"I am just so happy," Mrs. Amorella almost sang with a beaming smile. And who wouldn’t be, we were in the back of her white, minivan taxi on a beautiful, bright, sunny—not hot actually—October day in Curaçao on our way to colourful Willemstad. And if that didn’t put us in a good mood, then the news of Mrs. Amorella’s son passing his exam in far-away Amsterdam, or rather her reaction to the news, had to bring a smile to everyone’s faces.
Mrs. Amorella’s enthusiasm and friendliness became typical of our 2-week stay on the small, Caribbean island just above Venezuela. The friendliness of the people on Curaçao is a rare gem in a tourist-fatigued world.
They don’t seem to mind sharing their island, and they have managed to keep a dignified attitude to tourism. The swimming pools, the restaurants, the clubs and bars are not just there for the tourists. We found just as many locals in the bars, and on a Saturday afternoon we counted more locals in our hotel’s swimming pool than tourists. Maybe that is why, to an outsider at least, the people of Curaçao don’t seem sick and tired of tourists—yet.
We had a fantastic time on the island, here are some of the parts we enjoyed the most:
Actually I should say The Hilton rather than Piscadera Bay. Come to think of it, I should say the staff at The Hilton. Never have I come across a friendlier hotel staff. Throughout our entire stay, we were always greeted with a friendly smile and a chat.
The hotel itself and the rooms were not quite up to scratch, but they were clean. The grounds, the pools, and the beaches, however, were fantastic! The Hilton serves a fantastic breakfast buffet, but could do better on their dinner service. It was no problem finding nice restaurants nearby though, we in particular enjoyed a very romantic dinner at Hooks Hut. My partner found a jogging track close by overlooking the ocean, not a joy I shared, but whatever rocks your boat. Curaçao is just outside the hurricane belt, so visiting in October was not a problem, but we did enjoy some cool lightning shows over the ocean from the safe distance of Parasasa Beach.
The Hilton is in a good location for exploring the rest of the island. But then again, almost any place on the island is, as you can easily drive around it in a day. The hotel is very close to Willemstad—about 10 minutes by car. On a few occasions, we even walked from the hotel to Willemstad along the jogging track I mentioned earlier. The walk is not for the faint-hearted due to the heat, but we’re living proof that it can be done.
My first impression of Willemstad could only be colourful. I love the architecture and the colours of the old colonial buildings. Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, is divided by St. Anna Bay into two parts; Punda ("the point"), and Otrabanda ("the other side"). The two parts are usually connected by the famous Queen Emma Bridg—a floating pedestrian bridge. The bridge was going through a thorough restoration during our stay, so only the pontoons remained.
Otrabanda is less touristy and has more of an island community feel to it. On the small square by the St. Anna Bay people of all ages gather in the early evening, and sitting there enjoying an ice cream gave us a real feel of the Caribbean. Along Otrabanda’s narrow streets you’ll find many small shops catering predominantly for the local consumer. Don’t miss out on a visit to the Kura Hulanda Museum, where you can learn about the African slave trade amongst other things.
Punda is very touristy, or at least the part facing the bay is catering mainly for the tourists. We did enjoy a few dinners there, and if you walk away from the bay the place becomes much more intimate.
Walking around some of the less-colourful parts of Willemstad, we did, however, get the feeling of potential future tensions. The gap between a small group of well-off people, and the majority group of less wealthy is huge seen from a European’s point of view. On a night out with some local people, we also learned that the lack of jobs is a huge problem for young people on the island. Another problem was what can only be described as land-grabbing by foreigners. Prior to our visit, we had been very open to the idea of re-locating to the island, but the massive gap between those who have and those who don’t as well as hearing about the land-grabbing left us with a bad taste in our mouths.
The 4,500 acres of wilderness full of cacti, iguanas, exotic flowers and birds made our visit to Christoffelpark one of my most fond memories from Curaçao. We had hired a Rav4 for the second week of our stay on Curaçao, and I wouldn’t have liked anything smaller for the mountain route in Christoffelpark. We drove both the Plantation north coast and the Mountain routes getting out of the car at almost every possible stop, which left us little time for hiking. But we did manage to hike up parts of the Christoffel mountain trail, which most definitely left us wishing we had more time.
An ostrich farm is not normally something I would take time out for when travelling, but I am very glad I didn’t snob the Curaçao Ostrich Farm. We had some trouble finding the place, and when we got there the place seemed empty. Inside though we were told that the next tour would be in 20 minutes. As cruel as it may seem, we killed the wait with an ostrich burger. As the only two, we were driven around the small farm in a safari-type vehicle by a very entertaining and informative guide. He had us feed the ostriches, stand on an ostrich egg, and hold an ostrich chick. We spent a very enjoyable hour there learning about something I would never have thought could capture my interest.
This will seem sad to most, I know, but I have a thing for flamingos. I find them very elegant, nonchalant birds, and their pink colour is very exotic to me. So when we passed a flock of flamingos, the car was brought to a screeching halt. I could have spent hours just watching them, but my partner doesn’t quite share my fascination with flamingos. Curaçao is my first live encounter with flamingos. I still find them elegant and exotic, but having heard them "gossip" like geese, maybe not so nonchalant.
Boca Tabla Cave
Boca Tabla, near the West Point, was a pleasant surprise. Over the years, I have grown somewhat indifferent to caves. Admittedly, I have seen some fantastic caves in different parts of the world, but they have to be particularly spectacular to get me excited now. We had already visited Hato Caves, which were nice, but some rather annoying co-visitors completely spoiled it for me. So I wasn’t really expecting much, as we approached the national park, but I was wrong. Boca Tabla offered spectacular views and amazing displays of force, when the water came crashing against the rocks. Apparently three kinds of turtle species breed at Boca Tabla. We didn’t see any turtles, but then I’m not sure when they breed. We did see fantastic rock formations though, and we really enjoyed our visit. We came at high-noon, so we drove to most of the places because of the heat. But we did walk part of the way to the natural bridge, which was worth the sweat.
I will post a few photos here, but I have more from Curacao on my website: http://www.thecooler.info/travel/34.html