Curaçao

Explore Caribbean heritage and culture
By Katharine Dyson / Photography by Douglas Merriam

March 2006

Best for: Those who can tear themselves away from the beach to explore Caribbean heritage and culture

Location: 35 miles north of Venezuela.

Getting there: Curaçao has daily nonstop flights from the United States to its International Airport, which has the longest runway in the Caribbean.

Highlight: The Museum Kurà Hulanda, in the heart of Willemstad, reveals what life was like when enslaved Africans arrived in Curaçao.

Allure: Curaçao's (cure-a-sow) candy-colored colonial buildings are topped by peaked gables, and traces of the Dutch language run through the island's rhythmical native tongue, Papiamentu, a reminder that this now independent country was Dutch for more than three centuries (1634 to 1954). For its size, the island is home to a surprising number of museums, art galleries, and historic sites, including Landhuis Brievengat, once the hub of a working plantation and now a cultural center and museum.

Walk across the 100-year-old swinging Queen Emma pontoon bridge, connecting the Punda (eastern) side with the Otrobanda (western) side of Willemstad, the Netherlands Antilles capital and a U.N. World Heritage Site. Then head to the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western hemisphere.

Local fare: In Punda, visit the Mercado Flotante, the floating market where vegetables and seafood arrive by boat from Venezuela each morning. Also go to the Marsche Bieu market, where you can enjoy local specialties like erwten soep (thick pea soup), fried plantains, and kabritu (stewed goat).

Catch the beat: Curaçao's music is a mélange of styles-merengue, calypso, reggae, salsa, and cha-cha, all with an underlying African rhythm. In late April, local folklore groups participate in the Séu Harvest parade and at the Cuisine, Culture, and Heritage Festival, where there are more than 50 stands to check out.

Where to stay: The Hotel Kura Hulanda, in the center of Willemstad, features 100 luxurious rooms in 18th- and 19th-century buildings set around flower-filled courtyards. There is a fitness center, spa, and two swimming pools�one in a grotto with a waterfall (rates from $210 per room; 877-264-3106, www.kurahulanda.com). The new Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club, a sister property, is set on coral cliffs above the ocean. A prime diving destination, the lodge has an on-site dive shop, as well as an array of water toys.

Did you know: Curaçao's capital, Willemstad, is one of the Caribbean's most important architectural centers. Several of the 765 buildings in the historic area are listed as monuments.