Here Are Our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad
Willemstad

Welcome to our latest Caribbean Cruise Destination Guide: Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao. The port in Curacao may surprise you with its size and scope. Its bustling industry, uniquely colorful architecture and sheer variety of experiences. Sailing into the harbor, you’ll notice first its massive scale. First of all, this is a commercial port. It has major industries large enough to dwarf tourism. Even the largest ships seem small next to some cargo vessels and oil tankers. As you get closer to land, your eyes will focus on the brightly colorful jigsaw of Dutch colonial homes. They define the waterfront. It’s Amsterdam in the Caribbean. Painted in brightest Canary yellow, blue and purple. These historic buildings shout a cheerful welcome from afar.

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad
Willemstad

Furthermore, once at the port, the message becomes decidedly modern-day retail-focused. With waterfront design in the image of St. Thomas, Grand Cayman, and other duty-free centers. That tempting and expensive lineup is easy to bypass if you want to though. Just past the retail port is historic Willemsburg. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This historic city center is divided into four quarters. It is also divided by a bay but connected by the landmark Queen Emma Bridge.

Downtown Willemstad Tour

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, The Rif Fort

Number 1 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Tour Downtown Willemstad 

Between the brightly painted Dutch Colonial homes. The lively markets. The variety of restaurants and pubs. And the richness of history preserved within it. Historic Willemstad is one of the Caribbean’s iconic port cities. Walking tours of the historic city generally focus on two of the old city’s four quarters. Punda and Otrobanda contain the majority of the registered UNESCO buildings and monuments. This includes the Kura Hulanda slavery museum. It is a primary stop on any “historic Curacao” tour. Across the Sint Anna Bay is Punda, the oldest part of the city. This is where you’ll find the city’s oldest and most iconic landmark, Fort Amsterdam. This quarter is also known for its multitude of Dutch Colonial buildings. Most date back to the early 17th century.

Most noteworthy, historic Willemstad is fun to explore solo. But you should sign up for a guided tour if you want to make sure and see the important highlights. Also, to learn a bit of town history. Because there’s so much to take in. Most cruise lines offer a variety of tour themes. Including highlights, history, panoramic views, shopping, and so forth.

Museum Kura Hulanda

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Kura Hulanda slavery museum
Kura Hulanda slavery museum

Number 2 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Visit the Museum Kura Hulanda

Curacao is unique in the way it faces the darker aspects of its past. Particularly its slave trafficking and its role in the Colonial slave economy. It owns up to everything, and has, in this downtown museum. Including, the largest collection of slaving artifacts and historic documents in the Western World. A billionaire philanthropist founded the museum. He also bought a tremendous amount of African art and artifacts. As well as ancient pieces from Mesopotamia, Rome and South America. The collections live in a former slave yard. The yard has been fully cleaned up and restored. It has modern Caribbean murals enlivening the outer walls.

The museum is open Monday through Saturday. People can buy admission tickets without being part of a group. If you want to give this world-class collection the quiet contemplation it deserves, you may opt to visit independently. This is due to group tours slotting it into a quick-paced “historic highlights” itinerary.

Fort Amsterdam

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Fort Amsterdam
Fort Amsterdam

Number 3 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Check out Fort Amsterdam

Probably the most famous of eight fortresses on the island of Curacao. This iconic structure was the first point of Dutch Colonial development, in the year 1634. It was the headquarters of the Dutch West India Company. Also, it was the early home of virtually all the first-wave Dutch settlers. And the military hub from which the historic town settlement spread outward. As a result, to this day it remains an important seat of Curacao government. It contains cabinet offices and governor housing. The modern-day compound also contains the Fortchurch. It is both a United Protestant church and a museum.

Fort Amsterdam is equally popular with individual visitors as guided tours. Individual visits may allow for better photos of the historic courtyard and structures. Furthermore, admission to the museum costs a nominal fee. But, guided tours will give a better historic background. As well as a description of current government activity in its protected buildings.

Sea Aquarium / Dolphin Academy

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Sea Aquarium / Dolphin Academy
Sea Aquarium / Dolphin Academy

Number 4 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Experience Dolphin Academy

Another one of Curacao’s charms is that its marquee crowd-pleaser of aqua adventures is centrally located. It is also accessible to almost everyone. Bring the little ones, unconfident swimmers and people with mobility issues. There should be something here that they can enjoy. The park offers multiple sea life encounters. It includes touch tanks and sea lion shows. As well as dolphin encounters in a natural lagoon. Curacao Substation underwater observatory is also based in the park. The facility also has tame stingrays with stingers removed. They will come right up under your legs. Hoping to be petted. Much like a family dog.

This attraction fronts Seaquarium Beach AKA Mambo Beach or Kon Tiki Beach. This manmade beach feels more European than Caribbean. From the day club setup of Mambo (pay to access and get a sun lounger). To the colorful restaurants and bars. A visit to the aquarium followed by a beach visit is the most popular way for families to spend a day in port.

ATV/Quad Bikes

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, ATV/Quad Bikes
Eric’s ATV Adventures

Number 5 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Go off-road in an ATV

Above all, If you can handle dust, heat, and a bouncy-jouncy ride, you will like this. Quad bike adventures around the coast areas of Curacao offer awesome off-road fun. The island is largely undeveloped. This is showed by the fact that ATVs and dune buggies operate on the West end, north shore and east side. Depending on the itinerary, you’ll see many things. This includes sea caves and isolated beaches. Also includes race up steep hillocks and speed through barren flats. Routes often make stops inside the parks and at other major island attractions. That includes the ostrich farm or aloe plantation. Sign up the most active people in your party for this excursion. And everyone please, wear sunscreen.

Curacao Buggy Adventures is a major cruise line partner. While Eric’s ATV Adventures is a longtime favorite. Especially for the more adventurous small-group tours. Note that some excursion operators partner with cruise lines. They typically restrict passengers from doing direct bookings. That’s to keep you from circumventing the cruise line.

Christoffel National Park

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Christoffel National Park
Christoffel National Park

Number 6 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Climb A Mountain

One of the most popular excursion points especially for adventurers. This park encompasses woodlands and ocean bluffs. Also, historical sites and accessible caves. It’s the largest park on the island. Hence, it can definitely be your main excursion. But it depends on how you want to explore. Hiking trails number eight in total. They range from easy 20-minute strolls to physically challenging climbs. Although, the most strenuous one is to the summit of Mt Christoffel. While physically taxing, it is only a 3-hour commitment, max. For people who don’t want to explore on foot, the park offers open-top jeep safaris for a moderate fee. You’ll see a lot of vivid and surreal scenery in this park. From hyper-colored cactus to exotic orchids. From lunar-looking rockscapes to enormous iguanas. There’s also a museum housed in the former Savonet plantation. Also within park grounds.

Cruise lines will almost offer a few park itineraries. If you want something different, it’s easy to arrange a guided tour with the park. Although in that case, you’ll be responsible for getting there from the port and back.

Shete Boka National Park

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Shete Boka National Park
Shete Boka National Park

Number 7 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Check out a different national park.

Located next to Christoffelpark. This rocky and isolated park on the northern coast of the island provides a totally different experience. Compared to the typical lush jungle parks most people associate with the Caribbean. Here, you hike across lava rock and seek out sea caverns. Push to the top of narrow trails. And you will get panoramic views of the crashing ocean. A good guide will be able to show you to tiny protected beaches. That’s where sea turtles lay their eggs. Similarly, look for specific points where the crashing waves create a rainbow prism effect.

It’s highly recommended to visit with a guided group. This is because of how remote and inhospitable this terrain can be.

Curacao Underwater Park

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Curacao Underwater Park
Curacao Underwater Park

Number 8 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Swim with the fish.

Spanning 20 kilometers of coastline, starting around Sea Aquarium Beach in Willemstad and ending at the eastern tip of Curacao, this is the most popular snorkeling destination offshore Curacao—though “destination” is a bit of a misnomer, given its size. In fact, around 20 individual dive sites are designated within its borders. Many of them are accessible to snorkelers too. Pristine coral reefs and protected bays provide a home for more than 350 species of marine life. The park also encompasses turtle nesting beaches and mangrove swamps. Note that this is still technically a “paper park.” Meaning that it has no officially protected status. However, it’s still on the list of CARMABI-managed parks, along with Christoffel and Shete Boka.

There’s a good chance that one or more of the sites you visit will be within designated parklands. Certainly, if you book a snorkel/dive excursion with a cruise partner or independently.

Playa Lagun

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Playa Lagun
Playa Lagun

Number 9 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Chill on a nice beach

This shallow, serene lagoon is partially surrounded by cliffs. It is also a very popular site for snorkeling and diving. Or just relaxed family-friendly beach time. The water is clear turquoise. Typically calm enough for children and so-so swimmers to feel safe. And even without going too far out, you can usually see countless species of tropical fish. Sometimes, sea turtles will even swim into the lagoon. Services include sun lounger rental and a small parking lot. As well as refreshments for sale by vendors, and a couple of restaurants/bars.

Many cruise excursions package Playa Lagun for an afternoon swim. After an early visit to nearby Shete Boka National Park. Others package it with a sightseeing motor tour or a jeep safari. The main complaint is that most of these organized tours don’t provide enough time at the beach. The alternative is to hire a taxi. But it will take about 30-35 minutes to drive to the beach. Spend as much time as you want before it drives your group back.

Wreck diving

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao, Willemstad, Wreck diving
Wreck diving

Number 10 in our Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao: Wreck diving

No PADI certification is required to see some of the planes and ocean vessels wrecked off Curacao’s shore. Granted, you won’t see as much. Or stay down as long if free-diving. However, the water’s so clear and warm, it’s quite fun for a medium-advanced swimmer to explore the shallow-water wrecks. Above all, check out “The Tugboat.”

Above all,for PADI-certified divers, numerous wrecks can be explored. Like the relatively new Elvins Plane Wreck. Or the well-known cargo freighter wreck Superior Producer. There are a plethora of dive and snorkel excursion operators. Similarly, of the non-cruise partners, Scubacao and The Dive Bus are highly rated. However, you can wade out and do snorkeling/diving. Especially from shore access points fronting most of the major dive resorts.

Top 10 Things to Do in Curacao is not enough for you? Looking for another type of adventure? Check out our post on Top 10 Things to Do in Ocho Rios

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