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Curaçao is one of the Netherlands Antilles and the capital is Willemstad. At the 10th of October 2010, the island of Curaçao became a separate state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, just like Sint Maarten became and Aruba already was, and with its own government. The Netherlands Antilles were dissolved as a separate state and that state as such no longer exists.
The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak Amerindians. The first Europeans to see the island were members of a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The island was occupied by the Dutch in 1634. The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the 'Schottegat'. Dutch merchants brought slaves from Africa under a contract with Spain called Asiento. Under this agreement, large numbers of slaves were sold and shipped to various destinations in South America and the Caribbean. The slave trade made the island affluent, and led to the construction of impressive colonial buildings. Curaçao features architecture that blends Dutch and Spanish colonial styles. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the island changed hands among the British, the French, and the Dutch several times. Stable Dutch rule returned in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, when the island was incorporated into the colony of Curaçao and Dependencies. The Dutch abolished slavery in 1863.
In recent years, the island had attempted to capitalize on its peculiar history and heritage to expand its tourism industry. Due to an economic slump in recent years, emigration to the Netherlands has been high. Attempts by Dutch politicians to stem this flow of emigration have exacerbated already tense Dutch-Curaçao relations. In 2010, the islands stopped being part of the former Netherlands Antilles and became an independent island within the Dutch Kingdom.
Curaçao excists of two islands. The main island and Klein Curaçao, which lies about 24 kilometres to the southeast. The main island is about 59 kilometres long, and in the north and the south approximately 10 to 11 kilometres wide. In the middle of the island, near Grote Berg, the width is only 3.8 kilometres wide. The best beaches are in the south, and also conditions for swimming and diving are good. In the north the coast is rocky, and because of the strong currents, diving can only be done by experienced divers, and only when the conditions allow it. The Christoffelberg is Curaçao's highest hill with a height of 375 metres (1,230 feet). It can be found in the northwestern part of the island.
Willemstad is the capital of Curaçao and is by far the largest town on the island. The Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour is placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Here, the Dutch established a trading settlement at a natural harbour on Curaçao in 1634. Willemstad developed continuously over the following centuries and nowadays the modern town still has some fine historic districts whose architecture reflects European urban-planning concepts as well as styles from the Netherlands and even from the Spanish and Portuguese colonial towns with which Willemstad engaged in trade. Therefore, Willemstad makes for a great excursion if you want to get away from the beaches and diving which the islands are most famous for.
Starting New Year’s Day, Carnaval is the main event of the year and goes on through all of January. It features music, parades, and parties galore across all cultures that make up the island—Dutch, Portuguese, African, South American, and Jewish. There are also beauty contests and concerts, with the Festival di Tumba parade on Shrove Tuesday being the highlight.
Sponsored by a mega-brewer, the Curaçao Heineken Regatta is a fun, sporty high season event in late January. The international regatta sets off from Willemstad and goes over three days. While sailors race for a substantial dollar prize, on land are beach barbecues and parties.
Though not a must, the Curaçao International Kite Festival in February is worth a look as it highlights the creativity of the islanders. Along with flying and competitions which feature weird and wacky designs, are workshops where novices can learn to make and fly kites.
Curaçao is right up there with other areas of this region of the Caribbean for its scuba diving potential, and this festival in May has classes and dives for beginners and expert divers alike. Take note though, while this is the best time to dive in Curaçao, good visibility is apparent year-round.
A great event for tourists in the low season, Restaurant Week sees hundreds of restaurants in Curaçao partake in the offering delicious three-course meals at a great value. The event spans over a week and is the perfect opportunity to taste Curaçao cuisine without breaking the bank.
The week-long Salsa Tour in August draws some of the best names in the business and features live concerts and workshops on the beach. Together with dance are scuba diving and snorkeling events, along with horseback rides.
This two-day North Sea Jazz Festival in Piscadera Bay is the most high profile jazz festival in Curaçao. It features visiting artists from around the world who perform at the World Trade Center grounds, to the west of Willemstad. Along with jazz is a week of soul, hip hop, and R&B, leading up to the main event on August 31.
A mini Tour de France on Curaçao, the 50-mile long (80 km) Amstel Curaçao Race is run at the beginning of the high season in November, and usually attracts some big names in cycling. From Willemstad, the peloton goes around the island, with presentations at the Lions Dive & Beach Resort.
The island of Curaçao has a very pleasant and constant climate. This means warm and humid weather yearround but with almost constant sea breezes cooling things of a bit. Temperatures average around 30 °C during the day, cooling of somewhat to 23 °C at night. Most rain falls between October and February but compared to the islands more north in the Caribbean it doesn't rain that much. July and August are high season and therefore the drier months of March to June are the best time for a visit.
Curaçao International Airport (IATA: CUR, ICAO: TNCC) has connections to neighbouring countries, nearby South American cities, North America and Europe. Airlines operating at this airport include American Airlines, Arkefly, Continental Airlines, Dutch Antilles Express, KLM, Lufthansa and Thomsonfly.
There has been talk of re-installing ferries between Curaçao and Bonaire, but up until now there aren't any.
Cruise ships arrive at Curaçao Mega Pier or the Curaçao Cruise Terminal. Larger ships will arrive at the Mega Pier, and smaller ships will dock at the Cruise Terminal. Sailors can enter at ports in Willemstad and has various marinas which seafaring travellers can dock their ships.
Cars can be rented for about USD45 per day, from a variety of hirers at the Hato Airport and across the island. Driving in Willemstad is pretty similar to most Caribbean locations, with aggressive drivers, loosely enforced traffic laws and driving on the right side. Signs will be in Dutch using a European style. If you are involved in an accident, local laws prohibit moving your car. You'll need to dial 199 for road service. Do watch out for road hazards, such as donkeys, goats, and iguanas. If you stay outside of Willemstad, renting a car might be a good option as the taxi fares can be quite expensive and public transport is not very reliable.
There are two types of buses on the island, BUS. and Konvoi. The easiest way to ride is to go to one of the two bus stations in Willemstad. These include Otrobanda Station, located across the street from the Rif Fort (see Willemstad) and Punda Station, at the post office, across from the Circle Market. For the most part, the Punda bus station serves stops along the Eastern side of the ring, and to the East including Salina, Zelandia, Mambo, while the Otrobanda station serves destinations West of the Bay, to include the Airport, Piscadera and even Westpunt. The destinations do not typically overlap, so a 10-15 minute walk between stations may be necessary for cross island trips.
Unlike taxis, the BUS. prices are not negotiable (1-3 NAf), but the route is. A common practice with bus drivers is to negotiate how close the driver can take you to your destination. Be sure to ask the bus driver if the bus stops near your destination before entering. You can pay the driver while the BUS. is en route, or before exiting the bus. You can board a bus anywhere on the island by waiting at one of the ubiquitous yellow 'Bushalte' signs and waiving at a coming BUS. or Konvoi. Taxi drivers will also try to lure you in. So make sure to look at the sign in the window or a license plate (that says BUS.) to avoid paying high taxi fares. The bus schedule varies, from about 6AM-8PM for most stops, and until 11PM or even midnight (and sometimes later) to Salina and Mambo. If you are ever lost during daylight hours, just find a yellow bushalte sign, and the bus should take you to either Punda or Otrobanda.
Ferries are a great way for shoppers to get to and from some of the island's main shopping areas.
Generally tourists holding a valid passport may enter Curaçao without a written permit and remain on the Island for a period of up to 90 days. This applies to most countries in the Caribbean, Latin and North America, Australia/New Zealand and Europe. However, several nationalities (e.g. Cuba, Haiti, Peru) must present a tourist visa as part of our entry requirements. A visa should be applied for at least one month in advance at any representation of the Netherlands (in the concerning country).
Nationals from the Dominican Republic, China and India do not need to apply for a visa if they are in possession of a valid multiple entry visa for the United States, Canada or the Schengen countries (Europe).
See also: Money Matters
The Antillean Guilder (Naf) is the currency for the Curacao. It is also known as the Florin or Gulden and is subdivided into 100 cents. Note denominations are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 NaF. Coin denominations are 5, 2.5, 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.1, 0.05, and 0.01 cents.
The Guilder is fixed to the US dollar at an exchange rate of 1.79:1.
The native language of Curaçao is Papiamentu, which is a richly unique mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, English, Dutch, African and other languages. Most people from the island speak this language in addition to Dutch, English, and Spanish. Almost everyone speaks English.
Local cuisine in Curaçao is a mixture of European, West-Indian and East Asian (particularly Indonesian) flavours. Dutch influences are found in the use of cheeses, bread and seafood, which are also important in Curaçaoan food. Indonesian cuisine, a migrant from Suriname, another of the Netherlands' former colonies, can be found on the island, and explains the widespread availability of Sate and Peanut sauce along with the islands more Caribbean fare. Also, Chinese "snacks" can be found all over the island serving cheap Chinese food. They cater mostly to locals, but most serve good food.
Dishes common in Curaçao are found in Aruba and Bonaire as well. Popular dishes include: stobá (a stew made with various ingredients such as papaya, beef or goat), Guiambo (soup made from okra and seafood), kadushi (cactus soup), sopi mondongo (intestine soup), funchi (cornmeal paste similar to fufu, ugali and polenta) and a lot of fish and other seafood. The ubiquitous side dish is fried plantain. Local bread rolls are made according to a Portuguese recipe. All around the island, there are snèk's which serve local dishes as well as alcoholic drinks in a manner akin to the English public house.
The ubiquitous breakfast dish is pastechi: fried pastry with fillings of cheese, tuna, ham, or ground meat. Around the holiday season special dishes are consumed, such as the hallaca and pekelé, made out of salt cod. At weddings and other special occasions a variety of kos dushi are served: kokada (coconut sweets), ko'i lechi (condensed milk and sugar sweet) and tentalaria (peanut sweets).
Tap water, which comes from a large seawater desalination distillation plant, is excellent tasting and perfectly safe for consumption.
Popular alcoholic drinks include Amstel Bright beer, which used to be locally brewed by Antillaanse Brouwerij, a subsidy of Heineken International. It is a pale style lager, usually served with a wedge of lime. And Polar Beer, which is brewed in neighbouring Venezuela. It is a 5% abv lager beer.
Curaçao is famous for the alcoholic beverage of the same name, Orange Curaçao. It is made from bitter oranges grown on the island.
Many of the hotels on Curaçao are based in and around Willemstad. Especially to the south, at the Jan Thiel Baai and Piscadera Baai there are many hotels. Still, there are some luxurious hotels right in the center of Willemstad as well. In the north and west there are far less luxurious hotels but again much more smaller hotels and apartments for rent.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Curacao. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering Curacao) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Curacao. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also: Travel Safety
Safety is not a big issue on Curaçao. The locals are friendly, welcoming, and willing to give assistance. After all, a major part of their island's income comes from tourists. Just take normal precautions for a tropical island and use common sense.
See also International Telephone Calls
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