This list offers a glimpse at some of the best things to do in Curacao, with options for intrepid travellers, R&R seekers, and culture buffs alike. Just a mention of the name “Curacao” is usually enough to conjure images of pina coladas by the pool, white-sand beaches, and palm-thatched hotels next door to Caribbean lagoons. This one's a veritable paradise of the ABC chain, and there are loads to be getting on with.

    From risking it all at the poker tables to hopping craggy coastal grottoes, exploring caves to hiking through lush forests filled with rare orchids, there's a real hodgepodge of pursuits on this Caribbean island.

    What are the best things to do in Curacao?

    1

    Blue Bay

    Dive in or relax, it's up to you

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    • Adventure

    Little Blue Bay is a pretty crevice in the Curacao coastline, and one of the island's most accomplished holiday hotspots. It's located just west of Sint Michiel, on the western shoreline, where it forms a perfect horseshoe shape between clusters of chic, sea-facing villas.

    Blue Bay itself might be named for the old plantation that was here, but it could just as well be named for the shimmering blue of the water. That's what has helped the spot become a water sports mecca, with stand-up paddleboarding and kayak outfitters aplenty. There's also R&R to be had, thanks to the rows of sun loungers, beach bars, and nearby golf courses.

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    2

    Handelskade

    Coffees under Dutch townhouses

    • Shoppers
    • History
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Handelskade is the place to go for your fix of Dutch colonial history in the old heart of Willemstad. It runs along the top end of the heritage-rich Punda district of the city, forming a vibrant medley of 18th-century building work that's coloured in bold turquoise, daffodil yellow, pastel red – the list goes on.

    But there's more than just a glimpse of the past here. You can also come to sip coffees and cocktails from open-air bars, shop for local souvenirs and handicrafts, or treat yourself to some bespoke jewellery. It's a bona fide hubbub of life where the people-watching is almost as wonderful as the architecture.

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    3

    Otrobanda

    Get lost in the old middle of Willemstad

    • History
    • Photo
    • Budget

    The Otrobanda is a must for any culture buffs hitting Curacao. One half of the historic core of Willemstad, it spreads north from the waters of St Anna Bay into old streets of paint-peeling Dutch mansions and multi-coloured buildings.

    You can start on Brión Square, where lively bars hide under the arcades, before moving to the Kura Hulanda Museum to learn the dark stories of the Atlantic slave trade. The western side of the Otrobanda is now given over to Rif Fort, a onetime colonial castle that fought off pirates, now completely converted into a modern shopping complex with high-street names aplenty.

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    4

    Shete Boka Park

    Wild waves and turtles

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    Shete Boka Park is a fine introduction to the wild and untamed windward side of Curacao. It sits on the northern fringes of Westpunt, but faces the frothing swells that crash eastwards from the open seas. It's all jagged rocks and whittled stone bridges, set atop cliffs that are forever sprayed by the salty waters below.

    Highlights of the Shete Boka Park include the gaping Boka Tabla cavern, where a creaking boardwalk lookout point gazes into a huge cleft in the coastline. There are also rare turtle nesting grounds and clifftop paths that reveal hidden coves along this less-busier part of the Curacao coast.

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 4 pm

    Phone: +599 9 864 0444

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    5

    Sambil Curacao

    Shopping galore in Curacao’s modern complex

    • Food
    • Families
    • Shoppers

    Sambil Curacao is one of the biggest shopping complexes on the island. It straddles the main road between the airport and downtown Willemstad, rising in a big oval between sprawling carparks that have room enough for over 1,400 vehicles.

    Don't worry, though – Sambil Curacao offers enough retail therapy to keep all the crowds busy. From outdoors outfitters to high-street fashion labels to beauty stores and electronics stockists, the mall has pretty much everything you could need. There's also plenty of dining options in the form of Italian trattorias and barista cafés.

    Location: Veeris 27, Willemstad, Curacao

    Open: Daily from 11 am to 8 pm

    Phone: +599 9 735 3131

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    6

    Hato Caves

    Follow in the footsteps of some of Curacao's oldest settlers

    • History
    • Photo
    • Adventure

    The Hato Caves are a breathtaking adventure under the sun-kissed soils of Curacao. They carve through a series of limestone caverns on the northern coast, around a 15-minute drive from the Otrobanda area of Willemstad.

    Estimated to be a whopping 300,000 years old, the caves are famous for their human history – evidence of settlers in the chambers goes back nearly 1,500 years. You can walk the whole length of the main cave system on fully illuminated paths, which also twist and turn among the big stalactites and stalagmites within.

    Location: Franklin D. Rooseveltweg, Willemstad, Curacao

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 3 pm

    Phone: +599 9 868 0379

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    photo by JERRYE AND ROY KLOTZ MD (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    7

    Lagun Blancu

    Venture to the island's far reaches

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    The Lagun Blancu is a great sweep of ultra-blue water that sparkles on the side of the Curacao coast. It's situated at the far southern end of the island, not far from the reefs of Eastpoint. It's a challenge to reach because there's no direct road in – just a hardy hiking path. What's more, all visitors need to request access from park officials to even be allowed in.

    But that's all part of the adventure. Indeed, the main reason you'd want to pull on your boots and head here is to enjoy exploring the less-trodden, lesser-known parts of the island. The water at Lagun Blancu is hypersaline, but there's a wild ring of wave-bashed reef around its edge. The region also has some of the island's best scuba spots – think schools of sardines and resident sea turtles.

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    8

    Christoffel National Park

    Explore the Curacao outback

    • Families
    • Photo
    • Adventure

    Christoffel National Park – or just the Christoffelpark, as it's known locally – is draped over Christoffel Mountain, encompassing what's unquestionably one of the most biodiverse parts of the whole ABC islands. It counts 1,860 hectares of land on the north side of Curacao, sitting about 41 km northwest of Willemstad.

    It's all about getting into the subtropical outdoors here. You can find 8 marked hiking paths that weave through the reserve, each offering glimpses of the unique native flora and fauna – from white-tailed deer to blooming scarlet teku flowers. There are also organised game drives with local safari guides that are perfect for the budding David Attenboroughs of the group.

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    9

    Punda District

    Immerse yourself in the old city

    • History
    • Photo
    • Budget

    Punda District is the hip and happening heart of Willemstad, where you can feel the colonial history oozing from every brick in every brightly painted mansion. It sits on the south side of the lovely Queen Emma Bridge, just a short stroll across from Otrobanda.

    You'll first be greeted by the vibrant Handelskade walking promenade, where cocktail joints cluster under Flemish-style frontispieces. From there, delve into the web of cobblestone alleys and you can seek out some of the island's best heritage treasures, from the yellow-tinged Fort Church to the bustling stores of the old Rondemarkt. It's little wonder that the whole place is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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    photo by Evandria (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    10

    Curacao casinos

    Try your luck after lazing on the beach

    Curacao casinos are all over the island, but the best of the bunch tend to cluster around the popular resort areas of the south and west coasts. If casinos are your thing, book a stay in the vibrant holiday meccas between Mambo Beach and Blue Bay.

    The variety of venues is pretty broad. At one end of the spectrum, you'll find sprawling hotel-casinos that would look right home in Atlantic City, like the Renaissance Wind Creek. At the other end are the smaller and locally owned casinos such as Pelikaan Casino in the downtown of Willemstad. There's also the Sunscape Casino, which is better for those staying around Mambo Beach. Most of the games you're used to should be on offer – blackjack, poker, roulette – along with bars that serve up tropical tipples to match the gaming.

    Joseph Francis | Contributing Writer

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    Attractions and experiences recommended in our guides may be affected. Please check local guidance before you travel.

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