If the thought of booking a Caribbean vacation during hurricane season makes you have you palpitations instead of daydreams, you’d do well to consider Curaçao.
A Dutch island in the southern Caribbean, Curaçao (pronounced “Cure-uh-souw” as in “ow, that hurts”) conveniently sits below the hurricane belt, making it appealing for travelers who can do without the angst of weather delays during the Atlantic hurricane season that continues through the end of November.
Where is Curaçao?
Seventy miles east of Aruba and 35 miles north of Venezuela, the cosmopolitan island is a melting pot on bold display with a pastel-painted capital city that celebrated 20 years as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Curacao is a three-hour flight from Miami and there is no shortage of year-round flights from the U.S. via American Airlines, JetBlue and United Airlines, which just added a weekly, nonstop Saturday flight from Newark. To speed up arrival through the Hato International Airport, you can complete the entry card in advance.
Resorts done right
Located at the base of Tafelberg Mountain between the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Water Bay, Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort bundles authenticity (it’s not part of a chain) and amenities in one family-friendly beach resort. The largest hotel on the island with 350 sea view rooms and suites, the sprawling resort was built on the 2,000-acre Santa Barbara Plantation.
What’s covered? Santa Barbara is not all-inclusive, although meal plans are offered. Onsite restaurants include Medi, which features a big breakfast buffet and varied lunch and dinner menus. Splash Pool Bar & Grill makes good fish tacos and a decadent Banana Blizzard milkshake. The dinner-only Shore serves up fine dining but also offers a children’s menu if you’ve got picky eaters in your family.
What to do: In addition to offering hiking, biking, water sports and dive trips, Santa Barbara has a 24-hour fitness center, four tennis courts and three pools. Old Quarry, the resort’s Pete Dye-designed 18-hole golf course overlooking the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Water Bay, was voted the best in the Caribbean in the 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards the past two years. And if you overdo it, you can book a massage at the Atabei Spa.
Keep the kids busy: For the youngest members of your family, there’s Camp Arawak and for nature lovers; feeding the iguanas is fun for the kids of all ages.
If resorts make you feel like you’re in a bubble, consider the 237-room and suite Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino in Willemstad. It puts you in town but also on the Otrobanda waterfront, making it the best of both worlds.
Where to eat: Although there are plenty of restaurants in the adjacent Rif Fort and Renaissance Mall, options at the pastel-painted hotel include Blue Lobby Bar for light bites and Nautilus for a Dutch Caribbean breakfast and local treats for lunch and dinner.
Chill out: For an afternoon respite, head to the Infinity Beach Club with its unique faux-beach fronting a saltwater lagoon that slopes into an infinity pool. Big on the chill-out factor, there are spa cabanas, beach bar and sweeping views of the Caribbean Sea.
Curacao after dark: When the sun sets, there’s live music in the lobby and slots and table games at the adjoining Carnaval Casino that stays open until 3:30 a.m.
Cheap and cheerful late-night munchies: Food trucks do a brisk business dishing up hefty slabs of ribs piled high in takeout containers. For a no-frills meal on wheels during the day, waffle trucks are popular and for a fruity milkshake, there are many colorful Batido trucks around the city.
Try the local specialities: Say cheese and dig into a hefty mélange of sautéed chicken, raisins, piquant peppers and salty olives called Keshi Yena. Baked in a hollowed-out waxy gouda or edam shell and served in the shell or plated with plantains, the cheesy casserole was born during the slave trade and today has outgrown those humble beginnings as a menu mainstay in ritzy restaurants and mom-and-pops.
Farm-to-fork fare: The Pen at the Avila Beach Hotel, located at the oldest hotel in Curacao, is farm-to-fork with an international menu. Signature standouts include fresh tuna and curry drizzled local snapper. Linger awhile for a sunset cocktail at the Blues Bar on the pier, or come for Happy Hour with free snacks.
Best breakfast: Open at 8 a.m. for a pancake breakfast and strong Cuban coffee, La Bohème is a great find for foodies who like to eat local. Owned by a Chilean family, the menu is as international as the chefs and servers who come from the Netherlands, the Caribbean and South America. In the Punda area of Willemstad, the bistro is popular for people-watching from the tables on the sidewalk and a Venezuelan/Colombian sandwich called an arepa, a cornmeal patty stuffed with cheese, fish or meat.
Carnivore’s delight: On the east side of the island, Landhuis Brakkeput Mei Mei, located in an 18th-century plantation house is a steakhouse with an outstanding salad bar, pitchers of fruity sangria and daily theme nights. For the kids, there’s a playground and mini-golf course.