Teamed with Aruba and Bonaire, Curacao is one of the three “ABC” islands of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean.
As the largest and most populated of the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao has the most going on and the most “social life”. It’s the hippest island in the chain and the most visited by younger travelers. It’s a lot less resort than stuffy Aruba.
The island’s capital, Willemstad, is a bustling city with brightly colored Dutch architecture, and its Old Town area is a designated World Heritage site. There are a lot of resorts on the island but, once you leave the resorts, you’ll find a lot of delicious restaurants, hidden beaches, local hotspots, and more interesting activities.
That being said, I didn’t love Curacao. I liked it and I’m glad I went but I didn’t love it the way other people do. I’m more “in like” with it. You should still go. I had fun but just being honest!
This Curacao travel guide will give you all the practical information you need to help you plan your visit so you can decide for yourself!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Curacao
1. Dive the Mushroom Forest
2. Get spooked by the Hato Caves
3. Walk through Willemstad
4. Walk and hike around Christoffel Park
5. Explore the Superior Producer underwater
Other Things to See and Do in Curacao
1. Hang out on Blauwbaai Beach
Blauwbaai (Blue Bay) is the busiest beach on Curacao, with a wide stretch of white sand, bright blue waters, and swaying palm trees. There are also restaurants and bars along the beach, so you’re always within reach of a cocktail or a meal. It costs 15 ANG ($8.50 USD) to visit, including a sun lounger.
2. Relax on Daaiboo Beach
You might find some of the more popular beaches on Curacao too crowded. By sidestepping Blauwbaai and going for Daaiboo Beach, you’ll get to enjoy soft sands and a turquoise sea in relative peace. A lot of the locals hang out here, and the shallow, clear water makes for good snorkeling. There’s no entry fee, and the bar/restaurant here has cheaper drinks and food than at Blauwbaai.
3. Party at Mambo Beach
There are plenty of nightclubs on the island, but for the craziest Caribbean beach parties, go to Mambo Beach. At Wet ‘n Wild, The beach is transformed into an open-air nightclub where young locals mingle with tourists. Live music and DJs keep the party going, especially on Sunday nights.
4. Join in the Curacao Carnival
January marks the beginning of the Curacao Carnival when the whole island turns into a colorful celebration of friendly competitions, public parties, and street parades. The Carnival wraps up at the end of March (yes, it’s a very long party), with the burning of King Momo at midnight. The life-sized, straw-filled effigy symbolizes infertility, sins, and bad luck.
5. Kayak around the coast
A leisurely guided paddle through Curacao’s Caracas Bay will bring you to secluded beaches and historical landmarks, like Fort Beekenburg. Bring some snorkeling gear and explore the shallow waters around the coast, or chill out and soak up the sun before paddling back across the bay. Tours start from about 115 ANG ($65 USD).
6. See the Queen Emma Bridge
This long pontoon bridge in Willemstad was built in 1888, connecting the Punda and Otrobanda neighborhoods. It’s pedestrian-only, but it’s unique for its hinged structure with two propellers — the entire bridge can swing parallel to the shore so that boats can come and go out of St. Anna Bay. It’s fun to be on the moving bridge as it swings!
7. Visit Fort Amsterdam
Fort Amsterdam is the oldest fort on Curacao, having been built in 1635. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and once was the island’s most important piece of protection from outside threats. Nowadays it’s home to the governor’s house and several government offices as well as the Fortkirche, the oldest church on Curacao. You can visit the church, which contains its original pulpit, as well as a small historical museum. It’s free to visit.
8. Go to Shete Boka Park
Adjoined to Christoffelpark, Sheta Boka Park covers six miles (10 kilometers) of the island’s rocky northern coast. There are 10 secluded beaches here, with several of them being home to three different species of sea turtles and their nests. Boka Tabla is the most popular inlet, especially for its deep underground cave. There’s also a “secret” blow hole area located near Westpunt, and the only way to get there is by off-roading. Jeep tours in the park and to the blowhole start from about 176 ANG ($100 USD).
For information about other Caribbean destinations, check out these guides:
Curacao Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A four to six bed dorm costs between 44-53 ANG ($25-30 USD) per night. A dorm with eight beds or more isn’t much cheaper, costing about 39 ANG ($22 USD) per night.
A standard twin private room is about 70 ANG ($45 USD) per night for one, but a double room for two people is about 97 ANG ($55 USD).
Budget hotel prices – Nightly rates for a budget two or three-star hotel room with a private ensuite bathroom start at about 115 ANG ($65 USD) in Willemstad, but start at about 150 ANG ($85 USD) near beach resort areas.
There are lots of Airbnbs on Curacao, with shared accommodation (like a bed in a dorm) starting at 44 ANG ($25 USD) per night. For a private room expect to pay from 106 ANG ($60 USD) per night, while a full apartment averages about 238 ANG ($135 USD) per night. (Airbnb is actually the best accommodation type to use if you’re staying on a budget and don’t want to stay in a dorm.)
Average cost of food – Sandwiches, burgers, and other fast food costs between 16-26 ANG ($9-15 USD) per meal. A giant plate of fish, rice and beans, or other local dishes at Gracia Di Dios (the market) will cost just 16 ANG ($9 USD) or less.
A meal at McDonald’s costs about 14 ANG ($8 USD). Dinner at an inexpensive restaurant will cost you no more than 18 AWG ($10 USD). For meals at the resorts or fancier restaurants, expect to pay at least 35 ANG ($20 USD) or more for an entree like seafood or steak. A beer to go with it is about 1.15 ANG ($2 USD).
Basic groceries for the week (milk, eggs, bread, chicken, fruit, and veggies) will set you back about 125 ($70 USD).
Backpacking Curacao Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Curacao, my suggested budget is around 97 ANG ($55 USD) per day. This budget will cover a hostel dorm or splitting an Airbnb with a friend, buses, local food with some cooked meals too, and some paid attractions like Hato Caves.
A mid-range budget of about 270 ANG ($153 USD) will cover staying in a private room, eating out all your meals, bike rentals, and lots more paid activities. If you’re splitting a room, you can cut this by about $20-30 USD a night.
For a luxury budget of about 564 ANG ($320 USD) per day, you will stay in a four-star hotel, eat out at fancy restaurants, take taxis everywhere, and do any activity you want as often as you want! The sky is the limit. If you’re splitting a hotel room, you can probably know about $60 off your daily budget.
With all these budgets, the big wild cards will be the room costs (cheaper if you split with a friend), your food (what kind of meals are you having), and how you’ll get around (taxis aren’t cheap here). You can lower all these costs (see below) but keep this in mind. Curacao can get pricey quick!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Curacao Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Curacao can really add up if you’re not careful but it’s not nearly as expensive as other islands in the Caribbean. Here are some of my recommended ways to save money in Curacao:
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing host in Curacao. This way, you not only have a free place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Have a BBQ – BBQ-ing on the beach is a popular local activity and can help you save a lot of money on food. A lot of beaches have BBQ pits, including Daaibooi Beach.
- Skip the taxis – The taxis here are very, very expensive. They should be avoided at all costs.
- Rent a car – Getting your own set of wheels is the most economical and convenient way to get around to the far parts of the island. Not renting one was my biggest mistake when I visited Curacao.
- Drink the tap water – Tap water is safe to drink here here! There’s no need to purchase bottled water. However, the water often tastes really chlorinated. A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy here — my preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Curacao
Curacao’s hostels are clean, comfy, and well-maintained and many of them even have pools, or easy access to the beach. My suggested places to stay in Curacao are the following:
How to Get Around Curacao
Bus – Curacao has a public bus network, although it’s very limited. There are buses to the West End (Willemstad) departing from Otrobanda and buses to the southeast leaving Punda (also in Willemstad). The fare costs between 1.50-2 ANG ($0.84-1.15 USD).
Car Rental – A car rental is one of the most economical and efficient ways to get around the island, and there are several major car rental chains at the airport including Avis, Budget, Hertz, and Alamo. Rentals cost between 70-123 ANG ($40-70 USD) per day.
Taxis – Taxis in Curacao are safe and reliable, and although not all of them have meters, most of them will have rate sheets. They’re best for getting around Willemstad, as longer journeys will cost much more. A taxi from one end of Willemstad to the other is about 18 ANG ($10 USD), while Willemstad to Mambo Beach is about 52 ANG ($29.50 USD).
Bicycle – Although Curacao is a Dutch colony, it’s surprisingly hard to get around here on a bicycle. You can navigate the trails beyond Willemstad with a rental, starting from about 40 ANG ($23 USD) per day from Dasia Cycling.
When to Go to Curacao
I recommend visiting Curacao from May to November, during the off-peak season when accommodation and activity rates are up to 50% lower than in the peak season. The beaches are much less busy during this time, and temperatures are still hot and pleasant — averaging up to 89°F (32°C) in both July and August. Curacao is also outside the hurricane zone, so you don’t have to worry too much about tropical storms.
December to April are the busiest months, and this is when hotel rates are the highest. On the other hand, the water visibility is most ideal for diving and snorkeling. Average high temperatures during this time are 87°F (30°C) each day.
How to Stay Safe in Curacao
Curacao is considered one of the safest places to visit in the Caribbean. It’s a small island with low crime. However, don’t leave your valuables out in the open at the beach (or anywhere) to avoid petty crime, like theft. Don’t walk around certain areas alone at night, including the back streets of Punda.
If you’re worried about getting scammed, you can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Curacao! Follow that rule, and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Curacao Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Curacao. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around the Caribbean, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Curacao Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Curacao Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Under a Blue Flag, by Daniel Putkowski
Fifteen years ago Luz Revilla, a young prostitute, sent her son Hernán off to be raised by Nathan Beck, a tugboat captain who brings him up to “become a man.” Now she learns he is coming back to San Nicolas, Aruba, and Revilla’s life becomes ruled by the anticipation of reuniting with her son as he learns about her life in the red light district. This is the darker side to Aruba but it’s an easy beach read.
Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys
This book was released a few years after the Jamaican independence of 1962, and it explores some of the postcolonial issues from that time. It’s set in the 1830s and brings to life the fictional “madwoman in the attic” from the novel Jane Eyre. Antoinette Cosway is a sensual woman sold to Mr. Rochester, and this book is about the woman’s backstory as it explores inequality of race, culture, and gender. It’s heavy reading, but it’s a beautiful one.
An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, by Ann Vanderhoof
In the mid 1990s, the author and her husband decided to take a break from their soul-sucking jobs in publishing and sail from Toronto down to the Caribbean and back again. During the trip, they traveled more than 7,000 nautical miles, dropped anchor in 16 countries, and adapted to ‘island time’. What I loved about this book was the change in the author: how she and her husband went from workaholics with rigid schedules to just going with the flow people who realize they don’t need a lot of stuff and loved the freedom of their journey. This book is well written, smart, inquisitive, and paints a vivid picture of the Caribbean. Highly recommended!
Out From Nassau, by Fia B. Scheyer
Out From Nassau takes you back to the Bahamas in the 1920s, when Prohibition was on in the United States and much of its illegal booze was being smuggled in from here. The book focuses on the lives of people in Nassau and the Out Islands, including the McKenzie family, as they become entangled in this dangerous trade. It’s a real page-turner, and although it’s fiction, much of the story is rooted in reality.
Curacao Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling the Caribbean and continue planning your trip: