Last fall I joined forces with the fine folks at Marriott Resorts of the Caribbean and Mexico to highlight their properties and the islands they call home. Along the way though something happened, I fell in love. I didn’t expect it to happen, but Curacao truly and honestly stole my heart. It wasn’t just a pretty beach or a nice meal that did it, you can get that anywhere. No, it was something else, something indefinable, a total experience made perfect by the sum of its parts. I’ve thought a lot about why I liked Curacao so much and I believe that these special moments have a lot to do with it. Plus, it’s snowing again here in Washington, DC and the allure of a warm beach is almost too much to handle.
1. That first sunset – One of the many ways I evaluate a new destination is by the quality of the sunset. I’m not all that picky though, a sunset over the glittering skyscrapers of Bangkok is just as pretty to me as when the sun dips into warm tropical waters. I sat in a quiet part of the Curacao Marriott Beach Resort, fruity drink in hand and excitedly awaited nature’s daily show. I’m always amazed by just how quickly a good sunset can come and go. One minute the purple and pink hues light up the sky and the next it’s all over. Time was drawn out on Curacao though, at least for me. Watching the sun fall languidly into the comforting waters of the Caribbean was a comfort to me. Sure it was stunning, but it was a good omen. A promise of great things to come on this strange and quirky island.
2. Walking the Otrobanda – Discovering the Dutch influence was a lot of fun for me, and my best immersion into it was on a walking tour of the Otrobanda. For decades this part of town immediately opposite the more famous Punda district (home to those fabulous painted buildings on every postcard) has not had the best reputation, and it was earned. It was a more rough and tumble part of town, but in recent years the local community has made a dedicated effort to restoring it to its former glory and it’s working. The tour I joined was led by a local architect who, for fun, once a week leads a historical and architectural tour of the Otrobanda. Wait, it’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise, for it was on this tour that I learned the most not just about early Dutch history on the island, but current events as well. There is a stronger tie to the Netherlands than on other Dutch islands I visited and I like it. Walking around hearing foreign languages spoken instead of English added to my travel experience. The island felt removed, foreign and amazing. That’s a hard feat to achieve on a Caribbean island; so many have lost that individuality.
3. Swinging bridge of Willemstad – Like every other visitor to Curacao, the colorful, riverfront buildings in Willemstad’s Punda district mesmerized me. It’s the island’s most famous landmark and is just as beautiful in person as on postcards. Whether it’s the sun glittering off their windows, or the bright lights that keep them illuminated after dark they are always beautiful. There’s one feature I didn’t know about before leaving home though, I didn’t know about the moving bridge that connects Punda with the Otrobanda. The Queen Emma Bridge doesn’t just connect these two important parts of town, it also accommodates ocean-going vessels in a most unique way. Instead of a drawbridge, the Queen Emma is a pontoon bridge. Whenever a ship needs to pass, propellers mounted perpendicular to the length of the bridge allow it to swing parallel to the shore. You can watch this maritime show from shore or you can just stay on the bridge until the move is complete. Whenever the bridge is in motion, a free ferry service takes over and transports people from one shore to the other. I loved watching the bridge; for me it was yet another surprise on an island full of them.
4. Hanging out with ostriches – I love animals and visiting with them is a big part of my travel experience, as long as it’s done responsibly. I found a spot on Curacao that fit the bill though, the Curaçao Ostrich Farm. Started by South African expats in the mid-90s, the Ostrich Farm today is one of the largest outside of Africa. The facility is committed to conserving and breeding these beautiful birds and they have a special safari tour to bring guests closer to the large creatures. An African style safari truck takes visitors through the farm, showing ostriches in all stages of development, from egg to full adult. You can even take a ride on one of the birds, an adventure activity for those without pronounced avian phobias. Everyone though gets a chance to feed them and get up close in a way that is both fun and safe.
Have you been to Curacao? What are your favorite memories of the island?
I was in the Caribbean on a project with Marriott Hotels and Resorts of Mexico and the Caribbean for which I was compensated for my time, but as always all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.