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