Enjoying the sun, sea and culture here is easy as ABC
Out of the way of hurricanes, deep in the southern Caribbean, lie the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. Each is renowned for its blue waters and excellent snorkeling and scuba diving, but Curacao is especially known for combining great water activities with great shopping, an international tourist scene and a lush landscape. My husband, son, daughter-in-law and I recently spent two weeks enjoying it all.
The capitol city of Williamsted, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is filled with history. The Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, built in 1888, connects Punda, regarded as “downtown,” to Otrobanda, a name that literally means “other side.” The floating bridge regularly swings open to allow ships in and out of the St. Anna Harbor.
The colorful blend of Caribbean and Dutch architecture in the area houses restaurants, designer and discount shopping, museums and night life. The native languages are Dutch, since Curacao is part of the Netherlands Antilles, and Papiamento, derived from a blend of Spanish, Dutch and Afrikaans. English and Spanish are widely spoken, but the large number of international visitors means you are just as likely to hear German, Italian or French.
Getting around Curacao is easy on the 9Pass, nine-passenger vans that have cardboard signs in the front window to indicate their routes. Renting a car took us to more out-of-the-way places, but be aware road signs are few and far between. If you find yourself completely lost, just remember it’s a small island. An orienting marker will show up soon.
We spent much of our time at the beaches because I’m an avid snorkeler. You could spend every day on a different beach, perhaps sipping the signature Curacao liqueur in a Blue Hawaii. I began each day swimming and snorkeling at our resort. Underwater at Porto Maria, I saw octopus, surgeon fish, snapper and more, but we enjoyed seeing the sea creatures “up close and personal” at the Royal Sea Aquarium just outside of town. Daily seal and dolphin shows are held here.
Touring the oldest Jewish synagogue in the Americas and the African Slave Museum was fascinating. After visiting the Ostrich Farm and Aloe Farm on the east side of Curacao, we tried an ostrich burger. Then we headed back downtown for a dinner of keshi yena, a local dish of chicken and spiced vegetables encased in rich Dutch Gouda cheese. It is traditionally believed natives invented the dish by putting cheese rinds discarded by the Dutch landowners to good use.
We bought fruit and seafood at the Floating Market where Venezuelan ships come in to sell South American produce and goods. Twice we ate at the Old Market, dining on goat, fish and okra stew, the corn-based tutu and corn with black-eyed pea funchi. We finished our meal with rich native pumpkin pancakes spiced with orange and raisins, so good we made two return trips for them.
The locals are friendly, courteous and always willing to lend a hand. We learned this personally when we ran out of road in a tangle of brush, completely lost. We backtracked to one of the many open-air bars in the vicinity, where two locals said they were headed the same way we had planned go and invited us to follow them. They pointed into the compound we were searching for and sped off, brown hands waving out of both sides of the car.
Our two weeks in Curacao were a blend of peaceful bliss enjoying sun and sea life and learning more about Caribbean culture. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, we recommend Curacao.
By Doris Settles, Staff Writer