Curacao has been a well-kept secret to most American travelers, but it has been a popular Caribbean destination to Dutch and German vacationers. Thanks to its more famous and highly promoted sister island, Aruba, the “overshadowed” Curacao remains less crowded, less expensive, and more enjoyable.
Is Curacao worth visiting? Absolutely! Curacao deserves more than 5 days. Here are a few reasons to make Curacao your next vacation (and even honeymoon) destination because:
- Curacao offers every type of traveler something to enjoy: beautiful beaches, amazing water sports, natural wonders, rich culture and history, and amazing culinary experience;
- Curacao is a year-round Caribbean destination because it is outside of the hurricane belt. If a destination wedding is on your mind, hurricanes may not mess up your big plans;
- European vacationers visit Curacao mainly during their summer (July and August) and Christmas holidays, so American visitors can enjoy better rates and less crowds during most major U.S. holidays.
- Curacao is a very safe island with sophisticated service industry and infrastructure. Curacao was one of the first countries opened its door to tourists after Covid in 2022;
- Curacao is close and easily accessible from the U.S. It’s only a 4-hour direct flight away from Charlotte, NC. There are many direct flights per week from major U.S. airports to Willemstad.
We spent 10 days in Curacao and felt it was a perfect amount of time on the island for the first-time visitors. Even though Curacao is a small island, you need at least 5 days to see the best of it and relax some in our opinion.
Day 1: Arrive in Willemstad
Upon arrival in Curacao’s HATO international airport, you can rent a car or take a taxi into Curacao’s charming capital, Willemstad, to prepare a few things for your trip and relax for rest of the day. BTW, Uber or Lyft is not available in Curacao. Let’s address the currency situation here so you don’t make a mistake we made a few times including on our first taxi ride.
The currency used in Curacao is called Florin, or the Antillean Guilder (ANG). The Guilder is fixed to US Dollar at: 1 USD = 1.80 ANG. In practice, merchants use around 1.75 ANG as the exchange rate. US Dollars (in cash or credit cards) are widely accepted by almost all merchants. We paid our first taxi driver in US Dollars for the amount he quoted in Guilders (without clarifying) plus a healthy tip. He didn’t bother to “correct” us, so we paid him double the fare. The ride should cost around 25-30 USD plus tips from the airport to Willemstad.
You don’t need a car in Willemstad but we recommend renting a car to explore beyond Willemstad. Driving is easy in Curacao but parking can be a challenge in Willemstad depending on where you stay. So, when you book your hotels, pay attention to their parking situation if you decide to rent a car throughout your stay. The Avila Beach Hotel in Willemstad is a great hotel to stay at if you have a rental car. You can even rent a car at the Budget Rental desk in the hotel lobby when you leave Willemstad, which we did. (Note: booking with that location online could be challenging, so you may want to contact the hotel desk directly if you wish to reserve a car ahead of your trip.).
We recommend staying in the Pietermaai District to be away from the touristy hustles. Check out our favorite hotels in Curacao: Best Places to Stay in Curacao (by Visit Length & Region)
After checking into the hotel, head to a local supermarket to buy a SIM card for your trip. Digicel and Flow are the major telecom companies in Curacao (they might have merged into one recently). Most SIM cards cost around 30 ANG for 7 days or 50 ANG for 14 days with a small amount of data allowance. In our experience, the data allowance goes away quickly without much usage. You can buy additional data as you go within the time window. The locals are not big fans of these telecom companies either, and are good at picking up wifi whenever they can. Not perfect, but it’s important to have some phone and data coverage during your trip.
It’s time to relax after a long flight! Watch sunset with fresh seafood and a signature cocktail at one of the beautiful beachfront restaurants in the Pietermaai District. We really enjoyed De Heeren at Sea behind the Scuba Lodge. Their seafood platter is a must-try signature.
We spent two nights at the Saint Tropez Boutique Hotel in Willemstad. Saint Tropez’s ocean club (with a bar and restaurant) is a famous hangout spot for both locals and visitors. It’s a chic hotel and its oceanfront location is unbeatable. The service at the ocean club is slow at an extra relaxed island pace. Note that music can be loud at night especially during Friday and Saturday happy hours which may last until 3AM. But if you love partying and oceanfront clubbing, there is no better place than Saint Tropez.
If you are looking for a more relaxing and tranquil setting, we highly recommend the Avila Beach Hotel (where we stayed at the end of our trip in Curacao). Avila Beach Hotel has two protected ocean pools you can swim, snorkel, and paddle-board. The property has two top-notch restaurants on site where you can enjoy an oceanfront sunset dinner.
As mentioned earlier, Avila Beach Hotel has a few parking lots which is ideal for having a rental car. Avila is one of few hotels in Willemstad with an air-conditioned gym and a large swimming pool. We could have easily spent 5 days just relaxing at Avila.
Day 2: Willemstad Walking Tour
First day in Willemstad, head west toward Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge from Pietermaai District.
Have an early lunch at Punda District’s rustic, open-air Old Market, Plasa Bieu, for authentic Curacaoan cuisine. If you don’t mind eating fish with a face, the fried snapper is a must-have. It’s the best fried snapper we had during our Curacao trip.
We ordered their famous fried red snapper, goat stew (stoba), okra soup (guiambo), and two drinks for a total of less than 50 USD. The portions are large! They take cash only but US dollars are welcome.
First, stop at the Curacao and Dushi signs.
Walk the channel waterfront to visit the Penha house and three hearts. Take a break from the heat at a channel front cafe to watch the pontoon bridges open and close to let boats get in and out of the channel.
Walk around the Rift Fort and the Renaissance Mall near the cruise ship docks.
If you make a reservation at the Gouverneur early enough, you may be able to book a table on the balcony view an amazing view. If you are still full from lunch, have a drink at Gouverneur’s bar to take the view of the channel all in.
Day 3: Klein Curacao Day Trip
If you love boating, snorkeling, and a chance to swim with sea turtles, take a boat trip to Klein Curacao (Little Curacao). It’s a fun full-day excursion packed with values: boat ride, snorkeling equipment, meals, and even an open bar! Make sure to take a waterproof dry bag with you to keep your phone and belongings dry.
If sailing is not your thing, explore Willemstad further for its colorful streets, quaint cafes, hidden alleys, oceanfront dining, and souvenir shopping. As it warms up in the afternoon, hang out at the Saint Tropez Ocean Club pool.
Day 4: Willemstad to St. Marie
Check out of the Willemstad hotel in the morning. Pick up your rental car (either locally or from HATO airport) and head northwest toward St. Marie. On your way out of Willemstad, stop at one of the large supermarkets, Carrefour or Centrum Supermarket in Piscadera for groceries you may need for the next 4 days. We brought a well-utilized soft cooler bag as a shopping bag and cooler on the beach.
On the way to St. Marie, stop at the Salt Lake Willembrordus National Park to see the flamingos. Watch these beautiful, yet “greedy”, pink birds their happy lives in this peaceful protected habitat.
Check into your hotel, where will be your base for the next four days to explore beaches and national parks in northern Curacao. We stayed at the Coral Estate Luxury Resort, which didn’t disappoint at all. It is in a very large oceanfront gated community with a beach, three nice restaurants, hiking/running/biking trails, an ocean-view swimming pool, and a relaxing vibe.
Day 5: Grote Knip – Klein Knip – Playa Kalki
Today, wear your swimsuit, pack up your beach towel and snorkeling hear, fill the cooler with snacks and beverages, and head to (spoiler alert) our favorite beach on Curacao, Grote Knip (aka, Big Knip). You will pass Klein Knip (aka, Small Knip) right before you get to Grote Knip. Klein Knip is a much smaller beach and not as stunning as Grote Knip in my opinion.
Grote Knip is a free beach to enter and park but it costs 15 USD for two beach chairs and an umbrella (or 10 USD for just two chairs). If you want to lay on your beach towel on the beach, it is all free for you. We think it is a good deal to spend 15 USD to enjoy for the entire day. Try to get there early (before 11AM) to grab a good spot (on the further end of the beach) for the best snorkeling and watch people jumping off cliffs as entertainment. Or, you can take on the cliff-jumping challenge yourself!
There is no full-service restaurant and bar at Grote Knip. There is a snack stand you can order burger and fries from. You can also get a fresh coconut water or mixed with liquor of your choice. The service is slow because two guys have to serve many people on a large beach.
Pack up after you fully enjoyed Grote Knip and head north toward Playa Kalki in Westpunt where you can swim with sea turtles if you are lucky.
Have dinner at Playa Forti or Blue View restaurant on your way back to the hotel. Playa Forti serves good fried red snapper and grilled conch which we didn’t find everywhere in Curacao. Playa Forti is famous for its high cliff for cliff-jumping enthusiasts.
Day 6: Christoffel NP – Shete Boka NP – Playa Lagun
Today can be a busy day if you want to hike to the peak of Christoffel National Park, followed by exploring Shete Boka National Park and snorkeling at Playa Lagun. Pack beach stuff for Playa Lagun and plenty of water and sunscreen!
Leave the hotel early and try to get to Christoffel National Park entrance no later than 7AM. The park opens daily from 6AM to 2PM but they may not let hikers enter the gate after 10AM due to heat danger. Christoffel National Park entrance is about 30 minutes from Coral Estate Luxury Resort and 20 minutes from Lagoon Ocean Resort.
You will have to purchase a ticket around 15 USD per person at the ticket office. Then, the guide will direct your car to cross the street to enter the national park’s gate. You will follow the direction to drive to a parking lot where the hiking trail starts. The hike took us a little less than 2 hours with plenty of time enjoying the view from the peak. The hike beat our expectations with an amazing panoramic view of Curacao from the top.
Make sure you bring enough water with you on the hike and wear good hiking shoes (or at least good sneakers). The last part of the hike will demand using hands to climb a little but no problem for most people unless you are afraid of height (this may not be a hike for you).
Next, drive north on the main road for only 3 minutes to Shete Boka National Park. Pay 21 USD for entry and a map. You can park your car in the main parking lot to explore Boka Tabla and Boka Wandomi on foot. If you love fossils like us, you will find all rocks in this area fascinating.
Return to your car and drive on a dirt road toward another well-marked parking lot for Boka Pistol and Boka Kalki. Boka Pistol is amazing and our favorite. We spent the most time at Boka Pistol to wait for more and more big waves to create bigger and louder splashes.
After Shete Boka National Park, head for Playa Lagun, one of the best beaches in Curacao for snorkeling and diving. If you are staying at the Lagun Ocean Resort, you just come back to relax. The Lagoon Ocean Resort is further northwest than Coral Estate toward Westpunt. It’s a great location to explore northern Curacao. Comparing to Coral Estate, Lagoon Ocean Resort is a more rustic apartment resort popular to divers.
Have a late lunch or early dinner at Bahia, a clifftop restaurant overlooking Playa Lagun beach. It is owned by the Lagoon Ocean Resort. Watch iguanas hanging out on the tree beneath you on the cliffside.
Playa Lagun is one of the best beaches in Curacao to snorkel. If you are lucky, you may be able to see turtles and moray eels.
Day 7: Playa Porto Marie – Cas Abao (Optional) – Playa Daboobi (Optional)
After an active hiking day exploring two national parks in Curacao, you deserve a day to relax on the beach after hiking the Christoffel NP. Spend a day at Playa Porto Marie where is home to the famous, wild and, free-roaming beach pigs, Willy and Woody. When we visited, Willy and Woody were napping under a tree the entire time.
Playa Porto Marie has a full-service restaurant serving typical Dutch-Curacao style foods and drinks. Get a table early if you choose to dine in before the crowds get there, or, order your food take-out to bring to your beach chairs.
There are so many beautiful beaches in this part of Curacao. It will take a lot more days to experience all of them. Cas Abao is one of the most famous beaches in Curacao so we want to check it out. Cas Abao is in a gated area so we paid 6 USD per car to enter. The beach is very developed and crowded. It’s well-equipped with restaurants, water sports rentals, shower facilities, and even a massage building. But it’s too commercial for our liking.
Enjoy a sunset dinner at Karakter at the Coral Estate for the last night in St. Marie. Make a reservation early to reserve an oceanfront table. Don’t miss their famous apple pie to finish a perfectly romantic dinner.
Day 8: St. Marie to Willemstad
It’s hard to leave the beautiful coastline of northwestern Curacao, but we have to make our way slowly down toward Willemstad where we will use as a base to explore the southeaster part of the island on a day trip.
Visit one of many landhuizen which used to be early settlement “mansions” served as plantation houses.
Spend the night at the Avila Beach Hotel in Willemstad. Avila Beach Hotel is a hidden gem in Willemstad where you can just relax for a day or two.
Day 9: Jan Thiel District – Tugboat Beach
Pack your swimming suits and snorkeling gear today and head for the Jan Thiel area. Jan Thiel is about 30 minutes southeast to Willemstad and feels more residential or for long-term vacationers than for the first-time visitors.
But a day trip is well worth a day, especially you want to visit the Curacao Sea Aquarium. Visit the Mambo Beach? Have lunch at Koko’s or one of the oceanfront infinity pools.
The highlight of the day for us is the unique Tugboat Beach. If you enjoy local arts and like to snorkel, Tugboat Beach is not to be missed.
Spend the night at the Avila Beach Hotel in Willemstad.
Day 10: Depart from Willemstad
Today is the departure day for home. If you rented your car from downtown Willemstad, you can arrange to drop off at the airport with no additional charge.
Here is our recommendation of What to Pack for Curacao (essential travel items you should take to Curacao) to make your trip well prepared and more enjoyable.
Get a complete list of hotels we stayed at and recommend in Curacao here.
If you are visiting Curaçao from a cruise, make the most out of your day by taking a small-group tour of Curaçao to visit the best places on the island.