Around 600 years ago,
Curacao saw its first sign of human civilization. South
American Indians arrived on the island in search of drinking
water, formed the Caiquetios tribe, and survived on the island
via agriculture, fishing and hunting. The Caiquetios discovered
the two main native people of the island the Arowaks, and the
Cariben who lived in great contrast to one another. The Arowaks
were the friendly people and the Cariben were known for their
rituals of cannibalism. The Spaniards named the island Isla
de los Gigantes (Island of the Giants), due to the physical
size of the Arowak natives. At that time, the Spaniards took
most of the Arowaks as slaves to Hispaniola and other Spanish
colonies in the region.
In the years to come,
the Dutch and the English had their hand at ruling Curacao,
and the economy was supported, first by agriculture, then by
oil, banking, and tourism. Today, the island economy is surviving
due to investments from abroad.
The official language
in Curacao is Dutch, but the vernacular is Papiamento.
The name Papiamento is known to be derived from the Portuguese
and is a Creole language taken from Spanish, Portuguese, English,
French, Dutch and West African. It is believed to have originated
in the 17th century in order for Africans to communicate with
themselves and their masters.
The architecture of Curacao
is reminiscent of its Dutch presence. Over the years, restoration
of unique buildings has revealed beautiful Dutch colonial buildings,
dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Willemstad, a World Cultural
Heritage city, and the capital of Curacao, boasts a diverse
and exciting past. The city consists of two parts, Punda and
Otrobanda. The Dutch established Punda in 1634 after being seized
from Spain. The all-natural St. Anna Bay separates Punda and
Otrobanda. The western side of Santa Anna Bay is where Otro
banda, the true cultural part of the city, remains. There is
an accumulation of many races, nationalities, cultures and languages
in Otro banda. It gives Curacao its cultural integrity.
Today’s Curacao has an integrated society of ethnic
and religious groups. There are Africans and their descendants,
the Arabs, Caribbean immigrants, Chinese, Indians, Jews, Portuguese,
Surinamese, and Venezuelans. The best way to understand the
role that each of these cultures plays in Curacao is
to visit. During your visit to the island, you will notice that
Curacao has a high percentage of inter-ethnic and interracial
There are several historic
and unique bridges in Willemstad that are worth a visit, namely,
the Queen Emma Bridge, Queen Wilhelmina Bridge, and Queen Juliana
Bridge. The Queen Emma Bridge, or the Pontoon Bridge, was built
in 1888 and consists of a group of boats upheld by 16 pontoons.
The Queen Wilhelmina Bridge was built in 1890, named after Holland’s
Queen Wilhelmina, and was used to connect the commercial area
of Punda with the residential neighborhood of Scharloo. One
of the highest bridges in the world, the Queen Juliana Bridge
weighs 3,400 tons and stands at 185 feet above the sea at St.
Anna Bay. As you can imagine, the bridge offers outstanding
views of Willemstad.
There are also numerous
protective fortresses still standing in Willemstad, including
Fort Amsterdam, Waterfort, Riffort, Fort Nassau, Fort Waakzaamheid,
Fort Beekenburg, and Fort Sint Michiel. A visit to these fortresses
practically tells the story of Curacao’s past.
Shopping at the many markets in Punda is a must for visitors.
The area offers a marvelous supply of fashionable designer and
boutique shops. For the more traditional shopper, there are
the Floating Markets. These markets are actually boats sailing
from Venezuela to the St. Anna Bay. They provide an abundance
of fruits, vegetables and seafood. The Public Markets carry
meat, fish, and fruits and vegetables grown locally. Although
considered the “supermarkets” of Curacao,
these markets still maintain the character of an old Caribbean
market place. The Old Market is still another option for shopping.
Curacao has a warm
and sunny climate year round, with an average temperature in
the mid 80s. October to February is the rainy season, normally
marked by brief and sporadic showers, mostly at night. Fortunately
the days usually continue to offer sunny weather during the
season. Curacao’s annual rainfall averages only
22 inches. Surprisingly, Curacao has only been the victim
of three hurricanes over the last century, due to its location
outside of the hurricane belt. The mild weather in Curacao
allows for endless possibilities for outdoor activities.
For scuba lovers, Curacao’s
waters offer a colorful show. There are multi-colored parrot
fish, silvery barracuda, spotted French angelfish and colorful
butterfly-fish, just to name a few varieties. The “Mushroom
Forests” and “Car Piles” are a couple of the
special diving areas offshore. For snorkelers, there are colonies
of coral and sea anemones located right off the beaches of Curacao.
Water sport lovers can also windsurf, or board surf. In fact,
board surfers will find the surf conditions excellent.
There is a fantastic community
effort, at hand in Curacao, to preserve the islands’
natural resources. As a result, even in the arid terrain, outdoor
and nature lovers will have the opportunity to be impressed
by the landscape of natural beauty available on Curacao.
Christoffel Park is one
of Curacao’s best natural attractions. The park
is 4,500 acres of life. There are areas where several local
species of orchids (orkidia), including white and purple orchids,
inhabit the land. Despite the desert climate, there are numerous
species of trees adorning the landscape in the park, including
the tamarinde, acacia (wabi), mesquite (indju) and dividivi.
Also, be on the lookout for the ever-popular prickly pear cactus.
Among the species of wildlife, there’s a chance you’ll
see neon-blue iguanas, rabbits, donkeys, and birds. If you’re
lucky, you’ll encounter the protected whitetail Curacao
deer; the deer with a history. Historians believe South American
Indians brought this deer here in the 14th century.
In and around Christoffel
Park and in Curacao, active travelers can partake in
walking tours, deer watching, moonlight tours and horseback
riding, while the more adventurous can explore the Hato caves,
and can tour on mountain bikes, or in jeeps. Four-wheel drive
vehicles are also available for rent. Mt. Christoffel stands
at 1237 ft in the center of Christoffel Park, and offers hikers
a nice reward at the top…spectacular views of Curacao.
Another ideal place to hike is in Shete Boca Park.
One of the main attractions
in Curacao is the Dolphin Academy and Curacao
Sea Aquarium. The Academy offers dolphin encounters for adults
and children. George Kieffer, Director of Dolphins and Programs
at Dolphin Academy and Curacao Sea Aquarium, explains
how the academy got started. “Starting in the early 90’s,
the dolphin community of the Roatan Institute for Marine Sciences
(RIMS), in Honduras was averaging one to three calves born each
year. During the winter of 2001 / 2002, RIMS began actively
seeking another facility within the Caribbean with which to
establish a cooperative relationship that would insure future
genetic diversity among
the dolphins in their care,” explains Kieffer. Kieffer
goes on to say, “The Curacao Sea Aquarium had long
sought a dolphin program that would expand and complement its
animal exhibits and interaction programs. An agreement was reached
between the two organizations and their respective governments
and thus was born Dolphin Academy. When asked what the most
popular program at the Dolphin Academy is, Kieffer proudly proclaims
that the Dolphin Swim comes out on top. Kieffer explains, “This
is likely due to the fact that group sizes are kept small so
participants can enjoy intimate contact and genuine interaction
with the dolphins. 80% of the program involves relaxed swimming
among the dolphins – allowing people and dolphins to interact
at their own pace. The other 20% involves structured in-water
activities in which the guests are taught how to initiate trained
responses from the dolphins such as a tow through the water.”
The Dolphin Academy offers
Dolphin Encounters, Dolphin Swims, Dolphin Snorkels, and Dolphin
Dives. The Curacao Sea Aquarium offers a place for all
ages to get close to many species of sea life, including sharks,
sea turtles, stingrays, and tropical fish. There are feeding
shows, an aquaria, touch tanks, and a theatre and museum.
Kieffer summarizes the
personality of the island of Curacao describing the island
as, “A friendly island with all the amenities of some
of the more "popular" Caribbean islands, but with
a more relaxed atmosphere. The best thing about Curacao,
to me, is it’s modern infrastructure and the high standard
of living most of the local people enjoy.”
Hours: Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 a.m. and for
2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Admission: 5.30 for adults and NAFl. 2.60 for children.
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays,
6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Deer watching: 4:00 p.m. – 6:60 p.m., reservations
Admission: US $9.00.
Tours: Deer watching sessions are US$9.00 for adults,
US $5.00 for children under 15. Guided walking tours are US$15.00.
Horseback riding by day and moonlight tours are US $40 for two
hours. Jeep tours (max. 5 persons) are $85.00 (including entrance
fee). Please make all reservations in advance.
Academy & Curacao Sea Aquarium
destination page, and link to “Curacao” from
the Destination search box to find the Dolphin Academy web site
for more information.
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