“What’s the best place you traveled to recently?” people often ask. Well, this year, one spot leapt into my heart and smooched it so sweetly that it’s the clear winner: Curaçao.
The reason this tiny island in the Caribbean thrilled me boils down to… RAINBOWS. Curaçao is an aria of colors in every sense of the concept. Let’s explore what that means!
1. Out-of-this-world rainbow architecture.
You know the lovely Dutch buildings of Amsterdam? Add exuberant Caribbean paint colors, Spanish and African influences, plus a bay to reflect it all, and you’ve got the visual glory of Willemstad, Curaçao!
“Hey, it’s like a Day-Glo Amsterdam,” joked one reader when I posted the photo below.
If you’re saying, “Huh? Why architecture like the Netherlands?” then remember the history: the Dutch have been on Curaçao since 1634, despite brief incursions by the British and French in the 18th and 19th centuries. Quite recently (the pleasing date of 10/10/10, in fact), the island switched away from being part of the Netherlands Antilles, and is now its own country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Historically, however, in addition to the Dutch, Curaçao has also been inhabited or influenced by: the native Arawaks, the Spanish and Portuguese, Africans, Sephardic Jews, people from the Caribbean, South Americans, and (because of its history as a vibrant trading port) countless others.
Meanwhile, geographically, Curaçao sits just 50 miles north of Venezuela and a 3 hour flight from Miami, Florida. All this means that the island holds visual goodies from ALL of these cultures, swirled together in bright happiness.
Don’t forget, though, that these delightful buildings don’t just maintain themselves. I have immense respect for the work it takes for Curaçao to keep its paint bright, walls fortified, and streets clean. I also love the new decorative choices they’ve made, such as installing rotating rainbow lights on the famous Queen Emma floating bridge (displayed in my first photo here).
In fact, the entire city center and harbor of Willemstad was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997, with the proclamation that the town “illustrates the organic growth of a multicultural community over three centuries. It also represents a remarkable historic port […] with significant town planning and architectural qualities.”
If by, “significant architectural qualities” UNESCO means, “Willemstad is freaking gorgeous,” then I heartily agree!
2. A rainbow of human diversity and connection.
Curaçao embraces the ethnic diversity of humanity better than any other place I’ve been — truly. Though I wasn’t on the island for long, and thus cannot speak as a learned professor, I can report that the connection and respect I observed between the many races, ethnicities, and linguistic groups on the island awed me, and gave me great hope for the future of human harmony.
Just how diverse is Curaçao? The people who call the island home represent the full rainbow of skin tones, drawn from 42 ethnic groups. For example, Alex David Rosaria, a former member of Curaçao’s Parliament, recently published an article about how a DNA test revealed that he is: 35% African, 26% European Jewish, 12% West Asian, and 7% Middle Eastern.
This is representative of the glorious diversity that so many people in Curaçao personify — not to mention the fact that most speak three to five languages. For example, the baseball player, Didi Gregorius, is from the island and speaks: Dutch, Papiamentu, and English (the 3 official languages of the island) — plus Spanish!
Papiamentu itself demonstrates the delicious mixing of cultures in Curaçao. The language is a creole of Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese. As a Spanish-speaker, I could understand parts of the language, and loved its lilt.
Why should we care about the diversity of Curaçao, and the way in which the island embraces it? As a public school teacher in one of the most ethnically diverse schools in the U.S., I see on a daily basis the wonderful things that come from people of different backgrounds mixing in a true and open way, and have been excited to read the recent studies showing the effectiveness of diverse groups in creating higher quality work than homogenous ones.
In fact, the connectedness and respect I observed in Curaçao was so profound that it made me realize, ashamed, how used to casual racism I’ve become in my own country. Subtle but powerful parts of communication such as eye contact and tone of voice hold messages, and everywhere I looked in Curaçao, those messages were of honor and respect across ethnicities.
Again, I was only on the island for a short time, so I am very curious to hear your take on this topic, if you have experience!
3. Ocean beach rainbows.
Turning from the land to the sea, let us sing praise for Curaçao’s beaches! Unlike the miles-long, straight beaches of other parts of the Caribbean, Curaçao’s salty delight derives from nook beaches, curved like loving arms.
This means that you can tour seven different beaches in half a day, each hidden down a different road and with a distinct character, each feeling intimate and welcoming because of its curves, and each more beautiful than the last.
I will never forget the moment I stepped out of the car and onto Kenepa Grandi beach: bright azure water as far as the eye could see, undulating with Curaçao’s happy rainbow of humanity.
I burst into tears.
“THIS IS SO BEAUTIFUL!” I hollered. Gazing at these photos, think you might feel the same?
4. A rainbow of activities and eats.
As a busy gal, I’m always on the lookout for “Easy Win Destinations” — places that have a LOT to offer in a small, easily navigable radius. Further, as a travel-writer, I love learning of spots I can confidently recommend to readers. Curaçao fits the bill for both! The island is AWESOME.
First, there’s the walkability, positive energy, and beauty of Willemstad. From my (affiliate link) ideally-situated hotel, the Renaissance Curaçao (note: that link supports this site at no cost to you) I could wander easily to countless restaurants and shops of all types and price ranges, and sit by the stupendous bridge and waterfront of the town, drinking in the sights.
In particular, I loved how the city has a life of its own. It is not a hollow playground for tourists like some towns have become, but rather, locals mix fluidly with visitors, and the culture of Curaçao is vibrant. One solo night-time stroll I took along the waterfront, I passed a soccer match that was playing on a large screen. The city had set up bleachers in front, and on them, a rainbow of humanity was picnicking and cheering together!
Outside of the bustle of Willemstad, Curaçao offers a cornucopia of vibes — from farm countryside, to beach resorts, to cliffs and cacti landscapes — in its wee 171 square miles. The Curacao Tourist Board has a great activity planning site for you to easily find and sort attractions to match with what makes you happiest. Teaser: One activity includes ostriches, and one features trees painted like octopi.
Before this trip, Curaçao wasn’t on my mental map. Silly me, I had no idea how much the island had to offer. Now it’s clear!
Over the next few months, I will be publishing many more Curaçao articles, because there’s so much to say… and I’ve got 1,500 photos to prove it.
So what about you? Have you been to Curaçao or the ABC Islands? What did you do, and what were your thoughts? If you haven’t been yet, does it interest you? Do share!
I was a guest of the charming and kind Curacao Tourist Board, but all rainbow obsessions and opinions are my own.
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!