Underrated Curacao should be the next place you go in the Caribbean – USA Today 10Best

Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

Nearby Aruba gets most of the attention among travelers coming from the United States. But with its small beaches tucked into hidden coves, colorful Dutch colonial architecture, affordable hotels and non-touristy vibe, Curacao is an under-the-radar Caribbean island that should be on your list of sun-soaked destinations.

Many of the resorts on the southeastern side of the island front beaches overly packed with loungers. Instead, split your time between exploring the UNESCO World Heritage city of Willemstad and the rugged western side of the island for the best vacation experience.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

Set outside the hurricane belt, Curacao doesnt have a bad season. The weather fluctuates slightly, with the fall and early winter seeing more rain than the rest of the year, but the occasional showers pass through quickly to cool you off just enough before the sun pops out to heat things up again.

Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

If youre looking for a long stretch of beach lined with resorts, youre on the wrong island. Curacaos coast is dotted with small coves, where you can sit back on a curve of sand surrounded by cacti-covered hills while gazing out onto the endless turquoise water ahead.

Beach-hopping between coves, never knowing quite what the next one will look like, is a perfect way to spend a day. Start at the popular Playa Kenepa, where a $15 ticket gets you two beach chairs and an umbrella at two neighboring beaches.

Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

And dont skip Playa Piskado (also called Playa Grandi), where the sea turtles arent fazed by visitors: theyll swim right up.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

Spot pigs napping on the soft white sand at Playa Porto Mari. Its also worth stopping here to stroll out to the end of the long dock for serene views of the beach and bright turquoise water, even though the serenity doesnt always carry over to the narrow beach itself, which can get too crowded.

Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Break up a day of beach-hopping with a lunch stop at Jaanchies. The airy, laid-back restaurant is known for serving iguana to curious tourists, and owner Jan "Jaanchi" Cristiaan, who stops at every table to go over the days menu, will be sure to point out that iguana is an aphrodisiac.

But if youre in the mood for fish, chicken or meat, or a vegetarian plate with polenta, plantains and rice and beans, those are all options too.

Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

The pool overlooking the ocean, umbrella-shaded terrace and spacious, bi-level rooms with private balconies feel like enough, but at Lagun Blou Resort, theres a secret showstopper. Follow the path past the pool to a secluded ledge thats perfect for jumping straight into the ocean (theres also a ladder).

Bring your snorkel and mask; there are plenty of fish to see right here. The peaceful hotel, where well-equipped apartment-style accommodations go for around $150 a night, is set on a cliff over the water, with a small beach a few minutes walk away.

Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

If youre looking to stay closer to the action, a beachside hotel near the heart of Willemstad is the perfect compromise. Avila Beach Hotel, the longest-running hotel on the island, is set in a former governors mansion with a private beach, an elegant open-air restaurant and a blues bar perched above the water.

You'll also get choice of room style, which includes modern rooms set along a pier. The citys bars, restaurants and cultural sights are all just a short drive away (taxis are expensive in Curacao, so renting a car is often the better option).

Photo courtesy of Baoase Luxury Resort

Low-key Curacao is more about comfort than luxury, but there are high-end options. With only 23 rooms and villas built around a man-made lagoon, Baoase Luxury Resort feels like an exclusive hideaway. The pampering Balinese-style hotel includes multiple pools, a private beach and a restaurant.

Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

You can feel the history as you walk on the sand floor at Mikv Israel-Emanuel, the oldest synagogue in the Americas. And it's still in active use today.

A timeline exhibit next to the temple lays out the history of the world, the island and the Jewish people side by side its fascinating to see local events explained in the context of what was happening throughout the world at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Justin Blasi

Across the bay in Otrobanda, the Kura Hulanda museum offers another look at how the past shapes the present. Its known as a slavery museum but its much more, starting with ancient African and Middle Eastern artifacts and moving through the transatlantic slave trade (which used Curacao as a base) to the myriad ways African cultures have influenced life on the island.

Photo courtesy of Rachel Vigoda

If youve seen only one image of Curacao, it was likely the picturesque row of candy-colored Dutch colonial buildings that line the harbor in Willemstad. Those bright colors continue through the historic city, making for plenty of photo ops as you wander around Punda or check out the revitalized Pietermaai District.

Photo courtesy of Kome

After a day exploring Willemstad, stocking up on souvenirs and taking in the cultural sights, its time for dinner and a cocktail or two. Youll have your choice of trendy restaurants serving international cuisines in Curacao, such as Kome, a sleek spot in the Pietermaai neighborhood led by an American chef, or Cana Bar & Kitchen, a hip gastropub with a seafood-focused Latin-Caribbean menu.

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Underrated Curacao should be the next place you go in the Caribbean - USA Today 10Best

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