Forgive me this trip report is now a month old.
Just got back from 6 nights in Curacao. Over the past few years, my husband and I have been to several Caribbean islands (Belize, St. John, Jamaica, Virgin Gorda, etc.) and we wanted to explore a new island in the Caribbean. We ultimately chose Curacao because we wanted a laid-back island with dry weather, good food, shopping, a variety of water activities and a hotel with character, all within a reasonable budget
I had read about the litter, the pollution and the oil refinery but I thought it would be confined to limited areas of the island. As I sat in the back seat of the cab on the way to our hotel from the airport, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach that I had made the wrong choice for our vacation destination. I kept waiting to see something, anything pretty. Instead, we passed impoverished areas with half dead mutts that were either running in packs or dead on the side of the road. I also got a full view of the oil refinery and was appalled that the smoke stacks with black clouds were viewable from so many parts of the island. On top of that, our cab followed a minivan that expelled thick plumes of black smoke for several miles.
When we reached our hotel, Kura Hulanda, I was very relieved to be surrounded by such beauty. I can not say enough good things about Kura Hulanda but will also give you the bad with the good. We booked a Deluxe Room on Expedia for $133 (but it was $150 something after taxes and a service charge). The hotel upgraded us to a Junior Suite without us asking. Our room was furnished with hand carved mahogany antique replicas from India. The mattress was hard as a rock, probably because it was lacking a box spring. We had a great balcony that overlooked the hotel's main courtyard. Our bathroom was very spacious and decorated with a marble sink and shower. The accoutrements provided by the hotel were all Aveda products. The hotel provided a hairdryer and an iron/ironing board by request. Leave your hairdryer at home anyway because the plugs are different and you will not be able to use it unless you have an adapter. One other thing of note, while the rooms are beautifully decorated (and each room is different), they are dark and lack natural light.
All of the restaurants on the hotel property were exceptional. Our room was above the Astrolab Observatory Restaurant, which is the fine dining restaurant of the 3 on the property. You can expect to pay $30 or more for an entrée there. Our meal was devine, my husband had the rack of lamb and I had poached sea bass and salmon with a pumpkin pesto and lentil ragout. Eating in the Astrolab Indian Mable Courtyard was quite special at night. We only ate there once during our stay but passed by the set tables and glittering candles on the way to our room every night. The courtyard is covered by huge trees and the marble water fountain provides a magnificent background. The service was the best of any restaurant on the island.
Jacob's (at Kura Hulanda) had a great happy hour with complimentary hors d'oeuvres every day from 5-7 pm. A pianist played in the courtyard for happy hour during the week (a jazz band plays on weekends) and we enjoyed his music from our balcony when we had our own happy hour in the room. Breakfast was typically served at Jacob's and ran about $12 an entrée. Jaipur was our favorite of the restaurants at Kura Hulanda. The Indian style Mahi-mahi was the best I have ever tasted. Most of their entrées were about $25.
Now for the downside of Kura Hulanda, the lush foliage that surrounded the property made it a haven for mosquitoes. I've read about bugs being a problem on some of the trip reports I've read in this forum and have always wondered how they can spoil a vacation, now I know. The mosquitoes became a huge problem anytime you sat down for a meal at any of their 3 restaurants. TIP: All of the restaurants have bug repellent and will allow you to use it if you ask for it. One thing that did irritate us is that housekeeping left our room door open while cleaning the room (after we requested they leave it shut) and we would come back to a room full of mosquitoes. The mosquitoes would buzz around our room at night and bite any skin showing above the covers.
The first full day of our trip was spent at Kura Hulanda's beach club which was a huge disappointment. The beach club consisted of access to a beach through another hotel located in between the Hilton and the Marriott. You were dropped off by the hotel shuttle and told if you needed anything to use the phone. You were obviously not welcomed to use the Marriott facilities because a chain link fence blocked you off. There was a pathway to the Hilton which we followed to sit at their beach bar to have lunch and drinks. One of the other Kura Hulanda guests said they ordered drinks on the phone (at the beach where they dropped you off) and were told they would be there within 30 minutes and they showed up exactly 29 minutes later. In Kura Hulanda's defense, this is a new beach club for them and they did want honest feedback about our experience.
The Marriott did appear very nice and if I had to do it all over again, I would have booked 3 days at Kura Hulanda and 3 days at the Marriott. Kura Hulanda lacked an activity or tour center. You could book things through the front desk but they were generally clueless about any of the day sails or where to rent snorkel equipment, for example. The Marriott had a center with a big board that listed all the activities offered on certain days of the week. I also liked the Marriott's casino. We won a $100 the first night and then lost $300 the second night playing blackjack. There was always a spot for us even though they only had two tables.
The second day, we went into Willemstad. Again, a huge disappointment. While the architecture was impressive, the shops were not. The city was full of stores selling sneakers, watches, cell phones, jewelry, cheap purses, T-shirts. There was so much crap, it was a huge turnoff for me personally. We had tapas at a restaurant that was part of a string of restaurants on the ocean in Punda, which were great. Despite some of our disappointments during our stay, the food in Curacao was not one of them. We ate well nearly everywhere we went. I have the recommendations made through this forum to thank for that.
On the third day, we rented a car through National at the Marriott. After waiting 45 minutes for them to pick us up, we finally had the front desk call to inquire. They picked us up another 45 minutes and drove us to the Marriott to finish the paperwork for the rental. That process ended up taking another hour and a half because the computer went down and it caused a problem for our agent when we declined their insurance because we had duplicate insurance through our American Express card. Most of our morning was wasted through the rental car process. Afterwards, we took off for the west point of the island and explored Playa Khalki and Playa Abou.
Playa Abou was my favorite beach on the island but I was very uneasy at that beach. While we were unloading beach items out of our rental car, a young woman rushed up to me and told me her rental car, which was the exact make and model as our car, was almost stolen a few minutes prior to our arrival. She said she was on the beach with her boyfriend when the car alarm went off. Her boyfriend rushed up the steps and chased off the thieves. I had read that car theft was a problem but thought it was limited to the urban areas. She told me to keep an eye on my car while I was on the beach. I know she was telling the truth because her eyes were glued on her car almost the entire time she was on the beach.
Playa Abou had a lot of coral near the shore line that had been smoothed over by rolling in the surf. When you immersed yourself in the water, you could hear the thousands of pieces of coral making a tinkling noise as they gently brushed against one another. It was like listening to hundreds of tiny wind chimes underwater. I thought that was cool. While on West Punt, we ate at Jaanchie's. Everyone told us not to miss it. The food was fine but not that great. It's definitely a tourist spot and Jaanchie is a dear sweet man that sings you the menu. It was fun to watch all the little yellow birds that fed from the bird feeders in his restaurant.
The following day, we took a half day sail on The Insulinde. I was surprised there weren't as many day sail trips offered like there are in the Virgin Islands. There is only one other ship that offers sail trips called The Bounty. Be advised that they only do certain trips on certain days of the week. The Insulinde departed from the harbor on the Punda side and was an easy walk from Kura Hulanda. The sail lasted 4 hours and cost $25. You were given one welcome drink and a snack consisting of tortilla chips and a seven layer dip were offered after snorkeling at the sunken tug boat. The tug boat was cooler than I thought it would be. There were a ton of fish there and the parrotfish were huge. There were so many snorkel groups there and it was crowded but the fish didn't seem to care. I think the fish thought the snorklers were also a school of fish because when another group's leader blew a whistle to return to the ship, a school of fish followed the hoard of snorkelers back. After snorkeling, we sailed to Barbara Beach, which was not that attractive and was located on a lagoon. When the boat anchored, we were able to jump off the front of the ship and swim around. After the swim, we caught a nice sunset on the way back into town. That night, we went out to a restaurant called The Wine Cellar and as usual, we were not disappointed. The owner was so nice and we closed the place down, drinking wine with him.
The last full day of our trip was spent at Playa PortoMari. It was fairly easy to find unlike most of the beaches because the roads are poorly marked in Curacao. It cost $3.50 pp to get in and a few more bucks to rent a chair. PortoMari offered snorkel equipment rentals and a decent beach bar. Beware of any of the frozen drinks. The frozen drink machines were churning a substance that looked like watermelon seeds and upon a closer look, we recognized the "seeds" as dead flies. The food was pretty decent, we had salads and burgers (thankfully we couldn't see what was in the kitchen). There was a lot of wildlife close to the lefthand side of the beach bar terrace. We watched two huge iguanas munch on some vegetation and a lot of colorful birds watched us as we ate. No doubt they were hoping for a crumb. The beach is known for its manmade reef balls. We didn't see a lot of fish in the reef balls but we did see a lot of fish near the rocky sides and the jetty. Around noon, a bus full of preteens poured onto the beach and wouldn't you know, they camped out right next to us. I couldn't figure out if they were on a field trip or what but they were all in school uniforms. Most of them flocked to the floating docks where they pushed each other off. They were obviously unsupervised because they were rowdy and didn?t depart until about 4:00 to our dismay. I had to move away from them when some boys started throwing clumps of wet sand at one another.
I don't believe I will ever visit Curacao again. There are too many islands in the Caribbean that are so much better. I made myself miserable the first three days of the trip because of my disappointment but the island did start to grow on me by the fourth day. The pinnacle of my misery happened the night the wind shifted and the odor from the oil refinery engulfed our hotel. Our room was not airtight and there was no escaping the smell. That was truly horrible and for that reason alone, I will never return. I previously read on some travel forum about a woman at the Marriott who had a similar experience but didn't give it much merit because no one else mentioned it in their trip reports. Our experience on Curacao was definitely improved by renting a car. I wish I had done that one day one. I hope those interested in visiting Curacao find this trip report useful. I will be happy to answer any questions.
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Forgive me this trip report is now a month old.