Yes, there are 65 dive sites, 35 beaches, a highly acclaimed Jazz Festival, varied cultures—from Dutch to Spanish—unique architecture, and a well-known Ostrich Farm, but it’s the people of tiny Curaçao, said Eugene Rhuggenaath, Curaçao’s Minister of Economic Development and Tourism, over lunch a few weeks ago, that make this Southern Caribbean island stand above the rest. “Curaçao is about connecting with the people. The culture here is very rich and diverse,” and “we welcome people to come and enjoy life with us.”
U.S. visitor arrivals to Curaçao are up by 8 percent, but many Americans have yet to discover this volcanic island and its many treasures, which range from the Den Paradera Herb Garden—run by the same woman, Dinah Veeris, for the last 25 years (this is a must-visit, especially for those interested)—to a new winery (the first on the island). The great thing about the island, said Minister Rhuggenaath, is that “there is always something new on the island, but the change is at a nice pace.” The island, he emphasizes, is not overrun by tourists, thus making it a perfect destination for your more discerning clients.
“Get Them to Paradise as Soon as Possible”
According to the minister, that’s what the new e-gates at the Curaçao International Airport are going to do—get visitors through the airport quickly and onward “to paradise.” The six e-gates allow travelers to pass through immigration in less than one minute; travelers must fill out an Online Embarkation/Disembarkation Card 24 hours before arrival in Curaçao (visit curacao.com).
Once in “paradise,” the array of activities is infinite: hiking, birdwatching, mountain biking, and lots of watersports. Scuba diving aficionados will appreciate the still-pristine reefs, and one of the dive “musts” is Mushroom Forest and the Cave, named for the vertical star coral growth in the shape of mushrooms. Divers will want to know, too, that Ocean Encounters has renovated its dive center at the Sunscape Curaçao Resort, Spa & Casino, and will offer Scuba Schools International dive certifications, as well as PADI offerings. For diving families there’s the family-friendly CURious2DIVE, which offers an introduction to breathing underwater for kids 8 and up.
Another underwater adventure the kids will love is the Curaçao Substation, which descends four times a day from the Curaçao Sea Aquarium to 1,000 ft. Or, recommend the Aquafari, self-propelled submersibles that allow children 10 and up to explore the reefs.
Tell yoga fanatics that Curaçao Yoga Week is coming up next month, June 18-25. It will include everything from morning meditations and yoga classes for all experience levels to a soul food brunch and a sailing adventure. Accommodations are at the Lions Dive and Beach Resort, with rates starting at $1,190.
After all that fun under the sun, visitors might want to dab some aloe on themselves…point them in the direction of the CurAloe Plantation, which can be toured to learn about the aloe plant and its harvest for product manufacturing.
The minister points to the Floating Market in Punda as one of the top local experiences—Venezuelan vendors sell their fresh produce along the waterfront directly off their small fishermen’s boats. In the trendy Pietermaai district a new restaurant, Mosa, is set to open, serving internationally inspired tapas in a sharing-style dining experience. And in Westpunt, on the cliffs of the island’s Westside Beach, Playa Forti, the Blue View Terrace & Bar recently opened.
Getting & Staying There
There are daily flights on American Airlines and Insel Air from Miami; weekly flights on Insel from Charlotte; and twice weekly flights on JetBlue from New York. Once on island, there’s a variety of accommodations that range from budget to high-end, with the Baoase Luxury Resort and the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort falling into the latter category. Santa Barbara, the minister mentioned, is secluded and is ideal for people who want some spa pampering. It’s a 27-acre reserve turned resort. Many of these resorts are LGBT-friendly as well, because as the minister pointed out during the lunch, one of Curaçao’s mottos is “live and let live.” Take note: The Curaçao PRIDE week takes place Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, featuring extravagant parties and workshops.
For more information, visit curacao.com.