Curacao Trip Report

Old Dec 13th, 2003, 01:43 PM
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Curacao Trip Report

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.
LPiscetta is offline  
Old Dec 13th, 2003, 02:42 PM
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Thank you for the insight. I had thought about Curacao for a vacation. I might rethink now. Thanks again.
greenie is offline  
Old Dec 14th, 2003, 10:45 AM
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Wow, thanks for the great report.. I had been considering the Kura Hulanda for my next island, but now I"m not sure... Did you check out the Floris Suites???
Also, it sounds like the main town is not worth spending leisurly afternoons walking around in.. We like to explore on foot and this doesn't sound ideal....

melody13 is offline  
Old Dec 14th, 2003, 02:02 PM
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Thanks for such an honest report. So many times people either give just the good or just the bad.
A similar experience - we were shocked by the oil refineries in Aruba. Not as much of an impact on the tourist hotels as in Curacao, but still... I had read several times about Baby Beach being amazing -- I think one magazine article rated it in the worlds top ten -- and when we went it was smack-dab next to a major refinery! If you sat with your back to that end of the beach, it was lovely but I couldn't get over the travel writer recommending it with no mention of the considerable flaw.
Leslie_S is offline  
Old Dec 14th, 2003, 04:54 PM
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I did not check out the Floris Suites. I wanted to check out the Indian Bridal Suite but a princess was staying there and we couldn't see the room.

One other thing I forgot to mention about Kura Hulanda is the hotel had a business center with two computers with free internet access. We were able to check our e-mail daily and I even accessed this forum on vacation to search for beaches to check out during the day. Again, make sure you have your bug spray because when guests leave the door open to the business center, it is swarming with mosquitos.

Kura Hulanda is very close to town but we were bored with town after walking around for an afternoon. Also, during the week, Willemstad was a ghost town at night.

My husband just read my post and thought I was a little harsh on Curacao. He's dictating a few of his thoughts for me to write...

Curacao's beaches were unique and magnificent. Whether by luck or by the nature of the cusine itself, the restaurants were fantastic. There is a ton of stuff you don't want to see in between point A and point B but that's how it's going to be any time you are visiting a developing nation. I had a great time but if you are looking for advice on where to go in the Caribbean islands, please take another look at St. John. Good luck!
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Old Dec 14th, 2003, 06:24 PM
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L -
Thank you for sharing your report. I think everyone needs to hear the good and the bad about all islands. My husband and I have been to many islands in the Caribbean, including some that you also have visited, such as the USVI and Jamaica. To date, Curacao remains our favorite. Which just goes to show that everyone doesn't like the same thing. It appears that you were, for the most part, able to discover the good restaurants and all the Marriott has included for their guests. People talk about St. Thomas's big feature being their shopping, but we found Curacao's to be WAY better. We came home with many beautiful linens as well as other items imported from Holland. We found Curacao to have been quite clean for a Caribbean island although we were told the refinery is bothersome at certain times of the year. It has also been our experience that dogs seem to be thin on all the islands. We personally never saw a dead dog on Curacao. I have been on other islands where I literally have cried from what I perceived as neglect. The one negative we would agree with you about was that renting a car WAS a little slow. Curacao is one of those places that does not depend on tourism and so it may not be for everyone. It's kind of like Belize is not for us and many people don't like Jamaica because of fear factors, although again that is an island that we like. It appears that St. John may be YOUR favorite place. I think it's beautiful there, and it does come in at #3 for us. Our negative thought about St. John was that we had no meals worth talking about, but it was pretty. Glad to hear that you did have some nice excursions and special activities
Knowing is offline  
Old Dec 15th, 2003, 10:02 AM
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It's true that if you don't like the hotel you are staying at that can color your whole experience. I am not surprised you did not like Kura's beach club. The area between the Hilton and the Marriott is pretty weak. (I wasn't even sure it's a hotel, I thought it was an apartment residence.) Still, I think you had a good attitude by renting the car and getting out and about. Personally, I enjoyed Curacao and ended up with a better impression of the island than you did.
Old Dec 15th, 2003, 10:04 AM
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I appreciate for your input! I couldn't agree more how everyone's likes/dislikes are different, that's what is so great about this forum.

For whatever reason, we did encounter quite a few sickly looking dogs and one dead dog. We noticed a pack of them that lived in the alley outside of Kura Hulanda and along the side of the road to airport. Based on your comments, perhaps this was an exception.

As for the shopping, it just wasn't for me. I was hoping for interesting boutiques, local art and handmade jewelry. It could be I wasn't looking in the right places...

Just curious, what is your #2 favorite island? I'm looking for another island to explore in the Spring.

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Old Dec 15th, 2003, 11:13 AM
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Its amazing we spent 14 days in Curacao in September and it sounds like you were on an entirely different island than us. We visited Cas Abou at least 6 times with never a problem, we also stayed at the far end where about 40 yards of beach and water were nothing but sand. We also visited Porto Marie and stayed at the far end away from most people and never were disturbed and only couples usually ventured to our end. We did not see a fly on any of the beaches we visited and never had a problem with mosquitoes at all! As for the dogs we encountered maybe five dogs the entire stay and we had a rental the entire time and traveled everywhere. The shopping to us was very comparable to most Carribean islands, we purchased some very nice silver, real designer pocketbooks, perfume and one piece of gold jewelry. The island was having a very strong heat wave when we were there maybe thats why we did not have an issue with insects. We feel it was an excellent vacation very nice people, the island was very diverse and not once did we see huge clouds of black smoke. We are actually returning in November of 2004, sorry your experience was so negative, maybe we are not looking for the same thing as others, we have been to over two dozen islands in the last 15 years and we really have never had a disastorous time at any of them! If you are looking for glitz and glamour stick with the large islands with the major resorts, but if you want the real carribean than travel to the off the beaten path islands that are not as comercial and built up.Our moto is if you close the door to your hotel room and you feel like you are in a state side Marriott, Hilton or other hotel chain than why travel to the Carribean stay in the states, too many people judge the islands in comparison to the states, I live in New Jersey and if I wanted my vacation destination like home I would travel to the Jersey shore!
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Old Dec 15th, 2003, 05:45 PM
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Hi L,

Our second favorite island is Antigua. Do check it out. The weather is very nice there in February, not sure what it's like in the spring.
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Old Dec 17th, 2003, 09:54 AM
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It has been close to twenty years since I've been to Antigua. We stayed in Dickenson Bay at Antigua Village. I remember taking a day trip on a ship that looked like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean. They took us to a shipwreck where we could snorkel and served us lobsters for lunch. I also remember swinging off a rope swing from the ship into the water. One of the crew on the ship had a guitar and would sing us songs. That was a good time. I have great memories of that vacation to Antigua. I also remember the heavenly homemade coconut ice cream I would eat every day. The ice cream shop was next to a Casino, a short walk from where we stayed. I would go back there just to eat that ice cream!
LPiscetta is offline  
Old Dec 17th, 2003, 10:38 AM
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Since Antigua is your second favorite, I guess it's safe to say you would be an excellent resource on where to stay on the island? We are looking for a smaller property/bed&breakfast/villa rental. Any suggestions?
Thanks in advance!
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Old Dec 19th, 2003, 07:47 AM
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Sounds like we aren't that far apart if you liked Antigua and the USVI! I don't know how much it's changed in 20 years, but I have many wonderful memories of sitting outside with a cup of coffee and fresh fruit every morning. We found it to be a very distinguished island and well worth hiring a driver to take us around so we wouldn't miss all the lovely sights.
There is a place called The Admiral's Inn. It's a very charming stone and brick inn that has been preserved and restored. It used to be a warehouse for turpentine. You could also check out The Catamaran Hotel. They have their own kitchens and have a grocery store close by. Make sure you see Nelson's Dockyard - beautiful harbour - and check out the view from Shirley Heights, very panoramic.
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Old Jan 9th, 2004, 10:32 AM
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We spent December 20 - 27, 2003 in Curacao. We rented a condo in the Aqualife area of Spanish Waters. Off the beaten path, but truly beautiful. We ate a local restaurants and enjoyed the experiences. We were three adults who like to take day trips and this island didn't provide enough for us to do. We visited the aquarium, drove from one end to the other. I found the island not user friendly. Sites are not marked. I read about a surfing area along the north side. I drove down countless rutted roads before I found it - just by chance. If you like to snorkel and scuba, I'm sure it is great. Buying gas is an experience as the Gasora. Prices are not posted which is strange if you're an American. Everything is pre-paid in cash - US money is widely accepted. My last stop before I turned in my rental car was to gas-up. I prepaid $20.00 - didn't use the entire amount and didn't receive any change. Buyer beware. It's a very dry, arid island with cactus. The temperature is high 80's with sunshine, a constant breeze and no bugs. That was a treat from Chicago because it was 13 degrees when we left! The downtown area, Punda, caters to the cruise ships that stop frequently.
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Old Jan 17th, 2005, 06:41 PM
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To "STBARTS" in this string: how was your Nov 2004 trip to Curacao?
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