Curacao is a family vacation paradise in many ways. The small island nation, not far from Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea, was our destination for a two-week escape from this past year’s prolonged New England winter (actually they’re all long). It’s taken most of a year for us to get our blogging act together, but we still wanted to share a few Curacao family vacation tips from what we learned.
Curacao boasts gorgeous beaches as you might expect given the Caribbean location, and fun snorkeling to go along with the above-water scenery. There are lots of fun activities to keep families entertained when they’re not at the beach too. Family friendly accommodations are plentiful and we scored a terrific, spacious villa walking distance to the beach.
First: How to Say Curacao
As Kat and I started talking about going to Curacao we came up with all manner of wacky pronunciations, usually a different one each time we said the word.
Eventually I Googled it, and this video came up. We’re pretty sure this is the correct pronunciation!
Getting to and Around Curacao
We flew from Boston to Curacao via Miami on American Airlines. There weren’t any direct flights from Boston when we were looking, which might make other Caribbean destinations a bit more appealing for us in the future. The two 3-hour flights ended up taking a full day of travel when combined with getting to and from the airports, etc.
Arriving at the Curacao airport and going through immigration was mostly painless. For whatever reason we didn’t get the immigration forms on the plane, and there were none at the immigration tables when we got off, so we had to wait a bit for them to go find more. But otherwise we were processed through quickly.
The Curacao airport is quite small and we soon found ourselves in the main lobby. The rental car counters are to the right as you exit and we headed there to get setup with our car. We arrived late (about 10pm) so we had the place mostly to ourselves, and the guy at the Alamo desk hooked us up with an upgraded car to fit our now-larger crew and all our stuff.
After bumming around the island for two weeks we are very glad to have rented a car. I briefly floated the idea of using public transit to Kat during our planning, and she promptly shot me down – she was right. There are some buses, but a lot of the fun places are a bit out of the way, and especially with kids having the flexibility of your own car is critical.
Driving in Curacao is pretty straightforward. Cars travel on the right like in the U.S. and traffic is generally pretty light. We found the drivers to be pretty aggressive though, so you just have to keep that in mind and let them do their thing.
One thing to watch out for are all of the roundabouts. We have plenty of these in New England too, but we’ve decided that the rules should be the same at all of them. Not so in Curacao… so pay attention to the signs to see who should yield to who in any given situation.
Where to Stay in Curacao – Blue Bay Resort
We stayed at Blue Bay Resort on the Curacao south coast, just west of the capital Willemstad. We found this location was perfect for exploring around the whole island. We settled in there for our whole stay on the island, so we can’t offer comparisons to other places, but Blue Bay was great.
We rented a 3-bedroom villa on Airbnb and it was exactly right for our family. At Blue Bay there are a bunch of similar villas, most two-story with one unit up and one down. They all have epic wrap-around furnished decks with several seating areas. There are huge sliding doors that open up to the main living area, creating an awesome indoor-outdoor space.
Our villa was particularly excellent due to its location overlooking the swimming pool. We were in the pool almost every day, and being so close made it really convenient for those 15-minutes-before-dinner “can we go to the pool pllleeeaaaasssseeeee!!?!?” requests.
All of the villas are in a neighborhood of meandering paths going up the hill from the beach. Ours was about halfway up, and the walk to the beach took about 5-10 minutes even at our toddling 1.5-yr old’s pace. The paths wind through beautiful tropical gardens that we would come to find out are quite different than the typically arid landscape of the island.
A highlight of our stay for me was taking “nature walks” through the resort with the kids. The flowers and plants are beautiful, but the real attraction is all of the wildlife. We saw tons of iguanas and other lizards, including some colorful bright blue ones. The birds were amazing – hummingbirds, green parrots, and many other bright colorful varieties always flying and hopping around.
There’s a population of stray cats that roam the property too. This is a blessing and a curse I guess. The kids liked them, and for the most part they were friendly and not a problem. One in particular made a habit of stopping by our villa every morning and evening hoping for a snack. I wasn’t a big fan myself, as it scratched at Piper a couple times and I’m generally not a cat person, but the kids enjoyed our rent-a-cat for the 2 weeks.
Blue Bay is located just west of Willemstad on the south coast of Curacao. It takes about 15 -20 minutes to drive into the city, and most attractions are within about a half hour. Westpunt and the Christoffel National Park are more like 45 minutes.
There’s a supermarket, Centrum Market, located less than 5 minutes’ drive from Blue Bay. It’s convenient and stocks most items you’ll need for your villa. If you’re used to grocery stores bagging your groceries for you, be aware that the guys at Centrum will expect a tip if you let them bag your items. They’ll also bring them to your car though, so with some kids in tow it can be a nice service!
Just a few minutes further is the Sambil mall, with a big food court and all kinds of stores.
Things to Do with Kids in Curacao
Obviously the beach is a big draw on any Caribbean island, and Curacao is no different. We spent a lot of time at the beach, both at our “home” beach at Blue Bay and some others around the island.
Blue Bay Beach is lovely and very resort-y, with lots of bright orange lounge chairs, umbrellas, and palm trees scattered around. There are a couple of restaurants and bars right on the sand, and you can get served from the comfort of your lounge chair if you wish. There’s decent snorkeling close to shore, with lots of colorful tropical fish, though the reef itself is mostly dead (typical everywhere we went on the island).
Further afield we checked out Cas Abao Beach. About 30 minutes from Blue Bay, Cas Abao is also a cobalt blue lagoon nestled into a rocky cove. The beach itself is long and has a few trees providing shade, as well as umbrellas and some chairs to rent ($2 per day). There’s a restaurant and bar, restrooms, and showers. Admission was $6 for the car. Snorkeling here was similar to Blue Bay – fun but not spectacular.
After a day at Christoffel National Park we were looking for a place to cool off and stumbled on Playa Grandi in Westpunt. The beach itself is more local flavor than postcard perfection, with a fishing pier and fishermen cleaning and selling the day’s catch.
The side benefit of the fishing operation is that it attracts sea turtles! We had a bunch of super close encounters with turtles of all sizes, sometimes two or three together as they scrambled for a chunk of fish guts cast off by the fishermen. This was some of the most fun snorkeling we’ve ever experienced.
Don’t miss the ostrich farm. The tour is hilarious and informative, and the food (ostrich-heavy of course) is excellent. Plus kids get to feed ostriches and stand on ostrich eggs. Can’t beat that.
Skip the aloe farm unless you’re a huge aloe nut. It’s just a bunch of plants. No real tour or exhibits.
The Curacao Sea Aquarium was excellent. We spent a full day there and loved it. You can feed flamingoes and watch a variety of entertaining presentations on local sea life. There a bunch of touch tanks too which the kids really liked.
Some other fun activities include the Hato Caves (a good stop on your way to the airport), and just exploring Willemstad (Rif Fort is particularly nice). During our trip the floating market was completely gone. The Rode markt next to the former floating market location is OK for some quick souvenir shopping.
Curacao’s Secret in Plain Sight
So there’s one weird thing about Curaçao that was certainly not obvious to us until we arrived: there’s a giant oil refinery smack dab in the middle of the island. The Refineria Isla PDVSA is a bizarre sight. Giant smoke stacks spewing black clouds and belching fire into the sky right next to some of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever seen.
Other than this jarring juxtaposition the refinery didn’t really impact our trip at all. As giant as it is, you can’t see it from most places on the island. The long term environmental impact is concerning, but as a short term tourist it’s just… weird.
Hopefully some of the tips above are useful if you’re planning a family vacation to Curaçao. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below and we’ll try to answer!