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Travel Log | Going Dutch in the Caribbean: Checking out Curacao |

Going Dutch in the Caribbean: Checking out Curacao

2018-10-19T11:45:20-05:00 en-US Oct 19, 2018

By: Melanie Reffes

Source: The Suburban

Photo: Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino is the go-to for travelers who like a city stay, Credit: Melanie Reffes

A Dutch Caribbean island with a lollipop-coloured capital city and long stretches of sandy beaches, Curacao sits pretty just north of Venezuela. With visitors from Canada on the rise, it’s no surprise Air Canada Vacations flies nonstop from Montreal on Mondays starting December 24 and added new flights on Fridays starting December 21; both continuing through April 2019.

“With more than 35 named beaches, Curaçao offers great choices for sun, sand and surf,” said Nino Montagnese, managing director, Air Canada Vacations. “The island’s diverse heritage spanning various cultures and unrivalled European architecture means that whether you travel for cuisine, history, relaxation or adventure, there’s something for everyone.” —

Ticking off all the vacation boxes, the island invites with a boatload of fun for those looking to escape the winter winds at home. “Curaçao is the ‘unknown’ Caribbean, which makes it potentially more interesting than the more popular islands,” said Gianina Atalita, sales and marketing coordinator, Curaçao Tourist Board, North America. —

Photo: Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort is the largest resort on the island, Credit: Melanie Reffes

The largest hotel on the island, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, is family-friendly with 350 rooms and suites. “We have been great partners with Air Canada Vacations for many years,” said Rob de Bekker, general manager. “Flights from Montreal give us an extra edge to capture guests to our beautiful sunny slice of paradise.”

Not an all-inclusive, although meal plans are offered, Chef Heinrich Hortencia works his magic with coconut-y fish stew and chocolate desserts worth the splurge. Options to keep busy include hiking and biking, four tennis courts, three pools, water sports, Atabei Spa and golfing at the Old Quarry. For the kids, there’s Camp Arawak and feeding the iguanas. —

In the capital city of Willemstad, Renaissance Curaçao is brand reliable with the Blue Lobby Bar, Nautilus for a Dutch Caribbean breakfast and the Infinity Beach Club with its unique faux-beach that slopes into an infinity pool. When the sun sets, there’s live music in the lobby and slots at the Carnaval Casino. “With the new flights, we have the opportunity to show our Curacao hospitality to more guests discovering the uniqueness of our island,” said Karen Felida-Evans, marketing manager.

Adjacent to Rif Fort that was built to defend Willemstad from pirates; the Renaissance Mall welcomes with the Kandela Lounge for a fiery whiskey and a Cuban cigar. —

Photo: Jan Thiel Beach is chic on the east side of the island, Credit: PBC

On the west coast, Playa Kenepa is a popular beach where you can sample crunchy pastries called pastechi and take a dip in the calm water. For families, Cas Abao is ideal for swimming and kayaking while Mambo Beach has a breakwater that keeps the shallow water calm, even on days with rough surf. East of Willemstad, Jan Thiel is a chic beach with superb diving, snorkeling and entertainment on the sand at sunset. To see the rugged countryside, head west to the Christoffel National Park where the scene is quieter than at the tourist meccas at the opposite end of the island. Keep your eyes open along the scenic drive for gaggles of goats crossing the highway, locals ladling iguana soup and small houses built by the slaves in the 1700s that are now museums. —

Photo: Nicknamed the 'Swinging Old Lady' Queen Emma Bridge is the only floating pontoon bridge in the world, Credit: Melanie Reffes

Named after Dutch royalty, five bridges connect three districts of Willemstad; Punda, Otrobanda and Scharloo. Nicknamed the ‘Swinging Old Lady’, Queen Emma is the only floating bridge in the world. Marking two decades on the UNESCO World Heritage list, Willemstad is delightfully walkable, with cobbled lanes, restaurants, shops and gabled houses that were painted white until 1817 when the Governor ordered them repainted in a palette of crayon colors to combat the glare from the sun. The oldest district, called Punda, is charming with a pastel-pretty waterfront and the big Curacao sign near the information booth where you can snag gratis maps of the city.

Photo: Punda Vibes is a spectacle of island folklore every Thursday in Willemstad, Credit: Curacao Tourist Board / Berber van Beek

For a spirited street party, Punda Vibes on Thursday entertains with shows on the plaza and fireworks over the Bay. For art lovers, Chichi Punda is a colourful gallery with robust dolls painted by local women. —

Nearby, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas, Mikve Israel-Emanuel, is an architectural jewel with a sandy floor that pays homage to the earliest Jewish settlers who muffled their footsteps when meeting in secret during the Spanish Inquisition. —

Not yet super trendy but well on its way, Scharloo is where the wealthiest Jewish merchants once lived and today is home to paintings on centuries-old buildings and the National Archives in a forest green wedding cake-shaped mansion. Explore on your own or take a tour on a three-wheeler called a ‘tuk tuk’. —

Photo: Blue Curacao Liqueur is made from bitter orange peels and colored blue, Credit Curacao Senior Liqour

One of the most famous liqueurs in the world, Blue Curacao is distilled in a 19th-century mansion called Landhuis Chobolobo. Flavoured with dried orange peels and bottled by Senior Liqueur since 1896, the estate is open for tours. —

For foodies, La Bohème is a good bet for a $5-pancake breakfast, strong cuppa Cuban coffee and cornmeal patties stuffed with cheese, fish or meat. —

Photo: Netto Bar in Otrobanda opened in 1954 and is adored for the signature shots of green rum, Credit: Caroline Castendijk

Say cheese and dig into a hefty mélange of sautéed chicken, raisins, piquant peppers and salty olives called Keshi Yena. Baked in a waxy Gouda shell, the cheesy casserole was born during the slave trade and today has outgrown those humble beginnings as a menu mainstay. In the non-touristy Otrobanda neighbourhood, Netto Bar has been around for six decades and although it’s a bit worn around the edges, it fills up fast with locals knocking back shots of green rum called Ròm Bèrdè made bittersweet with orange peels and anise. —

Once the Governor’s mansion, Gouverneur de Rouville is where you’ll find the Motown Soul Bar overlooking Willemstad’s waterfront. With nonstop golden oldies, crafty cocktails and Dutch bites, the soulful perch is the hippest happy place on the island. —

About the Author

Melanie Reffes, Travel Journalist
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