Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Curacao - Surprisingly Happy

As you must know by now, I am a lover of all things beach.  I’m talking powdery sand, waters various shades of blue, the sound of the waves….ahhhhh.  And like most beach lovers, I have my favorites:  Orient Beach, Shoal Bay East, Trunk Bay, Tulum – and if I can’t get out of the country and need a quick dose of sand under my feet – South Beach.  So, when one of my travel buddies emailed with “Curaçao” as the subject, I didn’t even have to open the message to know that I would soon be laying in crystal clear water.

I began my research:  Curaçao, pronounced (pronounced kyur uh sow) is a Dutch Caribbean island located out of the hurricane belt with year round temperatures  hovering right around 80°.  This island is the largest of the three islands in the Lesser Antilles, better known as the ABC’s (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) and is one of the few places in the Caribbean to be placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. 

The heritage of the island is both European and African, representing more than 50 nationalities and while the official language is Dutch, most residents also speak Spanish, and English – as well as a local language, Papiamentu, which is a mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French with some Arawak Indian and African influences.

There are over 35 named beaches and over 60 diving and snorkeling locations, a sea aquarium, various restaurants and world class shops to explore.  Just reading about these 171 square miles of pure happy was making me, well, happy.  We set the date, booked the flight/hotel and off we went for 5 days of doing what we enjoy most:  NOTHING. 

But wait a minute.  What is this?  Culture?  Architecture?  History?  Hmmmmm, very unexpected and certainly not your normal cruise port.  This island piqued my interest and I could not get enough.  I began to read more about the history of the island and  quickly realized that the people of Curaçao are proud of their history and their heritage; and it shows.
All around the island I found remnants of a time long gone, but certainly not forgotten.  Beginning in Willemstad where there are approximately 700 buildings that are considered protected monuments to Den Dunki National Park, a former slave holding camp where many original structures still stand.  There were Landhuizen (Country Houses) where I could learn the history of the original occupants or I could check out one of the 6 remaining forts on the island and learn how the island protected itself against attacks.   Or walk the halls of the Kura Hulanda Museum, set on the site of a former slave trading yard, where you can almost hear the cries of former slaves.  Or visit the United Congregation Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, which has been functioning for over 350 years making it the oldest active Jewish Congregation in the Americas.  Or view the limestone formations and the Madonna statue at Hato Caves.
Of course I had to spend some time on the secluded beaches (I mean, that's what I was there for) and the Bocas were a do not miss attraction.  There was so much to see and do, yet so little time.  Before I left the island, I was already plotting my return.  Maybe for the upcoming North Sea Jazz Festival or for next year's Carnival, not sure yet.

I was surprisinly happy to find that that there is more to Curaçao than meets the eye.  I guess that’s why it’s called “the Caribbean’s best-kept secret”.

For more pictures of my visit to Curacao, please visit my Facebook page.