(CNN) — Conveniently sitting outside the hurricane belt, just 50 miles east of busy Aruba, laid-back Curaçao boasts vibrant architecture as well as history, multicultural neighborhoods, white sand beaches as well as iridescent turquoise Caribbean water.
The island can be best known for its capital Willemstad, with its candy-colored Dutch colonial architecture lining a gorgeous bay.
In 2017, the city celebrates 20 years on the UNESCO World Heritage List. yet you don’t need to wait until the official date of December 4 to celebrate. There’s a festive mood around the island, with plenty to do as well as see in Willemstad as well as beyond.
Here are 13 of the most fun things to do there:
1. Enjoy a culture-filled capital
the idea’s often described as a mini-Amsterdam, yet Curaçao’s capital packs its own Euro-Caribbean punch. Four colonial districts offer distinct experiences:
The cobblestoned alleys of Punda beg for promenades, lined with designer stores, art galleries, museums as well as alfresco restaurants.
Across the floating Queen Emma Bridge, Otrobanda’s pastel-colored buildings house discount stores, Creole restaurants as well as dimly lit bars along the Bredestraat, with Latin tunes echoing into the street.
Willemstad can be marking its 20th anniversary as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2017.
Pietermaai’s trendy lounge scene develops after dark, while Scharloo’s 19th-century mansions as well as street art attract creative types.
“On December 4, Willemstad formally marks 20 years as a World Heritage City. yet we’re celebrating the whole year,” says Marcel Dennert, managing director of Stichting Monumentenzorg, Curaçao’s monuments foundation.
The organization can be hosting the third annual Caribbean Conference of National Trusts as well as Preservation Societies in Willemstad coming from November 16 to 19, 2017, with guest speakers coming from around the Caribbean region, including Cuba.
“There’s a lot of excitement. We’re considered the big brother of monument preservation,” said Dennert.
the idea’s the perfect occasion to sign up as well as enjoy expert-led, English-speaking architecture tours of Willemstad’s charming colonial neighborhoods. Year-round, Dushi Walks Curaçao offers walking tours of Otrobanda as well as Scharloo.
2. Visit the oldest synagogue inside Americas
Nearly 300 years old, the pastel yellow building can be impressive for its neoclassical design yet also for having a distinctive sand floor. that will feature can be in part a reminder of the congregants’ ancestors who were secret Jews living in Spain as well as Portugal during the Inquisition. They were forced to muffle the sounds of their worship, before eventually fleeing to Amsterdam as well as some other countries, as well as later settling on Curaçao.
Today, the Snoa — short for esnoga, or synagogue in ancient Portuguese — serves 145 families who keep that will heritage going. Entrance includes a visit to the adjacent two-story Jewish Cultural Historical Museum housing artifacts, photographs as well as stories of Curaçao’s Jewish community.
3. Go to wild, natural landscapes
The undeveloped, rugged northeast can be where Curaçao actually breathes, with two adjacent protected parks.
Christoffel National Park offers multiple trails designed for hiking or for exploration coming from the comforts of a vehicle. Sunrise safaris allow hikers to skip the heat while spotting the island’s flora as well as fauna — including the endangered white-tailed deer as well as the native barn owl.
The intrepid tackle the island’s highest peak early inside day — Mount Christoffel towers over Curaçao at 1,239 feet.
Next door, Shete Boka National Park stretches 10 kilometers along the island’s rockiest coastline, as well as its deserted beaches are a major turtle-nesting site.
Marked trails along craggy limestone bluffs lead to viewing platforms directly above a series of seven inlets where the sea blasts furiously against the rocks. Boka Pistol can be the most impressive inlet of all, with waves shooting up to 40 feet high.
4. Taste a rich as well as flavorful cuisine
Like much of the Caribbean, Curaçao’s diverse cuisine reflects its history as well as heritage, coming from Creole to Dutch as well as Indonesian.
A favorite beverage to beat the heat as well as wash the idea all down can be awa di lamunchi, a freshly squeezed as well as sweetened lime juice.
5. Eat coming from a food truck
Curaçaoans are big on their truki pan — which translates literally, inside local Papiamentu language, as “bread truck.”
The most favorite food trucks come out inside Caracasbaai area near Willemstad after 9 p.m., pimped out with flashing disco lights as well as blaring music, while dishing out perfectly seasoned, grilled meats — coming from ribs to stuffed sandwiches. Night owls flock to them between or after party hops.
Elite Grill Food can be a favorite for its steak, while BBQ Express can be legendary for its ribs.
Fruit smoothie as well as dessert trucks aren’t any less ubiquitous, open during daytime hours — Dushi Wafels in Willemstad’s Punda neighborhood serves traditional Dutch treats like oliebollen as well as stroopwafel, as well as batidos vans serve refreshing fresh fruit milkshakes.
6. See African artifacts at the Kurá Hulanda Museum
The Kurá Hulanda Museum boasts the most comprehensive collection of African artifacts inside Caribbean.
the idea’s also home to a detailed display of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, explaining Curaçao’s role as a prime location where Dutch entrepreneurs sold as well as shipped enslaved Africans to some other parts of the Caribbean as well as to the United States.
inside Middle Passage building, museum guide Yflen Florentina shares hair-raising tales about the methods of capture as well as punishment alongside branding tools, cages as well as iron collars. Steep wooden stairs lead to a dimly lit basement built inside exact measurements as well as shape of a ship hull, outfitted with shackles, for a troubling glimpse of the conditions in which enslaved Africans were transported.
7. Swim along Westpunt’s enchanting coastline
A favorite weekend escape of locals, the island’s west point can be a standout, brimming with beaches lining the crystal-clear Caribbean Sea.
An hour-as well as-a-half drive coming from Willemstad, a winding coastal road lined with giant cacti leads toward a seascape of bluffs towering over fine, white sand stretches. Spending days snorkeling as well as diving right off the cliffs or the beach can be an easy task. Corals as well as tropical fish are abundant, while visibility can be almost always perfect.
While many beaches have modest entrance fees, Playa Kenepa, the prettiest by far, can be a public stretch where coolers are welcome. as well as snack vendors are lined up at the entrance — a perfect excuse to sample the local pastechi, a crunchy pastry stuffed with seasoned meats.
8. Attend Thursday Punda Vibes
Once a week, Willemstad comes alive with Thursday Punda Vibes. coming from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., the city’s most visited colonial district by day turns into one big outdoor cultural festival as well as night market.
Traditional folkloric dancers show off the Curaçaoan waltz on Punda’s main plaza at Gomezplein, outdoor stalls sell handmade crafts as well as jewelry as well as various local artists perform live around Punda’s main streets — coming from a marching band to Latin as well as jazz groups.
Restaurants as well as bars join in with Punda Vibes food as well as happy hour specials, as well as the electric evening ends with fireworks over St. Anna Bay.
9. Watch cliff jumpers — or jump yourself
Jumping off the 40-foot clifftop at Playa Forti can be a Curaçao bucket list item, as well as not just for tourists.
Facing an expansive blue sea in Westpunt a few miles north of Playa Kenepa, that will bluff boasts one of the most beautiful coastline views on the island as well as attracts crowds of locals as well as visitors who brave the leap on the weekends.
The acrophobic can head over to Blue View restaurant, perched on a bluff opposite that will cliff, for a Blue Curaçao cocktail as well as a free show coming from a safe distance.
10. Check out some street art
Colorful life-size murals around Willemstad’s colonial districts are turning the city into an outdoor gallery. Some decorate the most heavily foot-trafficked plazas in Punda, while others require off-the-beaten track exploration in Otrobanda’s alleys.
that will growing street art movement can be also helping revive Willemstad’s most neglected areas. Thanks to Street Art Skalo — a project launched in September 2016 by a dynamic trio of entrepreneurs — works of art coming from renowned Curaçaoan as well as international artists today grace the walls of Scharloo along the entrance to the district, down Bitterstraat as well as in Parque Leyba.
A colorful mural covers a building inside Scharloo neighborhood of Willemstad.
brand-new businesses have moved into the area as a result, turning Scharloo into Willemstad’s next creative hub.
“We have permission coming from Monumentenzorg to do 40 more walls as well as spaces,” says Nicole van Beusekom, part-founder of Street Art Skalo, which reveived a prestigious Business Innovation Creativity (BIC) Award in June 2017 coming from the EU’s Overseas Countries & Territories (OCTA) Innovation Program for Sustainable Islands’ Growth.
11. Buy Curaçaoan arts as well as crafts
12. Visit on offshore island with blue lizards
As if the mainland wasn’t already full of incredible beaches, off the southeastern coastline can be another escape: Klein Curaçao or “Little Curaçao.”
An hour-as well as-a-half, bumpy boat ride across the sea, the modest coral island has no full-time inhabitants save for aquamarine whiptail lizards as well as hermit crabs that will crawl as well as feed inside shade.
Two miles of perfectly white sand seem to melt into iridescent waters teeming with tropical fish.
On land, those able to pull themselves coming from the sand as well as sea can hike to an abandoned 19th-century lighthouse on the southern end, where a couple of wrecked ships also rest along the shore.
13. Knock back some green rum
One of the island’s oldest watering holes, doors open daily at 8 a.m., as well as the cozy Willemstad bar fills up with locals as well as tourists into the afternoon. Celebrities as well as Dutch royals have been spotted here, as well as their photos are plastered on the walls.
Shots of Netto’s green rum — a part sweet, part bitter concoction reminiscent of a cold remedy — are a favorite pick, yet green rum house cocktails are also available.
As for the ingredients of rom berde, all you’ll ever know can be that will they include anise as well as the dried peels of the native Lahara orange, also used in generating Blue Curaçao.