Colorful Caribbean

Uncovering the wonders of this brilliant destination

photograph by Curaçao tourist board

The vivid Caribbean blue that tints Curaçao’s namesake liqueur

is only an introduction to the island’s vibrant palette. Add houses with neoclassical details painted bright yellow, pink, green or tangerine lining the streets of the capital city and you understand why UNESCO has designated Willemstad a World Heritage Site. Curaçao offers a full range of attractions and activities, plus world-class accommodations with a Carribe-European flavor.

Curaçao boasts steady 70- to 80-degree temperatures year-round and infrequent rain. Dollars are common currency along with the native guilders, and English is a common language. The island is made up of coral and limestone deposits topping two extinct underground volcanoes. A pontoon bridge links the two sides and slides opens periodically, allowing passage of giant cruise ships. On both sides of the channel, Willemstad is chockablock with buildings trimmed with Dutch baroque curlicue gables and arches. In a 17th-century mansion in the downtown Punda area, the Maritime Museum traces the island’s history. Nearby, on the water’s edge, peddlers set up a floating market offering goods from Venezuela, just 35 miles away.   

Chunky rhinestone jewelry and colorful textiles draw shoppers to the gift shop of L’Aldea, a Brazilian Churrascaria restaurant within re-created Mayan ruins. A collection of laces and embroidered linens invites inspection at Mr. Tablecloth on the Punda waterfront, and Penha sells prestigious fragrances and cosmetics from the town’s picturesque oldest building. Artist Nena Sanchez exhibits intensely colorful paintings in two different galleries, one a restored landhuis—an original Dutch plantation home.

Made of coral or brick with brightly painted gables and columns, these landhuizen dot the island. More than a dozen have been preserved and are open to the public as offices, restaurants and museums. Landhuis Chobolobo houses the authentic Curaçao of Curaçao distillery, which still brews the liqueur in original 1886 tanks.

On Willemstad’s western side, an eight-block area of once-decaying buildings has been transformed into Kura Hulanda, a hotel “village” with cafes, shops, a sculpture garden, an art gallery, spa and casino. It also has a world-class anthropological museum illustrating the region’s role in the slave trade with a chilling collection of rusty iron manacles and a life-size reproduction of a slave ship’s cramped belowdecks.

Nearby, the Renaissance Hotel has incorporated coral stone walls of colonial Rif Fort into a shopping mall and resort featuring the popular Carnaval Casino and a clever infinity pool “sand beach” that appears to border the ocean, but is actually constructed on the upper floor.    

Just outside town, the Avila Hotel complex includes the tower where Simon Bolivar and his sisters once resided, now converted into a museum. Belle Alliance, the hotel’s conference center and recital hall, hosts classical music concerts. The Avila has added a modern section and a “blues wing” favored by honeymooners.

Within an emerging Santa Barbara development on the lower eastern end of the island, a sprawling new Hyatt hotel offers oceanfront rooms, clay tennis courts, and the seafront greens of the world-class Old Quarry golf course designed by the legendary Pete Dye.

Getting there is easy: Direct five-hour Continental Airlines flights now depart twice weekly from Newark to Hato Airport. And, along with flight reservations, Continental Airlines Vacations can arrange stays at top resorts.