The Trendiest Reasons to Visit Curacao

An up-and-coming neighborhood, new street art and a farm-to-table restaurant are just a few of Curacao's latest trends.

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Photo By: Scuba Lodge

Photo By: Avila Beach Hotel

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Photo By: Meredith Rosenberg

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Photo By: Meredith Rosenberg

Photo By: Meredith Rosenberg

Photo By: Meredith Rosenberg

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Pietermaai District

Curacao is part of the Dutch Caribbean chain known as the ABC islands, which include Aruba and Bonaire and are located just off the tip of Venezuela. Though often overlooked, Curacao enjoys the double fortune of residing outside of the hurricane belt and remaining in the 80s year-round. It’s here that you’ll find the waterfront neighborhood of Pietermaai in the capital of Willemstad. Pietermaai has undergone several iterations through the centuries: It served as a wealthy enclave in the 18th century, but became crime-ridden and rundown by the 1990s. Today it’s emerged as a rapidly developing section peppered with some of Curacao’s buzziest restaurants, hotels, shopping and nightlife, and it’s all just a short walk from downtown Willemstad.

Pietermaai: Hotels

The oceanfront Scuba Lodge Boutique Hotel & Ocean Suites is a good budget option in Pietermaai, but consider upgrading to an oceanfront room for more light and less noise. Besides convenience, the hotel’s main allure is the on-site dive center for experienced and aspiring divers alike. The beachfront restaurant means you can eat while digging your toes in the sand, but you’ll need to head next door in order to sunbathe at the compact City Beach 88. Though Scuba Lodge’s owners are behind it, the beach is free and open to the public; it’s also the only city beach on Curacao, putting the dozen or so beach beds in high demand. For more of a traditional resort experience within Pietermaai’s limits, the Avila Beach Hotel beckons with a spa, fitness room, infinity pool, restaurants and private beach. It was built in 1949, making it the oldest hotel on the island, but the property is anything but dated. The Octagon wing is the newest and most modern, while the Oceanfront Blues wing will be unveiling a trendier look this May. Avila also keeps up by offering weekly sunset pilates classes.

Pietermaai: Restaurants

The beckoning courtyard of Ginger is tucked off the street, but it’s worth seeking out for its mix of Asian, Caribbean and Indian dishes, plus live music. Enjoy the scene while digging into Caribbean fish cakes, coconut curry shrimp and rum-roasted pineapple. Blessing (pictured), housed in the former St. Albertus Monastery and part of Hotel 't Klooster, is another popular option. Be sure to reserve the table in the former chapel for the full experience. The eclectic international menu ranges from Thai to Spanish, with a mix of vegetarian options. While Blessing is known for its tenderloin, order the funchi pancakes as a starter if they have it. Mundo Bizarro is another must, a fun, Cuban-inspired spot for eats during the day, and cocktails and live music at night. Those in the know head to Kome for tapas night on Wednesdays, but if you miss it, Mosa does all tapas, all the time. For a casual bite, locals stop by Broodje Pietermaai, a popular sandwich spot at Bed & Bike, for dishes like the chicken ketjap. Not least, the beachfront Pen restaurant at Avila Beach Hotel has benefitted from a recent refresh. But go for the keshi yena, a local dish involving Gouda cheese stuffed with spicy chicken, and said to be the best in Curacao. If you can’t finish, leftovers are sent to a local pig farm.

Pietermaai: Nightlife

Bar 27 wouldn’t be out of place in a major city, since this theme bar is dedicated to musicians who passed away at 27. (The uncanny number includes Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.) But Bar 27 isn’t just a gimmick, as it’s a go-to for live music, from reggae to tributes to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. On Thursdays the live music scene moves to the Blues Bar & Restaurant at Avila Beach Hotel, while Friday nights heat up at the Saint Tropez Ocean Club for not one, but two happy hours, plus DJs and a hookah lounge. Miles Jazz Café is another live music favorite, especially on Saturday nights. And Luke’s Cocktail Bar is popular among locals and tourists any night of the week for craft cocktails such as the Tokyo Millionaire.

Art Scene: Street Art

You can find street art all around Curacao, from sculptures to murals. Many of the latter are clustered in Punda, Otrobanda and the Scharloo sections of Willemstad. The organization Street Art Skalo started in 2015 in order to help revitalize the Scharloo area, and partnered with local artists to create the first murals in 2016, with more in the works. Some of the murals you can find are "Three O’Clock Romance" by Francis Sling, featuring a bright yellow tree against a bright blue sky, and covering the entire building. Over in Otrobanda, look for Garrick Marchena’s piercing blue eagle, whose eyes dominate the side of a cottage. Near the oversize Dushi (sweet or nice in Papiamentu) sign in Punda, artist Roberto Tjon A Meeuw used recycled materials to create the giant fish sculpture. Join a tour such as Dushi Walks, TukTuk Art Tour or One Curacao in order to learn about the many street art pieces.

Art Scene: Local Artists

Curacao is home to more than 50 local artists, some of whom are shown at Gallery Alma Blou, Landhuis Bloemhof and Mon Art Gallery. Curacao native and famous local artist Nena Sanchez passed away in August 2017, but you can still visit her gallery and purchase her work. The self-taught artist was best known for her colorful island scenes, from houses to fish. Her gallery in Punda is the most accessible, but the Landhuis Jan Kok gallery is worth a road trip to experience an 18th-century plantation house. The gallery is also a convenient two-minute drive from Williwood, a new foodie destination. Other notable artists include Linda van der Burgt, who creates contemporary stained glass work (pictured) in her private studio, which is sometimes opened to the public during the Open Atelier Route. Omar Sling (muralist Francis Sling’s brother), is known for his sculptures, such as "The Three Little Birds" in Jojo Correa Square in Punda. You can also visit his backyard studio to view more sculptures, plus sweeping views of the island.

Art Scene: Chichi Dolls

Chichi means big sister in Papiamentu, the local Creole language that’s a mash-up of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, African and Arawak Indian words. German-born artist Serena Janet Israel launched the Chichi brand after relocating to Curacao, and today she oversees an entire team of painters creating the prevalent dolls. You can watch the process from scratch (which involves creating and covering molds in plaster) at Serena’s Art Factory, which is found on the eastern end near the Curacao Ostrich Farm. Or, even better, you can take a workshop and paint your own Chichi at either the factory location or outside of Serena’s store in a charming alley in Punda. Reserve ahead to take the VIP workshop, which is limited to a small group and involves champagne and a snack. Either way, you get to take home a talking point souvenir, since the dolls aren’t sold beyond Curacao and Bonaire.

Food: Trending Scene

It’s worth renting a car to explore Curacao's buzzy food landscape. Though it opened in April 2017, the ramshackle Williwood intentionally looks like it’s existed in the namesake town forever. And though the area feels remote, it’s just 12 miles from Willemstad, and you can easily locate the restaurant since it’s right across the street from the ironic Hollywood-inspired Williwood sign. Kabritu (goat) burgers are the thing to order here, along with the local Brion beer, but there are non-goat menu items too. There’s also live music, and you’ll be in good company with the locals. (Governor Lucille George-Wout popped in while this writer was there.) On your way out, drive up the road to spot wild flamingoes. For a different vibe, experience the scene at Jan Thiel Beach on the eastern end of the island. Wednesday nights are packed with people enjoying live music and cocktails at Zanzibar Beach & Restaurant, or experience an Argentinean menu and waterfront views at Tinto (pictured). Back in Willemstad, don’t miss Wandu Café in the Punda section, since the trendy coffee shop wouldn’t feel out of place in a European city. But it’s also an ideal spot to find almond milk cappuccinos, salads and fresh pastries.

Food: Farm-to-Table

Hofi Cas Cora is Curacao’s first farm-to-table restaurant, and a short drive from downtown Willemstad. Since it’s a bit out of the way, tourists haven’t fully caught on yet, but it’s already packed with locals. Run by a young couple, the trendy rustic space is currently open Friday through Sunday, making it the ideal brunch spot for pumpkin waffles, spinach frittatas or almond milk lattes. The menu constantly changes based on the fruit and vegetables available on their farm, which is just behind the restaurant. Leave time to visit the farm animals, including horses, pigs, donkeys, chickens, ducks and goats. Also leave time to take a yoga class. It’s also worth mentioning that Hofi Cas Cora holds a farmer’s market on-site twice a year to sell their produce. While there are other farmer’s markets around Curacao, the famous Floating Market, where boats from Venezuela would sell produce in downtown Willemstad, is now defunct due to Venezuela closing its border.

Food: Food Trucks

Although not new, Curacao’s food trucks (called truki pan by locals) have been an integral part of Curacao’s food scene since the '90s. They tend to congregate around Willemstad after 9 p.m., making them a de rigueur stop for the nightlife crowds since they stay open until the wee hours. Most sell variations of grilled meat and fries, and favorites include BBQ Express for its ribs, and Koki riba Bloki for its grilled chicken and sauce-covered fries, whether that’s bacon, garlic or peanut sauce. Midnight Delight is a newer entry that’s already gained a following for its chicken and shrimp with fries, Angus beef burgers, and a Brazilian cut of meat called picanha. You’ll have to head to Willemstad’s neighboring residential district of Salina to find the Griller, one of Curacao’s first food trucks and a local go-to for items like lomito, barbequed steak sandwiches. Many food trucks also sell pastechi, the local version of empanadas (pictured) that are filled either with cheese (highly popular), meat and/or vegetables, and pretty filling on their own.

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