Curaçao: A Cure-All for Winter Blues

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After the cheery chaos of the holidays, January can be pretty gloomy. But there’s no need to sulk in the snow. Instead head to Curaçao, where wintertime celebrations continue straight through spring. Curaçao’s (kur-a-SOW) Carnival, which starts in early January and ends in March, is one of the biggest and best festivals in the Caribbean. Hotels here typically offer discounted room rates for Carnival, making this the perfect time to visit the island (see below for the best deals).

Get Ready to Rumble

Starting in early January, street dances, parades and parties — called “Jump-ups” — get underway every weekend through the end of Carnival. The main parades, featuring fantastic floats and costumes, take place in February and early March. (Parade routes vary from year to year, so ask your hotel concierge about special seating for tourists.)

Curaçao, of course, offers much more than Carnival. The island culture is a vibrant mix of 50 cultures, including Arawak, Dutch, Spanish, West Indian, Latin, and African. Willemstad is the capital city. It’s divided by the St. Annabaal channel into two parts — Otrobanda is on the left, facing the ocean, and Punda is on the right.

Explore Punda to see the architecture that made the entire district a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and make sure to take a walk along the waterfront to see the brilliantly colored Dutch houses that grace many Curaçao postcards. Shopping opportunities (duty-free and local crafts) abound. At night, Punda is the place to be as locals and visitors relax in the many open-air bars and cafes.

061128_architecture_istock.F.JPGHead over to Otrobanda by walking across the 700-foot-long Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, billed as the world’s-longest floating pedestrian bridge. Or take the free passenger ferry. Otrobanda’s maze of twisting streets and alleyways house artists’ studios, crafts workshops, charming stores and small restaurants. Also visit the scenic western part of the island (the Westpunt) and have lunch at Jaanchi’s Restaurant (Westpunt 15; 5999/864-0126). Be brave and try the yuana stoba, otherwise known as stewed iguana. It sort of tastes like a mix of chicken and frog.

If your biggest ambition is to lie on the beach, Curaçao is the place to be. The rockiest beaches are on the southeast cost. The softer, white-sand beaches are on the west coast. Excellent diving has always been a draw in Curaçao, and a fair percentage of travelers are drawn by the teeming reefs and good shore-diving.

Curaçao is located in the southwestern Caribbean, about 35 miles north of Venezuela, a two-and-one-half hour flight from Miami. (Don’t forget that as of January 23, 2007, all airline passengers traveling from Caribbean nations must have passports — not state-issued photo ID — in order to re-enter the USA.) The country is currently part of the Dutch Antilles, but will become autonomous next July. Throughout winter, daytime temperatures stay in the mid-80’s, cooled by constant trade winds. Winter is the island’s rainy season, but showers are typically short.

Hotel Packages

Habitat Curaçao Resort: In celebration of its 10-Year Anniversary, Habitat Curaçao Resort won’t increase rates for 2007. Guests can book seven nights at this diving/snorkeling paradise from December 23, 2006 through April 6, 2007 for $539 per person (double occupancy.) This package includes garden view accommodations, hotel taxes and gratuities, welcome drink, free use of fitness room, and complimentary daily daytime shuttle service to Willemstad, a 25-minute ride from the resort. For information or reservations, click here or call 1-800-327-6709.

061128_AvilaHotelF.JPGAvila Hotel: The luxurious beachside Avila Hotel, a five-minute walk from Willemstad, is offering one free night based on a minimum 7-night stay January 3 through April 16, 2007. The offer is valid for rooms in the hotel’s new Octagon Wing, which boasts 68 spacious rooms with flat-screen TVs, high-speed internet, and large, modern bathrooms. Top floor rooms have untrammeled views of the azure Caribbean sea. Offer is subject to availability at the time of booking and cannot be combined with any other offer or promotion. Room rates start at $250. For reservations or information, click here or call 1-800-747-8162. (photo, right)

The Art & Nature Inn Curaçao: The Art & Nature Inn, created 35 years ago by the Dutch Artist Gerardine Kuijpers, consists of 12 self-contained apartments located in a residential neighborhood called Julianadorp, in the middle of the Island. The Inn’s “Drive Inn” package, valid December 15, 2006 through April 30, 2007, includes seven nights in a standard- plus apartment for two guests, a compact car with AC including unlimited mileage, insurance and taxes, and an autographed limited edition print by Kuijpers for $899.00 per apartment for two guests. Click here for more information, or call 599-9/561-4900.

Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa and Casino: The only five-star properties in Curaçao — Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa and Casino and the new Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club, members of Leading Small Hotels of the World, are offering a Winter Value Rate of $210 per room per night from January 5 through April 8, 2007. Click here for more information, or call 877-264-3106.

Getting There:

Continental Airlines has a weekly, nonstop Saturday flight from Newark to Curaçao’s Hato International Airport for $760 roundtrip. (Not exactly cheap, but you’ll save three hours by avoiding the traditional Miami or San Juan layover.) American has daily flights through Miami from JFK starting at $588 roundtrip.

Michelle Delio