Don't Miss in Curacao
The Museum Kura Hulanda, an anthropological museum that focuses on Curacao's culture, showcases African exhibits dating from 500 B.C. (Klipstraat 9, Otrobanda; open Monday to Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; closed on Sundays) Another option for history buffs is the Maritime Museum which documents the island's rich naval history with a "floating market" of colorful ships from nearby islands just across the canal. (Van den Brandhofstraat 7; open daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., during the cruise ship season)
The Hato Caves site boasts limestone formations, waterfalls and other natural wonders. Take a guided tour of this underground world to hear tales of Curacao's legends and check out the iguanas and bats. You can also stroll the Indian Trail Walk on your own to view island vegetation and 1,500-year-old carvings. (open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; 45-minute tours given on the hour)
The art galleries of Curacao showcase everything from traditional to post-modern "Bumper Art"; the island has a thriving creative community, and artists will often be on-hand to discuss their work at venues like Landuis Bloemhof, Arawak Craft Products (at the Cruise Ship Wharf, Otrobanda, Willemstad) and Kas di Alma Blou.
Curacao features two golf courses. The 18-hole golf course at the Blue Bay Golf Resort was designed by Rocky Roquemore. The par-72, 6,735-yard course offers a putting green, driving range, pro shop and bar. The second, the Old Quarry Golf Course at Santa Barbara Plantation Resort was designed by Pete Dye and overlooks the sea.
At the Curacao Sea Aquarium (which offers four tours a day and a feeding show), all species of marine life native to Curacao's waters are on display in natural seawater: 20-foot sharks, turtles as big as manhole covers, giant moray eels and more. Some of the creatures are held in "touch tanks," so visitors can get to know them up close.
One of the highlights for us was the trained sea lions that wave to the crowd and follow their trainers. You can also "kiss" a sea lion if you are so inclined.
Don't miss the "Animal Encounters Lagoon," where several large, open-water enclosures bring visitors face-to-face with the sea's most fascinating animals. In one pool, snorkelers and divers swim freely with stingrays, angelfish, tarpons, groupers and more. In the other, they can feed lemon sharks, nurse sharks and reef sharks. (It's safe; a combination of plexiglass and mesh fencing separates divers and sharks.) You can also swim with dolphins there. Reservations for "Animal Encounter" must be made in advance. (aquarium open daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
On a visit to Den Paradera, explore an organic herb garden teeming with plants traditionally used to cure ailments. There are remedies for matters of the heart, including love potions, and of the head, like elixirs for curing baldness. Natural perfumes, oils and herbal potpourri are also on sale.
At the Curacao Ostrich Farm see first-hand how an ostrich develops from an egg to the biggest and fastest bird in the world. (If you're lucky, you may even see one hatch.)
Take a tour of Landhuis Chobolobo to see how Curacao (the liqueur, not the island) is made. You can watch the distilling process and sample the liqueur in its original orange flavor or other popular flavors, such as rum raisin, chocolate and coffee. (open weekdays from 8 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m.)
Mikve Israel-Emanuel is the oldest synagogue still in use in the New World and celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2001. There is a Jewish Historical Museum on the property, occupying two buildings that date to 1728. You'll find artifacts like a Torah scroll, brought to the island by the first Jewish settlers, and hand-wrought, centuries-old silver items once used in religious ceremonies. (open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.)