Just 35 miles from the coast of South America, Curaçao is the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles, a melting pot of 60 nationalities and an exotic destination boasting beaches, coral reefs and a multicolored capital that’s full of history.
With its colorful gabled merchant houses overlooking the harbor, island capital Willemstad brings an air of Amsterdam to the tropics. Founded in 1634 by the Dutch West India Company, it has always been a port and trade enclave. In 1997, UNESCO recognized its immense cultural worth and declared it a World Heritage Site.
Stroll along the Handelskade waterfront and visit the city’s two most important districts: Punda and Otrobanda. The streets of the Punda district are filled with duty free stores selling jewelry, designer labels, perfumes and luxury goods and don’t miss the daily Floating Market. Otrobanda is a maze of narrow streets lined with restored 18th and 19th-century residences. If you are a history buff be sure to visit the Kura Hulanda Museum, which documents the slave trade and the history of the Caribbean, the Nautical Museum and the Curaçao Museum for a look at island history. The residential areas of Pietermaai and Scharloo also boast fine old mansions.
Apart from visits to Willemstad, Curaçao offers a variety of sightseeing options. Discover its idyllic beaches or take an island tour. Visit the Cristoffel and Shete Boca National Parks, the Den Paradera Herb Garden, Hato Caves, the Ostrich Farm, learn about Curacao liqueur at the famous family run distillery and call in at some of the restored landhuizen or old plantation houses that dot the semi-arid countryside.
The Sea Aquarium Beach and neighboring beaches are sheltered, beautiful and palm-lined, but visitors have 37 others to choose from on the island. Scattered along the coast, they range from secluded bays rimmed by cliffs to long stretches of pearly white sand and each has its own charm. Worth a visit are Playa Kalki, Westpunt Beach, Knip Bay, Cas Abao, Daai Booi Bay, Playa Lagun, Porto Marie, Playa Barbara and Klein Curaçao, an uninhabited island off the southeast coast.
With over 65 dive sites, pristine reefs close to the shore, over 500 species of fish and a host of other colorful marine creatures, caves, drop offs and shipwrecks, Curaçao is a diver’s dream. Indeed, Rodale’s Scuba Diving and Caribbean Travel & Life magazines declared the Mushroom Forest¬ - an area of breathtaking star coral buttresses sculpted by fish feeding on the coral into the shape of mushrooms - one of the top dives in the world and the region, respectively.
The Curaçao Underwater Marine Park protects a 12-mile-stretch of reef lying in shallow waters off the southeastern shore and there are plans to extend the park along the entire coast. Other spectacular dive sites include those off the coast at Banda Abou and Blauwhaal and the Superior Producer wreck in the Central Area. Many of the reefs are also suitable for snorkeling.
Opened in 1984, the world-famous Curaçao Sea Aquarium offers you and your family the chance to see the reefs of the Caribbean up close without getting wet. It is located right next to your resort and is well worth a visit, you’ll have endless aquatic fun and learn about the area’s complex marine ecology.
Begin your tour in the Aquarium Hall. Over 400 creatures including fish, corals, sponges and other colorful marine species are on display in 46 tanks fed by continuously circulating salt water pumped in from the ocean. The tanks represent different marine ecosystems such as sea grass beds, mangroves and shallow and deep-water reefs with creatures from depths of up to 300 feet. Others showcase interesting marine characteristics like camouflage, and species ranging from cleaning fish to lobsters and sea horses. There is also a touch tank stocked with starfish, brittle stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and conch.
There are Feeding Shows at regular intervals throughout the day during which keepers will invite you to help them feed sea turtles, stingrays and sharks. If you prefer to watch divers feed the marine life, visit the Underwater Observatory, a stationary semi-submarine with panoramic views of the Sea Aquarium lagoon. Don’t miss the popular sea lion show.
Visit the Shell Museum and the theater to watch a video on the dangers facing coral reefs. The goal of the aquarium is to raise public awareness about marine life and the fragility of coral ecosystems and a number of interactive educational programs are offered for all ages. Activities include snorkel clubs, Kid’s Encounters, dolphin studies, coral reef fish ID and ecology dives and field trips.
Activities on offer at the Curaçao Sea Aquarium include Animal Encounters dives and snorkeling with stingrays, sea turtles, sharks and colorful reef fish. Imagine the thrill of swimming with a sea turtle, feeding a ray and coming face to face with the aptly named Goliath grouper! Certified scuba divers can also book dives to the Sea Aquarium Reef, a healthy and colorful coral community just offshore from the facility. Activities such as diving, snorkeling and dolphin swims are priced separately.
The Curacao Sea Aquarium is also home to the Dolphin Academy, one of the top dolphin facilities in the Caribbean offering a range of exciting options such as Dolphin Encounters and Swims and Dolphin Dive & Snorkeling Adventures. There are also educational programs for children and adults who would like to learn more about these intelligent and engaging creatures.