amounts to about 450 species. Species composition differs significantly between the different geological formations. No group of plants is as well suited to the climate as the cacti, which are specially designed to reduce the amount of moisture lost to evaporation. Their nasty thorns are, in fact, modified leaves. The island hosts hundreds of species. Not all of the species on the Island are harmless.
One plant you have to avoid contact with is the manzanilla tree, called manchineel in other parts of the Caribbean. This tree has rough, dark bark and small green leaves. The fruit of this plant is poisonous, and will cause skin irritations and burning if touched. One of Curacao’s most characteristic trees, is the Divi-divi tree-recognizable by its “wind form,” caused by the trade winds.
Curaçao has some thirty public and private beaches, ranging from intimate rocky coves to long strands bustling with activity. Almost all of the swimming beaches are scattered along the sheltered southwestern coast, where the waters are generally calm and crystal clear. The northern coast, with its powerful surf and strong undertow, is not suitable for swimming. Topless bathing is officially prohibited on all public beaches and some private ones, although tacitly accepted in some places.
On the northern side of the island the rough sea water has been smashing against the rocky coastline for centuries and has built several caves and little inlets into the rock. The most interesting one to see is probably Boca Tabla which is located close to Westpunt on the north-western end of the island. Visitors can walk over the massive volcanic rocks and observe the wild sea and listen to the wind. It’s exciting to climb down into the cave to observe the waves clashing against its walls. On weekends simple but good local food is offered and people can sit in the cool shade of Divi-Divi trees and eat.
These are limestone caves located close to the Curaçao airport. The cave has been commercialized in the early 90s and is now open to the public. Joining one of the hourly tours, visitors can enter the cave and learn more about Curaçao’s geological history. The Hato Caves were formed below sea level thousands of years ago and as the water level dropped with the Ice Ages the Tetracycline Like in other sea caves, shells and corals can be recognized in the stone. The cave is still active and stalactites (icicle shaped rocks hanging from the roof) and stalagmites (inverted stalactites on the floor) are growing to form columns. Flowstone and dripstone, curtain formations, lime ribs, and terrace formations suggest that the cave has been wetter in earlier times. Movements of the earth about 4000 years ago caused cracks (visible by lime deposits) and rocks fell down from the roof of the cave creating a small opening. This opening is used by the few hundred bats living in the cave to leave at night and hunt for food. Outside the cave Caquetios Indians carved Petroglyphs into the rock wall indicating that some of their religious ceremonies took place there about 1500 years ago.