So much more than a blue liqueur
Though best known for its electric blue spirit, Dutch Caribbean Curacao is a colorful kaleidoscope of attractions well worth exploring far beyond the famous bottle.
Bartenders the world over love the native orange/brandy liqueur that originated on this island- not only for its taste, but also for its ability to color cocktails such an interesting blue hue, the most famous being the Blue Lagoon. And though many have copied and imitated it, the only authentic original recipe Curacao is still made in the Senior family distillery there called Landhuis Chobolobo. A visit to their factory -which includes free samples- while there, is a must! And it also comes in red, green and orange, and in chocolate, coffee and rum raisin flavors! They also have a lovely new café where you can try all kinds of delights made with their products.
The "C" of the terrific triumvirate of Dutch Caribbean islands often to referred to as the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao), is located about 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Arid and sun kissed, with a vibrant cosmopolitan downtown scene resonating with a rich history, this island is somewhat more complicated than most. Some 60 different nationalities, a language - Papiamentu incorporating at least five other languages (though most locals do speak English,) and a grand mosaic of attractions running the gamut from eco-awesome to world class deluxe… there's something for everyone there. And weather-wise, there's no bad time to visit. Curacao is outside of the hurricane belt, and boasts sunshine and temps hovering in the 80s (cooled by constant trade winds) about 365 days a year. Annual rainfall is only 22 inches per year.
Second to the famous liqueur, Curacao is best known for its colorful Dutch colonial style waterfront called the "handelskade" which is also a UNESCO world heritage site. The ancient port town is divided by the natural deep water harbour into two- Punda (The Point) and Otrabanda (The Other Side). They are connected by “Queen Emma” the floating pontoon bridge locals call the "Swinging Old Lady"- it swings open for boats and closes for pedestrian crossings. On both sides of the bridge you'll find all kinds of culture and history- old forts, beautifully restored colonial houses, museums and high end treasures to buy- gold, silver, diamonds, Swiss watches… all low-duty and tax-free. You'll need at least a day (and maybe a night) to discover all the charms of downtown as there is plenty of world-class dining and nightlife options there as well. Also visit the trendy new district of Pietermaai nearby for all kinds of cool dining and nightlife amidst a beautifully restored old neighborhood.
Beyond the City
Once out of Willemstad, you'll find yourself wondering if you've been transported to another planet. The interior kunuku (countryside) is a desert-like expanse of scrub and cacti, populated by wild goats and iguanas and dotted with assorted plantation houses often restored to become something else like art galleries or museums. In the middle of it all is Mt. Christoffel the island's highest peak and part of the protected national park. Also other-worldly, and worth a visit is Shete Boca, another protected national park- a rocky seaside moonscape-like region with a natural blow hole and wild waves crashing upon ancient coral cliffs. Surreal. Carmabi is the organization that offers the best eco-tour of both parks.
Curacao has 38 beaches with waters clear, warm, pristine and full of healthy coral reefs and lots of marine life. The sands are typically powder white and each beach has its own appeal. It all depends on your mood. Rent a car and go beach-hopping for a day, you're sure to find one that is your own personal paradise.
For Marine Life Lovers
If you love marine life then this island is for you. Start with a day at the Curacao Sea Aquarium where you can experience close encounters with dolphins, sea lions, sea turtles, stingrays, giant groupers, and even sharks! One of the best adventures is the dolphin academy dive in open water. But you can even go really deep without even getting wet! Curasub is a 4-person bubble submarine that travels down to a full 1,000 feet below! (This is the same type of vehicle James Cameron used to film many Titanic scenes.) There's also a full seawater-fed aquarium with over 450 species of tropical fish there. And there is a cool new underwater scooter with air-supplied helmets that you really must try called Aquafari.
There are also many excellent dive operators and snorkel boat tours on island, but if you really want something extraordinary, you must travel to the Klein Curacao by boat with Ocean Encounters . The uninhabited island is truly unique. Read about it here.
By Susan Campbell
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Article originally appeared on Cocktails & Joints Travel Web.