If color excites you and art inspires you, the Caribbean island of Curaçao is calling your name. Factor in its 30+ pristine beaches, scores of delectable dining options, and centuries of preserved history, and you’ve got the perfect destination for a vacation that’s equal parts exhilarating and edifying.
Truth be told, this kaleidoscopic island gem has been on my travel bucket list for a while. I was actually supposed to ring in 2023 on its shores, but a canceled flight thwarted those plans. Thankfully, an unexpected invitation from Caribbean Airlines and the Curaçao Tourist Board got me there before the end of the year. Long story short: I was not disappointed!
My time may have been short (five days), and the itinerary wasn’t of my own design (not a bad thing since it allowed me to see more than beaches), but I thoroughly enjoyed experiencing just a tiny sample of the sights, sounds, tastes, and personalities the island has to offer.
Now, I’m sharing some of the highlights to help you plan your own trip!
Where to Stay
A destination as sought after as Curaçao has no shortage of accommodation options from which you can choose. Whether you’re in the market for a resort experience, prefer a boutique hotel, or you appreciate the homey comforts of an Airbnb, you’ll definitely find something to your liking. However, I’m a boutique hotel kind of island girl, so it was fitting that I was hosted by the cute, the kitschy, the colorful Bario Hotel. From the walls to the floors, every inch of this hotel has a point of visual interest with Instagrammable backdrops at every turn. Add to that Bario’s prime’s location in Otrobanda and there’s no denying it’s a very strategic place to stay.
Top three reasons to stay at Bario Hotel:
- Bario Urban Street Food: The hotel’s restaurant is actually a unique “food court” with different stations serving up local cuisine (with an international twist). Options include vegan meals, delectable desserts, and craft cocktails. Here, music is always playing, people are always around, and the best part is, you can enjoy a satisfying meal without having to leave the compound!
- Location, location, location: I wasn’t exaggerating when I said Bario is close to the attractions. I’m not a fan of walking, but even I couldn’t complain about Bario’s distance from the likes of the Queen Emma Bridge, Riffort Village, the Punda district, and of course, the many murals, and art installations dotted along the streets and down the alleys of Otrobanda.
- Art and Color: Whether by design or happenstance, Bario Hotel is a microcosm of Otrobanda, with vivid hues and brilliant artwork everywhere. If art is your thing, you’ll love the feeling of being completely surrounded by it everywhere you turn. But, even if you’re not an art-lover, the feeling of being surrounded by all that color and creativity will be enough to excite you – and inspire you to take at least a few pics for the ‘Gram.
What to do?
Embrace the Colors
The word “color” and Curaçao are almost synonymous. Bright hues cover both business and residential facades, with vibrant murals and other art installations popping up around every bend. And I was very interested to learn that this affinity for color might not just be by happenstance.
It turns out an early Dutch governor decreed that buildings should not be painted in white to reduce the harshness of the sun’s reflection on the surface of buildings. Since then, what started as a practical solution to combat headaches, has morphed into an island-wide appreciation for rich hues. It’s apparent in the tradition of residents painting their homes in certain colors to attract blessings in the new year. As well as the application of vibrant, larger-than-life artwork in a bid to revive their communities. The end result: a kaleidoscopic destination where even the most mundane strolls can morph into Insta-worthy photo ops. So go on a self-guided walking tour or book a guide with Free Walking Tours Curaçao to see all of the best, color-filled locations.
Learn the History
To learn Curaçao’s history, is to learn about the history of Africans in the Caribbean. The island’s location made it a major hub for the slave trade, serving as the first stop in the Caribbean for many of our ancestors before they were shipped off to the American continent or other islands up the archipelago. Fortunately, Curaçaoans don’t take this key role their island played for granted and they have done an excellent job preserving records, artefacts, and traditions so generations to come never forget. A visit to the Kura Hulanda Museum will teach you about the lives of Africans in the motherland, as well as the harrows they faced crossing the Middle Passage. While the knowledgeable guide at Kas Di Pal’i Maishi delivers a detailed recounting of daily life for Afro-Curaçaoans post-slavery.
Experience the Culture
Curaçao is an island where it’s culture is always on display. But, for one day each year, the streets of Otrobanda overflow with more music, art, food, and community spirit than usual in the form of the Kaya Kaya Festival. A community initiative designed to strengthen cultural connections, enhance the neighborhood, create business opportunities, and stimulate social cohesion, the festival has become a mecca for thousands of locals and visitors in just five short years. Attendees fill the streets, roaming from stage to stage, in and out of restaurants and art houses to soak up as many creative displays and sample as much food and drink physically possible. While it gets a slow start during daylight hours, it transforms into an all-out party in the dark of night!
Where to eat
Food is almost a religion in Curaçao and I had a time devouring meal after delicious meal. Honestly speaking, I didn’t have a “bad” meal anywhere, but for the purpose of this guide I’m recommending only the very best restaurants I had the privilege of dining at.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and RustiQ goes above and beyond to make sure it counts. This boho-chic resto inside the Kura Hulanda Village is open all day, but it’s breakfast spread should not be missed. Serving up a platter filled with local treats like sweet buns and fresh fruit, along with the usual bacon and eggs, RustiQ is a great spot to fuel up for the day and grab a few photo ops along the way.
Honorable mention: Grab a loaded bagel seaside at Koko’s on Jan Thiel beach. It’s just as Instagrammable and who doesn’t love an ocean view?
You might go to Scuba Lodge Oceanfront Beach Hotel for the diving, but you’ll stay for the food. Of all the restaurants we visited, De Heeren @ Sea surprised me the most. As a scuba diver, I was expecting something a lot less trendy and a little more chill. However, I got a gorgeously appointed, restaurant with a flawless country-meets-boho-beach aesthetic I couldn’t get enough of! The service and food were on par with the decor – my green chicken curry dish was positively scrumptious!
Honorable mention: Purunchi gets mentioned below in the seafood category but it’s getting an honorable mention here because it’s that’s good.
Fact: Dinner was a tough call. Disclaimer: This dinner recommendation is based primarily on location and vibes as opposed to the actually quality of the food. I’m a beach bum at heart and casual will always trump “fancy” for me. So of all the restaurants we had dinner at, Chill Beach Bar & Grill was my favorite. While the food was “alright”, I was absolutely gaga-gaga in love with the restaurant’s beach aesthetic. The rustic, shabby-chic, surfer vibe was right up my alley – there were actual hammocks mixed in with regular seating!
Honorable mention: San Tropez’s Ocean Club gets a nod for its luxe oceanfront/poolside location, elevated menu, and near-perfect cocktails.
If you’re not eating fish seaside, in the same room where the catch is being cleaned, does it even count? And to think that’s only the start of what makes dining at Kas Di Piskado Purunchi unique. Here, guests walk through the kitchen to access the dining area, which is situated above water and beneath the home of the fishermen catching their meals. Truth be told, I am not a big fish fan, but Purunchi made a convert out of me. My fish was delicious, as were the sides of rice, fried plantains, and the most delicious onion-based sauce! Top that off with the authentic ambiance and you really can’t find a better seafood experience.
Best Local Food
Komedor Krioyo is hands down the best place to get local food – in my humble (and limited) opinion. Housed in a 17th-century farmhouse, this restaurant specializes in traditional local dishes. Everything, from the cactus soup and homemade bread, to the stewed chicken and goat, were beyond words! You definitely want to add it as a lunch stop if you’re doing a beach-day road trip.
Curaçao, was everything I dreamed it would be, and more. I hope you find this guide helpful as you seek out enriching and exciting experiences on the island. If you’ve already been and have any additional recommendations to make, feel free to drop them in the comments. I’m plotting my return to do all three of the ABC’s together so I’ll happily add your suggestions to my itinerary!