This article the best thing to see and do in colorful Curacao will help you organize a trip to the island whether going for a short or long trip, it assures you to see all the highlights. If you have planned a trip to Curacao, you’re in the right place, and also you will find some travel tips on this blog. So read on.
Curacao is a fascinating island with history, and some people don’t even know where this island is…I’m ignorant because I never heard of Curacao before, it was a coincidence! My purpose was to visit Aruba, but then the image of Curacao showed up that really took my attention. The islands of the Netherlands Antilles are still unfamiliar to me, the next thing I’m already at Skyscanner searching for flights.
However, instead of going to Curacao and Aruba, I even take a side trip to Bonaire, which lies in between. So if you are visiting one of these islands, read my other blog post. These three individual islets are superlatively worth a trip!
Curacao travel tips
You probably know that Curacao is not a backpacking destination. Prices on the island are not considered cheap as in most European countries. I assume you already know that food and accommodation are the biggest suckers on a trip. However, you can have a beautiful holiday in Curacao without breaking your bank account. For example, book an apartment instead of a hotel room and prepare your meal. There are plenty of grocery stores around the island. And one good thing is, the tap water in Curacao is drinkable, which can save you from buying water bottles.
Book a flight to Curacao in advance
Everyone knows flights are the most expensive on a trip. Did you know that flight to Curacao is not so expensive if you book seven months prior? Even flying during the peak season. I flew to Curacao during Christmas and only paid 450 euros for a return ticket with KLM airlines without checked luggage. I’m a light traveler with a carry-on suitcase, and that is a bargain price for a flight of 10 hours.
Do not choose a five-star hotel
Five-star hotels are mostly appointed for holiday packages, which can be expensive for individual travelers. Prices of accommodation in Curacao are reasonably inexpensive. Don’t wait to book at the last minute because the cheapest rooms will sell out quickly, and that leaves you with fewer choices. If you use Booking.com, you can alter or cancel anytime if you change your mind. I was traveling during the holiday season, and five months before my trip, I could book the cheapest rooms. The hotel room I’m staying in cost 40 euros a night, and the apartments were only 35 euros during the bookings, which was a great saving.
Do not go to paid beaches in Curacao
Not all beaches in Curacao are free of charge but is no need to worry. There are around 40 beautiful sandy shores on the island…can you imagine? Too much to mention that I only saw a few of them. The only feature that renders doesn’t have the facilities, but that is less of a fuss. You can take some of your food and drinks when you go to the beach.
The beaches required to be paid for are undeniably marvelous such as Jan Thiel, Mambo Beach, Cabana Beach, Blauwbaai, Playa Porto Marie, and Cas Abou…and I think you don’t like to be in a sardine tin. I’ve seen how the loungers put up close to each other, which is not gratifying. Moreover, the food and drinks are expensive in the resort. Don’t think of bringing your food to a fancy beach; they’ll laugh at you. Despite all that, I prefer the free-of-charge beaches, which I’m enjoying myself in Santa Cruz and Playa Lagun because it wasn’t overrun by island visitors.
Rent a car in Curacao
As much as I hate driving during my holiday, it didn’t give me a choice. And I’m glad I did rent a car because getting around in Curacao isn’t easy. To have a car is your freedom to go anywhere, anytime you want. But if you are worried about the cost, you can rent just for a few days. I didn’t have a car for my entire stay in Curacao. In the first three days, I walked around the historic center of Willemstad, which was the best way, in fact, more convenient than driving around. Furthermore, parking in the center can be frustrating, so avoid it at all costs.
On the other hand, I have already settled the booking to pick up my car after three days and moved to an apartment nearby the sea. I rented for five days booked by Sunnycars and paid 294 euros with all necessary insurance included. Alternatively, the buses can be a cheaper choice. Unfortunately, the buses in Curacao do not always run smoothly and don’t bring you to hidden spots on the island. So it’s your call, go for the car rental or the bus.
Download the navigation app of Curacao
I never go on a trip without the country’s map on my phone. It is handy especially, visiting the island for the first time, and I like the app of Maps. me – as it doesn’t require mobile data and can be used for driving and walking. It’s best to download the ABC island while you are still home.
The good thing about this app you can pin the places you want to see, and when opening the map, you have easy access to it. Anyway, I end-up buying a sim card in Curacao, which wasn’t on the plan. It’s just that I’m more comfortable having a local number. However, the prepaid sim card comes in a bundle with 15 GB of mobile data, which was great for using Google Maps and I could use the sim card while I was in Aruba and Bonaire.
Bring your own snorkel sets
You’re going to do a lot of snorkeling in Curacao. Although Bonaire is one of the best islands on the ABC for snorkeling, Curacao is also a great place to submerge. The underwater life in Curacao is very varied, thanks to the volcanic rocks and coral reefs where sea turtles are often seen during the activity. I regretted not taking my snorkeling set from home because I heard you can rent on spot. It is indeed available on-site to rent a snorkel set, but cost 10 dollars, which is good if you only needed it at once.
Are you willing to pay that price every time you need the equipment? Well, after renting one time, I bought my own sets. The prices of snorkel equipment in Curacao are quite expensive. Reckoned to spend around 45 dollars and more for quality gear.
Where to stay in Curacao?
For many first-time visitors to the island, the biggest question is where to stay in Curacao. It took me a while deciding an area because I don’t want to spend so much on a car rental. Any district is good in fact, how further from the city center how cheaper is the accommodation as long you’re not staying in one of the big resorts. After giving it some thought, I decided to reside in Punda for the first few days, as I don’t have a car.
I stayed for a couple of nights at San Marco Hotels & Casino, right in the historic center of Punda, a walking distance to everything, except no public beaches nearby. After three nights, I got the car and moved to an apartment at Studio with a beautiful seaview about 10 minutes drive from the city center. Choosing areas to base in Curacao isn’t a big problem as long you have a car.
The Best Things To See and do in Willemstad
How many days do you need to see all these things in Willemstad? You can do this in one day, but it can be devastating mainly the heat. I split in two to three days at my own pace. It’s a leisurely walk since the historic center of Willemstad is mostly pedestrian. You will be amazed by what you see around you, by far the prettiest island I’ve ever been to. Take the time to enjoy the scenery and acquire knowledge about the history and culture.
Punda and the Ponton Bridge
Punda is the oldest district and a well-favored spot in Curacao. The indebted architecture reflects the Dutch heritage, so this is one of the few sights you can’t miss during your trip. The countless colored houses are exactly as you see in the pictures. However, if there are cruise ships, you are likely walking between the tourists and locals, so it gets busy on some days. But you can still have a wonderful walk through the city and enjoy the Caribbean vibe, the smells, and the coziness. As well lots of shopping opportunities, and you could spend several hours checking out the shops for great souvenirs.
On the other hand, the (ponton) floating bridge is the indispensable passageway between two districts Punda and Otrobanda. When the bridge is in operation, which happens a couple of times a day, a free-of-charge ferry will take you to either side. This bridge doesn’t appear anything out of the ordinary from a distance. In reality, it shows up on every postcard, the bridge is one of the unique sights in Curacao. In fact, you can experience some excitement by staying on the platform when the bridge swings away. Just make sure you don’t have seasickness. Moreover, the bridge looks more spectacular at night when the light on a curved structure forms a thoroughfare. Check this out in the evening.
Otrobanda and Riffort Village
Otrobanda district is on the opposite side of Punda, a ten-minute walk through the Ponton bridge. Nevertheless, some information on the internet you may find will mention that is not a safe neighborhood because of some shabby parts. It frightens the visitors, therefore they don’t get further than Punda. I walked here alone in the morning, and I felt fine in fact, is a relief. It was so wonderful wandering around without bumping into anyone. Although there was some renovation in the area, you can still identify some depleted buildings and murals. If you need to get away from the hustle, this is a great place to wander for a couple of hours where no one is in your way.
To give you an idea of where to start on Otrobanda, after crossing the Ponton bridge, go right and straight up through a hilly road till you reach Havenstraat. Go towards Queen Juliana bridge till you see a great mural. Then follow the road to your left and continue walking until you see the street Frederikstraat. I find this the weirdest area of Otrobanda, where you see some houses painted in peculiar styles and colors.
Next is Riffort Village which is in the Otrobanda district. You can visit this place before or after Otrobanda. This contemporary place is converted into an upmarket shopping center with high-end designer stores and a courtyard filled with bars, restaurants, and cafes. Because of its location on the waterfront where cruise passengers disembark, this seems like a diversion for them as it connects the pedestrian to the city center.
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Whether you love shopping or not, it’s worth having a look. You don’t need hours to walk around, and since the fort still has its original walls, you can take the stone steps up to the top of the old walls and walk around to get a partial view of the ocean and Handelskade.
Sauntering through Scharloo and Pietermaai
You can combine these two areas, as they are a short walk from each other. Have you seen some of the elegant houses of Curacao on the internet? If you haven’t, type Scharloo. The inferiority of the area and its reputation scare every tourist. According to what you read on the internet, it isn’t a safe place, while I walked there alone in the morning and had no issues. I don’t recommend visiting at night or later in the afternoon…the best time to visit is in the morning.
When I saw the pictures of Scharloo, I thought this should be of my things to see and do. The history of Scharloo can still be seen if you walk through this area and imagine how the people lived in the past. This used to be the wealthy Jewish quarter, where you see a great variety of architecture. You walk through an extended road with elegant mansions on both sides that come in spectrum colors and are so energetic. Some buildings have been restored, and others have been left impoverished. Nowadays, most houses are owned by the government and several embassies.
Pietermaai lies a few minutes walk from the city center of Willemstad. Some say the hippy neighborhood, but also an entertaining area with diverse clubs, restaurants, cafes, and boutique hotels. This was also a great district to stay, but the prices of rooms were on the higher side. Pietermaai is popular with locals and tourists, not to mention the city beach and the most beautiful ocean club on the island, where you can relax in the sun.
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The beautiful historic colonial buildings in Pietermaai, are part of the island’s history, which reminds me of the houses in Kralendijk Bonaire. It is worth adding to your list of things to see and do, as it fulfills your expectations. And roaming is definitely you should do as the charming streets and narrow alleys are filled with colors and could brighten your day. I was really fascinated by this crumbled or should I say, the liveliest neighborhood of Curacao.
Explore Curacao with a rental car
The best part of my trip was exploring the island by car. Set up your navigation to your desired place, and decide where you’d like to start. As you can see below, I share what I’ve done to avoid back and forth. One thing to reassure you is that driving with a car in Curacao is pretty easy because traffic isn’t there, and you don’t sit behind the wheel for hours.
Spotting flamingos on Curacao
This was my first stop in the morning. Your trip to Curacao is not completed without seeing Flamingos, although you see the birds if you go to Aruba and Bonaire. But in Curacao, you see them closely in their natural habitat something you can’t find in the wild every day.
You can spot them in two places, at Jan Kok and Sint Willibrordus. But there’s a big chance to see the birds all day in Sint Willibrordus. Some say morning is best to look for it. When I return here in the afternoon, I still see flamingos. Also, there’s a viewing platform where you can perceive them wading in the water. And if you’re not satisfied with where you stand up, you can walk further to a corner where you see them better. Good to know: Sint Willibrordus is located northwest of the island, a 20-minute drive from Willemstad. The flamingos can be seen on the left side of the road.
Have a picture with the Williwood Sign
Is not Hollywood that you see in America, but Curacaos Williwood. Just a short drive from the flamingo area on a bending road, you see the Williwood sign to your left. Do you inspire by the famous Hollywood sign? Well, this is the place for a selfie or picture in Curacao. Also, in the same spot, you can’t miss the quirky restaurant Marfa’s Good Hangout. This is a good place for a drink or grabs some food and enjoy the surrounding landscape. Then continue exploring the island or drive to the Westpunt.
Driving to the viewpoint of Santa Martha Bay
This was kind of a lost spot than a place to be that skip by most travelers, which is a shame. Halfway up the road to Santha Martha Bay beach is a remarkable scenery. A relaxing site that makes you sit still undisturbed as you barely see anyone around. Definitely, not to miss during your trip to Curacao. To get to the viewpoint, set your navigation to Santa Martha Bay’s view lookout point, following the Westpunt.
Once you arrive in Soto, you see the sign on your left and continue driving through a winding road till you see the elevated vantage point on your right side. If you haven’t seen this place, then you really miss something. After enjoying the view then continue on the road to the beach. Although nothing much to see down there as the whole area has been deserted, just lets you feel the roof above you.
Hopping beaches on Curacao
There are about forty beaches in Curacao. As I mentioned earlier in this blog, not all beaches in Curacao are free of charge, but that is less of a concern because you can enjoy some beaches without spending a penny. The best beaches can be found along the west coast, and if you have a car, it guarantees you’ll see most of the beautiful beachfront which were located in remote places. However, some of these beaches are popular and attract collectively. But that having said, it’s not a huge issue, if that is too crowded, then drive to the next one.
In Willemstad, you have Mambo, one of the popular beaches in Curacao, but can get crowded during the day because this is the place where cruise passengers go. You need to pay 3.50 dollars to enter the beach, and it’s worth it. If you don’t want to drive so far, well this is a place to go, especially if you would like snorkeling.
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The other famous beach in Curacao is Jan Thiel, located on the south coast, a 20-minute drive from Willemstad. As far as the crowds are concerned, Jan Thiel is a tourist attraction the same as Mambo. That said, you also have to pay 3.50 dollars for the beach, and if you don’t mind a busy place, well Jan Thiel is okay. Mambo and Jan Thiel are famous resorts on the island, although not my liking of place to be, but just out of curiosity want to see them.
Curacao island is surrounded by a beautiful sandy shore. In general, some of these beaches are small, especially the free ones but that fully corresponds to a dream image you have of a tropical beach in the powdery sand. I took a day driving from one beach to another and started in the morning at Grote Knip, Klein Knip, and Daaibooi – which have horrible parking with deep holes. Playa Grande, Playa Forti, Playa Lagun, Tugboat, and Santa Cruz. I found my favorite beach in Santa Cruz at the end of the day. I wasn’t sure if it was a coincidence when I arrived was nobody around, it’s sublime.
Visit Fort Beekenburg and the Quarantine house
As you can see, there’s more than just a beach on Curacao. The variety of things to see and do can be exhilarating. One day you’ll find yourself sunbathing, and the next day on a road trip around the island. Isn’t that exciting? The old Fort Beekenburg and the Quarantine Building can be combined, as they are in the same place and free of charge. Thankfully, there are still some free things to see and do in Curacao. Take your snorkeling equipment with you because Tugboat beach is in the same area. This is one of the most visited spots on the island for snorkeling and diving.
The fort gives a good impression of how the island was guarded against unwanted intruders in the past. If you go up to the top of the fortress, you’ll see some of the remaining canons. The tower is still intact, you can walk around up there for great views over Caracas Bay and the Spanish Water. The Quarantine building nearby is worth a quick look for its cultural heritage and historical value of the island. Because its location is elevated on the east side of Caracas Bay, you have gorgeous views over the ocean. If you love abandoned buildings and old architecture, this is a must to visit.
Climb or drive at Christoffel National park
The unspoiled nature and relaxed atmosphere can’t be missed during your trip to Curacao, in fact, the highlight of my trips. Away from the city crowd and genuinely enjoying the surrounding areas, where only cacti and thorny bushes. The drive to the Wespunt is beautiful through the local landscape that gradually opens out at your forefront. Too many things to see that you may need more days. I propose combining Christoffel park and Shete Boka. Maybe you plan to hike the mountain best to start here in the morning since the park is open from 6:00 am.
If you don’t want to climb the mountain, driving through the park by car is also quite adventurous. A drive on steep mountain slopes on narrow roads is gratifying. It isn’t necessary to have a jeep because a small vehicle can be filled with amazement. Everything is one-way traffic which is very pleasant, and you can fully concentrate on the incline and going down. Good to know: The entry fee for Christoffelberg national park is 15 USD cash or cards are accepted.
Shete Boka National Park
A short drive from Christoffelberg is the Shete National Park. Are you ready to see some crashing waves and a wild ocean? Shete Boka has a bald landscape. The mother nature scenery in open spaces feels like walking on the moon. It is so bewildering with so many things to see and do. The perspective is somewhat different from what you see in other parts of Curacao. I haven’t expected a site like this…it is such a surprising place. Shete Boka’s stunning views of the coastline and rock formations were abrupt. The stark visuals and power of nature the way it demonstrated in the park.
It is a highly recommended thing to see and do in Curacao. It depends on your interest ─ you might spend longer here driving and walking. But I’m pretty sure you will love this place. For your convenience, sturdy shoes are recommended, as some parts are volcanic rocks. I hadn’t prepared for this to happen, which wasn’t easy with my flip-flops. Also, don’t forget to wear a hat, it gets so hot during the day, and there’s no shade anywhere. Driving along the dirt track was an adventure in its own right to shun many deep potholes and was definitely worth experiencing. Good to know: the Park entrance fee cost 9€ plus 1 euros for the map.