A lit sign in downtown Willemstad, Curacao at night.

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Complete Travel Guide For A Curacao Visit in 2024

Nestled in the crystal clear waters of the southern Caribbean Sea, Curaçao beckons travelers from around the globe. A fantastic kaleidoscope of colors, this island nation is a rich cultural tapestry. Curacao is part of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) in the Lesser Antilles. It’s about 40 miles north of Venezuela. To make the most of your visit, here is a complete travel guide to Curacao.

Visitors are attracted to the vibrant streets of Willemstad, adorned with pastel-hued colonial facades, and to the hidden coves and coral reefs teeming with marine life. This Dutch Caribbean island offers a captivating blend of history, natural beauty, and laid-back Caribbean charm. Whether you’re drawn to its world-class diving spots, prefer to lounge on the beach, or seek lively cultural festivals, a journey to Curaçao promises an unforgettable escape. Here is an essential travel guide to the island of Curacao that will help you make the most of your visit.

Willemstad at night with lights and a cruise ship in port.

An Overview of Curacao — Travel Guide For Curacao

Curaçao is a vibrant Caribbean island located in the southern Caribbean Sea, just off the coast of Venezuela. It is one of the five Dutch Caribbean islands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, and Sint Eustatius.  Here is some basic information to start the complete travel guide to Curacao:

Location

Curaçao is situated in the southern Caribbean Sea, about 40 miles north of Venezuela.

Geography

The island is relatively small, covering an area of around 444 square kilometers (171 square miles), and has a diverse landscape, including rugged coastlines, sandy beaches, and rolling hills.

Capital

Willemstad is the capital and largest city of Curaçao. It is renowned for its colorful colonial architecture, which has earned it a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

Language

The official languages of Curaçao are Dutch, Papiamento, and English. Papiamento is a Creole language spoken by most of the population and is a unique blend of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, and African languages.

Currency

The US dollar is widely accepted, or you can use the local currency in Curaçao, the Antillean Guilder (ANG), also called the Florin or Guilde. Don’t be surprised if you pay in dollars and are given change in ANG. Credit cards are accepted everywhere, including on the beach. Even the person renting beach chairs at the beach will carry a credit card machine with them.

Culture

Curaçao boasts a rich cultural heritage influenced by its diverse history, which includes Dutch, African, Spanish, and indigenous cultures. Visitors will find the blend of cultures in the island’s cuisine, music, and festivals.

Economy

Tourism, oil refining, and international trade are the main drivers of Curaçao’s economy. The island is a popular tourist destination for its beaches, excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities, and vibrant nightlife.

Climate

Curaçao enjoys a tropical climate with year-round sunshine and warm temperatures. The island is located outside the hurricane belt, making it a popular destination for travelers seeking a sunny getaway.

Government

Curaçao is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It has its own government, with a parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy.

When To Visit Curacao

The best time to visit Curaçao is during the dry season, which typically spans from mid-December to mid-April. This period offers sunny days, lower humidity, and minimal rainfall, providing ideal conditions for outdoor activities such as snorkeling, diving, and beach hopping. Additionally, these months coincide with the peak tourist season, meaning you’ll find a bustling atmosphere with plenty of events and activities to enjoy. 

However, the shoulder months of May and November can also be good times to visit, offering fewer crowds and potentially lower prices on accommodations and activities than you will find during the high season. Most importantly, Curaçao lies outside the hurricane belt, so the risk of encountering severe weather is relatively low throughout the year. 

For more details on when is the best time to visit Curaçao, read my post When Is The Best Time of Year to Visit Curaçao.

View from the lookout tower at Porto Mari Beach in Curacao.
Playa Porto Mari

Getting To And Around Curacao

The island of Curacao has one major airport, HATO International Airport. It is located on the northern side of the island, just a short distance from the city of Willemstad. It is serviced by both large aircraft and small regional planes. 

American Airlines, Jet Blue, and United currently offer service to Curacao. American Airlines has the most daily direct flights from Charlotte and Miami. Delta recently resumed service and has flights once a week from Atlanta.

KLM frequently operates flights from Amsterdam to Hato. Other European carriers that service the island include TUI and Corendon. Regional airlines such as Divi Divi and Copa operate flights from Aruba and Central America. 

Many visitors will also arrive by cruise ship. The port is in Willemstad; from there, you can find excursions to various parts of the island.

Once on the island, a rental car is the best way to get around. Cars are easy to arrange at the airport. Curacao does have a public transportation system, and you will see bus stops everywhere. But reaching many beaches is not easy via bus, so having a car is the best option.

Driving in Curacao is an adventure. Traffic can be hectic, and I found driving in certain areas of Willemstad stressful. Gas is relatively cheap but not easy to find outside of the capital city, so keep an eye on your gas gauge.

View of Willemstad from the Queen Emma Bridge.

The Main Area of Curacao — Travel Guide For Curacao

Traveling around the island, you will run into several areas and neighborhoods popular among tourists. As part of the complete travel guide to Curacao, here are some of the main areas you might want to explore and some information about them:

Willemstad: The capital city of Curacao, Willemstad, is divided into two central districts: Punda and Otrobanda. Punda is known for its colorful Dutch colonial buildings along the waterfront, while Otrobanda offers a more local and authentic experience. Both areas are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It also features historic landmarks, museums, shops, restaurants, and vibrant street art.

This area offers several hotel options and has the most restaurants worth exploring. However, the beaches in and around Willemstad are not the best on the island. For those, you will need a car to travel to the western coast.

Pietermaai District: Located just east of Punda, Pietermaai District is a trendy and up-and-coming neighborhood known for its beautifully restored colonial buildings, boutique hotels, lively bars, and restaurants. It’s a great place to explore on foot and experience the local nightlife.

You will also find many accommodations in this area, many of which have private beaches. If you don’t plan on renting a car, here and Willemstad are your best options.

Westpunt: Situated on the western tip of the island, Westpunt is known for its rugged coastline, secluded beaches, and excellent snorkeling and diving spots. It’s a more tranquil area compared to the bustling city of Willemstad.

Sint Willibrordus: This charming village on Curacao’s western side is known for its scenic landscapes, historic plantation houses, and beautiful beaches. 

Jan Thiel: Located southeast of Willemstad, Jan Thiel is a popular resort area known for its upscale hotels, beach clubs, and water sports facilities. It’s an excellent destination for families and beachgoers seeking relaxation and entertainment.

Mambo Beach: Just a short drive from Willemstad, Seaquarium Beach, also known as Mambo Beach, is a lively stretch of sand lined with beach bars, restaurants, shops, and water sports rentals. 

Piscadera Bay: Between Willemstad and the airport, Piscadera Bay is home to several luxury resorts, including the Hilton and Marriott. The area offers beautiful beaches, golf courses, and upscale dining options.

The streets of Punda, Willamsted.

Where to stay in Curacao

When visiting, you have many options for what type of accommodation works best for you. Hotels and resorts are plentiful and offer a straightforward approach to the island. Many will have pools and private beaches. The second option is more boutique hotels and inns. They often are more economical and intimate. The final choice is villa rentals, which are plentiful and range from simple to lavish. 

If you choose a villa, the island has many large and small markets and grocery stores. The top choices are the Centrum Market and Carrafore. They have almost everything you need.

Here are my top 5 choices. For complete details on where to stay, check out my post Where to Stay In Curacao Hotels and Villas for 2024.

  • Renaissance Wind Creek Resort & Casino is the most centrally located hotel/resort. It’s right in the heart of Willemstad on the Otrobanda section. Set in the redeveloped historic Rif Fort, it’s within walking distance of Willemstad’s top sites.
  • Avila Beach Hotel in Curacao offers a blend of luxury, history, and natural beauty. It is the oldest operational hotel in Curacao, with a rich history dating back to the 18th century. 
  • Baoase offers luxurious and private accommodations ranging from stylish rooms and suites to lavish villas and breathtaking beachfront pavilions. This is one of the best hotels in Curacao
  • Blue Bay Resort offers a range of accommodations to suit every traveler’s needs, including luxurious villas, spacious apartments, and cozy hotel rooms. This is your choice for a family-friendly location. It offers villa rental or hotel accommodations. 
  • Coral Estates Luxury Resort offers a range of accommodations, including stylish villas, spacious apartments, and hotel rooms. It is situated on the southwest coast of Curacao, boasting a prime beachfront location overlooking the Caribbean Sea. 
View of the beach at Grote Knip in Curacao, one of the best beaches on the island.
Grote Knip/Playa Kenepa Grandi

Finding the Best Beaches

Undoubtedly, you will come to Curacao for the beach and the crystal-clear water. However, if you are traveling to Curacao for long, white sand beaches, you may be disappointed. Beaches on the island are primarily small coves, and often, the sand is coarse and rocky. 

But even then you will find some great beaches to visit. A few notes on a day at the beach: many beaches are private. At many, you will find they charge a fee to enter. This is usually a nominal amount, $3 to $7 a person. When traveling to the western coast, you will find the most public beaches, but usually, these are smaller coves.

Parking is plentiful at the most popular beaches. You won’t need to lug gear, chairs, coolers, umbrellas, etc. Most beaches offer beach chairs for rent for under $10. 

No travel guide for Curacao would be complete with out a list of beaches, here are my top 5 beaches to check out. For more details on these and other beaches, check out my post Top 8 Best Beaches To Visit In Curacao in 2024.

  • Playa Kalki, Also known as Alice in Wonderland, is a beautiful beach on Curacao’s western side. It is known for its clear turquoise waters, vibrant coral reefs, and diverse marine life, making it an excellent spot for snorkeling.
  • Playa Jeremi is another beautiful beach on the western side of Curacao, near the village of Westpunt, just a short drive away from Playa Kalki. 
  • Cas Abao Beach is one of the most popular and picturesque beaches in Curacao. It is known for its soft white sand, clear turquoise waters, and vibrant coral reefs, making it an excellent destination for snorkeling. Cas Abao Beach is located on the northwestern coast of Curacao, near the village of Soto. It’s approximately a 30-40-minute drive from Willemstad.
  • Blue Bay Beach, also known as Blauwbaai, is another popular destination for snorkeling in Curacao. It is located inside the Blue Bay Resort and is approximately a 20-minute drive from Willemstad. When you arrive at the community’s security gate, just tell them you are headed to the beach. It usually requires ID to get through the gate. The beach charges for entry, which is $12 a person, which also includes a beach chair. You can also rent equipment here.
  • Daaibooi Beach, also known as Daibooi or Daibooibaai, is a serene and relatively secluded beach on Curacao’s western side. It was my favorite beach and snorkel destination. Daaibooi Beach is situated on the northwest coast of Curacao, near the village of St. Willibrordus. It’s approximately a 40-minute drive from Willemstad. There is parking, and entrance is free. Chairs and snorkel gear are available for rent, as is snorkel gear at the on-site dive shop.
A sea turtle swimming in the waters of Curacao.
Photo Courtesy of Stephan Van de Schootbrugge from Unsplash

Where to Snorkel 

Snorkeling is one of the main reasons so many people travel to Curacao. The water is clean and calm, and the reef is very close to shore, making for excellent snorkeling. As part of the travel guide to Curacao, here are several snorkel beaches.

The best snorkeling beaches are like the best beaches to visit. Here are a few to check out. For more details and additional options, check out my post Top 12 Best Beaches For Snorkeling In Curacao.

  • Klein Curaçao: While technically not on the island of Curacao, Klein Curacao is a small uninhabited island off the coast. Accessible by a long boat ride, about an hour and a half, this deserted stretch of sand offers fantastic snorkeling opportunities. Despite its remote location, Klein Curacao is a popular excursion for visitors seeking pristine beaches and great snorkeling.
  • Playa Lagun: Nestled within a protective cove, Playa Lagun boasts a vibrant coral reef and frequent sightings of sea turtles. Ideal for beginners, this small beach offers rental gear and beach chairs. The best snorkeling spots are along the cliff walls lining the cove, where you’ll encounter diverse marine life.
  • Tugboat Beach: Named after a sunken tugboat, Tugboat Beach offers an exciting snorkeling experience with rich marine life. The currents can be stronger, making it suitable for confident swimmers, and the Beach promises memorable underwater encounters.
Evening view of the Karakter restaurant at the Coral Estate Luxury Resort on Curacao.

One Of The Best Dive Spots in The Caribbean

Divers flock to Curaçao for its reputation as a premier diving destination, offering a diverse underwater landscape with vibrant marine life, fascinating shipwrecks, and breathtaking coral reefs. Here’s why divers are drawn to Curaçao:

  • Crystal-Clear Waters: Curaçao boasts crystal-clear, turquoise waters with excellent visibility, often exceeding 100 feet (30 meters). This clarity provides divers with unparalleled views of the underwater world, making every dive a mesmerizing experience.
  • Healthy Coral Reefs: The island is surrounded by an extensive coral reef system, including some of the Caribbean’s healthiest and most diverse reefs. These reefs are home to a kaleidoscope of hard and soft corals, sponges, and abundant colorful reef fish.
  • Marine Biodiversity: Curaçao’s waters are rich in marine biodiversity, offering encounters with a wide array of sea creatures, including sea turtles, eagle rays, moray eels, nurse sharks, and countless species of tropical fish. Divers have the opportunity to explore a variety of underwater ecosystems, from shallow coral gardens to deep walls and drift dives.
  • Wreck Diving: Curaçao has several fascinating shipwrecks, providing exciting opportunities for wreck diving enthusiasts. Notable wreck sites include the Superior Producer, a sunken cargo ship resting on a sandy seabed, and the Tugboat, a small wreck teeming with marine life just off the coast.
  • Accessible Shore Diving: One of the unique features of diving in Curaçao is the accessibility of shore diving sites. The island offers numerous easily accessible dive sites directly from the shore, allowing divers to explore the underwater world at their own pace without needing a boat.
  • Dive Infrastructure: Curaçao is well-equipped with dive centers, shops, and professional dive operators offering guided dives, equipment rental, and certification courses for divers of all levels. Whether a seasoned diver or a beginner, you’ll find everything you need to make the most of your diving adventure in Curaçao.
View from restaurant of cliff divers at Playa Forti in Curacao.
Cliff Divers Playa Forti

Things To Do Other Than Go To The Beach

Curaçao offers diverse activities beyond its stunning beaches and snorkeling spots. As part of the complete travel guide for Curacao, here are some of the best things to do on the island out of the water:

Explore Willemstad’s Historic District: Wander through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed capital city of Willemstad and admire its charming pastel-colored Dutch colonial buildings. Don’t miss the iconic Queen Emma Bridge, also known as the “Swinging Old Lady,” which opens to allow ships to pass.

Visit Shete Boka National Park: Explore the rugged coastline of Shete Boka National Park, where you can witness the powerful force of the ocean as waves crash against the rocky cliffs. The park is also home to several sea caves and natural blowholes.

Hike Christoffel National Park: Lace up your hiking boots and venture into the scenic landscapes of Christoffel National Park. Climb to the summit of Mount Christoffel, the highest point on the island, for panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.

Discover Hato Caves: Descend into the fascinating underground world of Hato Caves, where you can marvel at stalactites, stalagmites, and ancient cave drawings. Guided tours offer insight into the caves’ geological and cultural significance.

Visit Landhuis Chobolobo: Take a tour of Landhuis Chobolobo, home to the iconic Blue Curaçao liqueur. Learn about the production process of this famous local spirit and sample different varieties in the tasting room.

Experience the Curaçao Sea Aquarium: Delve into the wonders of marine life at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium, where you can observe colorful coral reefs, tropical fish, sharks, and sea turtles. Interactive programs allow visitors to get up close and personal with marine creatures.

Play the Old Quarry Golf Course: The Old Quarry Golf Course is located within the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort. This Pete Dye-designed course offers stunning ocean views and challenging holes set amidst natural limestone quarries.

Shop at Floating Market: Experience the vibrant atmosphere of the Floating Market in Willemstad, where Venezuelan vendors sell fresh produce, seafood, and goods from their colorful boats. It’s a great place to sample local fruits and snacks.

Plate with salmon and sauce.
Salmon at Fort Nassau

Where to Eat In Curacao

I will be upfront with you here: I was not impressed with the food in Curacao. During my visit, I did find a few restaurants that I enjoyed. But overall, it is not a place to which I would return for the food. But no travel guide to a visit to Curacao would be complete without a few suggestions on where to eat.

Here are a few of my favorite places to dine:

  • Koraal Rooftop Bar & Pool: The Koraal Rooftop Bar & Pool is the Coral Estate Luxury Resort’s mid-range, more casual dining option. It offers great drinks, a fantastic view, and good food.
  • Karkter: Situated on the shores of Coral Estate Beach, Karakter is a beachfront oasis known for its laid-back atmosphere and delicious cuisine. Guests can dine with their toes in the sand while savoring a menu of mouthwatering dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. Karakter is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Reservations are recommended if you want a front-row beach table.
  • Fort Nassau: One of the more romantic places to dine is the Sunset Terrace. You can reserve a table a few weeks before your visit and have a great view from one of four small tables in an area called the “Bus,” which is a narrow overhang of the fort. 
  • Gouverneur De Rouville: Restaurant & Café Gouverneur de Rouville was hands down our favorite restaurant in Curacao. We had lunch and dinner at this establishment, which is located in the Otrabanda (the other side) section of Willemstad. It has a beautiful view of the Handelskade, that picturesque stretch of waterfront you’ve seen on every Curaçao postcard.

For more dining options and information on the food scene in Curacao, check out my post Where to Eat In Curacao, The Best Restaurants To Try.

Is Curacao Expensive?

Expensive is a relative term. Of course, Curacao can be very expensive to visit. But when I compare it to other Caribbean islands, it can be slightly less expensive. 

Renting a three-bedroom villa with an ocean view and pool was about 20% less than I paid for a studio villa in St. John, USVI, which did not have a pool. Food costs were on par with most dining in many US cities. 

Car rental was more expensive than most places, but gas was average. 

So, if you plan accordingly, Curacao is slightly less expensive than many other island vacations.

View of the Cas Abao Beach with people entering the water in Curacao.

How Long To Visit?

Most visitors will spend a week or two on the island. But if you want to explore Curacao from nearby islands such as Bonaire or Aruba, you could easily experience what the island offers in two to three days. 

Is Curacao Safe?

Curacao is generally a safe island. Of course, you should exercise caution in certain areas and at certain times of the day. Most crime is petty theft. Don’t leave things in your car, and try not to leave valuable items unattended while on the beach. 

Many of the resorts and villa communities have security. So, traffic into the neighborhood is restricted. But I never felt unsafe at any point during my visit.

Is Curacao Worth A Visit?

When I returned from my recent trip, I was asked this question, and I had a hard time answering it at first. I would say, on the whole, yes. The weather is fantastic, and the water is some of the bluest, clearest water in the world. But if you are looking for incredible white sand beaches, you won’t find them here. 

If you snorkel or scuba dive, this is a destination you must visit. My favorite moments on the island were spent in the water, and the sunsets were spectacular every evening. So, all things considered, I would pay Curacao a visit and take in the things that make it special. This travel guide will hopefully help you plan your visit to Curacao.

Below are links and resources to help you plan The perfect trip

Travel Resources

  • HOTELS
    Booking.com and Expedia.com are great resources for accommodations around the world. Book almost any hotel directly from these links.
  • TOURS
    The best places to book tours and activities are Viator or Get Your Guide . From great food tours to guided hiking adventures to local walking tours, you will find great experiences to add to your travels here.
  • FOOD EXPERIENCES
    EatWith is a great resource for authentic culinary experiences with passionate locals worldwide. Connecting travelers with hosts in over 130 countries, providing unique, intimate, and immersive experiences in private homes and exclusive venues.
  • TRAINS
    Trainline is Europe’s leading train and coach app. They work with over 210 rail and coach companies to help their customers travel to thousands of destinations across 45 countries. 

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