An ideal destination for independent explorers and culture lovers, Curaçao’s Dutch-Caribbean bend and fewer tourists make it a pricier destination than most in the region. Here, meals and tours can add up quickly. But there are ways to make the most of your travel dollar or florin, while enjoying Curaçao’s colonial architecture–marking 20 years on the UNESCO World Heritage List this year–along with white-sand beaches, natural parks, and eclectic dining scene.
Tucked in the heart of lively Otrobanda, a ten-minute walk from the floating Queen Emma Bridge and all the action in Punda, Poppy’s Hostel is the ideal base to explore Willemstad.
Built in 1904, the pastel yellow colonial home-turned-guesthouse sits on a picturesque street lined with UNESCO World Heritage buildings, including the Santa Famia Catholic Church. The hostel isn’t filled with bunk beds but, instead, individual guest rooms (from $35 single, and $48 double), with spacious, shared baths. Around the corner lies local bars, restaurants, discount clothing stores, and grocery stops along the Bredenstraat–the neighborhood’s main shopping street.
The original-tiled residence includes the use of a fully furnished kitchen, a cozy living room with flat-screen TV, wifi, free bikes, and a washing machine. Guests from around the world often gather on the outdoor patio to share the day’s adventures. Poppy’s staff is a wealth of information, and offers arrival or departure airport transfers for just $20, and island-wide customized tours starting at $35.
Renting a car to explore Curaçao will save you from spending hundreds of dollars on tours and taxis, while giving you more time and access to all the sights, especially the beautiful beaches on the west coast. The good news is that roads are decent, traffic outside of the city is a rarity, and renting a car in Curaçao is as easy as booking a room. Most accommodations can arrange rentals, leaving you to focus on planning your day trips. Average rates start at $30 a day, and you won’t need a four-wheel drive. Hop along Westpunt’s numerous stretches and visit national parks–Christoffel National Park even has car trails–and dine at various landhuises or former plantation homes-turned-restaurants or venture south for more sun and sand.
A great way to save in Willemstad is to shop at the floating market in Punda, where vendors sell fresh tropical fruits and vegetables daily, brought in from neighboring South America. Buy fresh catch from Venezuelan fishermen who spend a week at a time on their boats until their goods are sold. It’s a lively place to stroll along Punda’s waterfront, and get a feel for the city’s multicultural pulse.
Dining out is one of the biggest expenses when vacationing in Curaçao. And while fine dining options abound, you’ll have to step off the beaten path or eat local to find the best deals. Grab tasty, large sandwiches from La Bohème, a bistro on busy Columbustraat, starting at $4, and wash it down with their $2 Brion local beer specials. One street away, IndoSur has affordable plates of fried rice and your choice of meat, among other options, and varying plate sizes that start at $8.
Otrobanda has several affordable local eateries, including snack shops with empanadas and breakfast sandwiches. Downtown Cafe is a great pick for creole dishes: rice and beans with a meat stew and sides, soups, or fish, starting at $7. Get there before 6pm because they sell out fast. And luckily, food trucks are ubiquitous in Curaçao. In the city, look out for the those serving fresh fruit batidos or shakes, or hot dogs and burgers.
Dushi Walks Curaçao offers insightful two-hour, English-speaking walking tours of Otrobanda or Scharloo ($14 per person). Here, you’ll explore the architecture and history of these World Heritage neighborhoods, but you’ll also dive deep into side streets marked with eye-catching murals and local homes. You’ll learn about the districts’ socio-economic challenges, and see a side of these two colonial neighborhoods that few get to know. Best of all, Dushi Walks donates over half of the tour fees to assist the communities visited.
Head to Punda on Thursday evening for the weekly Punda Vibes event, showcasing arts and culture in the downtown area. The night kicks off at 6 p.m. with folkloric dancers and marching bands on Gomezplein. There are all-night drink and food specials at area restaurants and shops, including an outdoor crafts market. End the night with dinner over live music in various key intersections around Punda–including on Columbustraat and on Handelskade.
Get the most out of your Curaçao trip by visiting during “Culture Week.” Siman di Kultura, one of the most popular events on the island, is a weeklong celebration of Curaçao’s diverse heritage. Numerous free activities and events take place in the city and around the island, including museum exhibits, storytelling, drumming, traditional foods, and live music around the city's colonial plazas. Siman di Kultura is expected to take place in the Fall; stay tuned to the event’s calendar for date announcements.