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With the sweet Caribbean breeze, scores of beaches, reefs stretching for miles, and some of the most amazing local cuisine anywhere, Curaçao is an island destination for undersea explorers and carefree beach bums alike. But for such a gorgeous place, Curaçao's had anything but an easygoing past. Originally inhabited by the Arawak people, taken over by the Spanish, then run by the Dutch, the English, and then the Dutch again, Curacao has served as everything from a busy slave trading port to hideaway for political and religious outcasts (like Simon Bolivar and Sephardic Jews respectively). There have been slave revolts, shipwrecks, a host of invasions, as well as a few pirates, but despite its tumultuous diverse past, Curacao's present is arguably more vibrant than its gorgeous weather.
With its Dutch-influenced, Caribbean-infused architecture and cultural richness like few other places, it's not hard to see how Willemstad—Curaçao's capital city—became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But don't think all the history is confined to one place. There are tons of plantation homes (landhuisen) and a few kas di pal'i maishi (usually slave houses) that dot the landscape; some have been converted into everything from art galleries to restaurants, university buildings, and museums, and they all shed light on Curaçao's past—and bring you outside to explore! Oh, and while you're out, stay a while! Be sure to hike around Christoffel National Park (or even to the top of Mount Christoffel itself) and take a look around some of the beautifully barren landscapes butting up against the swirling sea. And if your active streak doesn’t want to stop there, maybe take an ATV tour, get scuba certified, learn to kite surf, rent a kayak (or a SUP), go to the or take a submarine 1,000 feet under the waves.
Or maybe (seeing as how this is a tropical paradise), you're looking to do more of...well...less. Well, we're pretty sure you'll be able to do just that on one (or a few) of Curaçao's amazing beaches. From bustling hotspots like Jan Thiel and Blue Bay to deserted and harder to get to places like Boka Hulu (which is a great place for some shore diving), you’ll have plenty of places to get your Vitamin D—not to mention your snorkeling, cliff jumping, or cave diving fix. And when you need to duck out of the sun and grab a bite to eat, sample some local grub at places like Komedor Krioyo, Jaanchies (get the iguana!), and Equus (for the kebabs). Or you can class things up a bit at Bistro Le Clochard, Gouverneur de Rouvill, and Fort Nassau, where the view is particularly lovely. Just don’t forget to finish with a nightcap! Whether it’s one of the gobs of beach bars, a jazz club, or something a bit more local, not going out while you’re on Curaçao is almost an affront.
While the past doesn’t define a destination, it can add a richness and intricacy to its present, and Curaçao definitely speaks to that. It’s undergone a transformation from a pirate-harboring outpost of the slave trade to a pristine slice of Caribbean Nirvana, and it’s come out the other side pretty well indeed. Whether you’re a dive master (or looking to become one), a sunbather, a foodie, or an adrenaline junkie—or any combination thereof—Curaçao should definitely hop to the top of your “to go” list. Its rich history and stunning landscapes make for a vacation backdrop like no other, and its myriad of activities should keep you more than occupied for your time here. But when you finally get here, just don’t expect to want to leave any time soon.