Things to Do in Curacao
Shete Boke National park offers rocky coastal views and wild wind-lashed landscapes bordering Christoffel National Park. There are beaches tucked away on the rocky limestone coast, where three species of sea turtles lay their eggs.
At Boka Tabla, wild waves wash into an undersea cavern. Find a sheltered nook at the entrance to the cavern for a bird’s-eye view of the crashing sea.
Scenic one-hour hiking trails wind across the cliff tops for spectacular coastal views.
Hit the beach at one of Curacao’s most idyllic sandy shores. Cas Abao Beach is a protected escape on the island’s west side, where you can enjoy the crystal-blue water and gleaming white sand among a convenient collection of amenities. The private beach has plenty of parking, and once you’ve paid the entry fee, you can rent whatever you need on-site, from beach chairs and umbrellas to paddle boats and snorkeling gear. At lunch time, you can get burgers, sandwiches and frozen drinks at the Beach Bar & Restaurant, and if you’re looking for even more relaxation, book a massage at the open-air hut on the beach. The beach also has bathrooms with showers and lifeguards to keep everyone safe as you swim or snorkel.
Kenepa Beach is one of those places that’s worth the drive to get there. Located 50 minutes from Willamsted on the northwestern corner of the island, the white sand beach and turquoise water create a Caribbean tableau that ends up on Curacao postcards. Broken up into two beaches that are separated by rocky cliffs, Kenepa Beach is a popular spot for cliff diving, sunbathing, and snorkeling. While it’s possible to snorkel directly offshore above the sandy bottom, strong swimmers and advanced snorkelers can venture out to the reef. Here, it’s possible to find everything from sea turtles to manta rays accompanying the colorful reef fish, and you can refuel later back on shore at the small, laidback snack bar. Climb the trail to the lookout point on the cliff above the two beaches, or simply relax beneath the shade of a pergola right on the sand. And, since Kenepa Beach is a popular spot with visitors as well as locals, there’s a festive atmosphere up on Curacao’s northwestern coast.
A protected beach within a deep cove and flanked on both sides by sheer cliffs, Playa Lagun is near the northern end of the island, far enough from Willemstad to avoid the cruise crowds. This off-the-beaten-path strand is known as one of the best spots for diving and snorkeling from the Curacao shore.
The island of Curacao may be best known for the alcohol that bears its name. Blue Curacao is a signature—and colorful—liqueur that is steeped in the island’s history, and you can visit the home of the original Blue Curacao at the Curacao Liqueur Distillery. The Triple Sec-style liqueur is made from the peels of the Laraha fruit. Though Laraha evolved from Valencia oranges brought to the island in 1499 by Spanish settlers, this bitter orange is now unique to Curacao because it adapted to the island’s desert like climate, making it inedible when fresh. However, used as a flavoring steeped in the alcohol it releases fragrant oils that create the signature flavor.
The eastern part of Willemstad’s downtown historic district is called Punda, which comes from the Dutch word for “point” because this part of the city sits at the end of a promontory at the mouth of St. Anna Bay. First settled in 1634, the area is a picturesque port area packed with pastel-colored colonial architectural. One of the main attractions here is Fort Amsterdam, built in 1635 as a garrison to protect the city, which is used today as the governor’s palace. Another historic site is the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue, which was built in 1732, making it the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere. Throughout Punda, you’ll find great shopping, art galleries and restaurants, and you can also take a walk across the Queen Emma Bridge, a floating pontoon bridge called the “Swinging Old Lady,” to explore the Otrabanda side of the historic downtown area.
Unlike Curacao’s more popular colonial-era fortresses, like Rif Fort and Waterfort, Fort Beekenburg is largely abandoned. For many years it was inaccessible, sitting on private property owned by an oil company. But today it’s accessible, and free, to visitors any time. The fort was built in the early 1700s on the south end of the island, where it successfully repelled numerous invaders trying to land in Caracas Bay. Visitors can explore on their own throughout the fort, including the top of the tower, which still holds a handful of cannons and offers great views. But be prepared for a workout, as there are a number of stairs and ladders to climb along the way.
Curacao’s limestone Hato Caves were used by indigenous Arawaks for shelter and by runaway slaves as a hideaway during colonial times. Today long-nose fruit bats call the cave home, while dramatic lighting illuminates its cave paintings, waterfalls, pools, Madonna statue, and formations with names such as the Pirate's Head and the Sea Tortoise.
Get a taste of Africa in the Caribbean at the Curacao Ostrich Farm. Originally opened in 1995 as a working farm to supply ostrich products to South America, the farm quickly became a popular spot for visitors, and now it’s home to about 400 ostriches—about half of which are newborn chicks. When you visit you can take a safari tour in a truck to see ostriches of all ages, from eggs to full grown adults. The farm is also home to emus, potbellied pigs and Nile crocodiles. And if you’re looking for a little more adventure, you can join a quad tour to go four-wheeling across Curacao’s desert island landscape before grabbing a meal at the on-site Zambezi Restaurant, which serves ostrich steaks, burgers and omelets.
The Queen Emma Bridge is a floating pontoon bridge that connects the waterfronts of Willemstad’s historic neighborhoods Punda and Otrobanda. Nicknamed the “Swinging Old Lady,” the Queen Emma Bridge is hinged with two diesel-driven propellers so that it can swing parallel to the shore to allow boat traffic in and out of St. Anna Bay. Built in 1888, the pedestrian-only bridge is a unique and popular attraction on Curacao, with upwards of 15,000 people walking across it every day. On both the Punda and Otrobanda sides of the bridge, you can find cafés and restaurants lining the waterfront, and the bridge area is a popular and picturesque gathering spot at night when the bridge is lit up with twinkling lights.
More Things to Do in Curacao
Just inland from Willemstad’s city center, Punda, is a historical section of the city called Scharloo, which is included on the UNESCO World Heritage list, along with the Punda, Otrabanda and Pietermaai neighborhoods. Scharloo served and something of a colonial-era suburb, and today you can still stroll the streets to marvel at the abundance of beautifully restored mansions that sit within easy walking distance of what was the central business district of colonial Willemstad. Some of these restored homes have been converted to hotels and guesthouses.
Across the mouth of St. Anna Bay from Willemstad’s Punda area is the other of the city’s historic downtown, Otrobanda, which literally means “the other side.” While Punda was settled in 1635, Otrabanda was built about a century later. If you walk from Punda across the Queen Emma Bridge, Otrabanda offers a great view of the iconic and colorful Punda waterfront. One of Otrobanda’s most popular attractions is Riff Fort, which was built in 1828 to help defend the city. Today the fort is a shopping mall where you can buy souvenirs or have a meal at one of the fine dining restaurants with wonderful views of the waterfront. In this area of the city, you’ll also find the Curacao Museum, which exhibits the works of local artists, antique furniture and the cockpit of the SNIP, the Dutch airline KLM’s first airplane to fly from Holland to Curacao.
If you’re taking a drive to explore Curacao, plan a stop in Jan Kok, an area along the west coast, about midway between Willemstad and Westpunt. Here you can birdwatch along old salt pans, large shallow ponds used to evaporate salt from seawater, that have become a popular gathering point for pink flamingos as the travel between nearby Bonaire and South America. The birds wade in the warm shallow water grazing on small creatures that live in the water. Also nearby is Landhuis Jan Kok, a former salt plantation from the late 18th century that is now used as a gallery by a local artist.
The Queen Juliana Bridge crosses St. Anna Bay in the Curacao capital of Willemstad. The original structure collapsed in 1967, killing four people, and has since been replaced with the current bridge, which opened on Queen’s Day in 1974. The bridge is a minimalist structure that spans 500 meters in length and stands at over 55 meters at its highest point. It’s the tallest bridge in the Caribbean.
As you cross this four-lane structure, unparalleled views from its apex stretch across Punda, Otrobanda, and the Schottegat, making it one of the most scenic viewpoints on the island. If a ship passes through while you cross the bridge, all the better. Many visitors to Curacao also claim that the views are particularly impressive – if not better – at night.
Playa Kalki is a small and sandy cove set against a backdrop of limestone cliffs in the peaceful area of Westpunt on the Caribbean island of Curacao. It’s a secluded little spot that’s popular among divers and snorkelers due to its rocky shallows and abundance of coral and other marine life.
Those keen to explore the underwater world surrounding Playa Kalki can hire snorkel and dive equipment from the dive shop located nearby. A large reef nicknamed Alice in Wonderland can be accessed from the beach here, and for those not indulging there’s also a small restaurant serving snacks and drinks.
Located off the coast of Venezuela, Curacao is a tiny island nestled in crystal-blue waters. Once the center of Caribbean commerce, today Curacao still retains influences from its of French, Dutch, and Portuguese colonial past, as seen in its food, architecture, and culture.
Colonial relics, maps, and Antillean art come together at the Kura Hulanda Museum, with a world-class collection of African artifacts. This well-regarded anthropological museum focuses on the cultures that have contributed to Curacao’s makeup over the centuries, including African slaves, West African empires, and pre-Columbian traders.
Take a trip through Curacao’s history at the Savonet Museum, located within one of the island’s oldest plantations at the heart of Christoffel Park. The museum’s exhibits include depictions of local life starting from the original Arawak inhabitants who came to the island about 4,000 years ago, through the Dutch colonial era and modern day. Choose the audio tour to get in-depth details about life on the plantation, or ask for a guided tour from one of the museum’s docents. As you explore, you’ll see historical artifacts, documents, and pictures, and after you’ve looked around the museum, you can take a hike through the surrounding park to spot local wildlife like the Curacao white-tailed deer or the Palabrua, a native barn owl.
Curacao’s largest nature reserve is Christoffel National Park, the ideal place on the island to see the rare Curacao white-tailed deer, native barn owl and wild orchids.
The best way to explore is by following one of the park’s 8 hiking trails, graded from easy to challenging. The easiest trail is the 20-minute walk through the white-tailed deer sanctuary. If you’re thinking of going on the relatively arduous climb to the top of Mount Christoffel, head off in the early morning so you avoid the heat of the day.
Scenic driving routes lead across the hills to the coastline, or you might like to take a tour of the historic Plantation Savonet within the park’s grounds.
Tugboat Wreck refers to the site of a tugboat that sank just off Curacao years ago and has since become one of the island’s most popular dive sites. The wreck can be found just five meters beneath the surface of the water and can be easily swam out to from the shore near Caracas Bay. The water is clear, the currents mild, and the wreck itself is in good condition and still well intact. It sits upright with coral and marine sponges growing from it and many species of fish swimming all around it.
Even those who don’t wish to dive or snorkel will be able to see the wreckage from the surface, although the more adventurous will find a rewarding underwater world beyond the wreck itself, where the reef drops off into a steep wall. Here the ocean becomes deeper and the reef more dramatic as one peers down into the depths.
Standing on a prominent bluff, the rusty cannons of craggy Fort Nassau point out to sea. Over the centuries, the fort has protected Curacao from the Spanish, French, English and buccaneers.
Built in 1797, the fort was only called upon in battle when the English invaded. Now decommissioned, it remains an important signal station for vessels in St. Anna Bay, and also regulates the opening and closing of the pontoon bridge.
Fort Nassau has hosted a popular restaurant since 1959, serving Caribbean-style haute cuisine and fine wines amid authentic 18th-century decor. It’s well worth adding lunch or dinner at Fort Nassau to your Curacao itinerary. Take a post-dinner stroll around the battlements for 360-degree views over the island.
Explore the Caribbean’s underwater world at the Curacao Sea Aquarium in Willemstad. Set in an old naval vessel, the aquarium lets you embark on a unique marine adventure featuring natural habitats that are continuously filled with fresh seawater. Ocean- and coral reef-related research projects are also conducted on site.
The lively Rif Fort Courtyard complex is a major shopping and entertainment hub in Willemstad. It’s also home to some of the island’s finest restaurants.
Browse local art in galleries or splurge on locally designed jewelry and clothing. Order cocktails at a European bar then choose from cosmopolitan cuisines at a range of restaurants.
Scenically set by Curacao’s canals, with views of Willemstad’s pretty pastel-hued gabled buildings, the fort was built in 1829.
The building has slowly been taken over by the sea since being decommissioned in 1928, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Downtown Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, a fairytale world of gingerbread Dutch houses, cobbled lanes and water views. Red-roofed gabled houses painted in sorbet colors of pink, blue and orange line the narrow lanes looking onto the canals of St. Anna Bay.
Take an open trolley train tour from Fort Amsterdam to see the bridges, stone forts and gorgeous pastel-hued buildings.
There are several good museums in the downtown area of Punda, including a Maritime Museum, Fort Museum, Synagogue Museum and Postal Museum.
For a taste of the exotic Americas, buy some tropical fruit from the Venezuelan floating market on the harbor.