Visitors to this island, located about 60 kilometres off the coast of Venezuela, are sure to hear locals speaking Dutch and Papiamentu—a Creole dialect that is a mix of European, African and Arawakan languages. Curaçao is home to a diverse population of 160,000 people representing more than 50 nationalities and includes many descendants of the island’s former slave population. Willemstad, the waterfront capital, offers a taste of this cultural mash-up, but there’s plenty to explore all over the island.

Day 1

Queen Emma Bridge, photo by Sunshine Pics/Alamy

Morning: Spend the day exploring Willemstad and its unique neighbourhoods. Start by wandering the narrow, cobbled streets of Punda. Enjoy a cappuccino at Wandu Café before touring the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which was consecrated in 1732 and is the oldest in the Americas.

Afternoon: Experience an island tradition by dining on spicy stewed beef at Yvonne di Plaza in Plasa Bieu, an indoor market. After, cross the iconic Queen Emma Bridge to the Otrobanda quarter and its alleyways filled with brightly painted homes. Visit Museum Kura Hulanda, housed in a 19th-century merchant’s house and slave quarters, which chronicles how the brutal slave trade shaped the Caribbean.

Evening: Hang out with locals in the up-and-coming Pietermaai district, where historic mansions have been converted into hip restaurants, bars and hotels. Caña Bar & Kitchen embraces South American flavours and local ingredients; try the fish ceviche topped with mango, baby corn and cilantro.

Day 2

Salt Flats, photo by Frans Lemmens/Alamy

Late morning: Drive to Westpunt and spend time enjoying the sugary sands of Grote Knip beach. Strong swimmers can snorkel out to its vibrant reef, teeming with tropical fish. For lunch, snag a spot in the lush garden courtyard at Jaanchie’s Restaurant and dine on iguana stew, conch or goat. 

Late afternoon: Make your way back down the island to the Jan Thiel area. Once there, walk along its Salt Flats—the remains of colonial salt harvesting plantations—and watch for flocks of flamingos that come from the nearby island of Bonaire to feast on shrimp.

Evening: Indulge in a meal of Argentinian-inspired fare at Tinto restaurant. Try the Asado di Tinto, a skewer of tenderloin, spare rib and chicken. After, head next door to work off your dinner by dancing on the beach to reggae, merengue and salsa music at Zanzibar Beach and Restaurant.

Day 3

Playa Porto Mari, photo by Imon Dannhauer/Alamy

Morning: Stroll the streets of Scharloo, the historic Jewish neighbourhood in Willemstad, to snap photos of the colourful murals created by local artists. Stop for a coffee and Dutch pancakes, in the garden of the Fleur de Marie Eatery.

Afternoon: Drive 40 minutes west to Playa Porto Mari, a pristine white-sand beach that was used as a backdrop in the 2017 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Snorkel in the turquoise waters along its double reef, hike one of the area’s three trails, or simply lounge on the beach and bite into a Williburger—a goat meat patty topped with cheese—from the restaurant on the beach.

Evening: Dine on Caribbean specialties, such as Cuban banana soup, at Restaurant De Gouverneur in Willemstad. Be sure to ask for a balcony table so you can enjoy the view of the brightly lit buildings in the Punda neighbourhood across the bay.

Two Hotels to Stay at in Curaçao

Papagayo Curaçao

This chic hotel and resort is located on Jan Thiel Beach, a resort area filled with high-end shops, restaurants and hip bars. Papagayo’s rooms and private villas are ultra-modern, with adjustable mood lighting, rainfall showers and original artwork adorning its walls.

Photo courtesy Papagayo Beach Resort

Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino

Located in the heart of Willemstad, this property offers the vibe of a beach resort within walking distance of downtown. Amenities include a private beach, infinity pool overlooking the harbour, three restaurants and a beach bar with live entertainment.

[This story appears in the January 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine and as since been updated]