Mixed feelings after solo trip to Curacao

Downtown Curacao
Downtown Curacao

Many travelers rave about Curacao which peaked my travel addiction just in time for the annual North Sea Jazz Festival

Located among the ABC islands of the Netherlands Antilles. Curacao makes up the “C” in the group along with Aruba and Bonaire.

My excitement slowly faded upon arrival starting with the onslaught of flies invading the airport. While the flies were a pest, they certainly weren’t enough to make me dislike or judge an entire island. Jiving here but the flies were epic.

A long wait for my rental car to arrive at Avis (persistent service issues with Avis abroad) and I was finally on my way. As I drove around exploring the island and quickly learning my way, my outlook on Curacao remained neutral. I didn’t arrive with any assumptions other than sun, beach, and music.

In the end, I didn’t love or hate Curacao.

I’ve been curious about Curacao for a few years now. I’d never heard of the island before and my first exposure was due to news of a Black woman from Texas that went missing while snorkeling. Unfortunately, she was never found. Her story and the mysteriousness of her disappearance put Curacao on the map for me.

Then, I noticed many travel bloggers hyping up this intriguing island. I saw pictures on Instagram of the infamous blue and yellow Curacao sign that every traveler poses in front of to let you know they’ve arrived.

So, having seen most of the Caribbean islands except for the ABC islands, Curacao made it on to my solo female travel list. And no, I didn’t get a chance to even see the sign, let alone strike a pose in front of it.

As a solo traveler, I keep an open mind. I’ve enjoyed luxury travel, budget travel, adventure travel, and where the hell are we travel! My point, I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty.

However, my initial thought driving around Curacao was it was a grimy town. Outside of the infamous colorful waterfront and pastel buildings, it looked dirty. My friends who’ve gone before were shocked by my statement. Maybe something has changed?

Curacao Wilmstead

smoke and mirrors

I knew about the oil refinery. Heard how it’s conveniently excluded from the colorful landscape. Didn’t think twice about it. As a New Yorker, I’m surrounded by pollution. And, when you cross over into New Jersey, forget about it. Refineries and plants run amuck.

Still, I wasn’t ready.

The oil refinery cast a dark cloud over the town during my entire stay. Not only could you see it day or night, you could smell it. The smell instantly made me sick. It started with sudden head/sinus congestion. Irritated sinuses led to an infection before traveling down my chest and residing there for the duration of the trip. Less than 48 hours later, I had a full blown bronchial infection.

Struggled to find the right medications in the “pharmacy” to soothe my troubles. My body went through many changes in a short time span. For a moment, it felt like the flu with chills and body aches covering me followed by the coughing up of lungs. I was going through it.

Needless to say, this put a damper on my travel experience in Curacao.

Oil Refinery Curacao
Oil Refinery Clouds

getting around

So, lost a day or two or three trying to recover but was in town long enough to venture out in my little rental car. Didn’t find the map helpful. At all. Yes, I can read a map but just continued to get lost with it. Didn’t help that there weren’t a lot of street signs.

One street continued to resurface but I couldn’t find it on the map to save my life. You should have seen me looking for Bushalte street on the map. At that point I went ahead and ditched the damn map.

I laughed my ass off all the way down the road to Westpunt soon as I realized that Bushalte is actually Dutch for bus stop! And it’s not like you could decipher since no two bus stands were alike. Most the time it was just a sign. Rarely was there a bench or an actual stand and even more unlikely was the sight of anyone waiting for the bus to arrive. Good times! Good times!

Many parts of Curacao reminded me of California desserts.

Mountainous terrain filled with Cacti. The color palette mostly shades of green and brown. Not too many hues in between (except on the hotel grounds where tropical plants were staged throughout). Didn’t see a colorful oasis of vegetation during my travels. Wondered if the refinery was to blame.

Curacao HillsideNavigating the roundabouts and long stretches of road, I found a few hidden beaches and coves. You definitely need a car in Curacao to get around. I can’t speak to the costs or reliability of taxis but noticed the bus didn’t run too frequently. Curacao is a large and very long island. You’re better off in a rental if you want to see the other side.

While cruising over to Westpunt, I doubled back to stop at a shake stand on the side of the road. The delicious blend of strawberry and passion fruit was quenching. I got to practice my Espanol with the lovely ladies who owned the stand. It was so good, I went again the next day. Be sure to stop here if you’re heading to Westpunt for a cold treat.

By accident, I came across Playa Jeremi. A beautiful cove with sparkling clear water perfect for snorkeling. Many locals enjoyed a day at the free beach. I took in the blazing sun for a bit as crab surfaced from the sand to take a look at me and run over my toes. Huge pelicans swarmed and deep dived into the water. It was such a sight to see. I’m convinced they were fishing.

Playa Jeremi
Playa Jeremi

final thoughts

There are so many beaches in Curacao. Had I not taken ill probably would have tried to see them all. However, the price for entry to many of the beaches was a detractor. Be ready to pay just to see them.

Also, heard the food is really good in Punda but didn’t experience this myself. Otrobanda looks like an enjoyable place to hang out. Nice views, selection of restaurants, and nightlife. It was hard to enjoy juggling the North Sea Jazz Festival concerts with sickness and sightseeing but I managed to pull it off.

It’s unlikely that I’ll give Curacao another shot. My overall experience was underwhelming and extremely expensive. Word on the street is the underwater world is much more exciting.

travel tips
  • Visit the tourism website and complete the welcome card to make your experience in immigration seamless
  • Download the Curacao visitors app which works offline to help you find beaches, food, events, nightlife, and other tourism activities
  • Brush up on your linguistics

Have you been to any of the ABC islands?

Hey, drop me a line...