The sun smiles down on Curaçao, which sits on the outer fringe of the so-called hurricane belt. Gentle trade winds help keep temperatures generally in the 80s. Water sports—including outstanding reef diving—attract enthusiasts from all over the world. Curaçao claims 38 beaches—some long stretches of silky sand, most smaller coves suitable for picture postcards. In the countryside, the dollhouse look of plantation houses, or landhuizen (literally, “land houses”), makes a cheerful contrast to stark cacti and austere shrubbery.
The sprawling city of Willemstad is the island’s capital. Its historic downtown and the natural harbor (Schottegat) around which it’s built are included on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, a coveted distinction reserved for the likes of the Palace of Versailles and the Taj Mahal. The “face” of Willemstad delights like a kaleidoscope—rows of sprightly painted townhouses with gabled roofs sit perched alongside the steely blue Santa Anna Bay. Local lore has it that in the 1800s, the governor claimed he suffered from migraines and blamed the glare from the sun’s reflection off the then-white structures. To alleviate the problem, he ordered the facades painted in colors.
Nonstops are available on American Airlines, Delta, and Continental; you can also connect on American (via San Juan) or Air Jamaica (via Montego Bay). Divi Divi Air and Aruba Airlines offer connecting service from Aruba.
Car Travel: Many of the larger hotels have free shuttles into Willemstad, or you can take a quick, cheap taxi ride; hotels in Willemstad usually provide a free beach shuttle, so it’s possible to get by without a car. If you’re planning to do country driving or rough it through Christoffel National Park, a four-wheel-drive vehicle is best. All you need is a valid driver’s license. You can rent a car from any of the major car agencies at the airport or have one delivered free to your hotel.
Fares from the airport to Willemstad and the nearby beach hotels run about $20 to $25, and those to hotels at the island’s western end about $40 to $50. The government-approved rates, which do not include waiting time, can be found in a brochure called “Taxi Tariff Guide,” available at the airport, hotels, cruise-ship terminals, and the tourist board. Rates are for up to four passengers. There’s a 25% surcharge after 11 PM. Taxis are readily available at hotels and at taxi stands at the airport, in Punda, and in Otrobanda; in other cases, call Central Dispatch.
To place a local call on the island, dial the seven-digit local number. Payphones charge NAf 0.50 for a local call — far less than the typical hotel charge. Whether for local or long-distance calling, it’s common to use prepaid phone cards, which are widely available around the island, as many payphones do not accept coins. To call Curaçao direct from the United States, dial 011–5999 plus the number in Curaçao. International roaming for most GSM mobile phones is available in Curaçao. Local companies are UTS (United Telecommunication Services) and Digicel. You can also rent a mobile phone or buy a prepaid SIM card for your own phone.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Dengue, chikungunya, and zika have all been reported throughout the Caribbean. We recommend that you protect yourself from these mosquito-borne illnesses by keeping your skin covered and/or wearing mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes that transmit these viruses are as active by day as they are at night.
U.S. dollars are accepted nearly everywhere. Currency in the Netherlands Antilles is the florin (also called the guilder) and is indicated by fl or NAf on price tags. The general rate of exchange is NAf 1.77 to US$1.
A valid passport is required to travel to Curaçao. All visitors must be able to show an ongoing or return ticket as well as have proof of sufficient funds to support their stay on the island.
TAXES AND SERVICE CHARGES
Taxes and Service Charges: The departure tax is $32.50 (including flights to Aruba), and the departure tax to other Netherlands Antilles islands is $8. This must be paid in cash, either florins or U.S. dollars. Hotels add a 12% service charge to the bill and collect a 7% government room tax; restaurants typically add 10% to 15%. Most goods and services purchased on the island will also have a 5% OB tax (a goods and services tax) added to the purchase price.
Service is usually included, but if you find the staff exemplary, you can add another 5% to 10% to the bill. Porters and bellhops, about $1 a bag; housekeeping, $2 to $3 per day; taxi, about 10%.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.