Exploring the Rich Culture of Curacao

In Destinations, Editor Picks, North America by LA Travel Magazine

Part of the ABC islands one of the greatest things about the island of Curacao is the culture. This Dutch island features building styles you’d find in Holland, only painted in bright, eye catching colors. The people of the island have developed a culture, and even a language all their own.  The locals are friendly, inviting, and always willing to point you in the right direction when asked. After all, a major part of the island’s income comes from tourism. Curacao sits off the coast of Venezuela in some of the Caribbean’s clearest water. Everything you have heard about the island is true. It may very well be the best-kept secret in the Caribbean and showcases some of the best beaches you will ever swim in.

Sleep

Situated between the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Bay, The Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort has a highly sought after location with picturesque views at every turn. Positioned roughly 25 minutes away from Curacao’s colorful capital, Willemstad the resort is the ideal setting. If you are looking to be in the heart of the city, this isn’t the place for you, but if you’re going to Curacao for private beaches and relaxation, then this resort should be your first choice.

All 350 guestrooms come with balconies, flat-screen TVs, and most with ocean views. Natural earth tones fill the interior along with bursts of bright colors to accent. When you first arrive at The Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort immediately you start to relax.  The tranquil open air lobby is a great first impression, the check-in process is effortless and we are in our room within minutes.

The hacienda-style compound is set along an alluring stretch of ocean in the enormous Santa Barbara Plantation.  The Santa Barbara Plantation is a 1500-acre master planned development that includes a 120 slip marina, 18 hole Old Quarry Golf Course, the Atabei Spa and fitness center, three swimming pools, a water sports center, Tafelberg Tennis Oasis with hydro-grid clay courts and three restaurants.

The dining options at the resort are top notch and it can be tough to decide where to go for dinner.  It was getting late and we had to make a decision so we headed to the resorts signature restaurant Shore our first night. The restaurant delivers fine dining at its best. Chefs use local ingredients where possible, and menus change seasonally. We were welcomed by the staff and quickly seated at a table overlooking the sea. With the ocean as our backdrop we perused the menu and with our server Shuri’s expertise we made some great choices.  We started with the Tuna Poke and Bubbling Crab Dip.  Both were fantastic; the seafood fresh and the flavors were spot on! Next up were the entrees; again we looked to Shuri for advice.  She recommended the Surf and Turf, Petit filet, sweet potato, braised okra, Caribbean lobster tail and the Filet Mignon with Homemade Steak Seasoning, Béarnaise and Risotto. Everything was cooked to perfection and we couldn’t thank Shuri enough for her guidance and service. We gazed out at the breathtaking views surrounding our table; the ambiance is hard to beat at Shore and so we vowed to return the next night.

Guests also have the choice of grabbing a quick bite at the resorts mini market or Jun’s Sushi which is located in the lobby. When looking for something a little more casual than Shore, head to Medi for wood-fired meats and pizzas. The resort also has an outdoor bar serving a lighter fare throughout the day and is the perfect place to grab a cocktail with dramatic ocean views and easy access to the pool and beach.

Golf

Golf lovers flock to this challenging 18-hole championship golf course situated throughout the Santa Barbara Plantation.  Designed by Pete Dye, the course provides views of the ocean and Spanish Bay.  Measuring 6,920 yards from the championship tees, the golf course hosts an 8,000 square-foot clubhouse featuring a golf shop, locker rooms, restaurant and lounge. Named after the Plantation’s 19th Century limestone quarry, Dye’s championship oceanside arrangement was designed to blend effortlessly into the island’s peaks and valleys.

A challenge to every player no matter their level of skill, the course twists between the slopes and hills of Tafelberg Mountain. The combination of the rocky terrain, the dry desert, the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Bay generates a setting impossible to forget.

Tour the Island

The best way to see the island is with the help of Business Serenity, a destination management company native to the island.   With their help we were able to experience some great attractions in Curacao with a guided walking tour of Willemstad and a guided tour excursion which included a stop at Groot Knip, the Hato Caves, lunch at Jaanchie’s and Den Paradera.

Groot Knip

Step onto the warm, coral-clad sands of Groot Knip, and it all hits, you have just entered Paradise. The crystal-clear blue waters and warm sea air will inspire you to explore the island’s captivating shores.

Beloved by the locals and tourists alike, Groot Knip on Curacao’s west side is an amazing and special beach on the island. Whether you want to snorkel, sunbathe or dive off a cliff, this beach has it all. This long stretch of powdery white sand is met by soft waves of bright turquoise blue water. If you’re feeling brave, take a plunge into the Caribbean Sea off one of the nearby cliffs.

Don’t forget your snorkeling gear, as there is some great underwater exploring to do. This is a favorite among the islanders so make sure to get here early and claim your spot on Knip Bay.  Plan for an early arrival time and you might just get lucky enough to have the entire beach to yourself!

Hato Caves

The Hato Caves were formed below the sea level millions of years ago.  With the Ice Ages the water dropped down and Curacao was born.  The caves consist of coral and limestone and were carved out below the sea. There are beautiful stalactite and stalagmite formations as well as water pools and a waterfall. The cave is also home to a colony of fruit bats; make sure to explore quietly and leave your camera behind so you do not disturb them.

The caves had a utilitarian purpose during the early days of the slave trade in Curacao; escaped slaves used them as hiding places, and lived in them for months at a time. Even before the arrival of Europeans and slaves, the Amerindian Arawaks used them for shelter, and left behind cave drawings, or petroglyphs, estimated at 1,500 years old.

During your tour a guide will take you through the caves. They will point out the apocryphal and fanciful stories behind some of the stalactites and stalagmites; in the eerie lighting, some take on shapes and are called the Pirate’s Head, the Sea Tortoise, and the Giant of Jack and the Beanstalk fame.

Jaanchie’s

When touring the west side of the island your food options are limited.  Jaanchie’s is a spot you don’t want to miss for some authentic Caribbean food and hospitality.  The restaurant has been around for over 60 years serving local fare, seafood dishes and iguana.  Yes, you heard right they serve iguana. Make sure to try the iguana soup which is popular for its aphrodisiac benefits.

Over the years the restaurant has become something of a road marker on Curacao’s beaten tourist path. Upon arrival you’ll be greeted by the owner, Jaanchie who recites the menu to each and every table.  His personality and character is what keeps locals and tourists coming back for more.