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|Introduction to Curacao
Curašao's beaches may be nubbled with coral or strewn with imported grains and the local liqueur may be a first rate gut-rot, but it more than makes up for these niggles with high comfort levels, guaranteed balminess and a friendliness that constantly threatens to bubble over into a party.
The island's scrubby landscape is strewn with cacti, keening divi-divi trees and lizards looking glibly at weirdos with oxygen strapped to their backs. The capital, Willemstad, manages to be both dinky and grand while serving up the food, shopping and slickness of a town much less manageable.
Full country name: Curašao
Area: 171 sq km
People: African descent, mixed African and European descent, Dutch
Language: Dutch, Papiamento, English, Spanish; Castilian
Religion: Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and Jewish
Government: autonomous state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Head of State: Governor (Netherlands Antilles) Frits Goedgedrag
Head of Government: Prime Minister (Netherlands Antilles) Etienne Ys
GDP: US$1.6 billion
GDP per capita: US$11,500
Major Industries: Oil refining and bunkering, tourism, offshore banking, phosphates
Major Trading Partners: USA, EU, Venezuela, Mexico
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Visas: Visas are generally not required on Curašao. US and Canadian citizens can visit with proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate and picture ID. All other travellers need a valid passport. A roundtrip or onward ticket is required.
Health risks: sunburn, jellyfish sting, dehydration
Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4
Dialling Code: 599
Electricity: 110-130V ,50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
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Carnival is Curašao's biggest event, held every February before Lent. People dressed in wild outfits gather in the Otrobanda district of Willemstad and then shake their way through the streets for three leg-jellying days, stopping here and there to eat, drink and dance to the music of hundreds of competing bands. On Easter Monday the Great Se˙ March celebrates traditional culture in song, dance and costume. Curašao's long-standing Caribbean Jazz Fest, held for two days every October, is a slightly mellower event that brings international jazz musicians to Willemstad.
Curašaons do celebrate Christmas, but the big gift-giving day is Sint Nicolaas Day on 6 December. Sint Nicolaas is a Dutch Santa Claus figure who arrives in Willemstad's St Anna Bay in late November in a boat laden with candy and gifts for the kiddies. On the eve of Sint Nicolaas Day, children leave a bucket of water and a shoe plugged with hay and carrots for the horse-borne saint. Well-behaved littlies wake up to find their shoes filled with goodies.
In late December, there's a chaotic end of year regatta shmatta from St Barbara to St Anna Bay on Curašao's southern coast. Competitors can enter with any sort of sailing craft, meaning wily windsurfers try to outgun sleek ocean-going sailboats.
1 January - New Year's Day
Easter Holidays - Good Friday, Easter Monday
30 April - Queen's Birthday
1 May - Labor Day
2 July - Flag Day
24 December - Christmas Eve (half holiday)
25 December - Christmas Day
26 December - Boxing Day
31 December - New Year's Eve (half holiday)
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|Best time to Visit
Temperature is not an issue when planning a trip to sunny, dry Curašao, since the average year-round daily high is 82░F (28░C) and constant trade winds keep humidity low. If rain falls, it's usually in November or December. The island lies below the hurricane belt, so there's usually no need to worry about being blown away while on vacation. If you're planning on diving, the most popular sites are at their calmest between September and December. If partying is more your scene, Carnival (February) is a great time to visit, but book early and expect higher prices.
As with most of the Caribbean, the peak tourist season is between December and April, but this has more to do with the weather in North America and Europe than it does with the weather on Curašao. It's therefore best to visit outside this period, when tourists are thin on the ground and room rates tend to be 30-50% less than those charged during the busier months.
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|Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending
Currency: Netherlands Antilles Guilder
Curašao is not a cheap getaway destination: things are expensive here and it's best to accept that. Lodging is the largest expense, especially since most rooms are in high-priced hotels. The good news is that landhuisen, former Dutch plantation houses, are increasingly being renovated into moderately priced guesthouses.
Travelers looking for a resort vacation should plan on spending at least US$200 a day. This budget will support king-size accommodations, three restaurant meals and car rental - you can blow the leftovers at the casino. Those willing to accept less luxurious accommodations, but who expect to whoop it up at night, should set aside a daily budget of US$150. If you hunt down an inexpensive guesthouse or inner city hostel and eat from food stands, you'll need around US$75 a day. Bear in mind that accommodations rates are slashed in the low season even at the most luxurious hotels.
Though the Antillean florin (commonly called a guilder) is the local currency, US dollars are accepted everywhere. Major credit cards are also widely accepted. There's a 7% room tax and 12% service charge added to every hotel bill, and porters expect a 10% tip. Restaurants add a 10% service charge; add 5% more if service has been exceptional.
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Forget the squat resorts muscling each other along the coast and don't be put off by the disjointed shambles of badly signed roads: Willemstad - the capital of the Netherlands Antilles and one of a select number of urban areas on UNESCO's World Heritage List - is gorgeous.
It's divided in two by capacious St Anna Bay, the largest harbour in the Caribbean. Punda, the oldest part of the city, is to the east, and Otrobanda, to the west, are connected by a quaint pontoon bridge known as the Swinging Old Lady - she cocks a leg for boats.
Christoffel National Park
This large park at the northwestern end of the island was pieced together in the 1970s from several former plantations. You can drive through much of it (choose between the coastal route or the mountain drive), but the best way to see the park is via its short trails.
The trails wind through rogue stands of mahogany and past limestone terraces and Amerindian petroglyphs. Fans of Baroque architecture can admire the landhuisen (land houses) of the old plantations, one of which houses the Savonet Museum, with exhibits on the island's natural and human history.
Curašao Underwater Marine Park
The Underwater Park consists of over 20km (12mi) of coral reef off the southeastern coast. Divers can explore pristine coral and several wrecks, including a small tugboat covered in orange tube coral. The tug lies in shallow water, so even snorkellers can get an eyeful. A number of good dives are accessible from the shore - revheads can check out the Car Pile sunk right in front of the Princess Beach Hotel. Those who want to get farther afield can hook up with one of numerous boat operators running daytrips to remote sites. All sites within the park are marked with buoys, and the park is at its calmest between autumn and early winter.
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