Tips for Traveling to Curacao

Road in Christoffel National Park CuracaoTucked south of all the islands people think of when the word “Caribbean” comes to mind and just north of South America, Curacao is, in many ways, a little Europe in the tropics.

A part of the Netherlands Antilles, traveling to Curacao is an interesting mix of colonial and modern with tinges of laid back island life tinged with European flair. The capital city of Curacao, Willemstad, is, in many ways, the hub of the island. The city has been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site with its rows of colorful, protected buildings and friendly pedestrian-only streets.

Elsewhere on the island, a lush and largely undeveloped swath of land awaits exploration. Hiking trails through Christoffel National Park, relatively wild beaches and warm, clear water are welcome diversions from the (busier) city life.

If you’d like to travel to Curacao, here are a few tips for a more seamless vacation:

1. Pack bug spray. Though the island only receives about 22 inches of rain each year, the climate is what I like to call arid tropical. Think beaches with cacti on them. There is a humidity hanging in the air on Curacao that breeds mosquitoes, especially in the more lush areas of the island. Pack bug spray or prepare to be eaten alive.

Willemstad fruit market Curacao2. Use the Netherlands Antillean guilder (“florin”) or U.S. dollar. Though the local currency is the florin, most restaurants and shops note the price of items in U.S. dollars as well. Less popular is the euro, though this form of currency is also okay to use in many places as well.

3. Check for a service charge on your bill. Some restaurants build a service charge, or tip, into the bill, but others do not. If there is no tip built in, feel free to leave what you feel is appropriate. Even if there is a service charge included, you may choose to leave more if you feel the service is worthy of it.

4. Expect to spend a lot of money. I was shocked how expensive Curacao was. Really, truly shocked. Food is outrageously pricey; expect to pay at least $20.00 for a main entrée with prices going up from there. Finding an inexpensive place to eat a small breakfast or a simple dinner was difficult in Willemstad. Beyond food, even older, rundown hotels are overpriced (in my opinion), and taking part in any kind of activity will set you back more than I anticipated. For example, renting snorkel equipment (fins not included) cost $20.00. Entry into the national park was $10.00 per person plus extra for a park map.

yellow building Willemstad Curacao5. Rent a car. Though Willemstad is very walkable, if you want to go anywhere else on the island, I would recommend you rent a car. The price for a taxi is quite expensive, and, though there are tour operators and occasional shuttles available through the resorts, you’ll have a lot more freedom if you rent a car. Rental cars are also affordable. Be aware, though, that, though you can drive your rental car in the national park, you are completely responsible for any damage done to the car in the park.

6. Study your map. If you will be driving a rental car, take some time to study a map of the island before you begin to drive. Roads are not well marked (if they’re marked at all) and it’s easy to spend hours driving in circles and making u-turns trying to get where you want to go. If you have an idea of how the island’s main roads are laid out, you’ll be one step ahead of where you need to be for successful navigation.

7. Try to arrive during daylight hours. In order to appreciate what Curacao looks like—and to get your physical bearings—arrive on the island before night falls.

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