Family Vacations to Curacao

CURAÇAO: A vacation destination for relaxing on the beach or visiting cultural sights (Digital Vision)

Sitting 37 short miles off the coast of Venezuela, Curaçao exceeds typical Caribbean expectations. True to its geography, the island is swaddled by turquoise water, but as the most populous island in the Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire, Saint Eustatius, Saint Maarten, and Saba)—with over 40 nationalities on the island—it's a haven for those who like to mix a bit of culture with their beach-going. The island also serves as a regional shipping and oil refining center.

Parts of Willemstad, the island's capital, have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site—Schottegat, the harbor, and Punda's historic center. The 17th- and 18th-century pastel buildings line the waterfront street with their impressively steep, tiled roofs and gables. Each morning, on the Punda side of the canal, the schooners from Venezuela and Colombia make the trek and set up the Floating Market, where merchants carefully arrange stacks of papayas, sweet potatoes, red peppers, and baby mangos. Others lay out rows of fish, shouting their names in Spanish—dorado, piscadara, purunche—to interested buyers. The market is liveliest from 5:30 a.m. to mid-day.

To get to Otrabanda (literally "the other side"), cross the Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon bridge and also a pedestrian walkway. This side of the island has Kurá Hulanda, a hotel, shopping, and restaurant complex, and the Museum Kurá Hulanda—a fantastic way to understand the island's varied history with slavery and settlers. Along with a sculpture garden and a large collection of African carvings and artifacts, the museum presents a compelling exhibit on slavery. By 1788, when the last slave galleon docked in Curaçao's harbor, the West Indian Company had transported 500,000 Africans into slavery.

To find out about the island's Jewish heritage, tour Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, both the oldest synagogue building in continuous use and the oldest Jewish congregation in the Americas. The current building dates to 1732. Learn about folk medicine from Dinah Veeris at Den Paradera. A one-woman preservation program, Veeris explains the medicinal uses of the vegetation in her garden, telling of the cures and traditions handed down by island mothers for centuries.

Plan to spend at least half a day at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium. The aquarium's 46 tanks hold hundreds of fish, coral, and sponges. After a 30-minute dive introduction, even non-divers can go below to feed a shark by hand through an opening in a plexiglass wall that separates the participant from the toothy predator. Touch, swim with, and kiss dolphins at the Dolphin Academy, located at the aquarium. Book ahead for these popular sessions.

Ever meet an ostrich? During the 40-minute tour at Curaçao Ostrich and Game Farm, visitors pet a baby ostrich, hold one of the huge cream-colored eggs, and learn about the life cycle of these big birds with the perpetually confused look.

Curaçao also has good beaches, but unlike on most Caribbean islands the best sands don't front the hotels. The prettiest coves lie along the northwestern coast—Kas Abou is lined with palm trees and Knip, although sometimes crowded, has calm waters.

Tip: A rental car is a good idea if you want to explore the island and visit the best beaches.'s resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 26 Nov 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club


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