The colours of Curacao

Lounging on a terrace in the hot Curaçao sun, I watch as Willemstad’s floating bridge makes way for a boat entering the city’s busy port. A handful of pedestrians scramble to catch a small ferry to the other “half” of town. Near the opposite shore, Venezuelan farmers arrive each morning by boat to create a floating market to sell their vegetables and fruits.

The buzz of Willemstad, capital of Curaçao, is softened by the relaxed rhythm of the Caribbean and an array of colours and sounds – local music like the Tumba from outdoor kiosks and restaurants, much laughter and myriad languages, none as pretty as the rolling lilt and click of Papiamento, or Papiamentu, the unique voice of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). An exotic mélange of Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish and English (with a few French and Indian words thrown in), the language welcomes visitors with a grand bon bini.

The largest island in the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, Curaçao’s history combines Dutch colonialism with Portuguese, Spanish, native and African influences. It is haunted and shaped by the slave trade. Because of its importance as a world pt, Curaçao remains a noticeably international island, as seen in its faces, language, music and cuisine.

Most residents in Willemstad speak English (and Spanish and Dutch), so you needn’t enroll in Papiamento classes before your trip.

Museum enlightens as well as entertains
Even if you’re not staying at the Hotel Kura Hulanda in Otrobanda, a gorgeous resort with winding avenues lined with boutiques and private garden areas with African sculptures, be sure to check out the museums housed on this former plantation property. The rooms devoted to the slave trade cover not only Curaçao’s role in this dark aspect of our past but the entire history of the trade. Here you can descend a ladder into a tiny, cramped space that is a recreation of the cabin area in which slaves were transported on slave ships.

Just outside Willemstad, visit Den Paradera, or herb garden, run by Dina Veeris. Dina’s knowledge of plants and herbs has been passed down to her orally. With more than 300 species of plants and trees, the garden is radiant with sunlight and lush greens. In it, she claims, are cures for a slew of maladies: hair loss, high blood pressure, diabetes, menopause and impotence. She works with a doctor so none of her “perscriptions” conflict with a customer’s condition or medication.

After meandering through fragrant rows of herbs and plants, duck into the small store on the property where you can pick up essential oils, soaps made from aloe, mud or coconut, and charming hand-crafted dolls.

Don’t miss the Seaquarium
Curaçao is home to an excellent aquarium, complete with dolphin shows, touch tanks, an observatory where you can hand-feed sharks and an underwater park to explore snorkel- or scuba-style. (The Seaquarium was built on an old garbage dump by an ex-pat Canadian.)

Curaçao is famous for the liqueur that bears its name. At the distillery in the Chobolobo Mansion, you’ll learn there is only one genuine “Curaçao of Curaçao” liqueur. Derived from the laraha fruit, a bitter orange native to the island, the liqueur has a natural citrus flavour.

No visit to this tropical paradise would be complete without lazy days lounging on one of its many beaches or exploring the countryside. The western part of the island is known for its sandy stretches, from the very tiny and secluded to the vast and crowded. Whatever your fancy, you’re guaranteed warm sands and turquoise waters.