Mélange Caribbean Travel & Lifestyle Magazine


A charming island full of unanticipated surprises

Madeline List

When travelers think of Curacao a singular image often springs forth: a pastel palette of Dutch style buildings lining a rich slice of Caribbean shore. This charming scene can be found on the waterfront in Willemstad, part of the island’s largest city. Zoom out and the island is full of unanticipated surprises, with even more to offer than that well-deserving, postcard-perfect block.

With recent efforts to expand tourism, new museums and hotels have been popping up and new visitors have been crossing to the southern side of the Caribbean to discover the natural splendor as well as the marriage of Dutch, Spanish, and native cultures. Unpacking Curacao’s culture, scenery, and cities, the destination is full of experiences that are just as diverse as the hues of that bright colonial neighborhood.

There is much speculation and debate regarding how the island first earned its name. Some say that it comes from the Portuguese word for “healing” after sailors who were left on the island made a spectacular recovery there from scurvy. Others say it’s derived from the Portuguese word for “heart”, since it once served as a heart of trade in the Caribbean.

Following the arrival of the Europeans, Curacao’s shrub lands and aquamarine beaches witnessed many incredible highs and lows. The island was a thriving center of commerce in the region but also a hotbed of piracy. It provided refuge for Jews who fled from the Spanish inquisition, but also housed a high-volume slave trade market.

Today, visitors can trace the island’s history walking the streets of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of historic Willemstad. They can explore the Rif Fort, built to protect Curacao from pirates and other seaborne enemies, or tour the Kura Hulanda Museum, which documents the island’s slave trade and the African diaspora. They can also visit Mikve Israel-Emanuel, possibly the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere, with a famous sand floor installed as tribute to the worshipers who had to quiet their footsteps while attending services during the Spanish Inquisition.

Unlike some of Curacao’s tropical neighbors, the island contains more xeric shrublands, so expect to see cacti, thorny shrubs, and evergreens while passing through the interior. It also contains stunning beaches; Knip Beach and Playa Porto Mari are a couple of the fan favorites. For snorkelers and divers, sights like the Underwater Marine Park provides access to the plentiful marine life and its many shapes and sizes of fish and coral.

Once the swimming becomes tiring, there’s an exciting array of possibilities in store for the stomach. Sample okra soup, conch, and stewed iguana, or visit Willemstad’s floating market for a tasty selection of fruits and vegetables. Stop by the Curacao Liqueur Factory for some Curacao liqueur, the tangy drink is flavored with dried citrus peels and is known for its distinct shade of sea blue.

Curacao is a prime destination for visitors who want to add an extra dimension to the sun and sand of the classic Caribbean vacation. This heart of the Caribbean is full of wonderfully unique natural, historical, and cultural experiences.