Curaçao claimed independence from Holland last fall, and if the island follows typical Caribbean development trends, commercialism and U.S. tourism (Americans currently comprise just 13 percent of total visitors to the island) will soon explode. Now’s your shot at bragging rights for picking this under-the-radar spot, and maybe your last chance to see the island before big resorts cast a shadow over its colorful 17th- and 18th-century- Dutch architecture, the cobblestone streets of capital Willemstad, and the pontoon bridge fondly named the “Swinging Old Lady.”
For accommodations in the heart of Willemstad, stay at Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino (877-264-3106, kurahulanda.com), which owner and modern-day Indiana Jones Jacob Gelt Dekker has decked out with artifacts and sculptures from India, Asia and Africa.- For beachfront, there’s sister hotel Lodge Kura Hulanda & Beach Club. The “Best of Both Worlds” package includes a two-night stay at the Spa & Casino and three nights at the Lodge for $690 per person.
Expect to get messy and lick your fingers a lot at the Friday- night feast at Equus on the Ye-I Ranch, and don’t expect sides or apps. They serve one thing there: mouthwatering chicken and beef skewers that hang high above picnic tables, ready for the pulling. (Okay, plus hunks of bread and local beer.) Dinner starts at 6 p.m.; take a cab or ask locals to point the way.
There’s people-watching at the floating market near St. Anna Bay, where Venezuelans peddle fresh tropical fruits, just-caught fish and handmade crafts to locals and tourists alike. At Den Paradera (dinahveeris.com), take a guided tour of herbalist Dinah Veeris’s gardens, and learn how to make healing ointments and love potions. Curaçao is also home to the oldest continuous- ly used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The sand-covered floors at Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue (snoa.com) honor a custom of the Sephardic Jews who fled the Iberian Peninsula.