Story and photos by Richard Frisbie

curacao beach

Heritage and History in Curacao

Landing at the Curacao airport brought the realization that I wasn’t in a  tropical paradise. The landscape looked like the American Southwest,  covered in cactus, when I’d expected palm trees and lush rainforest.  That wasn’t the last time my assumptions about Curacao proved wrong.  There were many more surprises in store for me... all of them good.

For instance, I didn’t know Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage city, would be so colorful and pretty. The distinctive buildings in the Handelskade area along Santa Anna Bay follow the Dutch School of Architecture, with quaint, gabled designs seen nowhere else in the world outside of the  Netherlands. The additions of shutters, porches and bold colors reflect  the Caribbean influence, and introduce a photogenic charm to the narrow  streets of this colonial gem.

Curacao Market

This section of the city is fun to walk in, with a broad selection of the  finest shops and brands, and narrow alleys that lead to hidden  courtyards with shaded sidewalk cafés. There is also a round building of local shops and stalls, with a more casual flea market of pop up tents  nearby. The South American coast is an 8 hour sail away, so a floating  market of boats laden with exotic Venezuela produce is docked on the  edge, creating a most worldly farmers market.

Curacao Local Market Cookstand

Right near that is the pavilion dinning of Plaza Bieu, a local’s food court  of good native fair. This is where to find the best goat stew, local  fish and such crazy-delicious soups as cactus, iguana and okra. All are  served from steaming cauldrons on open-pit stoves, to be enjoyed at  picnic tables. You must eat here!

Curacao Queen Emma Bridge

I spent two days walking around Willemstad. It is on a very busy and very large harbor with huge ships accessing the oil refineries and dry docks further in, and the massive cruise ships moored along the docks in the  city itself. The skyline is dominated by the Queen Emma Bridge, soaring  high enough above the water that the ships can pass beneath it. For  walking, the pedestrian-only Pontoon Bridge connected the historic  center to the opposite shore where my hotel, Sonesta Kura Hulanda was  located.

Curacao Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa

The Sonesta Kura Hulanda is more than just a hotel. It was an old village  with the buildings creatively updated and re purposed into rooms and  suites. They line the original narrow old cobbled streets that connect  at a large central square featuring sidewalk dining from the hotel  restaurants. Smaller squares were sculpture gardens or held one of two  very pretty pools. It really is a charming place. It even has an  extensive museum of slavery from the early colonial days of the island  when Curacao was the center of the slave trade in the Caribbean. Much of the exhibit was collected in the village itself.

Curacao Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue

Willemstad is also rich in Jewish history, customs and culture. The Mikve  Israel-Emanuel Synagogue is the oldest continuously operated synagogue  in the Western hemisphere. Established in 1732, almost 100 years after  Jews first settled in Curacao, the synagogue’s beautiful woodwork and soaring ceiling create a historic setting for modern services. I was  surprised to find that it had a sand floor which made it feel like  walking on a beach. This harks back to the old world custom used to  muffle the footsteps of the worshipers, when practicing Judaism was illegal and Jews were persecuted. For this information, and much more of its history, there is a museum on premises filled with artifacts -  many still used in services.

Curacao Blessings in an old cathedral

When visiting Willemstad you must try some of its best restaurants, many of  which are located in the Williamsburg-esque neighborhood of Pietermaai,  home of boutique hotels and upscale eateries. One evening there, after  some very creative pre-dinner cocktails at Luke’s Bar, we walked to a  restaurant named Blessing. Located in an old cathedral and monastery -  hence the name Blessing - they offer a refreshing take on modern  cuisine. I had tuna tartar on a crunchy thin rice cake topped with aioli and shredded greens that was as pretty as it was delicious. That was  followed by a medium rare rib-eye steak generously topped with mushrooms and onions. They also offered the imaginative dishes of seafood  cannelloni and octopus ceviche, but it just seemed like a steak night.

It was here that I saw our wine, a refreshing La Linda Viognier 2016,  poured perfectly! A pet peeve of mine is that often the label of the  wine is not visible when being poured. Our waitress rotated the bottle  in her hand after each pouring to insure the label was visible to the  individual she was serving. I rarely encounter that level of  professionalism. You can expect that attention to detail from everyone  at Blessing. 

Curacao Caipirinha

Another really fine dining experience can be had at the Asian-influenced  restaurant called Ginger. There were curries and fish skewers and  teriyaki appetizers, but I had back ribs with sweet and sour coleslaw. I love ribs, but only ordered them because I was sampling their Asian flavors as a main course with a combination serving of beef tikka, fish  tikka, and chicken tandoori served with noodles and Indian sauce. They  really know how to do Asian fusion flavors! And because pairing a wine  with them all would have been impossible, I had my favorite Brazilian  drink, a Caipirinha, made with cachaca, a sugarcane liquor.

Curacao Oasis Coral Estate Beach

There were more restaurants to try than there were days, and more museums  left unvisited than I had time for. In particular, there is an official  Slavery Museum and a Maritime Museum worth seeing. English is widely  spoken and everyone accepts the US dollar. You’d be well served to spend more time touring Willemstad and learning the other neighborhoods  before heading over to the west side of the island to sample some of the 35 beaches. https://outoftownblog.com/swimming-and-diving-in-curacao/ Pick one of the oceanfront resorts as a base to explore them. We stayed at Oasis Coral Estate Beach, Dive and Wellness Resort, with good food,  swimming and unbelievable sunsets. You can rent a car at the airport.

Curacao Tourism  https://www.curacao.com/en/

Sonesta Kura Hulanda Village & Spa http://www.kurahulanda.com/

Go West Diving  http://www.gowestdiving.com

Williwood  https://www.facebook.com/Williwood.experience/

Oasis Coral Estate Beach, Dive and Wellness Resort  https://www.oasisparcs.com

 

 

 

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