This arid island, off the northern coast of Venezuela, is best known for its casinos and duty-free shopping, but it was the first place in the Caribbean to heartily market itself to gay travelers. Curaçao is now a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Same-sex marriage is legal here, and prostitution is tolerated and regulated, much as in Amsterdam. There are about a dozen gambling casinos among the resorts of Caraçao, with slot machines, roulette and card tables. Among Dutch tourists women often go topless on certain beaches, but locals tend to be more modest.
Many local hotels joined the International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association to declare their welcome to gay and lesbian visitors - "Biba i laga Biba" or "Live and let live" is the general sentiment. The annual Get Wet weekend, held each September, is the local version of gay pride day - something that's missing in many Caribbean islands. There is no huge gay scene here, but easy-going, gay-welcoming smiles are found everywhere. See GayCaracao for an overview, upcoming gay events, and a dozen contacts for planning a gay wedding.
For scuba diving and snorkeling in local coral reefs, the beaches on the south side are particularly popular. The sea floor drops steeply (the "blue edge") near the shoreline, meaning the reef can easily be reached without use of a boat. The north coast is rockier, with more turbulent waters. There are over 35 beaches ranging from rocky coves surrounded by high cliffs to long sandy beaches, secluded or bustling with activities - all alongside clear, turquoise, Caribbean waters.
Besides the many international restaurants to sample, many others serve Kriyoyo local food, not unlike other nearby Caribbean and Latin American cuisines. Among favorites are: Stobá, with papaya and meat; Guiambo, okra and seafood; soups made with cactus, intestines, or funchi (cornmeal polenta); plus lots of fish and other seafood, fried plantain and bread rolls Portuguese-style. Snèks serve local food and alcohol in much the same way as English pubs. Pastechi, fried pastry cheese, tuna, ham, or ground meat turnovers, are popular breakfast fare.
Tourism, never the sole focus of the Curaçao economy, is important nonetheless. US, Canadian and EU citizens with proper travel/ID documents may visit for up to 90 days without special permission. Salt mining, the slave trade and piracy were important to the island's early economy after the arrival of Europeans, shifting more recently to oil refining, transhipment (with good location and a deep natural harbor), and financial services.
Papiamentu, Dutch, and English are the three official languages. The first is the home language for most people, but English-speakers from other islands and Dutch expats and pensioners also make their homes here. In government, commerce and tourism - or in preparation for free university educations in the Netherlands - Dutch and English are necessary. Spanish is also widely spoken, and many people speak all four tongues.
Curaçao International Airport is painted a sunny yellow that says bon bini (“welcome). It takes about 20 minutes to reach the main town of Willemstad by taxi. Several major U.S. and European lines put in at either of two cruise terminals in the Otrabanda section of Willemstad.
Public transportation is limited. Large yellow or blue ‘Konvooi’ busses cover most parts of the island, from Punda and Otrobanda to beaches, shopping areas, and parks. For getting around most urban streets look for collective cars or vans with ‘bus’ on their registration plates.
You can rent a car to explore the island or find that stretch of sand that you’ll have all to yourself. Alternately, Eric's ATV Adventures provides guided tours to some of the most beautiful areas. For dune buggy or scooter rentals, see Scooby Tours at Curacao Buggy Adventures, Breezes resort. With bike tours or rentals Wanna Bike in Jan Thiel Beach will get you around town, or to those hard-to-reach no-car places along back-country trails.
What to do
Willemstad, the main town, has many interesting museums, some lovely bridges, and the oldest continuously operating synagogue in the western hemisphere.
Jan Theil Beach, is one of the busiest on the island. By Zanzibar restaurant on this rocky coast there are smalll sandy spots to stretch out, listen to the music, and watch all the social life going on all around, especially on Sundays.
Currency and Money
Curaçao’s currency the Netherlands Antillean guilder, also called the florin is pegged to the US dollar at US$1 = NAFL1.77 for cash transactions. US dollars are widely accepted too, as are credit cards. Old 5 and new 50-cent coins are unusual for being square.
The tourism board’s dedicated gay web site Gaycuracao.com even has a bulletin board to facilitate meeting up with other gay tourists and locals.
The Curacao Tourist Board and TurismCaracao are useful websites with restarant and nightclub listings, plus the many ways to get out into and onto local waters, with or without the company of a dolphin.
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