My tour of the beautiful Caribbean island began in Willemstad, the island’s capital city, and one with a most eclectic vibe. As the tour group made its way through the buzzing streets, my eyes and ears were filled with the variety of different languages spoken and diversity of people passing by. Willemstad’s waterfront, our first stop, is a great place to see the island’s Dutch architecture. One landmark of particular importance is the rare Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon bridge that opens horizontally rather than vertically to allow ships’ passage into the harbor. From there, the group went to the lively floating market, where vendors from abroad tie up their boats and entice the public to buy their goods, which include everything from seafood to wooden masks. It’s quite the chaotic scene—remember to watch out for flying fish!
After leaving Willemstad, we went to The Curacao Winery, where a Dutch couple founded the island’s first winery. We met the founder, Roelof Visscher, and were given a tour of the vineyards. Roelof showed us different grape varieties in varying stages of growth and explained what he hoped to achieve with each one. During our tasting, he explained that The Curacao Winery currently only serves wine made at their sister vineyard in Holland, but the Curacao vines (planted in 2014) show much promise. We wrapped up our tasting with Roelof and headed back to our hotel, the Lions Dive & Beach Resort. Upon arriving, I went directly for my bathing suit then headed down to the resort’s private beach where I was able to catch the sunset while relaxing in the warm Caribbean Sea.
The island’s highest point, Mount Christoffel, was on our itinerary for the following morning. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a park ranger who had a peculiar sense of humor—during the tour he even pierced his hand with a barb to show us how sharp the local cacti were. The drive, done in an old Toyota 4×4, took us up rocky roads toward the peak, with our guide’s laughter spilling out of the windows with each acceleration.
When we left the park, we drove west to Playa Knip, a gorgeous beach frequented by locals. The pristine sands were covered with families laughing and splashing about in the crystal clear water in a picture of perfection. Later, we boarded the van and headed for our new accommodations, the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort.
The next morning, the group awoke early for a paddleboard and kayak tour led by one of the resort staff members. We made our way into the harbor just as the wind started to pick up and everyone, guide included, was nearly blown into the harbor’s surrounding rocks. It was an adventurous few hours that led to two of the members having to be towed back to our resort by a dingy. Everyone had worked up quite the appetite paddling, and thankfully lunch at the Seaside Terrace was next on the agenda. The quaint little restaurant, mere feet from the Marie Pampoen beach, was incredible. The food was fresh, the vibe was relaxed, and at times it was tough to tell where the restaurant ended and vacationers picnicking on the beach began.
After our seaside lunch, we were scheduled to meet Eric at Eric’s ATVs for a fast paced four-wheel excursion on the southeast edge of the island. Upon arrival, we met our guides and were given a safety demonstration. Shortly after, everyone was mounted and following our guides up and down dusty pathways, zigzagging through the brush. Roughly thirty minutes in, the guides motioned for everyone to stop and kill their engines. We took a break before they led a short climb through a series of caves, where we summited atop a bluff and were rewarded with a pristine view of the Caribbean Sea— blue and vast in all its glory.
I awoke on the final day and walked the Santa Barbara Resort grounds one last time, taking pictures of the gorgeous bay, sad to see the trip come to an end. We checked out and headed for brunch at Hofi Cas Cora, a stylish restaurant that uses farm-to-table ingredients, hosts yoga sessions and cooking classes for kids. Their menu was simple but their dishes were absolutely phenomenal, and after our meal we were able to tour the gardens with one of the owners. She kept using the word “community” when describing the restaurant’s patrons, and it made me think of the community of Curacao—one where people shout hello from their cars, will lend a helping hand, and where everyone will greet you with comradery and a smile.