What to Do in 4 Days in Willemstad Curacao
Curacao is a kind of alcohol. It is blue and it is sweet and I have no idea what it is made of. End of story. Oh wait, no, there is an actual COUNTRY named Curacao and the alcohol is actually named after the country.
I assume. Naming a country after an alcohol seems misguided.
But that was where my ignorance level sat regarding the country of Curacao. Low.
And then, I moved to Jamaica and was immediately harassed by my friend Mark to meet Jeremy and him for their vacation to Curacao. You’re vacationing in alcohol? Ok! Oh right, we’re talking about the country now. Still, OK!
Surprise! Travel to Curacao in the Caribbean!
So now that we have established that Curacao is an actual country and not only a blue liquor, Mark told me to book my flights via Insel Air, as there are only two direct flights to Curacao from Jamaica every week and I best be on them.
Over the next few months, Mark and I colluded about the trip, planning activities and fantasizing about how awesome it was going to be. Why was Jeremy not a part of these conversations?
Oh, because the whole trip was a “mystery trip”. That’s right: Mark had booked a 2 week holiday for the two of them, travelling to New York City, Aruba, and Curacao, and Jeremy knew ZERO details. He knew when they were going and for how long.
Mark packed his bags and led him through the Berlin International airport with headphones on and head down. Jeremy did not look at his boarding pass or the sign at the gate. Seated in his airplane seat, in business class, Jeremy finally found out they were heading to NYC, from the pilot’s announcement.
This is amazing to me. Hearing this, I wonder at how these two were perceived in the airport, with Mark leading Jeremy dumbly along, holding his documents and all. I love it!
After some days in NYC, they did the same exercise again leaving JFK airport for Aruba, and then again to come to Curacao. So of course, if Jeremy had no idea he was going to Curacao until moments before he was getting there, he clearly had no idea I, his friend of over 13 years, was going to be waiting there to crash their holiday!
Where to Stay in Curacao?
So the stage was set, I was to arrive in Curacao 2 hours before the boys. Mark had arranged with the hotel for me to let into the room, and somehow I would surprise Jeremy with my presence.
This all went very well, and I made sure to tell the people at the front desk “I’m a secret”. Turning into the resort, I was very pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the place was; much fancier than my normal trash of an abode. Might have to surprise Jeremy on more of his classy holidays…
I hid myself on the balcony of the suite room and waited for the boys. They were heard before they were seen, as they were lost getting to the room. But that fair warning gave me time to shut the balcony door, pull the gauzy drapes and wait.
When the door opened, Jeremy walked into the room and was immediately confused by the presence of a cot in the main room of their pristine suite. Then he looked out onto the balcony and saw through the hazy curtain someone standing out there, being super creepy.
“Oh, uhh, sorry, umm, are we in the right room, um, ahh, fuck….oooohhh….. WHATTTTTTTT?????? YOU!!!”
And then I tackled him.
I of course had been totally silent on social media about the trip (whereas normally I’m all for gloating about my travels), and I had been guilting Jeremy heavily about not visiting me in Jamaica.
Hugs were shared, I bounced up and down, and then we made cocktails. Because that’s how we roll.
So the takeaway? Surprising your friend in a random Caribbean country is basically the most fun thing ever!
Now that the stage is set, lets talk Curacao!!!
As can be assumed by my lack of knowledge regarding Curacao, it had never been on my travel radar. But being lucky enough to travel there, I can firmly say that I was dumb. Curacao is beautiful, it has great food, and the beaches were magnificent. Also, there are a ton of things to do in Curacao, so we did do a few of them!
Avila Beach Hotel
We stayed at the Avila Beach Hotel, which is east of Willemstad, Curacao’s capital city, on the southern coast of the island. It was an easy 10 minute walk into downtown Willemstad, and an easy 10 second walk from our room to our private beach.
Yes, you read that right, PRIVATE BEACH!
Because we were in a suite, we had exclusive access to a stretch of beach that only the other suite guests had. Palm palapas and a pristine lagoon were ours for the taking! I like crashing my classy friends holidays!
Things to do in Curacao
Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge in Willemstad Curacao
Willemstad sits right on the South coast of Curacao and straddles itself over the St. Anna Bay, the most important feature of the island. This bay and the river that feeds it is so deep that massive tankers can come right through the middle of town heading for the deep water port. It was also strategically important back in the colonial/pirate days.
Sitting for lunch on the canal in Willemstad, means you may just be lucky enough to see the workings of the famous Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon footbridge first built in 1888 and rebuilt in 1939.
Normally acting as a pedestrian path from the western and eastern shores of St. Anna Bay, when a boat or a container ship is looking to come up river, the pontoon bridge simply pivots open, hinged at the western end. The bridge lets out a series of alarms in the 5 minutes leading up the opening, to make sure people get across it in time.
We were lucky enough to be sitting right on the Bay finishing up our lunch time cocktails when the alarm started to go off. The whole process of opening only takes about 5 minutes, but then the bridge stays open for however long the boats need to pass through. In this case, a tugboat left the bay heading for the ocean and then 25 minutes later returned guiding a massive container ship.
So are the pedestrians of Willemstad hooped during this industrious fervour? Nope! When the bridge is open, a small passenger ferry hops to action quickly darting people from side to side, free of charge. Willemstad has all of it’s bases covered!
The Floating Market in Willemstad Curacao
Another interesting point of interest in Willemstad is the floating market. Basically it is a bunch of fishing boats all lined up at the dock selling fresh caught fish right off the side. Fishermen fan the flies away, while you can browse for exactly which red snapper, wahu or parrotfish you wish to dine on.
Eating Iguana in the Old Market in Willemstad Curacao
We did a lot of fine dining in Curacao, it was like, kind of our theme.
But as the saying goes, you can take the girl out of the backpack but you can’t take the backpack out of the girl. Or something like that.
Mark had read that the Old Market was THE place to taste THE delicacy of Curacao: IGUANA! So many capitalized letters in that phrase.
I definitely wanted to try iguana, because… Why not? Mark and Jeremy were less enthused at the idea and then completely against it when we arrived at the Old Market and found that it was much more Caribbean than European. It was basically a typical market of a developing Caribbean country with kitchens lining one side and stone tables lining the other. Each kitchen made it’s own special dishes and some cooks were pushier than others.
Jeremy wanted to leave immediately. I was persistent, I wanted to eat a reptile! Plus I have eaten in far weirder and dirtier places than this!
Eating iguana is interesting. The soup was quite tasty, with some veggies and spices thrown in for bulk. The broth is slightly think and the aroma pleasing.
Eating the actual iguana is a chore. It reminded of when I ate guinea pig in Arequipa Peru. Iguanas, like guinea pigs, are not robust creatures and the small amount of meat is very much entwined with a complicated skeletal frame. Each chunk of iguana was different, and the bones very sharp, so breaking my mouth was always a possibility.
As much work as it is to eat iguana in Curacao, and as grossed out as Jeremy and Mark probably were, I don’t care, it was awesome!
Do I need to eat iguana ever again? Probably not, but if it’s served I wouldn’t say no.
Walking Tour of Willemstad Curacao
Curacao is a Dutch ‘”Constituent Country”, which means it’s basically a ex-colony of the Netherlands, is autonomous now, but still is very closely tied with Holland in many ways. Everything about the culture and life on Curacao is a melding of these two ways of life.
Architecturally, Curacao and Willemstad in particular is a fascinating combination of European design and Caribbean colour. Which I LOVE! Merely wandering the streets of Willemstad will have you confused as to what country you may be in. The large amount of tall Dutch people might add to this confusion!
Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for a reason. The pastel coloured buildings, quaint boardwalks and cobblestone streets are purely delightful. A feast for the eyes and the photographers lens, Willemstad just needs to be strolled around, on foot, to really appreciate it.
We walked across the pontoon bridge (and I later ran across it during one of my training runs, 13 KM!) and even took the ferry at night and got to see the lights from the water.
Fine Dining in Willemstad Curacao
Most of the restaurants in Willemstad are an easy walk within each other, and we ate at a few real goodies! So if you want to actually eat something other than iguana soup…
Our first night we ate at Ginger, a Caribbean – Asian fusion patio restaurant with excellent cocktails and even better cheesecake (I had some of both!). We chanced upon this place and we were thrilled.
Our second night we ate at Kome, the top rated restaurant in Curacao! Given the country is the size of Vancouver, I know that sounds weird, but it’s the truth! We all ate meat and drank white wine among the hipster country vibe.
Our third night we attended the Flavors of Curacao food festival, a truly awe inspiring event that probably every foodie in the Caribbean should attend.
And for our last night, we hit up Rozendaels, a definitively Dutch eatery with Caribbean panache! All three of us ordered red snapper meal and loved it. It came with a variety of sides, tapa style and though tempted by the dessert menu, we just couldn’t do it!
Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Curacao
The big activity from our time in Curacao, besides eating and laying on the beach, was to go stand up paddle boarding. I had never done it before and when doing my research for the trip saw it was an option, I wanted to give it a whirl! Click through this link and you can read the full experience of Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Curacao.
Travel Blog from Curacao
I had an absolutely spectacular time in Curacao. There were so many things to do in Curacao, but we really didn’t do that much. Spending time with my friends was a dream, as I hadn’t seen them in over a year (that’s what happens when members of your friend group live all over the globe!). We stayed in a marvellous hotel, the weather was immaculate, and we did exactly what we wanted to do and when we wanted to do it.
Information for Travellers to Curacao:
Curacao is a Dutch “Constituent Country” but they do not use the Euro; they use the Netherlands Antillean Gilder. American dollars are widely quoted and accepted. Major credit cards are also accepted everywhere.
Curacao is full of Dutch people, either residents or tourists. I’m fairly certain Jeremy and I were the only non-Dutch, non-local people there (Mark is half Dutch). This can be odd coming from Jamaica and landing in the immigration queue surrounded by tall blond people.
Most people speak English, though everyone spoke Dutch too.
Getting around Curacao can be tough, taxis are very expensive. Fares are pre-determined, with the taxi board setting all fares. So no negotiating.
It would definitely make sense to rent a car, even just for a day to really get you around Curacao. We were active only to a point, and with our hotel’s location, we could easily walk to town.
Driving is on the right hand side of the road. Don’t forget!
The security situation in Curacao fluctuates and crime can be a problem. It is advisable to not walk outside the hotel super late.
Blue Curacao is wonderful.
Curacao is wonderful.
My friends Jeremy and Mark are wonderful.