Stories

Why Willemstad, Curacao Is Not For Us

 

This past April, Cody and I were invited by the Curacao Tourism Board to an event in Toronto where we were the lucky winners of a one week trip to Curacao courtesy of Air Canada, and the Curacao Renaissance Resort and Casino.

We were excited to explore yet another country that we haven’t been to, and of course we were hoping that we would love it, but sadly Curacao wasn’t for us.

Flying over the crystal blue water surrounding the island got us excited for the local Caribbean vibe that we had experienced in other Carib destinations (Check out our 24 hours in Havana video), but only a few hours into our explorations we both agreed that there was something missing.

 

OUR FIRST IMPRESSION

Our resort was located in Willemstad, (the capital, and the islands only city) so naturally this was where all of the tourist buzz was.

We took a walk to the famous waterfront where people eagerly wait to walk across the Queen Emma pontoon bridge after it is finished letting boats pass through.

Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, Curacao

This area is also where the famous multicoloured dutch inspired buildings sit waiting to be photographed.

A few restaurants also dot the street, and festive lights are wrapped around light poles, as well as around the Queen Emma.

Any time of day you will find people posing, and capturing the lights, and colours; but it all felt like a big production to us, less authenticity and more movie set.

Downtown Willemstad, Curacao

This area is also the port where cruise ships dock, and thousands of tourists spill out onto the streets daily, to eat, drink, and shop.

And there is certainly no lack of shopping in Willemstad- from Tiffany’s, to Armani, to Columbian emeralds, to made in China souvenir shops.

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It seemed to us that most people visiting the island were more interested in spending money, than anything else, and so of course, the island caters to them as tourism is the backbone of Curacao’s economy.

Unfortunately this results in an absence of culture.

 

NOT SO BUDGET FRIENDLY

Cody and I would have definitely ventured out to more areas, but local buses only run every two hours, and are unreliable, and taxis on the island are extremely expensive.

Our ride from the airport to our hotel took about 12-15 minutes, and cost $30 USD.

We couldn’t justify taking taxis everyday to beaches or other locations, so unfortunately we were pretty limited to what we could see around the island because we were budget conscious.

Hoping that the local food would be less expensive, we wandered through the small streets, but found that everything was very costly, even more so than in Canada.

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Doing our research before arriving, we were aware that Curacao is not the most vegan friendly place, but we always make due; and knowing that having a nice vegan dinner at a local restaurant just wouldn’t be worth it for us, we visited Plasa Bieu instead; a canteen filled with communal tables, and several local independently owned vendors selling fresh food.

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It was the most authentic feeling place, but unfortunately we got grifted and ended up paying $30 CDN for “special” vegan food made specifically for us. If that was the case, our plates at Grasia Di Dios should’ve taken a little longer to prepare, but instead they came out immediately after we sat down.

We were told that the cost would be $18, but we certainly didn’t think he meant $18 each!

A lesson learned.

 

PLANT FOODS

We managed to find an incredibly delicious, and more affordable meal of curried potato and roti at a place across the street from Plasa Bieu named De Ruyter Cafe.

They also have delicious boiled cassava, fried plantain, sweet potato, fried rice, and vegetables.

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We visited a few times, but most of our week was filled with trips to the Venezuelan fruit and veggie market, where we purchased avocados the size of my head, watermelons, incredible papayas, passion fruit, tomatoes, and bananas.

Venezuelan Market, Curacao

The fresh fruit, and veg was wonderful, but a big part of our travels consist of finding incredible, affordable, and local plant-based meals, and so that part was lacking for us in Curacao.

 

CURACAO’S SAVING GRACE

The Locals

We very much enjoyed the locals on the island. they were helpful, friendly, and would always smile, or reflect a smile back at us.

Off the Beaten Path

Although we didn’t set out too far on the island, we still roamed far enough to lose other tourists and find ourselves alone in local neighbourhoods where we found a few abandoned buildings, local shops, and a beautiful ocean to ourselves.

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CARF

We were very happy to visit carf while we were in Curacao. CARF fosters, and cares for abandoned, and stray dogs.

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They work to minimize the suffering, and overpopulation of stray animals on the streets of Curacao by spaying, neutering, and finding suitable homes for as many dogs as possible.

We had a really great day with all of the sweet dogs.

 

We are sure that Curacao has much more culture, and depth than what we experienced, but due to the high cost of most everything on the island, the thousands of people exiting cruise ships daily, and catering to people who desire luxury shopping, the only city on the island feels more like a tourist trap, and the culture seems to be diluted.

Have you travelled to a destination you didn’t really enjoy?

 

 

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Comments To This Entry.
  1. Michele December 22, 2015 Reply

    It’s really too bad how the cruise industry can distort the character of a destination….I’m not a fan of the mega ships or duty free ports. I wasn’t keen about St. Maarten on my first visit but was glad I returned and explored more of the island as on my second trip I was able to venture away from the crowds and experience its less touristy side. Love your photos of the dogs at CARF!

    • Giselle and Cody January 2, 2016 Reply

      The cruise ship industry really can destroy the image of a destination. Usually when the ships were docked (only a few times while we were there) we just ended up chilling out around our pool. We didn’t want to have to deal with the crowds of people.

      We haven’t been to St. Maarten but when we do go we will make sure to venture away from the crowds. Any tips or must see places you could recommend?

  2. Ronald and Angie December 22, 2015 Reply

    It was great to come across a write-up of exactly how we felt about our recent trip to Curacao. We thought we were going to love it, but we were very disappointed in our whole trip. We didn’t enjoy the food and we didn’t enjoy the island either. We did end up renting a car and heading West but really didn’t see the appeal so headed back to the central area. Great read. Thank you.

    • Giselle and Cody January 2, 2016 Reply

      We wish we would have rented a car to at least check out other parts of the island but we heard from a few other travels that is was just as disappointing. We always try to enjoy everywhere we travel but we just weren’t feeling Curacao. Sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy yourself as well.

  3. Lucia Pereira December 31, 2015 Reply

    Yes, I can understand how Curacao is outside of your interest when it comes to culture and depth…..there will be places that one does not connect with for one reason or another

    the food does look yummmmmyyyy though…..looks like you guys made the best of it all…

    • Giselle and Cody January 30, 2016 Reply

      It is impossible to travel to every place in the world and love them all.

      Those few times we ate out were some of the best memories of Curacao.

  4. Miranda February 3, 2016 Reply

    This would not be the place for me either.

    I try to stay away from an abundance of tourists and have a more local experience. Too bad you didn´t enjoy your stay.

    • Giselle and Cody February 22, 2016 Reply

      It wasn’t a horrible place to travel but it was definitely not one of our favourites either.
      It would be impossible to like every single country that you travel to. Food is a huge part of our travels and we just didn’t get it in Curacao.

  5. Una June 12, 2016 Reply

    It’s a pity you had this experience. We spent 2 weeks in Curacao in January and although it wasn’t always easy to get vegan food, we managed it in most places. You absolutely need a car to get around though – there’s no way around that and the best stuff on the island is off the beaten track. It’s crazy that taxis are so expensive. It’s a real deterrent to tourism. Also in Plaza Bieu, Yvonne’s sorted us out with Vegan food and beer for something like $20 for both of us. Sounds like you might have been unfortunate. We loved Curacao so much, we are going back in September. I’m spending a day in Carf too 🙂 Better luck on your future travels x

    • Giselle and Cody July 3, 2016 Reply

      Thanks for commenting Una.
      Glad to hear that you guys had a great time on the island and we definitely wish we could have viewed more.
      CARF was easily the best part of our trip. 🙂

  6. Sam June 14, 2016 Reply

    I give you guys a lot of credit for writing honestly about a place you didn’t like, especially when it was on an invitation and trip that you won! Seriously, it’s awesome that you guys keep it real and honest. Sounds like a frustrating place, and how we felt on our recent drive through Las Vegas. We only had lunch there while driving through on a road trip of the Western part of the U.S., but the whole vibe sounds a lot like what you’re describing here. Devoid of culture, super touristy, and entirely based on consumption. We ended up eating at a mostly vegan place in the LGBTQ center of Nevada, which was cool, but still not enough to make us ever want to return. I find it sad and frustrating that the Las Vegas strip is one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S. We have so much more interesting and better places than that!

    Just curious, did the Curacao tourism board expect you guys to write about your experiences, and if so, what’d you do in that situation?

    • Giselle and Cody July 3, 2016 Reply

      Thanks so much Sam for your comment. We had to write about our experience and give our honest opinion because if we didn’t why would people continue to come check out our blog if we sugarcoated everything. It was just not a place we would travel back to. Sorry to hear that you had a similar experience while travelling through Las Vegas. We have heard from many people the exact same thing you wrote. We have a friend there so maybe it would be a little bit different if we went to see her??? Maybe not 🙂

      I am sure the Curacao Tourism Board wanted us to write about our trip and shine a bright light on the island. We just don’t want to pretend that we enjoyed ourselves. We will always be honest and write about the experience we had 🙂

  7. Gina Scumaci November 26, 2016 Reply

    I have heard about an over population (thousands)of stray dogs in Curacao
    CARF is a great organization and I plan to donate, but would find it hard to
    visit a place were there are so many stray animals. My heart will break and I won’t be able to relax.

    • Giselle and Cody December 23, 2016 Reply

      Gina, it is hard to visit places with so many stray animals but to these animals even a few minutes of love can really make a difference.
      We always try to find sanctuaries and rescue facilities to visit while we are travelling. Some of the dogs were so loving and just wanted to be near someone for a few minutes 🙂

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