Explore Caribbean heritage and culture

By By Katharine Dyson / Photography by Douglas Merriam
February 16, 2006

March 2006

Best for: Those who can tear themselves away from the beachto explore Caribbean heritage and culture

Location: 35 miles north of Venezuela.

Getting there: Curaçao has daily nonstop flights fromthe United States to its International Airport, which has thelongest runway in the Caribbean.

Highlight: The Museum Kurà Hulanda, in the heart ofWillemstad, reveals what life was like when enslaved Africansarrived in Curaçao.

Allure: Curaçao's (cure-a-sow) candy-colored colonialbuildings are topped by peaked gables, and traces of the Dutchlanguage run through the island's rhythmical native tongue,Papiamentu, a reminder that this now independent country was Dutchfor more than three centuries (1634 to 1954). For its size, theisland is home to a surprising number of museums, art galleries,and historic sites, including Landhuis Brievengat, once the hub ofa working plantation and now a cultural center and museum.

Walk across the 100-year-old swinging Queen Emma pontoon bridge,connecting the Punda (eastern) side with the Otrobanda (western)side of Willemstad, the Netherlands Antilles capital and a U.N.World Heritage Site. Then head to the Mikve Israel-EmanuelSynagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Westernhemisphere.

Local fare: In Punda, visit the Mercado Flotante, thefloating market where vegetables and seafood arrive by boat fromVenezuela each morning. Also go to the Marsche Bieu market, whereyou can enjoy local specialties like erwten soep (thick pea soup),fried plantains, and kabritu (stewed goat).

Catch the beat: Curaçao's music is a mélange ofstyles-merengue, calypso, reggae, salsa, and cha-cha, all with anunderlying African rhythm. In late April, local folklore groupsparticipate in the Séu Harvest parade and at the Cuisine,Culture, and Heritage Festival, where there are more than 50 standsto check out.

Where to stay: The Hotel Kura Hulanda, in the center ofWillemstad, features 100 luxurious rooms in 18th- and 19th-centurybuildings set around flower-filled courtyards. There is a fitnesscenter, spa, and two swimming pools�one in agrotto with a waterfall (rates from $210 per room; 877-264-3106, www.kurahulanda.com). The newLodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club, a sister property, is set oncoral cliffs above the ocean. A prime diving destination, the lodgehas an on-site dive shop, as well as an array of water toys.

Did you know: Curaçao's capital, Willemstad, is one ofthe Caribbean's most important architectural centers. Several ofthe 765 buildings in the historic area are listed as monuments.