With JetBlue’s recent addition of a direct flight from JFK Airport to Willemstad, Curacao, the “C” of the ABC islands just got that much closer to those New Yorkers seeking to escape another chilly winter. While less popular among American tourists than its neighbor, Aruba, Curacao has its share of pristine beaches and rugged coastline ready for exploring. Even though you won’t see many Americans in Curacao (yet), the secret’s already out with Europeans, particularly Dutch tourists who have long known that Curacao is a cheaper, less crowded alternative to Aruba with a charm all its own. Here’s how to make the most of a long weekend in Curacao.
Invariably, every guidebook or brochure covering Curacao boasts of the stunning and colorful colonial architecture of Curacao’s capital. Willemstad is definitely worth a visit, though a day is plenty to experience its charms. Start early in the day, and stop in Willemstad to see the multicolored houses. Don’t miss the quirky charm of the Queen Emma bridge. Separating the Punda and Otrabanda districts of the old town of Willemstad, the Queen Emma Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that turns 90 degrees to let boats pass through. If you happen to “miss” the bridge when it separates from the shores, don’t worry, there are ferry boats ready to take you across the harbor while the bridge resets. Punda is the more bustling part of sleepy Willemsted, featuring the requisite duty free and souvenir shops. Punda is also the home of the floating market, a motley group of stands manned by vendors who sail the 40 miles from Venezuela with tropical fruits and vegetables. It’s definitely an interesting spectacle, but, as is the case on many Caribbean islands, the produce is less exciting than you would expect. Also in Punda is the Mikve Israel-Emmanuel, the oldest synagogue in North America. The synagogue, founded by Spanish and Portuguese immigrants to Curacao in the 1650s, has a unique sand floor, which was meant to remind congregants of their ancestors’ need to hide their places of worship.