I spent one week on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao (pronounced kura-SOW) recently. Here are some things that stuck out to me:
Curaçaoans, at least the ones who work in the tourist industry, speak multiple languages fluently. In restaurants I would see servers fluently converse with customers in Dutch, Spanish, English, and Papiamentu (the local creole language).
Compared to Sint Maarten, another Dutch Carribean country where I am now, Curacao felt very classy. No casinos, big shopping malls, tacky Vegas-style hotels, heavily built up beaches, etc. Lots of nice small restaurants, boutique hotels, and beaches with modest facilities.
The Dutch Caribbean comprises six islands with a total population of less than half a million. Ordered by population the islands are Curacao (155k), Aruba (105k), Sint Maarten (40k), Bonaire (3k), Sint Eustatius (3k), and Saba (2k).
The first three (Curacao, Aruba, Sint Maarten) are separate countries in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The other three smaller islands are special principalities of the Netherlands.
When I visited most of the tourists were from the Netherlands. I also got the impression many young Dutch people come to Curacao and take up short-term jobs in the tourist industry as a sort of gap year.
This is the Caribbean, so it's no surprise that it gets hot – peak temperatures were around 32 degrees Celsius when I visited. High humidity makes it feel even hotter as the sweat clings to your clothes instead of evaporating.
The ideal schedule if you want to be outdoors is probably something like this:
- 6am - 11am: Outdoors.
- 11am - 4pm: Indoors, preferably with air conditioning. Take a nap, watch a movie, read a book, whatever.
- 4pm - 8pm: Outdoors. Sleep early so you can get up early tomorrow morning to beat the heat.
Curacao is an amazing place for diving and snorkelling. My plan for getting a Scuba diving certification here fell through because of a shoulder injury, but I did get to do a lot of snorkelling – almost every day. And it was glorious.
Lots of great marine life is accessible directly from the beach, so all you need is a snorkel, mask, and fins to see amazing things.
Curacao isn't the best place for people who want white sand beaches, fancy resorts, casinos, or cruise ship-friendly attractions. There is something here for those folks too, but Sint Maarten is a probably better choice.
But I enjoyed Curacao a lot. It's a little low-key, has great restaurants, easily accessible marine life, and a chilled-out vibe. Highly recommended.