What to do and where to go during Christmas and New Years? We ask ourselves these questions every single year…
Not because we don’t like the holidays or spending time with our families, but mainly due to the grey weather, the cold and our crazy schedules, trying to squeeze everything and everyone in.
So last year was no exception: where to go?
For me, the answer to this question is always easy: Curacao. I have my roots there, spent my childhood living on that beautiful island and if I can go back once or twice a year, I am a very happy person. However, my husband does not completely agree so he generally tries to convince me to go somewhere else before giving in. So Curacao was to be our destination!
Just a minor warning before you read on: I. Am. In. Love with his tiny place so I cannot be completely unbiased this time. Hope you don’t mind!
People tend to dread the long journey and to be honest, it is quite a long way. This does not get any shorter once you travel with a little toddler and a new baby in your belly, but if you prepare well it is perfectly doable.
There are quite some airlines that offer tickets to Curacao, but we prefer KLM as the schedules are quite ok (a daytime flight from Amsterdam and a night time return flight), no delays like the cheaper airlines and proper aircrafts. The fair is a bit more costly than most other airlines offer, but as it is a long trip I find it perfectly worth it.
Make sure to book well in advance, especially during the holidays, as prices tend to go sky high and availability is less. An early booking also gives you the opportunity to book three (yes, ladies and gentlemen, as soon as your toddler reaches the incredible age of two, you need to book him/her a ticket…) seats in a row next to the pantry, which gives you some extra peace and quiet.
Right before we made our reservations we had to buy a new car seat for Alba and decided to choose a brand that is both safe and airline approved, so you can take it along in the cabin, and it saves you the rent of one at your destination. However, right before departure we double-checked and it turned out that since we were travelling in a slightly older aircraft, the chair was literally 2cm too wide…Bummer. So check with your airline before taking it along!! And make sure to rent a car with a car seat.
Thankfully someone advised us to buy a special airplane seatbelt for kids (CARES Child Aviation Restraint System), which is easily installed once you enter the plane. The only downside was that a full chair is obviously way too big and wide for a small toddler, so she slid off the chair during her naps quite often. We solved that problem by placing our small suitcase at her feet, topped with two cushions.
As it is a 10-hour flight (make sure to book the direct flight and not the one with a stopover at Sint Maarten!-unless you want to include a detour in your holiday) you should board well prepared for both yourselves and your toddler(s).
I cannot stress enough that preparation is key to have a smooth flight, so you might want to check our packing tips below:
First of all, leave your Bugaboo/Joolz/Phil&Teds/whatever brand you have at home and buy yourself a stroller! You are allowed to take this one to the gate (do check that in advance), it is a thousand times less heavy and so much more practical. No more dragging, no hassle and so much more convenient than the huge prams we use at home. We use the Koelstra Simba and it serves us very well. It is very lightweight and the back can be pushed down all the way so perfect for naps. Do invest in a proper flight case, as the stroller is normally not being handled with care at any airport.
Hand luggage is essential! Take extra clothes (both for the cold during the flight and the occasional accident- leaking diapers, air sickness, etc etc), toys (especially if it is a daytime flight- you have to keep ‘em busy) and favorite stuffed animals. And food! Some airlines offer warm meals, but baby food and bottles are easily heated and allowed in the aircraft. Snacks are also important; we took lots of plain crackers, fresh fruits and some rice crackers as well. Just think about what they normally get at home and try to take enough stock. Tupperware does the trick!
As Alba barely watches tv at home, we started showing her short Disney cartoons a few days in advance; that way she could get used to the earphones (we bought Urbanears and they fit her very well) and we could download the ones she liked on the ipad.
Try following your daily routine as much as possible; she slept and ate as she does at home, and in between we played and read like we always do. We took her favorite books and (really!) a small ball. Do not forget to bring duplicates of all favorite stuffed animals; nothing as stressful as having to search for a new duckie during your holiday… and if needed a few pacifiers. No matter how you put it, little ones will sense the different environment so things will be a lot easier if you go with the flow and come prepared. To say that it was a walk in the park would be a lie, but honestly, apart from the fact that you don’t get to read your magazine and have a glass of wine, things actually went very well!
Well, that totally depends on the type of holiday you are looking for. So this can either be a resort, a proper home, a hotel, a B&B or apartment. Normally we rent an apartment close to the city, with a joint pool and small beach, but as this was already booked we had to go looking for something else. Since I was pregnant and Alba still takes naps during the day, we thought that it would be best to rent a house rather than stay in a hotel, as she could have her own room and we could cook for her during most of the nights. However, it needed to be a house that met our standards as well; during Alba’s naps we did not want to sit inside, waiting for her to wake up and not being able to enjoy the sun. As I know the island so well, I do have a huge preference for certain neighborhoods and areas but again, this is very personal.
Very simply said, you can divide (touristy) Curacao in three parts: most beautiful and popular beaches are located in the upper part (‘Banda Abou’), the capital and most restaurants are in the middle, and most (all inclusive) resorts and water sport activities (apart from diving; this can be done almost everywhere) can be found in lower part of the island.
Since our regular apartment was not available, we chose to rent a friend’s house on a compound in the southwest this time (Boca Gentil Resort), as we had never stayed there before and we liked to try something new. You never know, right? After all, the island is not so big so it would only take us about twenty minutes by car to get to town, and the resorts area does have some perks, like a great fitness center, a supermarket, and several child friendly beaches and restaurants on site. Furthermore, as there are so many hotels and resorts located in that area, there are actually shuttle busses to take you either to town or the beaches up north. Many tourists don’t mind to never leave the premises, but I find it essential to rent a car during your visit. Public transport does not function very well, you can hardly find or reserve a cab and should you want to go and explore you do not want to depend on shuttle busses. Biking is hardly an option and the roads aren’t that well kept, so I would definitely say that renting a car is by far the safest, most flexible way of getting around. There are numerous car rentals located at the airport so it is best to reserve a car and simply drive to your destination yourself, but should this be a problem as of high season or prices, you might want to consider Noordstar Rent a Car. Although they are not located at the airport, they can usually arrange a drop off at your address or, as we arranged, prepare your car at their office so you can pick it up on the way to your hotel. They are much cheaper than the other companies and often offer the same types of cars. By the way, do not expect fancy rental cars! These are theft prone and since the roads aren’t that fabulous it would be a waste anyway. As long as you can safely transport both yourself and your little one(s) from one place to the next, preferably air-conditioned, everything is fine.
So after we arrived, endured the endless lines at customs (be sure to have some water at hand!) and found our luggage, we took a cab to the car rental and drove straight to our residence. Just in time for a sundowner on the beautiful terrace overlooking the sea…. Pure bliss!
There are so many places to stay in Curacao that you might find it hard to decide. It really comes down to what kind of holiday you have in mind. Are you looking for peace and quiet and not planning to leave the compound anyways? Then you might consider staying in the upper part (‘Banda Abou/Westpunt’) with all the beaches nearby. Just a few ideas:
Coral Estate (Villas and Studios)
Plantation House Daniel
Villa Park Fontein
Blue Bay Golf & Beach Resort
Curacao Mariott Beach Resort
Should you want to be closer to the city (Willemstad) so you can walk around, have a coffee or go out for lunch/dinner and do some shopping? In that case, the area around Willemstad offers more than a few hotels and apartments (please note that not all of these have a beach available). You might want to look into the following options:
Renaissance Curacao Resort
Scuba Lodge & Suites
Saint Tropez Suites Curacao
Avila Beach Hotel
Baoase Luxury Resort
Hotel ‘t Klooster
Pietermaai Smal Apartments
Kontiki Beach Resort
If you feel like staying in a more Dutch oriented part of the island and focus on water sports and family themed areas, you can choose one of these resorts in the lower part:
Morena Eco Resort
Livingstone Jan Thiel Resort
Papagayo Beach Resort
Boca Gentil Resort
Some of the resorts have quite an American vibe; if that is what you like, you should definitely check out the Renaissance Hotel which is located in the city but does have a marvelous pool, or the Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort, situated on a beautiful spot in the southern part.
Note: These are mostly hotels and apartments, however, do check out the available homes as well. Should you travel with several families, renting a big house with a pool and garden is a very good option as well!
As for your toddler:
See ‘Getting there’ for the necessities during your flight.
The following (non exhaustive!) list of things proved very handy to us:
– Favorite toy and/or stuffed animal (if possible, take a second pair as these items easily get lost)
– At least two Sippy cups/bottles
– Your own formula if still needed. We tend to take enough for two or three days so that we have time to find a supermarket and check out the available brands there. Most of the time it is perfectly accepted by your kiddo but make sure to look up the different name so you won’t end up looking for a familiar name and not being able to find it
– At least three pacifiers if needed; attach them to the stroller/maxicosi/car seat and your own handbag
– Enough diapers to get you through a few days- and nights! And follow the same directions as above-mentioned formula
– Sunscreen! We rubbed her in after her morning shower and I kept using it on her face as long as she was dressed. Do not forget to use it every few hours, preferably on their entire body, as the sun is extremely harsh. And some baby body lotion to keep her skin hydrated after a long beach day
– Sunglasses (preferably good ones and do not forget those little chains so they will not fall of their tiny faces all the time!) and a cap
– UV protective swimwear. As the skin is so very delicate and sunburn prone, it is absolutely mandatory to shield your kid(s) with at least a t-shirt. Especially when in the water, as it reflects the light.
– Medicines! You do not want to go looking for a drugstore should your baby get sick, catch a cold because of the air conditioning or get sun burnt. We brought aspirin, nose drops, suppositories, after sun, cough syrup and of course her daily vitamin D drops. And you might consider taking tablets against seasickness as well, should you have plans to rent a boat or sail out to Klein Curacao. It may sound a bit overdone but it saves you so much time and stress…
Note: When we visited, there had been a very nasty mosquito plague for months without end in the entire Caribbean, so we had to take a few precautions on that matter. As kids under two years old are not allowed to use products that contain deet, we had to look for something else. Luckily my friends suggested Care Plus Natural, but warned us that the entire stock was sold out in Curacao, so we bought it at home and used it all. Jaico offers products with less deet as well, so we used that for ourselves, as I did not want to use 40% deet for two weeks straight, especially while being pregnant. It seemed like a hassle at first, but we really did not want to get sick and once you are used to using the product as soon as you wake up until you go to bed, it is not that big of a deal. We did bring a mosquito net for Alba as well, and quite some long-sleeved shirts and dresses for her (although these specific mosquito’s mostly hit during the day…)
– A (lightweight!) stroller. Trust me, we have considered taking her huge pram several times but a small stroller is so much easier to pack, travel with and store when not used. We have a Koelstra and it is perfect. You can take it with you until after the gate (do check that explicitly with your airline!! Some are very vague when it comes to taking them that far and you do not want to be surprised while checking in) and they bring it up again immediately after leaving the airport at your destination. You can take long strolls as they are smaller and more flexible and maneuverable for city walks and they fit in every cab you will take. We also used it during lunch and dinner; if Alba was very tired we simply fed her before we had dinner, placed her in her stroller with her pacifier and animal and she slept like a baby while we enjoying the rest of our meal. And it can also be used for midday naps on the beach, as long as you place it under a large umbrella of course…
– Airy shoes or flipflops for your little one(s); Havaianas has very cute ones with an elastic band around the heel
– Swim gear and some little toys for the beach. You can also buy them there, but I hate spending the first few days looking for stuff like that
– Water shoes for the entire family. Due to a huge storm a few years ago, many beaches are still covered with little stones and shells right at the waterside. Nothing is more annoying than hitting one of these sharp objects with your bare toes right before hitting the water!
– An inflatable little bathtub. Alba enjoys taking a shower now but when she was smaller we never went anywhere without packing our Mommy’s Helper inflatable Froggie baby bath. You can easily place it in the bathtub or shower and fill it with water
– One or two slightly warmer vests or sweaters, as the nights (depending on the season) tend to be a bit windier, and some long-sleeved shirts.
Even though the island is fairly small, there are so many things you can do! Curacao is very child friendly, so most of the time you don’t even have to think about whether a place or activity will be suitable for your toddler (there are some exceptions, of course… jet skiing or scuba diving doesn’t go well with babies).
Should you want to do something cultural, there are quite some (new) museums to go to:
Children’s Museum Curacao
Het Curacaosch Museum
Jewish Cultural Historical Museum
Kura Hulanda Museum
We love the city tour by famous architect Anko van der Woude(book it via http://www.otrobanda-pundatour.com/) as he takes you for a wonderful stroll through the old part of the city and tells you so many interesting historical facts about the island and its past. He always stops for a drink at the local Netto bar, which is so much fun, and the setting sun casts this magical light on the old buildings.
As there are so many ancient landhuizen (Plantation Houses) on the island, you can actually go for a tour to visit most of them. Some are being renovated or used as B&B, restaurant or museum, while others are on the verge of collapsing, which is a pity but they are still so so beautiful.
Just walking around in Punda and (just across the floating bridge) buying a batido (handmade blended beverage made with milk, fresh fruits and ice) is a great way to either start or end your lazy days. And kids love them as well!
If you feel like experiencing nature, you have many options. Visit the Christoffel Park (and climb the Mount Christoffel, see ‘Grownup fun’), or go for a biking tour through the park. Go for a hike at the zoutpannen (salt lakes) at Sint Willibrordus and watch the beautiful flamingoes in the lake. Or start your day at the caves of Hato and drive across the Vlakte van Hato to experience the wilder side of the island. And visit Shete Boca Natural Park! A beautiful place with seven natural bridges over the rough sea and great views.
You can also go to Den Paradera, a famous herb garden by Dinah Veeris (https://www.dinahveeris.com/); she gives guided tours and tell you all about the many herbs and plants of Curacao and their benefits.
I am not a scuba diver myself, but Curacao is very known for the incredibly beautiful fish and corals. There are quite some diving schools and many resorts offer packages as well.
Oh and did I mention horseback riding? Several stables offer guided tours that take you either to the beach or other cool places; try Ashari’s Ranch, Manege SHC Curacao or Rancho Alegre.
Renting a Jeep or squad for a (guided) tour is also an option, but this is for the braver ones and not particularly a child friendly activity…
Personally I have always been and still am a big fan of the Curacao Sea Aquarium. There are so many different things to see and do: you can take a tour, attend shows and demonstrations, feed and pet different animals and, always a big hit, swim with dolphins!
If your kids are into aqua parks, you can visit the Kunuku Aqua Resort for some great slides and pools.
Growing up on this beautiful island, Sundays were indeed fun days. We would wake up early, prepare a huge fruit salad (there are so many different types of fruits available; try mixing chunks of patia, mangoes, and papayas and simply sprinkle some lemon on top) and fill several ice boxes with cold drinks, snacks and lots of ice cubes. My mom used to have this huge bag with our snorkel sets, flippers, under water cameras, beach ball sets and floating beds ready at all times, and after a short stop at Daniel Soda Fountain for a few fresh coconuts, we would pick a beach for the day and set up camp. As old fashioned as it may sound, this is still my very favorite pastime when visiting Curacao. No fancy beach clubs or lounge chairs, no loud music and cocktails, just a beautiful beach, crystal clear water, some shade and lots of sunscreen and surrounded by my little family and some friends.
These days, several beaches have been upgraded a little, which means that you will likely have to pay for access and will definitely not be alone, especially during weekends and holidays. However, the perks of these makeovers are comfortable beach chairs, restaurants where you can have lunch or drinks, toilets and sometimes even massages or mani-/pedicures.
There are numerous beaches to visit, but my all-time favorites remain the same:
Porto Marie (don’t forget your goggles!!)
Playa Lagun (if you are lucky you will spot sea turtles)
Another great adventure is a daytrip to Klein Curacao, a small deserted island just a few hours away by boat. You can choose between a regular (big) boat and a catamaran, and most of them offer package deals including drinks and lunch as well, so you don’t have to take anything but your sunscreen (lots and lots of it, actually, as the sunburns are quite famous- and dangerous), a hat and your camera. Although it has become a bit more developed in the last few years (in the older days there was literally nothing, but now there are some shades and a little shack to buy some drinks), it is still a wonderful place to enjoy some (relatively) peace and quiet, fantastic snorkeling or kite surfing, strolls to the old lighthouse and a pristine white beach. Again: don’t forget your sunscreen, UV shirts for the kids, hats and sunglasses and drink lots and lots of water!
As you can see, you can easily spend two weeks on the island, dividing your time between lounging by the pool, undertaking activities and visiting white sanded beaches. I love the fact that you can combine all aspects of island life and recharge your battery. It is a lovely place for little children as they will be so happy playing on the beach and cooling off in the warm and calm ocean, and people are very child friendly and considerate. Children are simply a part of every day life and you can feel that everywhere. So mom and dad can relax too!
People in Curacao like to eat a lot and often; the typical food (‘Kuminda Krioyo’) is a mixture of many different people and cultures; think African, Jewish, Dutch and South American influences. That is why the food is quite diverse and interesting. Typical dishes such as keshi yena (filled cheese), stoba (stew) and bolo pretu (a special wedding cake) are very worth trying!
There are so many restaurants I will not even try to mention them all, so I will give you a list of my favorite places to go for coffee, lunch or dinner.
Oh and while you are there, do not forget to stop at a ‘Snek’ to order a fresh coconut, a pastechi or a Johnny Cake. Preferably accompanied by a Coke or Amstel Beer!
Il Barille– Great Italian coffee (and, while you’re there, across the street you will find the Mikve Israel Synagogue, which is the oldest synagogue in the Western hemisphere and very much worth a visit!)
Avila Hotel– the coffee they serve at the bar is mediocre, but they do have a special Barrista coffee bar that serves excellent Italian coffee
De Dames– you can find them in the Promenade Shopping Center
Saint Tropez Ocean Beach Club– Nice beach club located in the city, with a private pool and wonderful terrace.
Il Barille– as the owners are Italian, the menu offers many typically Italian dishes. Great pastas, salads and a mean tiramisu. Marcella is a lovely waitress!
Avila Beach Hotel– the dishes might not be excellent, but I love throwing a simple dress over my bikini and either have lunch on the terrace, in the slightly more upscale restaurant or just order a simple salad at the Boat Bar to take back to your sun lounger. Their club sandwich, Caesar salad and French fries are quite good!
Marshe Bieuw (Plasa Bieu)– the old Market houses several different kitchens that all serve true Creole food. Excellent fresh local food, cheap and the ambiance is superb. Try one of the stobas, giambo (soup made of okra and fish) or conch for sure, and finish with arepa di pampuna (pancakes made out of pumpkin and raisins). Delicious!
Karakter– Right on the beach, so don’t forget your snorkeling gear! Nice food and quite secluded so no crowds
Seaside Terrace– fresh fish, informal setting, slow service but worth the wait
Landhuis Daniel– stop here for a salad or sandwich on your way to one of the many beaches at Banda Abou (the western part of the island)
Jaanchie’s Restaurant– although very touristy still a nice place to try one of the local dishes of Curacao. Reservations might be necessary, as many touring cars tend to stop here for lunch.
Omundo– Nice place to have dinner either in- or outside; located in a suburb so many local people hop in on Fridays for a drink or quick bite
Mundo Bizarro– Really nice little place, wonderful interior, good service, great cocktails
Avila Hotel (Belle Terrace)- A bit more upscale but still with an informal vibe as you enjoy your (quite expensive) food out on the terrace
Fishalicious– Nice seafood dishes, combined with a good variety of international wines. Good service; rather ‘Dutch’ ambiance
Serafina– Cozy place, fresh ingredients and friendly service
Rozendaels– Romantic restaurant, good food, gave me a sort of European (French) vibe as you dine outside in the courtyard. Lovely garden
Boathouse Food & Marina– perfect place to enjoy a cocktail during sunset, before having dinner on the deck
Bij Blauw– beautiful boutique hotel, good food and friendly service. Nice ocean views
Mambo Beach– the fish market on Wednesday is really nice, just choose your own selection of fish and let them roast it on the barbeque for you!
Augusto’s– Nice Italian restaurant, huge portions, great ocean view
Le Clochard– Upscale restaurant, good service, have a drink on the terrace before you have dinner inside (rather cold so take a sweater with you!)
Zest Mediterranean – informal during lunch, a bit more upscale at night. Really nice location as it is right on the beach; rather expensive and again, a Dutch vibe
Landhuis Brakkeput Mei Mei– Beautifully located, friendly service. Live music
Chopstix sushi– Good sushi, both for take out and dinner
Cravings Sushi– Great sushi, nice place for both lunch and dinner. Rather cold inside!
Zanzibar Lounge & Restaurant– Very informal place, nice to end your day at the beach with a simple pizza, salad or sate.
Il Forno– Nice pizzas, very (child) friendly service and not too expensive. The one on the road to Jan Thiel has a nice playground which buys you some time to enjoy a nice informal dinner. Take out also possible!
Azzuro– Nicely located in the Blue Bay area; open for both lunch and dinner. Quite expensive
Kome– Rather new, really nice venue. Very friendly staff, quite big but still with a cozy feel. High ceilings, nice wine list, good food.
Note: many of the above mentioned restaurants offer both lunch and dinner but as we spent most afternoons on the beach, I focused more on the dinners at night. We are quite spoilt when it comes to food and wines and I must admit that there are few places where the dishes were outstanding. That said, it also totally depends on what you are looking for and the mood you are in. The places where they serve local dishes are definitely our favorite, as the Creole cuisine is so fresh and simple yet very tasteful; it is totally my kind of comfort food…
Well, first of all you can enjoy the cocktail hours at almost every venue and beach (club) and have either lunch or dinner in one of the many nice restaurants. I liked the massages and manicures/pedicures offered at different beaches, and there are several really nice spas to enjoy relaxing treatments as well. While we were there we hired a nice personal trainer at a great gym (http://www.the-challenge.net/), which was not that expensive at all. Wherever we are, we try to locate a nice gym to continue our workouts to keep fit (and, as a bonus, get to drink that extra cocktail and enjoy some extra snacks…).
Other great grownup sports activities on the island are diving, snorkeling, water skiing, climbing the Mount Christoffel, hiking or biking through the Christoffel Park, jogging at either sunrise or sunset (make sure you only do that in designated areas as roads are badly lit and actual pavements are hard to find) and playing tennis or golf. Dancing lessons are fun as well (check out the options at Landhuis Brievengat and return home as a professional merengue or salsa dancer!).
Renting a boat to spend a day or afternoon at the Spaanse Water is also a fun thing to do, either with or without your kiddies. Just take some snacks, lots of drinks and sunscreen and you are all set!
There are also several movie theaters to enjoy a new release, and thanks to the many (American) tourists visiting the island every year, shopping has improved quite a bit. You will find several shopping malls with huge chain stores like Mango, but also upscale luxury brands such as Furla, Tommy Hilfiger, David Yurman, Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co.
Curacao on a whole:
As stated before, I am a huge fan myself. However, looking at the island through the eyes of a family with kids, I still think it is a very, very nice place to go and enjoy some quality time with your better half and kid(s). The weather is perfect most of the time (hurricane season is from August until March/April, so you definitely face a risk of rainy days and very hot temperatures during those months), it is very child friendly and -accessible, and apart from the many beautiful beaches you can still enjoy lots of other activities. People are fluent in English, Spanish and Dutch, and, although you may find service slow, very friendly and helpful. The island has been developed quite a bit over the last few years, but it is in no way glamorous (or slick, however you like to call it); it still has quite a ‘rough’ feel to it, and you need to know where to go in order to find and enjoy the many gems Curacao offers. But hey, isn’t exploring part of the fun?
Boca Gentil Resort:
We would rent this house again in a heartbeat. It was comfortable, big, breezy and airy, had great views and the park was nice, well kept and safe. However, we did not particularly liked the rest of the area, as it was very Dutch and touristy. I am not a big fan of loud music on the beach, and when on holiday, I don’t want to go grocery shopping in the exact same supermarket we have at home, with the exact same products. If you feel like staying at the compound all week, eating like you eat at home and hopping from happy hour to happy hour, this might be the place for you. The beaches are nice and very child friendly so that is definitely a pro, and there are so many different restaurants you don’t even have to look into other options. However, if you like to explore and experience the actual (local) way of life, you might find this area too secluded and boring.
Just like in Southern Europe, Southern American countries and their people embrace little children and babies. Curacao is definitely no exception; the only time we did not take little Alba to a restaurant or other place was simply because we felt like spending a night together without having to worry about her. All shops, restaurants, museums and other places are totally equipped for children and the staff is mostly very helpful (sometimes we literally had to drag Alba out of the kitchen or away from the adoring waitress’s arms) when it comes to small children. Be sure to rent and use a decent car seat for you little one(s) as people drive like maniacs. The beaches are child friendly as well, as is the food, the many activities and, well, everything…