I Didn’t Like Curacao (But I Didn’t Hate it Either)

By Nomadic Matt | Published September 19th, 2013

curacaoThe oil refinery I saw on the way to my apartment rental in Curacao was a harbinger of things to come.

The Caribbean conjures up images of white sand beaches, palm trees, coral reefs, and tropical drinks. This summer, I planned to travel much of the Caribbean (spoiler alert: I didn’t). At the top of my list of places to visit was Curacao, located in the Dutch Antilles, a part of Holland, and famous for its casinos, nightlife, and eponymous blue liqueur.

As I flew into Curacao, I dreamed of all the Caribbean offered and imagined myself relaxing on long, white-sand beaches with a piña colada in hand. The largest and most rugged of the ABC (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao) islands, Curacao also held the promise of good hiking and non-beach activities.

But almost immediately after arriving, I was disappointed.

What they don’t show in the brochures is the oil refinery on the edge of town. You know this beautiful, multicolored, waterfront photo that shows off the view Curacao is famous for?

willemstad's waterfront in curacao

Well, right near there is a not-so-wonderful oil refinery blowing black smoke into the air—and it’s very visible from town.

willemstad's oil refinery in curacao

That refinery set the tone for the week.

Curacao was, as we say, “meh.” It wasn’t a bad place, but it didn’t blow my mind. I left the country indifferent. The island’s vibe and I just didn’t mesh. I wanted to love it, but as I boarded my flight home, nothing in Curacao filled me with sadness to be leaving or a desire to stay.

Let’s begin with the beaches: nice, but not that great. Those near the main town are all resort beaches, meaning you have to pay to enjoy them if you aren’t already staying in one of the resorts. They’re cluttered with people, lounge chairs, and artificial breakers to protect against the waves and create a calm swimming area. (Not that a calm swimming area is bad, but the breakers reduce the flow of water, and since most resorts have boats and docks, I didn’t feel the water was the cleanest.)

The beaches up north are public, wider, and more natural, but even still, they aren’t the long, white-sand beaches we often imagine. Moreover, the shoreline is filled with dead coral and rocks. Were they pretty? Yes. Did I sit there and go, “Damn, this is beautiful”? Sure. Was I blown away by them? No, not really. There’s better.

willemstad's waterfront in curacao

I was also disappointed by the lack of affordable and accessible public transportation. Buses only run every two hours and taxis are incredibly expensive ($50 USD for a 15-minute cab ride). If you want to see the island, you really have to rent a car during your stay. Not having one really limits what you can see.

To top it off, even the towns aren’t that pretty. Outside Willemstad’s famous waterfront, I wasn’t too impressed by the scenery, buildings, or homes. Even the resorts looked outdated. There’s nothing like a little grime and wear and tear on a city to give it some charm, but in Curacao, the grit only added a feeling of woeful neglect.

One thing I loved, though, was the locals. They made the trip. The locals on the island were friendly, helpful, and great conversationalists. I stayed in an Airbnb rental, and Milly, my host, was super friendly and helpful. She even went the extra mile and drove me some places so I wouldn’t have to take a taxi. If I returned to Curacao, I would stay at her place again.

While searching for places to eat, I stumbled across a local, family-run restaurant near my apartment and ate most of the meals there. Every time I walked in, they greeted me like they’d known me for years (I was probably the only non-local to eat there). Jack, from another restaurant, kindly gave me his phone number to call if I needed anything and always remembered me and that I really loved his lemonade when he saw me.

And then there were the bus drivers who helped guide me around town, the locals who let me hitch a ride with them when the bus didn’t come, and the countless other little moments of friendly conversation and help that happened during the course of my week.

If I chose to go back, it would be for the people, not the place.

Curacao wasn’t awful, but I’ve experienced better destinations. Maybe I didn’t like it because I had high expectations—when you think of nearby Aruba and Bonaire, you think Caribbean paradise, and I just lumped Curacao in with them. Expectations can often lead to disappointment when we build up locations in our head.

I walked away from Curacao with no burning desire to go back. I’m happy I went and I’d encourage others to go, but there was nothing in Curacao that you can’t find elsewhere better and cheaper.

You can’t love every destination. It’s impossible. I can usually find the good in every place (even Vietnam!) but humans have opinions, emotions, and preferences—and mine don’t favor Curacao.

You should go and explore the island for yourself. You just won’t find me there.

comments 81 Comments

Hey Matt, I share your sentiments.

I visited Curacao several years ago on a cruise with my family and felt “meh” pretty much summed it up. It was really hard to get around–we were big group of people so we just chartered a bus, but I heard from other people on our ship that they couldn’t see much of the island that day. If I ever go back to the Netherlands Antilles it will be to visit St. Maarten. Definitely world class white sand beaches and snorkeling!

I’ve heard wonderful things about St. Maarten. Looking forward to going there one day.

Curacao is definitely the most un-attractive of the island if you are looking for beaches and the Island feel, and one of the most expensive. Don’t discard the rest of the Caribbean. One unique aspect of the islands is that they all have unique characteristics that are as unique as the individuals that visit and live in them. As far as St Maarten you have two wonderful perspective on both the Dutch and the French site – very unique! Most people love the island.

NomadicMatt

I’d never discount an entire region. I didn’t like Curacao but I’ll be going to many, many, many more Caribbean islands in the future.

Colby

You say you didn’t like Curacao, just wondering why it’s on your top ten list of islands?

Jessa

Matt,

You will love St Martin especially the French side. I was there last summer for a week and had a fabulous time. The beaches are beautiful. You can take a ferry to Anguilla for about $30 round trip and about $90 round trip to St Barts. The people are friendly and welcoming. There’s also other little islands in St Martin ; like Pinel on the French side, a 3-5 boat ride for $3. On the Dutch side , there are a lot of business, but still many beautiful beaches. Both parts of the Island is worth venturing. I would suggest renting car to get around and it’s not expensive. I had one for $100 with insurance for the week. I just came back last month and planning on going back soon.

Robin

Let me begin to say that everybody is entitled to their own opinion. But it disappoints me too read one which is build on non realistic expectations and basically poor judgement.

First off: please show me any tourist brochure/website/etc. which promotes a non attractive part of town or country. Curaçao has a lot of amazing spots, and the beauty of the place lies in the fact that it is not accesible by a four lane high way. This is no Aruba or another one of the Caribbean islands that focusses its entire money making industry on tourism. Aruba had a refinery, but chose to scale it down to make room for hordes of tourists with non realistic expectations.

The natural beaches on the island are truly magnificent, partly due to the fact that they are natural. No exploitation of the beach with beds and big ass parking lots. Just the way nature formed them. The ones that are modified to accomade the tourist who stay in their resorts, are great as well. So I really don’t get your point.

Let me just conclude by saying that my expectations may have been too high about you. For a guy who spends his life travelling the world on a budget and what not, and believe me I think you are awesome for doing so, would have a broader point of view when visiting an island like this.

At least I am grateful that you’ve had a great time with the people of the island, because we are welcoming and friendly to anyone who makes an effort. And that is all you needed to do to fall in love with the place. Don’t expect everything to be laid out for you. What’s the fun in that? Just make an effort.

Amanda

Well said. I find many of Nomadic Matt’s “opinions” are built on non realistic expectations and poor judgement. I also find him very arrogant. The ONLY reason I read his blog is for the occasional helpful tip.

Mel Ange

@Robin I can sympathize with Matt he was disappointed on many levels and he calls it like it is. I was stationed on Curacao from 2010-12 and I could not find it in me to invite a single friend or relative to visit me because I knew money could be spent on many other more desirable ‘Caribbean’ islands then Curacao. The entrance to the island, the grand entrance is littered with an disgusting old oil refinery and its waste that has all but destroyed the island, polluting not just the air but also the land and sea. Jobs? Is this why that filthy plant exists still? Because it isn’t there to give the islanders better gas prices, its the most expensive fuel I have ever paid in my life.

Robin

I dont really understand what you want to say with that comment.
The fact that you have lived on the island for two years, and were ashamed to invite people is just sad. That must be a narrow minded group op people you have around you.

If in two years you couldn’t find the beauty in that place, then you can’t find it anywhere and I feel sorry for you.

Ow and about the refinery. Yes it is old. Yes it does more damage then good. And yes it is right there in the middle of the island. The people that have lived there their entire life learned to go about their days and find the beauty in the other 99% the island has to offer. And please, try living in Europe and then go and fill up your gas tank on Curaçao, then you never want to go back home.

Thanks everyone for the comments.

Amanda: Sorry you feel that way. What makes you think I’m arrogant? And what’s with the quotes around opinions? My blogs are my opinion so I’m unsure why the quotes. And the poor judgement comment confuses me. Can you elaborate on your criticism?

Robin: I seemed to have touched a nerve. I gather you are a local and while I didn’t hate Curacao, I didn’t love it and while I understand when people don’t love their home, I also didn’t really “trash” your island and still recommended people to go. Nobody likes every place and I wasn’t a huge fan. I disagree that the beaches are very nice. I’ve been to thousands of beaches and the ones in Curacao, while pretty, were not my favorite. Different opinions as you said. One person’s work of art is another’s junk. I don’t see why we can’t respectfully disagree.

I’m not sure what you mean by “having a broader view” and putting in the effort. I put in a lot of effort in the week I was there to explore the island, get out of the resorts, over to Westpunt, and try to love the island. I wanted to love Curacao but while it was nice and the locals friendly, it didn’t light a fire under my feet.

As a resident of Curaçao and having blogged a thing or two about the Dutch Caribbean islands of the former Netherlands Antilles (www.sand-and-stilettos.com/blog), it would be very easy for me to go on a defensive rant about the content of this post. I am in no way disputing your opinion – really, to each his own – however, I do want to add that I think proper research would have made all the difference, plain and simple.

If you were looking for a Caribbean island with endless stretches of white sandy beaches (sans some coral and rocks), busses that run every 5 minutes like clockwork, dirt cheap taxi rides and no refinery – Curaçao shouldn’t have been your choice destination to begin with. While we do have smaller bays, affordable public transport options (that do require patience), higher taxi rates (not too rare in this part of the world) and yes, a refinery (not a big secret either) we also have great walking tours covering the history behind our colorful architecture, rugged terrain mountain bikers and hikers love to explore and a number of restaurants serving great dishes prepared by local and international chefs alike. Digging deeper before booking your ticket could have changed your mind about coming or at the very least managed your expectations prior to arriving. As a business owner who is no stranger to traveling, I am very much aware that research on a new destination takes up a lot of time and effort (I would assume this is all in a day’s work for a full-time travel blogger, but I digress) which is why I just recently started offering my services as a personal travel concierge on Curaçao. I help plan trips customized to suit the travelers’ needs and interests so they can make the most of their time on the island including pick-up and drop-off at the airport and all activities during their stay – so that’s up-to-date local recommendations and transportation covered. I also offer tips on suitable accommodation and the best airline connections beforehand so if anyone still interested in local insights about Curaçao they can always get in touch!

John Jerrehian

Curacao… I first found out about the island as I do a lot of scuba diving. The first time I went to Curacao I was a little disappointed the first few days. Why? I couldn’t get my arms around what was all that I studied about Curacao. The island is too big to just arrive and make an opinion. You have to have a car to appreciate all the sites that the island offers too. Forget a cab and forget taking the bus. If you went to Curacao thinking this you didn’t do your home work…
After a few days, (and enjoying the friendly people) I began to find the pictured places and the islands magic. The second trip was even better and after four trips to Curacao we purchased a home in Coral Estates, (which is a beautiful area of the island about 25-30 mins from downtown Willemstad).

Curacao is one of those islands that you just can’t jump off the cruise ship and have everything in walking distance. There is a huge amount to take in and after many many trips I still have not done half of what I wanted.
The NE end of the island, (Westpunt) is mountainous with pretty small beaches that dot the landscape all the way down the west coast, (Caribbean side). Some are small and quaint while others are larger with picturesque views.

As for the refinery, (called Isla). There are changes coming. Contract ends 2019 and either they will spend around 1 billion US dollars to improve or close. Since PDVSA leases the refinery, (Venz) and the issues that country is having, I think it will be closed. Otherwise, it’s far from where I have my home and is what it is.

Expecting to drop right into Curacao and “get it” typically won’t happen, (it didn’t for me). However, spending some time, renting a car and exploring the island you will find what those of us know the uniqueness of what Curacao offers.

Oh, the diving is outstanding too!

Jones

Curacao was the most beautiful island in the Caribbean !! Where the refinery is located was the nicest harbor of the world with all around white sand. It was a bad decision to build that refinery. although this helped a lot of people with work. people from every where like Aruba, Bonaire, St Martin, Surinam, Venezuela, Cuba and a lot more from the Caribbean got work here. Also I have to say that Curacao together with Bonaire, Aruba, St Martin, Saba and St Eustatia where all Dutch colonies and thanks to Curacao all these islands are still on a high level ! To explore Curacao you must have a car to drive the island around and you will see a lot of nice beaches with white sands !!

Robin: I am sure there are plenty of tourists who go and fall in love with Curacao, but everyone has their own opinions, and sometimes it can be something as little as a ‘vibe’ that doesn’t exactly sit right with the person to sway their opinion towards disliking a place. I would say that about many places in the United States; there are such varied views on New York City – some people LOVE it and others HATE it. I have a strong love/hate relationship with NYC, and many people would disagree with my reasons, but it doesn’t mean they are wrong or that my experience is purely due to a fault of my own. They are merely observations of aspects of the place that either jive well with who I am and what I like, or they don’t. I’m sure many people, like myself, still think Curacao sounds charming, and would love to visit someday.

Thanks for the honest review Matt. That apt looks pretty sweet for the price!

Thanks Christina!

And the apartment was wonderful as were the owners!

I’ve written a bit about Curacao on my own blog because I also didn’t care for it. My husband and I now wish we’d opted for another Caribbean island. One thing worth noting if you rent a car (which we did): Car insurance isn’t covered in the national park, and that’s the most rugged part of the country. You take a chance at huge expenses if anything happens to your rental car in the park.

Thanks for the honest review Matt. Us folks from Curaçao sometimes have a tough time dealing with and learning from honest constructive criticism, but we definitely have our heart in the right place. I am glad that you got a taste of our caribbean hospitality. You are right: taxi rides here are prohibitively costly. Fortunately rental cars are not. And yes, you definitely need a car to get around as things are rather spread out which also has its charm. Curaçao is real, a diamond in the rough. Not a tourist trap so if you prefer that, Curaçao may not be for you. Matt, I hereby personally invite you to visit us again. If you let me know, I will make sure that you get the insider’s tour to see, taste and experience everything that Curaçao has to offer that maybe you missed. Don’t be surprised if you have the best time ever and fall in love with Curaçao!

@ Gino, you did descripe it very good, i live here now for many years and i dont ‘go myself to the touristic places…… i am giving daily tours where the cars can’t arrived (blue room) showing wild turtle’s (ascension) and many things more! It’s a honest opinion on his vacation that he had……but unrealistic, because i find myself everytime over and over again new unseen places on the island…. so like gino says contact me and fall in love with Curacao!

and i agreed full about the reffinery, got a plot of land that looks on it……. but maybe in the future it will be closed I HOPE SO!

NomadicMatt

If I make it back there, I’ll look both of you up!

Jones

Matt !! you know what is very very special of Curacao !!! Living here. If you do you well experience a relaxing way of life and you will never go back from here !

Hi Matt,
I am one of the locals. I totally agree with your comments. I hope it will wake up some people. I agree with you that the people are the best part of Curaçao. I am not going to make any excuses. We don’t have mile long beaches that other locations have – our charm is in the small secluded beaches and coves and crystal clear waters. We are not a diving paradise (yet) because we started too late with protecting our coral reefs from spear fishing. You have seen what the refinery does in the air – we have seen what happens below the sea when low and high tides allow spilled oil from the refinery to flow out of the bay into the channel into the Caribbean Sea killing our reef. We are working on it. We are looking forward to the day that the decision falls that we either operate a clean refinery (contradictio in terminis) or that we forever get out of the oil refining business. When that happens, vegetation comes back, fish comes back, you will come back and our people will have bigger smiles.

He Matt,
I’m sorry you did not like our beautiful island of Curacao. It is your opinion and tastes differ. We live here with many cultures in freedom. Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, gay people we all live here together.

I lived in Europe for a long time. I could go to whatever place I could. Guess what Matt, I worked hard to get back to Paradise. Curacao is paradise. Many beaches around the place and clear, clear water. Like swiming in a swimming pool. I have been around in the Caribbean, Matt, and never saw something like that. Cristal clear water.

But Matt that is not the reason why I wanted to have my feet in the sand and enjoy the waves. It is because of the relaxed way of life. The people around you. The creative mindset of the people.

So I went back Matt and never regretted it. Of course we need to continue to develop the island. Of course we have to see what we need to do with the Refinery. But as you know Matt, the government has just let a group of people look at the option of upgrading the refinery and also look at other alternatives. There is Greentown. It appears that that option can bring a beautiful city to Curacao. Even upgrading the refinery might be an option.

Matt I wish you good luck in your travel around the world. Next time you visit Curacao, I personally invite you to my place. We can have a margarita, or do you prefer a Mojito. I invite you to a salsa evening with Son CC, and you can hear the beautiful voice of Tamara Morales. A cuban singer who have found Curacao as her home. Hope that we could touch your heart Matt. Cause Curacao is a wonderful place to live.

By the way Matt, this is not a commercial I’m pulling before your eyes. But as someone who travels around the world, you should have noticed that Curacao is a great place to do business with. The internet speed is amongst one of the highest in the Caribbean. And we are a top location for doing business. That’s very important if you want to keep traveling around.

Runy

Hilly

Like most of the locals I agree with whats said. What i love about my island is the people. And thats why we work hard on our youth in schools to develop the love and the awareness to develop in our own country. I just love the part others call “meh” and wouldn’t want it changed but the rest………we are working on it.

NomadicMatt

I loved the locals. Everyone I met on Curacao was wonderful. They were my favorite part of my trip.

Hi Matthew! Thanks for your view of your experience of Curacao. As you say it is a personal thing to fall in love or not with a destination. The best parts of Curacao are a bit hidden and you do need a car to get there. But actually you did what you could do best to enjoy a new destination: meet the locals! You can sit on a beautifull beach anywhere in the world and the beer is just as good anywhere as long as it’s served cold… :-) But it’s the people who make the difference and the people of Curacao are even warmer than their climate! So maybe you will not be back on the island, but we do invite everyone (including you Matthew!) to come and enjoy Curacao: dance with the locals, drink with the locals, laugh with the locals & relax with the locals!!
And to be the easiest way in contact with the locals: rent a local holiday house like the one you mentioned on airbnb or any of the houses.
See you all on Curacao!

Ps. Or see you on Aruba or on Bonaire… also well worth the visit!! :-)

Tania

Hi Matt I personal want U back on my wonderfull island Curacao for the 5th eddition of Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival 29/30 august 2014,if U confirm I will take some days of 2 be your personal guide !!!

Sounds like a place to spend a day or two and head to the next island.

Kerry

Curacao was a dive destination for us. Not the best but certainly not the worst! My opinion: the world under the water at Curacao is worth the effort in getting there even if you don’t find the surface to be so; the people are some of the friendliest, most accommodating to be found. I got really sick on this trip (it happens) & the lovely woman who cleaned our rooms brought me flowers every day!

Marianne

Dear Matt,
I’m so sorry my island didn’t meet your expectations. I didn’t recognize my island completely as described in your article, but you’re re right though with regards to the location of the refinery. As you said yourself maybe your expectations were set to high as to the location and maybe you just didn’t find enough attractions compatible with your own personal taste. Sometimes that happens, because it’s all about your own personal experience. I’m pleased to read that there was at least one aspect that you enjoyed and that was the locals. Hope you’ll consider to give the island a second chance in the future.

There’s a nuclear power plant on the way to San Diego. I don’t let it ruin our good time in San Diego. But I understand where you’re coming from. We didn’t like Croatia all that much. But tons of people love that country.

NomadicMatt

One of my favorite cities in the world is Paris. It’s very magical to me and I know plenty of people who would be happy to never set foot again there.

Everyone has different tastes.

Mary

you love Paris. and i so much hate Paris and i’m from Curacao..

Homeless Goomba

You’ve made more friends in a limited amount in the Caribbean, than I have in 12 years in my hometown! lol!

Explorista

I feel like you didn’t really try to like it anymore as soon as you saw the oil refinery. That’s a shame on your part I guess. But otherwise it seems like a pretty fair post on it. I’ve never been there, and don’t have plans to either. There are other caribbean islands that I’m drawn towards more, and judging from your post that feeling is right.

NomadicMatt

I tried really hard to like it but I didn’t. It wasn’t just the oil refinery. It was a lot of things. Overall, it just didn’t jive with me. It happens.

John Jerrehian

Matt,
If you ever go back. Let me recommend meeting up with or going with someone who knows the island. Really, it’s a lot of fun…

Anonymous

I have lived in Curacao for 4 years, so far. I don’t agree with everything Matt said, but I can totally see why he would have this experience as a tourist. I am not surprised. Let’s be honest: Curacao inhabitants know very well what the issues are, regarding that. I am not going to lie.

Indeed, it is best to rent a car as the taxi situation is very iffy.

I personally know that this is a very good and amazing place for snorkeling, so that is one thing I certainly don’t agree with. I know people who have snorkeled extensively all over the world, who say Curacao is one of the very best places for that. There are many great snorkeling sites. But it is easy for me to say this, because I live here and know where they are. I have no idea if it’s easy for tourists to get any info on that. Obviously it must not be!

I personally think the natural, white coral stone beaches are extremely visually pleasing! I actually prefer them over sand beaches. I guess it’s just my personal opinion, but it just does something for me. Also, if Matt would have went to Little Curacao, he would have found a long, naturally white and absolutely perfect sand beach. However, that takes a trip by boat, a little bit away from Curacao and might not be super low-budget. It is worth it, though.

The old buildings look that way, because it is very hard to maintain coral stone buildings. The reason is that the coral stone itself keeps multiplying/expanding, ruining the paint. There is nothing to do about that. They keep trying to restore the buildings, but the same thing keeps happening. I had to get used to it, but have developed an appreciation for this as well, as it has its own charm and just is a typical Curacao thing. I had to let go of this idea of things being ‘perfect’. It reminds me of how nature itself might be hard to steer or contain. OK, some buildings look bad, but you can see that many other buildings are reasonably maintained, considering they are from centuries ago. Charming or ugly… beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Curacao to me, is a poetic place, a colorful and a soulful place. These are things not to be experienced by everyone and perhaps not to be experienced in a short time like a vacation. It has many different elements that evoke many different ideas and moods. It is also the most sporty and active islands of all. You can do so many activities here. Curacao has a very mixed and diverse community. It’s not a great place for shopping or fine dining, but it’s the place to be if you want to have an active vacation or just to enjoy the Caribbean and tropical nature. If you are heavily into museums and culture… I don’t think Curacao would be your best pick, though there are some museums as well. However, if you like to just relax, be pampered, enjoy nature reserves, the sea, etc. and do any type of sports or outdoors activities, this is the place to go to. I also see a lot of families with children. I am sure Bonaire and Aruba have all these things as well.

Yes, the refinery sucks. There are many more negatives, which I am glad Matt did not even notice. However, there are some positives that make this the best place to be for me, personally. However, this would never be my own perfect vacation destination. I think this place is a good place to live, though. Also, I think there are many pretty homes as well. I think Aruba or Bonaire would definitely be better places for a vacation. The people are even more friendly and helpful there and are more focused on tourism. Both islands are very beautiful as well, though of course smaller. I would pick either island over Curacao for just a vacation.

Nonetheless, it is all here… beautiful beaches, snorkeling, dolphins, turtles. The Caribbean, wildlife, etc. It just also has some negatives indeed. I think Matt kept it mild, though good times are to be had here and beauty is here as well.

I remember the first time I was here, so I can imagine what it was like for Matt. If someone had asked me to write a travel review 4 years ago or to give my first impression… I would have probably told them that seeing the Caribbean for the first time, was something really incredible. A lot of other things and certainly criticisms. It’s not the only place to see the Caribbean, true. However, most people can’t find that much to complain about when they are on any Southern Caribbean beach, looking at the incredibly blue and clear water.

Even with all the negatives and challenges, Curacao has grown so much on me. There is just something about this place… can’t really explain. Maybe it’s the contradictions… the diversity of people and influences… and then the roughness… the elements… It’s just not an island for the faint of heart. It’s a soulful place for sure. It’s a place of creation, hope, new life and yet also struggles… Just a funny place I am lucky to call my home.

wendy

Thank you Matt for your offered honest opinion.. That’s what I LIKE about your writings. And as for the people throwing rocks.. maybe they just like to read blogs that agree with all their own opinions & thought processes. I for one like diverse honest opinions.

Jonathan

I have definitely been and continue to be blown away by some of the natural beaches in Curacao… and the water is extremely blue and clear here… are you sure you did not have sunscreen in your eyes, Matt? ;)

At the same time, there are some beaches here that I don’t care about. There are only a few beaches that really do it for me… but totally do it for me. They are also the more hidden ones. I am pretty sure Matt did not go there. I have my own top 5 of favorite Curacao beaches. I will never reveal this list though ;)

JudyBelg

I really liked Curaçao, maybe because it was a winter break but I had a great week. I was staying in Otrabanda and took the vans (license plate starting with ‘bus’) and enjoyed hearing papiamento and the music on them. Hook’s hut was a nice part of beach to relax on, it did cost a small entrance fee but then the facilities were very nice. The Kura Holanda museum was one of the highlights during my stay.

Famof5

My husband might have a job in curaçao for one year. We are trying to decide if the whole fam should join him. We have children ages 1 month, 2, 5, 7, 15. Just curious if it is a good choice for a house ful of boys to uproot for a family adventure to this lovely island

Max

Curacao has it’s charms. The remote beaches are amazing, and the snorkeling was super cool. I have some great friends on the island and it always helps to have a local inside scoop.

We stayed in a beautiful condo next to Jan Thiel beach with a killer view of the water. And I like the funky party scene on the island, as well.

Max

Camellia

I was thinking about this the other day – places that one wants to love but just can’t quite muster the ‘umph’, or whatever. I’ve been to a couple cities that I didn’t mesh with – for no apparent reason. I’ve struggled with it; shouldn’t I stay until I love the location and it loves me? Or DIE trying? ;) But I guess that’s the way of it. Sometimes there are little discontents or expectations you didn’t know you held, or a ‘move on’ voice you don’t want to listen to.

I prefer an honest blog, there’s too much fluff out there. And everyone has an opinion based on their own experiences – I know Matt that you loved Costa Rica. I really didn’t like it, nor Brazil. Who knows, had the stars been aligned differently I might have liked both. The point is that a blog will share the writer’s opinion and that it is only honest to be truthful about how you feel about a place.
Good work on the post,
Frank (bbqboy)

FrugalZen

Well the closest I’ve been to Curacao is a bottle of their fine booze. I’ve been to a number of Caribbean islands via cruise ships.

However I don’t do the shore excursion thing..I get off and walk because I want to see how the locals actually live. When you get away from the tourist areas things tend to be a bit run down..think about why..everything has to come in by ship and consequently tends to be very expensive so things like repairs get delayed.

But like Matt says…the people are almost always super friendly and nice and I’ve not yet had a bad experience.

And the islanders take pride in their home…even if it looks run down.

Once in Freeport sitting on a curb eating outside a grocery store (paint peeling walls and all) I noticed that there was NO trash on the street….not even a cigarette butt….and then caught an apparently homeless man pick-up my half finished drink I’d set on a nearby wall just before he was going to pitch it into a nearby trashcan ….he was homeless but we sat there and had a great conversation about what it was like to live in the Grand Bahamas.

John Jerrehian

Great story! I have noticed things like this too. It’s what makes places different and interesting.
One trip in Curacao, the King and Queen were there. Many locals flocked downtown to see them and enjoy the festivities.
We decided we would go too, (with some Dutch friends of ours). While we were there we saw more friends we met, (small island). However, I began to notice, very little police and what a wonderful mix of people. Everyone getting a long and enjoying the presence of their King and Queen as they are proud of their island.

Juan

I’ve been to most of the Caribbean islands and there are differences in each one. Differences that some may enjoy, and others just “meh”.
If beaches are your thing then Curacao does not rank in the top ten, but if you are into diving or snorkeling then its in your top five.
You mentioned going to St. Maarten. That’s an island with some fine beaches but the roads, and hordes of tourists, make you want to try some other island next time.
Depending on one’s mood you might desire the scenery and action of Old San Juan, or the quiet beauty of St. John’s or Tortola.
It certainly helps when you meet friendly hospitable people, but there are all types everywhere.
Nobody should be bashing you for your own opinion.

Stan

Go to Aruba.. it wont disappoint like Curacao…

Rose

Hey Matt,
After dating someone from curaçao for four years and thus having been there frequently I have to say that I agree with you. However there is one island in the caribbean that made a big impression on me. It’s Saba. You can fly there from St. Maarten and it is heaven on earth. Only 3000 people live on the Island which takes you right back to a 20′s lifestyle where people know each other, bake their own bread and don’t lock their cars. We went for several hikes and they were stunning.It’s called ‘The unspoilt Queen’ for a reason. So next time when you’re in the caribbean definitely give this island a shot, you won’t regret it!
Regards,
Rose
ps: love your blog!

Is it easy to find bicycle rental shops in Curacao? Is there a lot of traffic on the roads, or is it easy to ride a bike?

Bicycles are a great way to get around when there´s not enough of public transportation. But there isn´t bicycle rental shops everywhere (and sometimes prices are ridiculous) and it is not comfortable to ride on busy roads.

if you like to rent a bicycle on Curacao you can go to the Plaza hotel downstairs the got scooters, bicycle and 1 day rent a car! personal I tell you driving bicycle on Curacao is not the smartest thing to do! ;-)

Hello, Matt! I always heard great things about Curacao. However, I will consider your experience when I go there! Great post!

debbie murphy

I have lived in Curacao for 4 years and just love it.You have to have a car to get around. I go to all the little hide away places that alot of people don’t know about if they are visiting. I will be here 2 more years and I hate the thought of having to leave this beautiful island. I have met so many wonderful friends and go to the beach and hiking daily. Some people want a more pampered island, Curacao is a little rugged but that is what I like.

Great post! I was just in Curacao last year. It was during a cruise and I was only on the island for a few hours, but I think that was enough time. :) It’s a nice island, but I don’t think you can spend more than a day there.

sounds like theres better places to spend your money on! great read however

I’m impressed at the way you handled this post. Not every destination is right for everyone who visits, and I am delighted that you were able to explain why Curasco didn’t jive with you and still encourage people to go there. I often feel the same way about big cities (example: no desire to return to Paris), so it’s nice to know that other people have the same reaction to “popular” destinations!

NomadicMatt

I always approach my posts with the view “even if I didn’t like it, someone else might” so I try to be fair while still giving my honest opinion.

Adrienna Tataryan

Matt, I know exactly what you mean. My husband and I went to Aruba and didn’t find it to be what others made of it. Perhaps some of it is expectation. For example, I have been to Grand Cayman Island and thoroughly enjoyed the exquisite nature, the Caribbean food and the world class diving… it was posh, it could be laid-back, it was flavorful…

We were looking forward to going to Aruba because my husband is from Holland. However we found a very working-class, “working Island” with nature that was obstructed by refineries and manufacturing plants, neighborhoods with a serious drug presence, a distrusting, shifty eyed hotel manager, and expensive restaurants in the resort district that had so much to learn about hospitality. Our rental vehicle broke down and a local trying to help us committed petty theft from our car…

Anyway, I realized that when I think of Caribbean islands I think of places like St. Barts or Key Caulker… vastly different but charming or exclusive. We have a right to our opinions and I appreciated your comments. I look forward to more of your honest takes on places.

wrldtrvlr

My sentiments about the island were similar, but I too recall the friendliness of the people I met. Comparisons do cause disappointment.

Rick

Hey Matt, I am relatively new to your site and like it very much.
I also appreciate your honesty when reviewing a location you have
visited. I would trust your opinions rather than someone who says every
where is perfect. Thanks, r

Ness

Hi everyone,
I just come back this summer from a trip to Curacao & Bonaire.
Curacao has its own charm and I have to say we liked a lot the open nature.
The north of the island is full of little beaches which are small paradise, never crowed also. Some are even snorkling paradise. I was travelling with 3 ado. they all loved it. My husband did some diving at Coral Estate and Loved it a lot. you have beautiful places to see. Now if you are looking for diving experience i would go to Bonaire which is incredibly amazing.
The south of the island for me is less attractive cause have less nice beaches. but it is nice to enjoy a bit of “Ibiza” style evening on the blvd with the bars, the discotheque and the shop.
I think Curacao is in transformation, just give the island some time to wake up and you will be amazed I am sure.

All islands I have done so far I liked in different ways, I always go with an open mind, and also try to find the best side of every place. ( like with the people !)

Lynn

“The north of the island is full of little beaches which are small paradise, never crowed also.”

Please: do not make the mistake of going to the North side for a swim!
I am pretty sure you are refering to the WESTERN part of Curaçao. Which, true, on the map lies a bit north of the eastern part.
But the north coastline is for extremely skilled boaters/sporters… or ignorant thrillseekers.

VVB

Bottom line is not everyone likes the same place. We all have our own opinions and if one person doesn’t like something and chooses to talk about why on their blog, so be it – don’t take it so personally and get offended. I have travelled the Caribbean (and lived on several islands) extensively and the island I am originally from, Barbados, is one of my least favorite places in comparison to others in the Caribbean. SO what. It’s always one’s own personal perspective, take it or leave it.
Matt – if you ever want to talk Caribbean – good or bad, I won’t judge you for it… To each his own, right? Only way you are going to learn about each place’s differences is by experiencing it – good or bad. There’s always a takeaway and something you learn regardless. Keep going back and enjoy the experience of a new island!

NomadicMatt

I couldn’t agree more.

Let me just say that if you want endless stretches of white beaches you should come to Aruba next time. Curacao has different things to offer than Aruba, more nature, wildlife, slavery history etc, Personally I think it also depends on where you go and what you really want out of a vacation. Do you want to be a beach bum? Or do you want to be more interested in cultural, natural attractions? My personal advice is to contact Gaby Lieuw to show you all the ins and outs of Curacao and tailor make a vacation for you. website: http://sand-and-stilettos.com

Aruba is entirely focused on tourism, it is our primary source of income, we even teach tourism as a curriculum in our classes. However with our current government we are also exploring other economic pillars such as forming a central hub in the Caribbean between Europe and the Americas for businesses and also we want to be the first totally sustainable island in the Caribbean by 2020, exploring natural sources of energy, solar panels for residences etc.
Both island are beautiful and have different things to offer.

John Jerrehian

Well put.

Hi Matt,
You are spot on with Curacao. During our stay at Curacao, we got out of the water after snorkeling along a beautiful reef just off-shore from our hotel, only to find that we were covered in oil spots! There had actually been a tanker that ran aground (something that we later found out was a frequent occurrence) and was leaking oil that contaminated much of the southern coast. Very disappointing indeed.
Justin

sue

I feel sorry that you didn’t like my beautiful Island but I also feel that you were kind of disappointed that the Island had a refinery and you let that cloud your judgement and comparing Curacao with Aruba is just wrong. Curacao is good for diving and snorkeling and if you like doing water sports activities then Curacao is the place for you ! Curacao got a more relax lay back vibe going on .While Aruba got the las Vegas vibe. Aruba is known as the Las Vegas of the Caribbean so I understand if you feel like you were let down .And your complain’s about the old buildings they try to restore them but you saw it yourself some of this buildings are more then 100 years old it a miracle that they are still standing ! Some of them can’t not be fix anymore so there is nothing they can do about them. But anyway’s I just want you to give curacao a second chance get Aruba out of your head prepare a good vacation plan make sure you have a good guide and who knows maybe this time you will see the true beauty of Curacao.

Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy your trip at the fullest. It was good to read an honest review. What you said is true, the tendency is to promote perfect landscapes and beaches, but everybody knows that there are downsides, too. Would you want to return to Curacao? Maybe the second time you’ll see it with different eyes.

NomadicMatt

I’ll go back to every place one day but I’d rather focus on the places I haven’t been first. But you never know….I’m sure I’ll get back there!

It’s one of those countries most people never heard of… whenever I mention it, they think it’s some sort of a drink…

The area is oil rich, indeed… I read the huge oil tankers pass by very close to inhabited areas.

I guess if someone travels to Caracas, then hopping across to Curacao should be rather easy…

Hi all,

i like Curacao so muss – we stay in near by Jan Kok and it was so nice there. People are totally friendly and sweet. Beaches are small, quit and nice .. example cas abou.

best regards from Germany

Daniel

Lynn

I couldn’t make it through all the comments, but I bet no one has suggested the following correction in the description of Curaçao:

Curaçao might have -maybe- two or three natural beaches. So if you’re looking for miles and miles of sand, you better head to Aruba. But Curaçao has a myriad of lovely secluded bays. A bay is a like piece chopped of the rocky coastline,you must make your way down the rocks to the shore (at some of them this will be easier to achieve than at others) but you will be rewarded with a cozy piece of land from where you can start your snorkeling or diving expedition.
The bays vary in width, a knowledgable tourist guide or taxi driver could show you at least half a dozen different ones on a morning or afternoon. He/she could also take you to a few bays at the north side of the island, so you could see for yourself why it would be extremely un-advisebel to even think about taking a dip there.
http://www.hansonline.eu/kans/image/curacao_3.5_120.jpg

I agree with some people’s comments here that you cannot paint a canvas of your expectations and set about traveling the Caribbean islands (or any other for that matter) and thinking you will see that painting on each and every island. Diversity is the spice of life, not “If it’s Wednesday, this must be Saint Island”. Or maybe one likes to prance around in one of those t-shirts: “Same s***, different island!”

And yes, the refinery is a sore to the eye, an assault on our health, and a challenge to our generation to fix what’s wrong with it. Including supstituting the economic impact for a big number of families and companies. Be assured that it has our people’s attention and that we are working on it.

Natasha

Hi Matt,

There is nothing to say, which hasn’t said in previous comments. I agree with some parts of your comment and agree with other points. It’s like you and others said: different strokes,different people.

I just wanted to enquire if you have been to the other Islands? Aruba and Bonaire?
If so what did you think of them?

Bye for now

Suzie31

HI all I just moved here with my husband. How do you go about making friends on this island. There don’t really seem to be any clubs. I was living in Europe where there were opportunites to make friends in the form of various types of clubs for people with different interests but i don’t seem to find anything like that here. Some advice please !

T

Dear Suzie31. My advice for you would be to get involved. Maybe a sport club, dance classes, cooking courses. Maybe some charity activity!

John Jerrehian

Matt’s trip to Curacao. I agreed and disagreed with what you said, (and others) as I read your post. First, Curacao isn’t one big tropical paradise, there are aprx. 200,000 folks who live there and many do not have the income to have homes/areas that are resort like. The refinery has been there for about 100 years. In 5 years, my guess it will be closed, (when contract runs out) or updated with over $1 billion of improvements. However, it’s only one section of the island, (for now).
As for the beaches. There are over 38 natural beaches scattered through out the island. Some large and family oriented while others are small and pristine with very few people.
My first trip to Curacao I felt the same way for the first few days. People were great but I wasn’t having this want to go back feeling. We started to find the areas to go and places to be. We also love diving and it’s terrific too! One trip turned into two now over 15 trips and we own a home in Coral Estates. It is beautiful and there are so many things to do.
Yes, you have to rent a car. Yes, you should do your homework and know where the unique, fun, interesting places are. So, a little preparation prior to your trip to Curacao will make all the difference in your trip. Matt, next time you’ll know.

Marina

Anyone is entitled to his/her opinion.
Personally I love the island. After living in many countries during my younger years we choose Curacao and emigrated from the Netherlands in 2008. We learned the language have wonderful friends and indeed, who does not, regret the awful pollution of the isla.
We still travel an awful lot, are on the go 5 months of the year, and love to come back home.
For us one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean are Varadero, Cuba and Grand Anse in Grenada. But this is our opinion.

T

Hey Matt,

My heart is broken. The ABC islands have different characteristics which are appealing to different people.
Aruba is catered for the tourists seeking relaxation and pina colada’s.
Bonaire has the best preserved nature and diving opportunities.
Curacao comes somewhere in between.

The Tourist board advertises the island as a sandy beach location to compete with other similar locations. I have to agree that Curacao isn’t the stretched white sandy beach location. I think that the best way to enjoy the island is with a local guide because there is much much more to see and experience.

I really hope that somewhere in the future you are willing to give it a second chance.

WDesire

I understand how a person can feel like the Matt after a brief visit to Curacao. I’ve heard people say they loved visiting or werent that pleased but I’ve never heard someone say they hated it which compliments what Matt is saying.
I lived and worked in Curacao in 2012-2013 and during that time I had an opportunity to take in the entire experience and if you are going to travel to Curacao I would give you one bit of caution. Take the notions you have of American style customer service and throw it out the window. The island was at one time, the banking center of the Caribbean and the refinery (reason why i was there) was a money maker for the island and provided jobs well before tourism came to play. Tourism is actually new to Curacao compared to the rest of the Caribbean and in time, you’ll find that it will be a great place to vacation on par with Aruba, Hawaii and the Virgin Islands if the government stops fighting with each other long enough to allow it.
If you can’t wait another 15 years for that to happen, visit Curacao with an open mind and rent a vehicle. If you can, stay in Jan Thiel or Spanish Water area. You get a decent beach near by, hiking, shopping, good restaurants, safety and its not too far from downtown or another areas. Make sure to bring a cheap unlocked phone (GSM) and purchase a SIM card from Chippie or Digicel and make calls that way. There is WiFi every where which is awesome but you can’t guarantee it and there are NO US based phone companies in Curacao. Eat at the local restaurants and not at the tourist chains. I ate at the RibsFactory just about every night and you cant go wrong. Bring chap stick and leave your umbrella at home. Very dry and even though the place is surrounded by water, its actually a desert. Bring beach shoes or swimming shoes. The beaches are natural and as a result, there may be rocks but the water is so clear and pristine, you can see them. The buildings are not well kept and while i was there one of the largest tool stores caught on fire and burned to the ground because of faulty wiring. We noticed it the first time we walked into the store. Take note of your surroundings, vehicles and villas and make note of certain things that arent regulated as they are in Europe or the US. Dont overload electrical circuits and you’ll be fine.
Lastly, the people in Curacao are kind of hit or miss just like everywhere is in the world. When dealing with them in a work environment, not very easy to deal with. Most would prefer not to be working and enjoying life and it shows at times and theres nothing you can do but be nice and maybe they’ll come around. (that’s extreme though but not unlikely) Maybe they’re having a bad day. Getting taxed 40% will do that to you. However, when at play, the people of Curacao do it right and they party like no other place I’ve been. Fridays are great and if you dont mind sticking out and want to hang with the locals, go to Salina on a Friday. there are bars, clubs and just people hanging out having a good time. if you dance visit the Tutu Tango on week nights or take in a salsa lesson at Salsation right in Salina. its a great time.
Lastly, Matt has a valid point. If you are visiting Curacao with an idea that it will be Aruba or St Thomas or St Maarten, you’re going to be disappointed. Its not set up that way and yes, it is a hell of a lot more expensive than most places in the Caribbean because nothing is grown there and everything is imported from Miami or Venezuela. But ultimately, if you put the HUGE refinery in the background out of your mind will staying there and enjoy the dives and hole in the wall restaurants while there, you’ll have a great time. I promise.

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