Curacao, the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles, is a strange combination of dusty nothingness and luminescent sea, of brightly colored houses and barren landscapes. Just north of the Venezuelan coast, Curacao also boasts the most culturally diverse experience in the Caribbean. Though they are currently under Dutch rule, just like Aruba and Bonaire, they were initially settled by the Spanish, before being developed by the Dutch and populated by a large percentage of Venezuelans and descendants of African slaves – each culture has left their respective mark on the island. But the staples of Curacao tourism remain their serene beaches and exclusive diving resorts.

Curacao Weather in Willemstad
Curacao Weather in Willemstad

Most visitors step directly from their Curacao flight and head straight into the capital city of Willemsted. And it's no wonder why: drive five miles inland in any direction and it looks unnervingly like the desert – there are even giant cacti to make you forget that you are in the Caribbean. But Willemsted is a picturesque place to start exploration of Curacao Island, a charming seaside town that can easily be traveled by foot and offers many of the island's finest resorts and hotels, not too mention a growing number of casinos for you to spend your evenings. The bustling Punda district of the city offers endless shopping, bars and restaurants for when you need a break from even the finest Curacao beach. You can sit in the cool evening breeze and sip from the blue liqueur that borrows Curacao's name that almost singlehandedly gave the tiny island international renown.

Curacao Architecture
Curacao Architecture

Another attraction of the city is the bizarre architecture, splayed out across the face of the city like a deranged kaleidoscope. Legend has it that one of the city's governors in the 1800s suffered debilitating migraines, which he blamed on the glare from the sun off the city's white-washed buildings. Thus he ordered the entire town to be repainted in a variety of soft pastels.

Almost 40 beaches spread themselves along the outline of the island. Ranging from secluded coves to rocky hotel beaches, a new Curacao beach is always just a few hundred yards away. The popularity of Curacao diving is one of the country's main draws and the teeming reefs will not disappoint, whether you are a novice or veteran of a hundred deep-sea explorations. Many of the Curacao beach resorts cater exclusively to divers, smaller affairs located on the scenic west end of the island. The best example of Curacao diving is located at Westpunt, where tall cliffs lead directly into the warm Caribbean waters. Also located here is the sprawling Christoffel National Park, where the dusty countryside rises into the tallest point of the island. You can bypass hundreds of iguanas, wild goats and countless species of birds on your hike to the top. Less than an hour from Willemsted, the park is just another example of the complete accessibility of Curacao Island.

The most popular Curacao beach is just northwest of the capital, with white sand stretching in every direction. Blauwbaai is the model of every Caribbean postcard you've ever seen. For those who want to avoid the crowds (such as they are) of Willemsted, the tiny fishing village of St. Michel is not too far away from Blauwbaai, and this sleepy hive of human activity allows sunburned visitors a glimpse into everyday life on Curacao island. Continuing northwesterly, you'll find Daaibooi, which is much like Blauwbaai, but less touched by the hand of the Curacao tourism industry. Combining the beaches of Aruba with an interior that is uniquely theirs, there's little wonder why Curacao continues to grow in popularity each year.

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