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A Curacao travel guide – Dutch colonial architecture and beaches of opal sand

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Curacao sits in crystalline waters dotted with fish-rich dive sites. Choose from 40 white sand beaches, browse bustling street markets or visit handsome colonial-era districts. Holidays in Curacao aren’t complete without tasting the island’s eponymous liqueur.

Get your bearings

Curacao’s beaches span from ribbons of alabaster sands to small, intimate coves. On the south coast, calm waters lap the island’s most popular beach hang-outs while the rolling surf of the rugged northern coast is only for the brave. Most of Curacao’s 140,000 Caribbean-Latino residents live in the east of the island where Willemstad, the cosmopolitan capital, sits on the leeward coast. Cross a bridge to enter Punda’s cobblestone streets trimmed with brightly coloured colonial buildings. Venture into Otrabanda (“the other side”) to discover Curacao’s more contemporary character.

Dive, delve and explore

Year-round dry weather and sunshine make Curacao a heart-pounding outdoor adventure, from sea kayaking forays into the shoreline’s coves to diving among the reefs and offshore wrecks. On dry land, choose from mountain bike trails, Jeep safaris, scooters or horseback to discover Curacao’s caves, bushland and bluffs.

UNESCO buildings in bubble-gum hues

To wander around Curacao’s stone-built forts, protected port and ramparts is to delve into a bygone era when the great European maritime powers battled for colonial rule. As the historical nexus of the Dutch Antilles, Curacao is proud of its indigenous heritage. Visit salt mines where African slaves once toiled or explore Punda’s UNESCO- preserved 16th-century streets. Gaze at monuments to the island’s ill-fated occupation by the British (1807-1816) and marvel at the sand-scattered floor of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest synagogue, consecrated in 1732.

Spices, tropical fruits and aphrodisiac soup

Curacao’s cuisine blends a myriad of culinary influences, from Africa’s salted goat meat and Caribbean seafood to Holland’s tasty Asian-European delights. In cosmopolitan capital Willemstad, the cultural hybrid is at its most vibrant. At the Old Market authentic dishes run from okra cooked with cinnamon, coconut, lime and mango to conch stews and sticky Dutch pancakes. Traditional cafés serve Afro-Caribbean soul food and Indonesian stir-fries. Try chicken cooked with gado gado (green beans and peanut sauce) or rijsttafel (mixed rice dishes) or grab a beer at a waterfront restaurant before trying iguana soup, which is said to have medicinal and aphrodisiac powers.

Duty free, markets and glitzy boutiques

Curacao’s 57-acre Harbour Duty Free Zone is the Caribbean’s largest, although goods island-wide are often “duty- relaxed“. Visit Punda’s bustling floating market to haggle with Venezuelan traders aboard colourful barges loaded with tropical fruits and wares. The small artisans’ market on Plaza Jojo Correa is famed for its local crafts. Shops in the capital’s commercial centre stock everything from clothing to watches and souvenirs. Stoll along pedestrian-only Heerenstraat and Madurostraat for one-off items or join the throngs in Breedestraat and Roodeweg for discount buys.

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