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This lesser-known island boasts sea turtles, white sands AND stroopwafel
From Jamaica and Barbados, to St Lucia and The Bahamas, there’s no shortage of well-known Caribbean islands to add to your bucket list. But if you’re after one of the least touristy, lesser-known options that are a bit more off the beaten trail, Curaçao is a great choice.
Some selling points… If the name ‘Curaçao’ rings a bell, it’s probably because the island is perhaps best known for Curaçao liqueur, an orange-flavoured spirit. You’ll probably be most familiar with Blue Curaçao, used to make many a tropical-tasting cocktail. And, while the colour is a bit lurid, the taste is delish. So, there’s selling point number one.
Secondly, the island is part of the Dutch Caribbean. This means that you get all of the food, fun and flavours of Caribbean culture, combined with the kind of Dutch cuisine and architecture you’ll be familiar with if you’ve ever been the The Netherlands. I’m talking pancakes, bitterballen, stroopwafel, boujee fries and hot dogs, alongside jerk chicken, pulled pork, fresh seafood, ribs and, of course, rum.
Lastly, Curaçao doesn’t really have a heavy rainy season like many of the other islands and lies outside of the Hurricane Belt, meaning it also doesn’t have a hurricane season (albeit there is a chance of tropical storms between June and November). February through June is generally the best time to go in terms of low rainfall, but average temperatures pretty much don’t drop below 27°C, like, ever. You’re looking at gentle breezy evenings at a still-balmy 24-27°C, with sunny days comfortably into the 30°Cs.
A lot of your accommodation decision-making will come down to the sort of resort you’re after, whether you’re travelling with kids, how much of a sun-worshipper you are, whether a beach is essential, and the level of all-inclusive versus self-catered you want.
We stayed at Sandals Royal Curaçao and cannot recommend it enough. It’s adults-only and geared around couples, so perfect if you’re travelling with a partner. This means no kids clubs, children’s pools, or family entertainment. It’s south-west facing, meaning lazy lie-ins, followed by gloriously sunny days and spectacular sunsets.
The resort is built in an inlet leading to a marina, so you get the best of both worlds when it comes to the sea. At the front of the resort, you have views of the wide-open ocean, which is waves-crashing-against-rocks choppy and beautiful. Then round the other side of the resort is the beach, which is still, shallow, turquoise-hued water, ideal for swimming, snorkelling or just lazing on the floating daybeds with a cocktail in hand. It’s the perfect calm, white-sand slice of palm tree paradise. But there are also various pool options if the beach just isn’t your thing. There’s a double-level infinity pool with a swim-up bar overlooking the sea, if you’re after more of a party vibe. Then there’s a more chilled-out ‘quiet’ pool, as well as other ‘swim-up’ pools. Either way, there are plenty of sunbeds, whether you’re after sun, shade or a mix of both.
Sandals Royal Curaçao is also all inclusive. So, if you’re on a super-strict budget it is obviously more expensive than staying in a self-catered or half-board resort. But it’s also brilliant value for money and totally removes the stress of penny-pinching when you get there, because you know you’ve paid a flat rate. I’ve stayed in anti-climactic all inclusives where the ‘cocktails’ are just a spirit and mixer, and you’re at the same buffet restaurant every night – this is not that.
The resort boasts EIGHT restaurants, ranging from beachfront sushi and seafood spots, to a steakhouse, South American, fancy European French-fusion, and more. There’s also a coffee shop that serves ice lattes, cakes and pancakes all day, transforming into a wine bar at night. There are three fairy-light-strewn food trucks overlooking the sea, serving smaller bites. And then there are the multiple bars serving an extensive cocktail list, premium ‘named’ spirits and very decent wines, across the pool, beach and evening locations. My top picks are the crab salad and duck a l’orange at Vincent, the Tajin spiced ahi tuna at Zuka, and the pulled smoked pork sandwich at Toteki.
The biggest selling point is the service, though. I don’t think I’ve had such friendly, attentive staff in any other resort I’ve ever stayed in. It’s lovely to stay in a top-end resort, but it’s the fantastic team working in a place that make it feel extra special.
Room-wise you can’t go far wrong. There are various levels of options ranging from sea views, to swim-up, to private pools, to
seafront villas. If it’s a special occasion – spring for the latter, even if it’s just for a night or two. You get a private sea-facing sun deck and infinity pool, a team of butlers that will reserve sunbeds for you and bring you room-service food and drink from anywhere in the resort, there’s an in-room bar, free use of a Mini convertible to explore the island, outdoor bathtub with sunset views over the sea… it is PEAK luxury.
Finally – do not worry if you read any bad reviews. The hotel opened in summer 2022, probably slightly before it was ready. But, nine months on, our stay was absolutely flawless.
A seven-night stay for two people at Sandals Royal Curaçao staying in a Carisia Luxury room starts from £2,709 per person. This includes literally everything – their Luxury Included® (all-inclusive) accommodation, return economy class flights with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines from London Heathrow Airport and resort transfers.*
Klein Curaçao – Curaçao is already pretty idyllic, but if you want to experience a legit deserted island, a day trip to Klein Curaçao (aka Little Curaçao) is on the cards.
The sea can get extremely choppy and the journey there takes around 90 minutes, so I would definitely recommend taking travel sickness tablets and be prepared that even if you do, those around you might not have such, er, strong stomachs. The good news is the journey back is easy breezy, as the change of direction means you’re surfing the waves, so it’s all smooth sailing. Boats range from chilled to full-on party, so it’s worth checking in with your tour operator to get the gist and make sure your vibe aligns. Island Routes offer various options to suit, and the crews are brilliant.
While we didn’t see the mythical sea turtles that were touted, and (imo) the snorkelling was just as good in the Sandals resort, we still enjoyed the island. There are some shipwrecks to explore, an old pink lighthouse, and some of the whitest sands and clearest waters you will see in your life.
Flamingo spotting – If you aren’t lucky enough to spot them flying around, the salt pans of Jan Kok in Sint Willibrordus, and Sint Michielsbaai, are the best options.
Explore Willemstad – The Dutch architecture and brightly coloured paint makes this an incredibly Insta-friendly place to walk around. The capital city is packed with cute coffee places and shops, and lots of little spots to sightsee. The Queen Emma Bridge is a must-see, while the Punda district is brill for wandering. We also grabbed dinner at Kome and had probably the best meal of our trip – request a table outside, where the ambience much better matches the quality of the food. There are also lots of other cool bars and restaurants nearby in the Pietermaai area.
Beach-hopping – if you aren’t staying at Sandals (or are but want to explore more widely), there are no shortage of options. There’s Klein Knip and Playa Lagun. Cas Abou (or Bon Bini Beach) is a more touristy option, while Playa Daaibooi is loved by locals. Coral Estate’s Karakter Beach Lounge is a bit more high-end and offers an infinity pool, while Playa Porto Marie has a few pigs lazing around (albeit these are NOT the cute little swimming pigs you’ll see in the Bahamas).
* Price is date specific and valid for travel on 17th September 2023. Prices are guaranteed at the time of booking, regardless of departure dates. Package holidays are ATOL and ABTA protected when made through Sandals Resorts’ UK tour operator, Unique Caribbean Holidays Limited (UCHL). To book through UCHL, visit www.sandals.co.uk or call 0800 597 0002. All pricing is subject to availability and may change.
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