A southern Caribbean gem with a Dutch flair that has it all for families: eco-attractions, great beaches, historical culture, friendly locals and more.
Just a mere 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Curacao, part of the Netherlands Antilles, is a melting pot of over 50 cultures. The 171-square-mile island is renowned for its coral reefs and deep sea diving and is immune from most tropical storms, as it is located safely outside of the Caribbean hurricane belt. The year-round temperature averages 82°F.
In addition to the cultural and historic attractions in this guide, there are 36 beaches where locals and tourists can enjoy the clear and sparkling waters and pristine sands. These beautiful beaches are reason enough to visit Curacao, but a family looking for fun activities will not be disappointed. Nature lovers can explore wildlife on land or in the sea; families will enjoy the colorful architecture and some fascinating history.
Great Fun for the Kids
(to age 8)
Curacao Ostrich Farm
599 9 747 27 77
One of the largest ostrich farms found outside Africa, this ranch located by Santa Catharina is home to more than 600 of these unique birds. Here you can feed, touch, and even ride ostriches. The farm offers hour-long safari rides to tour the property. Stopping at all the corals, the tour helps visitors get acquainted with the ostriches on-site and then it ends where everything begins: at the nursery where the eggs hatch. After the tour, visitors are encouraged to stick around and dine at the African Zambezi Restaurant and enjoy the campfire in the evening.
599 9 462 42 42
On the northwestern sector of the island in Westpunt, the 1860-hectare Christoffel Park is the largest national park on Curacao. Calling the wooded hills home is a variety of local birds, including the palabrua, a rare native barn owl and even the endangered Curacao White Tailed deer of which there are only 250 left in the world. Eight well-marked hiking trails are available for families to take a leisurely stroll and for more adventurous climbers, hiking up the 1,230 foot Mont Christoffel is always an option. Deer watching, animal presentations, cave excursions and other special activities are also offered. Opened to the public Monday through Saturday from 8am-4pm and Sunday from 6am-3pm, the park offers guided offers for $15 (standard admission is $9). Horseback riding, mountain bikes, ATV and jeep tours are also available for an additional price.
Willemstad Trolley Tour
599 9 461 00 11
All ages will enjoy Curacao’s capital and typical Caribbean port town, Willemstad, which was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1997. Dotted with colorful and impressive architecture that is reminiscent of 17th Century Dutch colonial buildings, the streets are fun for any family to explore. According to local legend, an early governor declared that no house could be painted white as the reflection of the sun hurt his eyes and since it was law, all buildings, each marked with the date of construction, were painted vibrant and bright hues of blue, orange, yellow, pink, green and others. Later it was learned that this governor, although accountable for Curacao’s lively-colored streets, merely just owned stock in a local paint company. Separated by the St. Anna Bay, Willemstad has two sections: Punda, the original city, on the east, and Otrobanda, meaning “The Other Side,” on the west. The two districts can be crossed by the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge or by ferry. Both sides offer meandering streets to discover, relaxed plaza cafes to enjoy and first-rate duty-free shopping. Kids will love the colorful vendors and markets that sell fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. And for international flair, there are floating markets along the bay where lively vendors from South America come to sell their goods. An easy way to explore with little ones or anyone who is physically challenged (it can get hot and streets are cobblestone) is with a trolley tour. Lasting just over an hour, the open-sided cars leave in mid-morning from Fort Amsterdam.
For Older Children
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With 40-plus open-water-system aquaria, the entire SeaAquarium complex supports hundreds of sea creatures that call the waters of Curacao home. The popular Animal Encounter programs allow guests to dive into the contained lagoons and canals. Touch a giant grouper named Herby, let stingrays swim around you, feed lemon and nurse sharks through a glass panel and even catch a glimpse of large sea turtles. Unfortunately for the young set, children under the age of 12 cannot participate in these excursions. However, the aquarium still offers fun exhibits for youngsters. In the Underwater Observatory Boat, you can watch feeding demonstrations or even spot older family members on their dive. Pick up a schedule of events upon arrival, see what the theme of the day is, and discover when the interactive shows and learning programs will take place. Favorites include the Seal Lion and Dolphins Shows.
Mikve Israel Synagogue
599 9 46 11 067
For some history, visit the Mikve Israel Synagogue; built in 1651, it is the oldest Synagogue in the entire western hemisphere. Styled in Dutch colonial architecture, the building, located in the heart of Willemstad, is in a Spanish-style walled courtyard. As is tradition, sand coats the sanctuary floor. Right next to the synagogue courtyard is the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum. Celebrating the history of Judaism on Curacao, it displays ritual, traditional, and cultural objects, many of which date back to the 1600s and are still used by the congregation for holidays and events.
Curacao Liqueur Distillery
599 9 461 35 26
If the resort has a babysitter, it might be good to leave the kids behind for a tour of the famous Curacao Liqueur Distillery, a small workspace located in the Mansion Chobolobo. Visitors can watch as the liqueur is made and they can even try a sample. The cordial that has been produced here since 1896 comes from a dried peel of a particular and unique type of orange only found on CuraÃ§ao. A myriad of herbs — top secret — are added to give the final touches to the liqueur.
Located off the south east coast of Curacao is this tiny, uninhabited island. On the island is an old lighthouse, several huts and a small beach house. But, despite the lack of development, many scuba divers make the day trip to Klein Curacao because the diving here is above par. With great coral and underwater caves, there are over 60 locations around the island that make for great underwater photo-ops. Plus, there is even a tugboat wreckage site off the coast. Visitors can get a ride with any boating outfitter on Curacao, just ask your hotel’s concierge to recommend one.
Fun for the Whole Family
After you’ve toured the town of Willemstad, head to Fort Amsterdam, originally a fort used to protect the island when first built in 1635. It is now the headquarters of government for all of Netherlands Antilles. The Governors, the Ministry and several other officials reside and work there. Located on the Punda side of Willemstad, the fort is included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Kids will find the cannonball, fired at the fort by Captain Bligh’s troops and now embedded in the fort’s southwest wall, very fascinating. Those looking for some more religious history can check out the United Protestant Church and its museum located in the fort.
Van Den Brandhofstraat
7 Scharloo Abou
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As an island with a major port town, ships and trade have been crucial to the development of Willemstad and the entire island of Curacao. To learn more about the nautical history of the island, visit the Maritime Museum to discover how Curacao, through the use of its waters and ports, came to be what it is today. The museum, housed in a 16th century colonial style home, features more than 40 permanent displays that trace the history of the island beginning with the first inhabitants in 600 B.C. all the way through the development of the harbor and Curacao’s involvement in the slave trade. The museum is closed Mondays and children under 12 enter free.
North of Willemstad, the Hato Caves are a natural wonder that also have a great historical purpose. A former hiding place for escaped slaves, the caves have the 1,500-year-old drawings of the Caquetios Indians on the walls. Guided tours for visitors are available every hour. Guests will learn that the caves, located in the highest limestone terrace on all of Curacao, were formed over many years when the ocean water fell and the landmass below was lifted up. Over many thousands of years, limestone formations were created, some mirrored in an underground lake. Visitors can cross the lake and enter The Cathedral, an underground cavern.
National Park Shete Boka
An adjoining area of the Christoffel Park, Shete Boka covers more than 10 kilometers of rocky and exposed coast of northern Curacao. What makes it special is the three species of sea turtles that lay their eggs in these sands. There are plenty of hiking trails for families to explore, and the guided walks incorporate the turtle sanctuary into the tour.
CuraÃ§ao Underwater Marine Park
Located off the beach of the Breezes Curacao Resort and extending all the way to the east side of the island, this Underwater Marine Park was established in 1983 with the financial aid of the World Wildlife Fund. Under the blue waters, the park stretches nearly 13 miles and consists of untouched coral reefs. There are plenty of opportunities for guests to scuba dive, snorkel and explore the reef. Inquire with your hotel or visit the Breezes Resort to discover the best ways to experience this underwater journey.
To learn more about other attractions on the island of Curacao and to start planning your trip, contact the Curacao Tourism Board.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.