23:55 PM

Exploring Curaçao's colorful past and present

Jonathan Black, Travel Weekly


The latest Curaçao promotion is all about the "blues" — everything from the island's azure waters to the lively late-night music scene. The beaches, in particular, are a standout, ranging from secluded coves to broad sweeps of sugar-white sand. But there are plenty of other lures to send vacationers heading for the South Caribbean. 

The capital, Willemstad, is a great place to explore, its designation as a Unesco World Heritage site owed to its wealth of historical buildings; at last count, 765 were listed. Colorful painted houses in the Dutch tradition are everywhere, and the narrow streets are busy with shops and restaurants.

There is a fort, the impressive Governor's House and the famous Queen Emma Bridge (most fun is to watch it swing open from the many cafes that line the harbor). Of particular interest is the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere (don't miss the fascinating attached museum and its wealth of memorabilia).

Schedule a stroll in the bustling Pietermaai district with its many oceanview eateries, cozy cafes and boutique hotels; slot in a lunch break at the boisterous "floating market," where merchants from Venezuela (it's only 40 miles away) bring fresh fish and vegetables daily. For dinner I particularly liked the upscale Mosa, which serves inventive tapas-style dishes in a lovely garden.

The island, with a population of 150,000, is part of the "A-B-C" Dutch Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), and the overwhelming majority of tourists come from the Netherlands. During a recent five-day stay, I didn't meet a single visitor from the U.S. mainland — which doesn't mean Americans are not warmly welcome. People in Curacao are especially friendly, crime is virtually nonexistent and almost everyone is fluent in English, Dutch and Spanish.

Curacao is not the place to visit for those whose tastes run to high-rise, all-inclusive beach hotels (there are almost none), but there is a variety of top accommodations with terrific locations.