9 Under-the-Radar Things to Do in Curaçao

Aquafari

There’s a lot more to enjoy on this island beyond the beaches and famous blue liqueur. The capital of Willemstad is the nexus of museums, history, and beautifully restored monuments,  but this quirky little island has all kinds of hidden gems and cool adventures secreted throughout its eclectic neighborhoods and surreal desert-like interior.—Susan Campbell  

Pietermaii District TK

Pietermaii District

The neighborhood of Pietermaai has transformed recently, with century-old heritage estates and buildings morphing into vibrant and colorful trendy restaurants, cafés, boutique stays, offbeat bars, and cool courtyards. It has its own electric vibe, and the close-knit community presents all kinds of special art and cultural events. You can also take a walking photo tour. Also worth sleuthing out is Scharloo’s new secret nightlife quarter called District 1850. By day, it’s a quiet historic neighborhood, but after dark it comes alive with seven bars enlivening a single block.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Curacao Coral Restoration

Curacao Coral Restoration

Curaçao has many cool dive spots, but there’s only one where you can learn to plant a coral forest. The Coral Reforestation Foundation Curaçao is delighted to be celebrating their first anniversary this year with news that the juvenile staghorn and elkhorn corals they planted have grown large enough to be successfully transplanted to grow on their own. They now offer visitors dives among the coral forests and nursery with courses on how to undertake this crucial environmental work. The founders, Ocean Encounters, also offer PADI diving certification courses and excursions to all of the island’s best dive sites.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Chichi Curacao

Chichi Curacao

No matter where you wander on Curaçao it’s hard to miss the ladies called “chichis.” These statues come in tiny and midsize figurines and larger-than-life sculptures all over the island in eye-popping colors with avant-garde designs and themes. The brainchild of Serena Israel, who wanted to offer the island’s local female artisans a thriving industry, they have become Curaçao’s most beloved mascots. You can buy them prefabricated as unique souvenirs or you can create your own. Check Serena’s Art Factory website for when their walk-in workshops occur or make a group reservation.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Substation Curacao

Substation Curacao

Imagine exploring 1,000 feet below the waves without even getting wet. You can with Substation Curaçao and their Curasub, a surreal looking four-person submersible. Witness the magnificent colorful coral walls and marine life from inside a glass bubble in the same kind of vehicle that was used to film many of Titanic’s deep-sea scenes. The Curasub is also used in important marine life and ocean research, and the team recently discovered some new species of fish while working with the Smithsonian Institute. The sub descends four times a day and they also offer select night dives.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Curacao Ostrich Farm

Africa’s flightless birds are on display at the Curaçao Ostrich Farm, an unlikely attraction in the Dutch Caribbean, yet they are oddly at home in the island’s stark and arid interior landscape. You can learn about the creatures from egg to juvenile to adult with informative guided tours and even hold an egg in your hands or feed the adult birds. There’s also an African-inspired restaurant on site that serves ostrich meat.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Villa Seashell

Villa Seashell

There’s no dearth of beautiful resorts on Curaçao, but if you’re seeking something different than your typical hotel, then how about a treehouse mansion? You’ll find one at Lodge Kura Hulanda at the far west point. Or how about renting a four-bedroom villa on a picturesque beach? Villa Seashell, part of the Coral Estate community, is such a secret spot beside a glorious strand with wonderful snorkeling and diving right offshore. Dining is steps away, and it’s also near Curacao’s newest unique spa emporium 8 The Experience. And all are far away from the  typical tourist fray.

 PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Aquafari

Aquafari

There are few places on the planet you can motor around 30 feet below the waves without having diving certification, but this offbeat, eco-friendly vehicle allows you to do just that! The Aquafari is a one-piece molded scooter and air helmet that lets you ride and breathe as easily if you were on land. It’s an amazing adventure guided by a diver who shows you the colorful marine life, and you even stop to feed some fish. You need only know how to swim well enough to submerge under the helmet to mount the scooter… and you’re off. Very cool.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Susan Campbell

L’Aldea Rainforest

Curaçao is an extremely arid island with only 22 inches of annual rainfall, so it’s the last place you’d expect to see a lush rainforest. That’s why L’aldea Rainforest Mystery is such a surprise. Fashioned after the Amazonian jungle with some 300 critters and creatures, this manmade odyssey is really a trip. The sculptures and art are all hand carved by the owner, and the detail in exhibits dedicated to the Mayan, Aztec, Incan, and Arawak cultures is outstanding. But the biggest surprise is that it morphs into an Argentinean-style grill with music at night.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide

Curacao Tourism Authority

Landuis

There are many well-known ex-plantation houses (landhuizen) that have been turned into historical museums or dining spots on the island, but Landhuis Vredenberg isn’t one of them. It’s the best-kept secret only locals know about, set in a gorgeous heritage mansion with stunning antiques and sprawling lush grounds where weddings and receptions are held. But it’s also an excellent lunch spot as Primas Restaurant for authentic island cooking on the big wraparound terrace. A family-run enterprise, the daily menu of specialties is always entirely up to whatever “Mama” feels like cooking that day.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Curacao Guide