While Curacao is a popular destination for European visitors, Americans often overlook the island. Americans typically go to nearby Aruba because of the many direct flights offered from the East Coast. In this case, I recommend doing some island hopping. If you are going to Aruba, add on a few extra days and visit Curacao as well. With its colorful landscape, innovative dining and luxurious lodging options, Curacao is worth a trip off the beaten path.
When To Go
If you read my pieces on Aruba (Part I or Part II), you know that the best time to visit the ABC islands is in the summer months because not only are they safe from hurricanes, but they are also safe from crowds. While Curacao is lesser known in the United States, it can be a popular spot for vacationing Europeans in the winter. So May-August are the best months to visit, and don’t worry, like Aruba there is also a breeze.
Where to Stay
The most luxurious option on the island is the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. Located on the south side of the island, the Santa Barbara is the only mega resort in Curacao. The road from the “main gate” to the main building of the resort is about 3 miles long! And on the way up you will pass their beautiful golf course, 2 ports and a gorgeous desert landscape. As soon as you finally pull up to the main entrance you feel as if you have arrived at an Italian Aristocrats summer palace. It is an impressive sight to be seen!
With the lobby opening to views of the oceans and palm trees as far as the eye can see you are instantly relaxed. And don’t even get me started on the rooms. Even more basic rooms all are very spacious and all come with balconies, and once you step up to the midlevel you are given ocean views.
Even putting all that aside, the highlight of this resort is the sheer amount of outdoor space you have access to. With a private beach, large pool and other activities available you could easily stay on resort for your entire trip and never get bored.
What To Do
You could take 2 very different vacations on Curacao, especially if you stay at the Santa Barbara. Because it is such an all encompassing resort you could land in Curacao, take a cab over to the compound and not set foot outside of it until it is time to return home, which is not a bad thing! (I definitely recommend leaving an afternoon free to just lounge on the beach and luxuriate in one of the many ocean view nooks around the resort.) On the flip side, Curacao has a rich culture and many local gems, which the more adventurous traveler would love to check out! Here are my favorites:
The Dolphin Academy
The first thing I recommend you do in Curacao is stop by the Dolphin Academy and swim with the dolphins! The Dolphin Academy focuses on providing “care and genuine interaction between humans and dolphins.” These dolphins truly enjoy engaging with humans because you can see the care and love that their trainers give them. We did the Dolphin Swim, where you get to swim with the dolphins, do tricks with them and just enjoy these beautiful creatures. Also, it makes for a great photo op!
If you’ve never been in a helicopter, trying a tour in Curacao is a great place for your first time! Blue Skies Helicopters offers amazing helicopter tours of the island. We did the 20-minute, Spanish Water Discovery Tour and it was the perfect way to see Curacao! You get a birds eye view of the entire island. The view from up there is amazing, you have a truly 360 degree view of the colorful downtown, the beaches, and the coral reefs.
Just like in Aruba, you have to snorkel at least once while in Curacao. We went with Yellow Jeep Safaris and did their Snorkel & Beach Safari. You get to visit a few different beaches and the guides give you the local low down on where to see all the best fish and coral. Unlike the snorkel cruises that are available, this snorkel tour visits local beaches, so even in the busy season you will be one of the few if not the only people out snorkeling!
A sunset cruise is the perfect way to wind down after a busy day of sightseeing.
Bounty Adventures offers a beautiful catamaran cruise around the Curacao coastline. So sit back and enjoy the ride…and the open bar!
Where to Eat
For a romantic island evening, the place to go is the Avila Beach Hotel and ask for their special “dinner on the beach”. You will have a private spot right on the beach for a very romantic 3-course meal from their Belle Terrace Restaurant.
My top pick for foodies is the famous Kome Restaurant, a chic spot downtown. Kome has a cool atmosphere and with a diverse menu, you are immediately put in the mood to try something out of the ordinary and go out of your comfort zone.
And trust me, no matter what you choose you will not be disappointed. We visited on Tapas Night and tried so many delicious small plates we could barely keep track of them all!
To round out your culinary experience on the island you need to visit the Restaurant & Café Gouverneur de Rouville. Located in a historic building right on the Otrabanda Waterfront, the restaurant takes you on a trip back in time.
I was reminded of their beautiful colonial past by the amazing architecture, but when the food arrived I was brought right back to the present with their innovative dishes. A creative menu in a beautifully historic setting—what more could you ask for?
If you are travelling from the United States, the easiest itinerary is most likely what we did. Take a direct flight to Aruba; spend a few days there and then jump on the 10-minute flight to Curacao with Insel Air.
And once you land in Curacao, I highly recommend renting a car to get around the island, as it is much bigger than Aruba. But if you are planning on just sticking to the resort the best choice for transfer is Curacao-Actief; they have very professional, knowledgeable drivers.