Completing the ABC islands is sunny Curaçao, where Netherlands’ affluence meets the Caribbean in full tropical bloom. Pastel buildings are everywhere you look in Willemstad, whose visual similarities to Amsterdam will make European travellers feel right at home. But in true Caribbean style, its biggest draw is right by the water. From white-sand coves to aqua waters that are far from crowded, Curaçao’s 35 breath-taking beaches make this destination extra special.
A thriving trade centre long ago, Curaçao today is considered to be a high income economy, with some of the highest standards of life in the Caribbean. This is mostly due to trade and shipping, but Curaçao’s positive tourism infrastructure also plays a part.
Last year, Curaçao had almost 500,000 stay-over tourists. Although this is a considerable amount, it is nothing compared to the near 7 million tourists that visited The Bahamas in 2022. So whether you are yearning for Caribbean bliss without the crowds, or just want to try somewhere new, Curaçao may be just what you are looking for.
A beacon of light inside and out, bright buildings intersects blue skies in Curaçao’s upbeat capital. Divided by the bay into 2 distinct districts, Willemstad feels like an European city reimagined against a backdrop of palm trees and the ocean only a few footsteps away.
But to focus only on its Dutch influences would be doing Willemstad is a disservice, as this city’s spirit stands out in its own right. Inspired by the scenery all-around, Willemstad’s art scene is unapologetically colourful. From street art murals of flowers and Frida Kahlo to the revered Nena Sanchez gallery, these paintings reveal just how much this city is shaped by the people who live here.
Which is why we recommend booking a walking tour with a local guide, which you can do for free. Begin your tour at ‘historical site turned shopping mall’ Rif Fort, and revel in all of Willemstad’s rainbows, including the Floating Market and Waterfront.
Mambo Beach Boulevard
Once you experience Mambo Beach, no shopping mall will ever feel the same. Between all the indoor and outdoor amenities, it is hardly a surprise that Mambo Beach is Curaçao’s shiniest hotspot. Pick up swimsuit and souvenirs at the shops, and make a stop by a beauty salon if you are in need of being spoiled.
With plenty of restaurants and bars on site, you could easily spend all of your time here. And once you take in the stretches of white sand and sun lounges, that idea becomes all the more tempting. Whilst Curaçao’s nightlife is entertaining all week long, Sunday is the day for going absolutely wild.
Curaçao’s selling point may be the beaches, but the heart of the island is a hidden gem. The Christoffel Park is not only the largest nature reserve out of all the Netherlands Antilles, but has an abundance of rare plants that are hard to find elsewhere.
The flowers that bloom here are far from subdued. From the sunset coloured lantana camara to the intimidating edges of the bromelia humilis, the diversity here is enough to make any gardener fawn.
All this and more can be explored on a hiking trail, which you can do independently or with a guide. Since the weather can get so hot, you are strongly encouraged to start your hike early in the morning. There are 6 trails in total, with the most difficult being the 2–3 hour Christoffel mountain hike: taking you to the highest point of the island.
(The entrance fee to the museum and park is $15 for adults.)
Playa paradise: which beach to pick for your vibe
If you have ever wanted to go swimming with pigs, then look no further than Playa Porto Mari, located by the quaint village Sint Willibrordus. There are signs all around the beach enforcing animal welfare and respect for the local environment — and it shows. Not only are there pigs content to sleep in the shade, but the waters are crystal clear.
Although this is one of Curaçao’s most popular beaches, it does not feel overcrowded and is suitable for families. There is even a dive centre on site, making this spot ideal for doing a little bit of everything.
A little closer to Willemstad would be the private Blue Bay Beach, which has a laidback vibe despite being one of the more commercial beaches. But if you want to try something a little different, why not try Curaçao’s own secret beach? Since you can only reach Playa Gipy by car, this spot is more known by the locals. It takes a 10 minute walk afterward to reach the beach, but climbing over this rocky terrain is worth the trek. There may be no amenities onsite, but if you have ever wanted to experience natural scenery in seclusion, this is the beach for you.
The Caribbean is considered to be one of the best areas in the world for scuba diving, and Curaçao is no exception. When it comes to this underwater sport, your best choice by far would be visiting Directors Bay. Aside from the reef, the famous Tugboat Wreck is 200 meters away. Since this spot is so close to the more touristy and kid-friendly Jan Thiel, a trip to Directors Bay can be a fun detour away from luxury.
Where to stay
Whilst Curaçao has a couple of resorts available, much of its accommodation geared toward tourists is on the smaller side. So if you would prefer to stay in a studio apartment, bungalow or villa anyway, you will have fun exploring all your options online.
Stay central with the 4-star Pietermaii Boutique Hotel, located in Willemstad’s historic district. This area is thrilling both day and night, with no shortage of personable jazz bars and Caribbean dining spots. Whilst you will want to get out and explore, the rooms and pools do the trick if you need a day in.
If you are looking to save some money, the Bed & Bike Jan Thiel hostel may be more what you had in mind. With a superb 9.8 rating on Hostelworld, this accommodation does not sacrifice cleanliness or comfort in favour of lower prices. Whilst this specific hostel is not geared toward parties, it is still friendly and laidback.
Make the most out of your time in Curaçao by staying at the Avila Beach Hotel: the island’s oldest operating hotel. Not only is this hotel centrally located, but it has 2 private beaches and amenities like an infinity pool and spa. Prices start at €236 a night for this exceptional resort.