The best of Curacao may just be underwater. If you’re dive-certified, you’ll be ready to see the sights under the surface, from vibrant coral gardens to sunken ships to stingrays. The Porto Mari and Blauwbaai dive sites are accessible right from the beach, while Mushroom Forest and the Blue Room Cave are accessed by boat. One of the most interesting shipwrecks is the 1977 Superior Producer, a cargo freighter now covered in coral. Not scuba-certified? No problem. There are several dive operators on the island who will teach and certify you, but you’ll need to spend several days doing it.
And by that we mean, the Queen Emma – a floating pedestrian bridge connecting the two halves of Willemstad: the historic districts of Punda and Otrobanda. The bridge, built in 1888, is supported by 16 pontoon boats. Sit by the water and enjoy a coffee or a meal as you watch the bridge swing open to the side to allow ships to enter and leave the bay. It’s a particularly lovely sight after dark.
Picturesque and iconic Handelskade is on the Punda side of Willemstad. You’ll recognize the pink, blue and yellow Colonial Dutch architecture from the hundreds of postcards graced by this view. There are outdoor caves, a daily floating market at the north end, shopping and more.
Don’t overlook Punda – the eastern part of Willemstad’s historic district). There’s the iconic pastel-hued colonial architecture you’ve come to expect, as well as the 17th-century Fort Amsterdam, the historic Mikve Israel-Emanuel (the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere), shopping, dining, art galleries and more.
Peaceful Playa Lagun is great for snorkelers, swimmers and divers. If you get there early enough in the morning, you’ll likely come fact to face with giant sea turtles, while later in the day, you’ll meet rainbow-speckled fish, squid and more along the pristine coral reef. You won’t find all the amenities available at Playa PortoMari or Blauwbaai, but the quiet ambience and the shade makes it worth the visit. Plus, admission is free, unlike some other Curacao beaches.
Another excellent beach choice – particularly if you’re seeking powdery white sand – is Cas Abao Beach. Snorkel with sea turtles and spotted eagle rays, then get an alfresco massage on the beach.
Want to try cliff diving? Head to Kenepa Beach in the northwestern corner of the island, where rocky cliffs separate two white-sand beaches.
Popular Playa PortoMari, on the private estate of Plantages PortoMari, is a nature and water sport enthusiast’s favorite spot. There are snorkel rentals, nature trails, mountain biking and more on and around this white coral-sand beach. Snorkeling is particularly popular, thanks to the rehabilitated double reef just offshore. At day’s end, pull up a chair at the popular beach bar and restaurant and toast the gorgeous sunset.
Check out another of Curacao’s most famous beaches, Blauwbaai (or Blue Bay), with its excellent coral reef, tranquility and shady spots under the swaying palms.
Explore Christoffel National Park at the northern tip of the island, home to barn owls, the rare Curacao white-tailed deer and 450 plant species – of which the wild orchids are, perhaps, the most beguiling. Drive, hike or mountain bike through the rugged landscape, taek in the views from the summit of Christoffel Mountain or head out on a wildlife-viewing safari. To learn about the region’s former residents – including the Savonet plantation slaves and the Arowak Indians – stop by the Savonet Museum.
Don’t stop there, however. Add on Shete Boka National Park, just north of Christoffel. Marvel at Boka Tabla, where huge waves crash into an underground cave, take in the panoramic views from Boka Pistol and look for the sea turtles who nest here in the pocket bays of the park.
Spend the day on a deserted island – Klein Curacao. This popular day trip for snorkelers, divers and those seeking the sun takes you approximately 15 miles off the southeast coast of Curacao. Now completely uninhabited, the island was once the quarantine spot for African slaves who became sick during their harrowing cross-Atlantic journey. In later years, it was home to a phosphate mining operation. Explore the historic remains, snorkel the reefs or simply sit back and relish the peace and quiet of the white-sand beach.
Go back in time at the Kura Hulanda Museum, set in the former home of a 19th-century merchant and slave owner in Otrobanda. While a somber experience, an hour or two at the museum will enlighten you as to the island’s African slave trade through 18th-century artifacts, scale models and more. The collection also includes pre-Columbian gold, Mesopotamian relics and Antillean art.
Visit the home of Blue Curacao at the Curacao Liqueur Distillery. The liqueur is similar to Triple Sec and is made from the peel of the Laraha fruit, which grows only on Curacao (it’s actually inedible when fresh). Learn about the distilling process and the history of Blue Curacao while you sip samples.
The working Curacao Ostrich Farm supplies ostrich products to South America and makes for a fun little adventure in the desert landscape. Meet about 400 ostriches, including adorable newborn chicks, emus, potbellied pigs and Nile crocodiles.
Abandoned for decades, the colonial-era Fort Beekenberg was built in the early 1700s to protect against invaders via Caracas Bay. Take a self-guided tour, including to the top of the tower and its handful of remaining cannons.