by Melanie Reffes
Less than an hour from Willemstad, on the west coast, Playa Kenepa is really two beaches; Kenepa Grandi or Grote Knip is the bigger beach and Kenepa Chiki or Klein Knip the smaller one. One road leads to both of the popular beaches where you can bring your own cooler and sample Dutch treats like crunchy pastries called pastechis sold by the vendors at the entrance. Klein Knip is the go-to for snorkeling while Grote Knip is the better beach for drawing your own line in the sand. Halfway between the two is a lookout where brazen cliff divers test their skills and onlookers pose for selfies.
Cas Abao is what connoisseurs like to call full-service. On the southwest coast, the talc sand and denim blue water makes the beach ideal for swimming and kayaking. Upping the ante, there are beach masseurs, a Daiquiri Bar and a parking lot for those with rental cars.
Easy to find with cliffs marking the sides of the cove and fishing boats parked on the sand, Playa Lagun is on the dive A-list with sponges and coral plentiful along the cliffs.
Playa Jeremi is a medium-sized beach, just north of Lagun that only offers a few palapas and a couple of picnic tables. There are cliffs on either side of the turquoise -blue water, and the beach itself is both simple and beautiful.
Playa Porto Mari is also fun for underwater exploring with a unique double reef and trails that lead to a kaleidoscope of coral, colorful fish and sea turtles.
Playa Kalki, a small cove popular for snorkeling and diving, has a roped-off area with a floating platform. It is located down steep stone steps from the parking area. Halfway between the parking area and the beach is a shaded terrace with a snack bar and dive shop. Entrance to the water is somewhat rocky but worth it!
Between Wespunt and Otrobanda, near the village of Sint Michiel, the beach at Blue Bay Resort is a shimmering welcome mat with powdery sand and a gently sloping sea floor that is safe for young swimmers. Sunny add-ons include loungers, water sports, Friday happy hour with live music and spirited Sunday barbecues.
A few minutes past Blue Bay Resort Kokomo beach, (Vaersenbaai), is a beautiful natural bay with a laid-back surf atmosphere and an upscale touch. This is an ideal beach to enjoy a quiet day with family, have a great lunch, try one of their delicious cocktails or just fall in love with the cristal clear water!
In an upscale neighborhood east of Willemstad, you can find Jan Thiel Beach. With a chic and cozy atmosphere, it offers full-service with restaurants, massage, watersports, superb diving and snorkeling. From a siesta on a palm-shaded day bed to chilling with a cold beer or sipping a margarita at happy hour, there are plenty of beach activities in between and musical entertainment after sunset.
The Sea Aquarium Beach, also known as Mambo Beach, invites swimmers, snorkelers and divers with a breakwater that keeps the shallow water calm, so even on days with rough surf, you can follow schools of tropical fish along the break. This beach is relaxation perfection with water sports kiosks, one-stop-shopping at the BLVD, a huge selection of restaurants and movies – all at the water’s edge.
There is a reason why Curaçao’s city center is on Unesco’s World Heritage List. Over 800 monumental buildings can be found in Curaçao and most of them are in walking distance of each other. For a city vibe, ditch the surf, at least for a day, you can always go back to the beach tomorrow…
Named after Dutch royalty, five bridges connect three districts of Willemstad; Punda, Otrobanda and Scharloo. Nicknamed the ‘Swinging Old Lady’, the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge spans the St. Anna Bay and is the only floating bridge in the world. Connecting Punda and Otrobanda, the most photographed bridge on the island sparkles at night with twinkling lights.
Marking more than two decades on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Willemstad is a delightfully walkable city. The oldest district, called Punda, is charming with cobble-stoned lanes and a pastel-pretty waterfront, with the bright yellow Penha building built on the corner in 1708. The big Curaçao sign in Queen Wilhelmina Park is just steps from the Information Booth where you can snag gratis maps of the island, brochures and a few more copies of Events Curaçao to bring back as souvenirs!
For a spirited street party, Thursday Night Punda Vibes is a must-do with shows, live music, Curaçao folkloric dancing on the Plaza, and fireworks over the bay. This festive evening, in iconic downtown Punda, gathers locals and visitors alike, in celebration of this island’s unique cultural heritage and traditions.
On the art alley called Windstraat, Chichi Punda is a groovy gallery owned by Serena Israel who created the original Chichi from chicken wire, paper and glue. With a robust Chichi at the entrance, dolls painted in vibrant colors are striking souvenirs. Just past this gallery, you will also find the Nena Sanchez gallery belonging to a famous local artist that recently passed away. The gallery still hosts a special pop-up Sangria Bar on Thursday evenings at her family-run gallery. Close by in a yellow building on Hanchi Snoa, Mikve Israel-Emanuel is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas. Consecrated in 1732, the distinctive sandy floor pays homage to the earliest Jewish settlers who, while living in Europe during the Spanish Inquisition, had to muffle their footsteps to observe judaism and pray.
Across the footbridge from the Floating Market, Scharloo looks a lot like Miami’s artsy Wynwood neighborhood where the wealthiest merchants lived centuries ago. Today, Scharloo is home to murals on centuries-old buildings as well as the National Archives in a forest-green wedding cake-shaped mansion.
Explore on your own or book a tour on a three-wheeler called a ‘tuk tuk’. For an afternoon nosh, Beyglz is the real deal with bagels flown in from New York.
As you stroll through Scharloo, you can soak up the colors, romance and nostalgia of the historic neighborhood. Legend has it that Scharloo got its name from the Dutch words meaning ‘little bushes’ or ‘scrubs’. Around the 1700s, many elite Sephardic Jews moved to Scharloo and constructed colorful villas inspired by Spanish-style architecture, which solidified its identity. Due to a government decree outlawing white paint, many villas in Curaçao, including those located in Scharloo, were painted in every vibrant color imaginable.
After World War II, Scharloo started to lose its colonial splendor, as many heirs lost interest in maintaining the villas, or simply died off. This made room for the working class to move into the dwellings that became vacant. Many mansions in Scharloo were purchased by banks and other financial institutions and turned into office spaces. Fortunately, things are on an upswing since Scharloo is experiencing a renaissance. Starting at Parke Leyba, which has become a hub for local artists and entrepreneurs, Scharloo is evolving from a financial district into a swanky community that is attracting some renowned artists and musicians.