Curaçao is the underrated Caribbean island that is a cultural and wellness gem

Many sun-seeking travelers know tourist-friendly Aruba. But those looking for a more laid-back, lifestyle-oriented island where they can experience cultural heritage, wellness, and outdoor adventure without being overwhelmed by cruise ships and crowds will find their underrated (and stunning) neighbor Curaçao — the “C ” – love. on the so-called ABC islands just off the coast of Venezuela. (The “A” stands for Aruba and the “B” for Bonaire.) While the entire Trifecta remains part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, it’s Curaçao that has the greatest cultural impact. And you see it everywhere.

“Our island is colorful – and so are our souls,” says Dewi Pomario, a Curaçao tourism guide. “The people of Curaçao are so proud of our culture, our traditions, our food and our relaxed way of life.”

Best suited for travelers who aren’t content to spend their entire vacation by the pool, Curaçao offers a secluded alternative that trades casinos, all-inclusive resorts, and chain restaurants for a more intimate, authentic experience.

The capital, Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves as the center of Curaçao’s fascinating multi-ethnic culture, a rich blend of European and Caribbean influences with a celebrated artistic community. There, travelers venture beyond their hotel to explore incredible natural sites like rocky coves and salt flats, local restaurants serving delicious fusion specialties, and wellness traditions at Den Paradera Herb Garden.

From swimming with green sea turtles and taking painting lessons from a local street artist to sipping cocktails in trendy Pietermaai and visiting healing salt flats, here are some of the best ways to feel Curaçao’s magic.

Courtesy of the Curaçao Tourism Board

Discover Flemish architecture in the Caribbean

Full of quaint colonial buildings – arguably the best surviving examples of European architecture in the Caribbean – Willemstad could easily be mistaken for a Dutch town if it weren’t for all the cheery, candy-colored colour. Check out the sites on a Green Wheels scooter, an eco-friendly and convenient option for those who want to see and Instagram as much as possible. Be sure to visit the Wilhelmina Plaza, the Governor’s Mansion and the bright yellow Penha building. No trip to the island is complete without strolling across the gently swaying Queen Emma Bridge. Built in 1888, it is believed to be one of the oldest wooden pontoon bridges in the world. But be alert: a siren will announce when the bridge swings open to allow boats to pass, and you don’t want to get stuck.

Immerse yourself in a thriving contemporary art scene

Courtesy of the Curaçao Tourism Board

In addition to its cultural past, Curaçao boasts a vibrant street art scene that spans Willemstad’s charming neighborhoods, from the famous Colorful Steps in Otrobanda to kaleidoscopic paintings in Scharloo Abou. In fact, the island’s electric vibe can be felt almost everywhere, thanks to its dynamic, warm-hearted residents. “I think it’s not just the artist community that adds to the island’s vibe,” says Francis Sling, a popular street artist. “A large proportion of the people living here are creative people in their own way. It’s like walking in a giant play.”

While it’s certainly possible to explore Curaçao’s art on your own, walking tours like Dushi Walks and Art Tours Now, founded by artist Avantia Damberg, add context to everything you see. For an even more hands-on experience, request a painting workshop at the studio of Francis Sling, whose larger-than-life murals are popular across the island. Would you like to take a bit of Curaçao’s creative spirit home with you? On narrow Windstraat, a de facto ‘art alley’ in the Punda district, you’ll find a treasure trove of galleries and craft boutiques, including Serena’s Art Shop, famous for its Curaçao chichi figurines hand-painted by local artists.

Immerse yourself in an underwater paradise

Courtesy of the Curaçao Tourism Board

Do you want to escape from everyday life? Discover some of the most stunning scenery in the entire Caribbean on the island’s rural west side. Many of Curaçao’s beaches, such as Playa Kenepa Grandi and Playa PortoMari, lie along the protected Curaçao Underwater Marine Park and offer bright, clear water and healthy offshore coral reefs, making them ideal for an afternoon of swimming and snorkeling. One of the best ways to experience as many as possible (Curaçao has 38 in total) is to jet ski around with Tourrific Curaçao.

Get your adrenaline pumping with cliff jumping at Playa Forti and swim with green sea turtles at Playa Kenepa Chikí. If you feel the need to go deeper (literally), Curaçao offers some of the best dive sites in the world with top-notch outfitters like Ocean Encounters. From a tugboat wreck in just 15 feet of water to an exhilarating drift dive with sharks and rays, this is the place to get in the water, whether it’s your 500th time putting on a wetsuit or your first.

Immerse yourself in a varied festival

Courtesy of the Curaçao Tourism Board

On some Caribbean vacations, it might be tempting to take full advantage of the resort’s all-inclusive meal plans. But Curaçao has a thriving food culture worth discovering. There’s no better place than Bario Urban Street Food, a bustling “food court” style restaurant popular with travelers and locals alike. Each window or “Snek” stand – a kind of to-go cafe – serves its own curated menu of tropical cocktails, desserts, vegan food or street food. Enjoy specialties like chicken satay, stoba fries (fries served with a traditional beef stew), roti, ceviche, and bolo di cashupete, a cashew cake usually reserved for festive occasions, while listening to live music. Then, indulge in a nightcap at the newest addition to the trendy Pietermaai district, Ochenta Cocktail Bar, where bartenders mix drinks using the freshest ingredients and local brands, including authentic Blue Curaçao made from the peels of the native Laraha bitter orange (something that near impossible to leave the country).

Experiment with traditional self-care

Courtesy of the Curaçao Tourism Board

In addition to the expected poolside massages and lavish facials, Curaçao has a culture of wellness all its own. Once used by the Dutch for salt mining, the island is precious salinas, or salt pans, are now nature reserves. But that doesn’t stop some locals from sneaking into the mineral-rich waters, which are said to promote skin health. If you suffer more than the surface, visit the Paradera Herb Garden, where you can learn about herbal healing and wellness from legend Dinah Veeris. Recognized by the Dutch royal family for their contributions to the community, Veeris invites people to stroll through their calming oasis, offering holistic health advice and products such as immune-boosting tea and bug bite ointments. “The traditional medicinal plants of the island of Curaçao are a culture, a knowledge that we must preserve,” says Veeris. “Today you can see that so many people want to go back to nature and lead healthier lives. Traditional medicinal plants have so much to offer us.”

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