Planning a Trip
The Curaçao Tourist Board-North America has an office at One Gateway Center, Ste. 2600, Newark, NJ 07102 (tel. 800/328-7222). You can also get information online at www.curacao.com. Once you're on the island, visit the Curaçao Tourist Board, Pietermaai 19, Willemstad (tel. 599/9-434-8200). The readily available and free glossy magazines Curaçao Events and Curaçao Nights are published by the tourism board and provide a good overview of where to go and what to see. Also pick up a copy of the weekly dining and entertainment guide K-Pasa (www.k-pasa.com) at any tourism office or hotel lobby. It is also available in many shops and restaurants. The board also distributes an island map with useful tips and island facts. A detailed road map of the island is available through the Curaçao Chamber of Commerce, Kaya Junior Salas 1, Willemstad (tel. 599/9-461-1451; www.curacao-chamber.an), Monday to Friday from 8:30am to 4pm.
Tiara Air (tel. 599/9-839-1234; www.tiara-air.com), InselAir (tel. 599/9-888-0444; www.fly-inselair.com), and DAE (Dutch Antilles Express; tel. 599/717-0808; www.flydae.com) provide 30-minute shuttle service between Aruba, Bonaire, and the modern Curaçao International Airport, Plaza Margareth Abraham (tel. 599/9-839-1000; www.curacao-airport.com). Flights from North America are often linked to Aruba; American Airlines (tel. 800/433-7300; www.aa.com) offers daily nonstop flights to Curaçao from Miami. Air Jamaica (tel. 800/523-5585; www.airjamaica.com) flies nonstop from Montego Bay on Tuesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Continental Airlines (tel. 800/231-0856; www.continental.com) has nonstop flights to and from Newark on Saturday.
By Rental Car -- Driving in Curaçao is easy. Valid U.S., British, Australian, and Canadian licenses are honored. The minimum age to rent for many companies is 25. Driving is on the right side, and road signs use international symbols. Avis (tel. 800/331-2112; www.avis.com), Budget (tel. 800/472-3325 in the U.S., or 599/9-839-1300; www.budget.com), and Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001 in the U.S., or 599/9-868-1182; www.hertz.com) have offices at the airport. Compact cars with manual transmissions start at about $40 per day plus taxes and insurance.
By Taxi -- Most taxis are metered, but drivers in unmetered cabs carry an official rate sheet. Fares rise 20% after 8pm and some go up a few dollars more after 11pm and on holidays. Drivers appreciate a 10% tip. The $20 trip from the airport to Willemstad can be split among four passengers. Each piece of oversize luggage is an extra $1. In town, taxis are easiest to get on the Otrobanda side of the floating bridge. You can also call tel. 599/9-869-0752. Taxi island tours are $50 per hour for up to four passengers. Taber Tours (tel. 599/9-868-7012 or 567-6770; www.tabertours.com) specializes in hotel transfers and island tours for big groups.
By Bus -- Most of the large hotels operate a free shuttle to Willemstad's shopping districts, but public transportation is limited. Large yellow buses (also called "convoys") cover the most traveled urban routes, and bus terminals are outside the post office on the Waaigat inlet in Punda and next to the underpass in Otrobanda. Fares in town and east of Willemstad are $1, and may be more to the western end of the island. Buses run most city routes hourly, every 2 hours for points west, and less frequently on Sunday. Shaded bus benches dot the main roads.
The big event of the year is the Curaçao Carnival, which starts on New Year's Day, with various festivities and dozens of parades extending until Mardi Gras and the Grand Farewell Parade. The schedule is available at the tourism office. The most fun events, similar to hoedowns, are called "jump-ups." The highlight of Carnival is the Festival di Tumba, the second week in February, in which the island's musicians vie for prizes. Other Carnival events include the crowning of a queen and king, street parades, concerts, and even a children's parade.
A Word About Carnival
A passing comment from a visitor to Curaçao went something like this: "I don't know what all the fuss is about with regard to Carnival. We were here last year and after hearing all about the lavish parade and festivities, it turned out to be nothing more than a bunch a kids in some costumes dancing around in the street for the afternoon." Ah, had she only known that Carnival is not an event, not a parade, and not an afternoon; it is a full-fledged season, running for months and culminating in a series of elections (to see who will be crowned king and queen of each parade division running from children up to adults), contests, parties, and a series of about 20 different parades, all ending on Carnival Monday. Seeing one parade and making a judgment is much like watching one school play about the Nativity and thinking you understand the frenzy around Christmas.
It really doesn't matter whether you celebrate Carnival in Curaçao (where Carnival is an all-out frenzy), Aruba (where things are even more lavish and extravagant), or Bonaire (where the parties are more subdued and the contests are taken very seriously). On all three islands don't for a moment think you've seen it all if you've seen only one or two parades. Trust me, you haven't seen the half of it!