On a crystal-clear day, you can see the coast of Venezuela from the beaches on the southwest portion of Curaçao. Although the island sits so close to the South American country, it has an extensive history and distinct culture all its own.
When my boyfriend called to tell me he booked a surprise trip to Curaçao, I felt indifferent. All I knew about the island was that it was a renowned diving destination, and I had no intention of getting scuba certified.
Curaçao’s tourism board is reinventing the often forgotten island of the Dutch Antilles into a wellness destination—a fact we only learned after making friends with locals. The “C” of the ABC islands, which also include Aruba and Bonaire, Curaçao is seeing attractions like hillside meditations, outdoor yoga classes, and eco-friendly bungalows and spas popping up on the west side of the island.
Most tourists venture to the island on holiday from Holland or on cruise ships and tend to stick to the capital of Willemstad for dining, shopping, and play. Because we were here just before the busy season (Christmas through March), we made it our mission to discover as much of the island as possible, including locally loved spots off the beaten path.
We’ve rounded up an extensive list of places to stay, drink, and dine as well as curated some of the best beaches and must-do activities to explore when visiting this culturally rich island in the Caribbean.
Where to Stay
Avila is the oldest hotel in Curaçao and the hotel the Queen stays at when she’s in town, so I figured it was a solid choice. We secured one of the blues rooms, which jet out on a small peninsula into the water, and made sure to request the sunset-facing balcony. With so many activities, restaurants, and bars on the property, visitors could spend their entire vacation to Curaçao within the resort grounds and never get bored. Penstraat 130, Willemstad, Curaçao
If you’re looking for a more tranquil environment, the Morena Eco Resort is for you. Filled with several private bungalows and apartments, this resort hidden in the hills offers the perfect luxurious getaway submerged in natural vegetation. Jan Thiel Beach, Willemstad, Curaçao
What to See and Do
The Mazzai Spa at Morena Eco Resort was one of the best and most unique spa experiences we had ever had. In its entirety, the spa consists of two small palapas, one indoor and one open-air space. Not only does the team at Mazzai Spa offer customized treatments like massages and facials, but the owner Marit actually handmakes all the products used for the services from the natural agriculture on the resort grounds such as aloe. The open-air Buddha palapa welcomes resort guests at all times to enjoy meditation sessions or yoga among the burning incense and Eastern decor. Morena Eco Resort, Jan Thiel Beach, Willemstad, Curaçao
Queen Emma Bridge
This floating pontoon bridge is a must-see on just about every article we read on Curaçao travel. It connects two of the most popular boroughs within the capital of Willemstad and is surrounded by shops and patio dining. Quite the sight in the evening, the bridge is adorned with archways lit with colorful lights. As vessels approach “Our Swinging Old Lady,” as it’s known by the locals, literally swings open to one side of the channel. When the bridge is open, the public can cross the waterway in both directions on free ferries. Kon. Emmabrug, Willemstad, Curaçao
Rent a jeep and take an early-morning drive up to Christoffelpark on the northeast side of the island—you won’t regret it. Christoffelpark is the largest national park in Curaçao and home to Christoffel Mountain. If you’re up for the rush, lather on some sunscreen and head for the top of the mountain on a challenging hike. The trail is only open until 10 o’clock each morning due to the blistering sun, so be sure to get there early. If your crew is more adventure-averse, less-challenging trails will lead to gorgeous scenes and an up-close experience with the island’s extensive flora, including beautiful orchids. Plantation House Savonet, Weg Naar Westpunt, Curaçao
Coral Estate Beach
Also off the beaten path is Coral Estate Beach. Drive through the gates into this gorgeous community of luxurious villas and down to this beach on the northwest portion of Curaçao. With an extremely relaxing and quiet environment, Coral Estate beach only hosts a handful of visitors each day. Coral Estates, Curaçao
Snag one of the many hammocks or beach chairs for an afternoon at Jan Thiel Beach. Surrounded by boutiques, restaurants, and crystal clear waters, this hotspot has something for everyone in the family. The bars along the sand do get a little rowdy with both locals and visitors on the weekends, but when you’re lying on one of the complementary padded beach chairs getting pina coladas delivered straight to your hand, you can’t complain.
Fifteen miles south of the main island lies Klein Curaçao, or little Curaçao. This gorgeous uninhabited island consists of expansive white sand beaches and out-of-this-world snorkeling. Mermaid Boat Trips offers a day trip to this sparkling paradise and will be able to pick you up and drop you off directly at your hotel if prearranged. Enjoy a day of exploring the historic lighthouse, sunbathing, munching on a buffet lunch, and discovering the coral reefs.
Where To Eat
Fishalicious sat right across the street from our hotel and came highly recommended by the staff. The cozy space offered an intimate dining experience that made us feel like we were part of the Fishalicious family. Each seafood dish was incredibly fresh and delicious. We suggest starting with the watermelon and cucumber ceviche and toasting to an incredible meal ahead of you. Penstraat 57, Curaçao
Every Saturday is Caribbean Grill Night at The Pen. The entire terrace at the Avila transformed into a party with live music, friendly faces, and a buffet-style dinner with fresh grilled kabobs. The jerk seasonings and spread of vegetable salads sent our taste buds soaring. This interactive experience is a must do when staying at the Avila or nearby. Avila Beach Hotel, Penstraat 130, Willemstad, Curaçao
Rozendaels is island patio dining at its finest. The relaxed environment was warm and welcoming, with several tables of locals and tourists enjoying the tasty cuisine. The restaurant prides itself on delivering its motto, “elegant with a touch of romance and full of Caribbean feeling,” over the 10 years it’s been open. We recommend ordering from the Curaçao Cuisine portion of the menu for the best experience. Penstraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
Restaurant Gouverneur de Rouville sits right along the channel with a gorgeous view of the Queen Emma Bridge from the patio dining tables. The space also had an adorable second-floor garden to dine in out back, but we were fixated on the water-view option. Watching the ships pass by as we drank ice-cold mojitos made for the perfect welcome by the Gouverneur.
The historic building served as the perfect backdrop to our meal, which consisted of an international twist on Curaçao classics. We started with the appetizer tasting platter for two, which consisted of raw bites like tuna tartar and beef carpaccio, smoked salmon, coconut crusted shrimp, and the restaurant’s famous Cuban banana soup. No wonder there are copycat recipes of this soup all over the internet, it was SO fantastic and like nothing we’d had before. We were sure to grab some fresh fish as the entree when we heard it came directly from the floating market (more on this later) that afternoon. Take a stroll over the floating pontoon bridge after your meal for a romantic addition to the evening. De Rouvilleweg, Willemstad, Curaçao
“We make your day with good food in a happy place.” For lunch, escape to the restaurant at Bijblauw. The unreal views of the Caribbean Sea made us want to sit at our table all day long. The crisp decor and inspired menu items gave us a hint of Curaçao’s European roots. We enjoyed the cheesy goat salad and couscous with hummus and fig. We were blown away by the delicious menu items and attention to detail. Pietermaai District, Curacao
Where to Drink
Every Thursday, Blues Bar hosts a jazz band at its elevated stage within the quaint space. The restaurant sits atop a pier on the water, so not only do you get incredible 360-degree views, but you also get warm island service and great cocktails. Their signature Blues Cocktail is a must order made with none other than Blue Curaçao and rum. We were so impressed with how quickly the place filled up with locals and tourists as the band rocked on all night. Avila Beach Hotel, Penstraat 130, Willemstad, Curaçao
Zanzibar definitely brings the party to Jan Theil Beach. On Saturday afternoon, the bar area was packed with patrons enjoying fruity libations and fried snacks. The music roars from the main restaurant area into the adjoining tiki huts and cushioned beach chairs. We were able to enjoy a few appetizers right along the seaside, thanks to Zanzibar. Jan Thiel Beach, Willemstad, Curaçao
It’s a crime not to enjoy a few too many frozen cocktails when in the islands. While at Coral Estate Beach, we stopped in Karakter to grab some of said drinks and ended up with some incredibly tasty Curaçao Coladas—basically a pina colada plus Blue Curaçao. Itty-bitty little birds hopped right into our drinks and started taking their share of the sweet goodness. We couldn’t blame them; these were so tasty. This was by far the nicest beach we visited on the island, and Karakter only made our experience that much more special. Coral Estates, Curaçao
We were told Mambo was the place to go on Sunday evenings for fun and dancing. The strip at Mambo Beach Boulevard wasn’t at all what we expected. Full of shopping, entertainment, and restaurants, Mambo was full of life and provided a great spot to put on your dancing shoes. Just like a classic beach club, Mambo plays lively music and serves cocktails to a young, vibrant crowd. Bapor Kibrá, Willemstad, Curaçao
Where to Shop
If you forget to pick up souvenirs for your loved ones along the way, Rif Fort Mall is probably where you should head. The area is where most of the cruise ships drop off, so it was tourist-heavy but had plenty of shopping options. Although Curaçao is by no means a shopping destination, Rif Fort is well kept and offers higher-end stores like Tiffany and Adolfo Dominguez in addition to tourist traps like I Love Curaçao. Baden Powelweg 1, Otrabanda, Willemstad, Curaçao
The floating market was a particularly unique experience to walk through on the island. Venezuelan merchants pitch tents on and dock their boats right at the edge of the sidewalk to sell their fresh fruits and vegetables and sometimes even fish caught that morning. Right in the heart of downtown, you can find this market full of local produce like yucca, plantains, and avocados. Handelskade, Willemstad
Tips and Tricks
Embrace the local lifestyle. Relax and enjoy a wellness-centric lifestyle with Caribbean flair. Most tourists on Curaçao are Dutch, so remember that European customs like super-late dinners and blunt communication are the norm. U.S. dollars are widely accepted by restaurants, shops, and even by cab drivers. Most important to note, however, is that everything runs on island time.
BitchBiz: This article was written independently, but Avila Beach Hotel, Mazzai Spa, and Gouverneur de Rouville did supply us with complimentary services.