Technically part of the Netherlands – don’t ask, it’s complicated – Curaçao is one the Antilles Islands. While its big sister, Aruba, is a popular Caribbean getaway with many Americans, the sickly blue liqueur that originates from the island is probably better known than the island itself. Well, except to the canny Dutch who have been coming – and staying– for ages.
There are many good reasons to visit. For a start, its culture and climate are unique in the region and certainly buck the cliché of a Caribbean nation.
In addition to the ongoing Dutch influence, Curaçao lies just off the coast of Venezuela, resulting in a longstanding exchange between the two. Most islanders speak Papiamento, an official Creole language, though Dutch also remains an official language and is widely spoken. But, before you start loading phrasebooks onto you iPhone: English is also widely spoken.
This rich cultural mix and unique historical sites and architecture make the island an excellent choice for those who fancy a break in the sun with excellent facilities and a bit of food for thought, experiencing a culture found nowhere else on the planet.
Curaçao’s capital of Willemstad, dates from the earliest Dutch settlement and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its unique Dutch-influenced architecture looks a bit like a sample of Amsterdam painted in bright Caribbean colours. It is also home to the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, built by Sephardic Portuguese Jews from Amsterdam in 1692 and later remodelled in 1792.
Today, the Dutch influence extends to state support of the arts, such as in the form of international residencies and cultural exchange programmes. So, Willemstad actually offers a lot more contemporary culture, ranging from music to visual arts, than elsewhere in the West Indies.
Another notable difference between Curaçao and many other Caribbean islands is the climate and terrain. It lies outside of the Hurricane Belt (if anywhere does these days) and its landscape is a lot drier and more scrub-like. Its subtropical Savannah climate, with distinct dry and wet seasons, produces a plethora of cacti, hardy plants and evergreens – you might even think you were in the Mediterranean at times. Definitely a better option for those who prefer a drier heat to a humid one.
Curaçao offers a broader scope of activities than Caribbean tourist trap islands and there is no shortage of great hotels, whether staying in the heart of Willemstad or retreating to a beach resort, of which there are many excellent examples on the island.
Why not try…
Hotel ‘t Klooster –The Cloister, if you really care- occupies a remodelled former colonial Augustine monastery in Willemstad. Its sleek lines, bright simplicity and interesting use of the building’s own history offer a tasteful antidote to Caribbean resort tack.
There are a relatively small number of rooms and suites; spacious and breezy.
The hotel also specialises in comfortable accommodation for business visitors to which these suites are ideally suited: don’t make assumptions about the ‘underdevelopment’ of the region.
In addition to having one of the highest standard of living in the Caribbean, Curaçao’s economic strategy placed tourism as only one runner on the list. The others – such as financial services, oil refinery facilities and internet communications- are actually the heavier hitters. In fact, even its tourism strategy is technologically advanced: the island has a spaceport. In other words, it is a space tourism launch site.
Although small, Hotel ‘t Klooster is not without excellent amenities. There is a welcoming plunge pool, an attractive courtyard garden and its Grand Café Augustinus, which occupies the former chapel of the monastery, serves up a tasty menu of international flavours that represent the Dutch-Indonesian influence and modern flavours as much as the local cuisine traditions.
Hotel ‘t Klooster constitutes the ideal base from which to explore the historic sites of one of the world’s most intriguing islands, whether to take in one of the exhibitions at Instituto Buena Bista, the island’s institute for contemporary arts, or to indulge in some reckless thrills in one of the numerous casinos.
In addition to a rich cultural offer, Curaçao has all the natural resources and infrastructure that go into making a classic beach holiday. Its diving is considered among the best in the world and there are many professional operators running dives, not only nearer to the busier coastal spots, but also those who take enthusiasts to remote waters and beaches where the dessert island fantasy truly can feel like a reality.