Curaçao

Coat of arms of CuraçaoCuraçao or Kòrsou in Papiamentu, the local language, is an island in the southern Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. It is the largest island of the so called ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). It is a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands since 10-10-2010. Before that date it was an island territory of the Netherlands Antilles, which consisted of Curaçao, Bonaire, Sint Maarten, Saba, Sint Eustatius.

The people living on Curaçao come from many different backgrounds, the majority is Afro-Caribbean, but there is also a sizeable Dutch minority and people from Latin America (Venezuela, Suriname, Colombia, etc.), other Caribbean islands (Haïti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, etc.), Portugal, Lebanon and East Asia came to live on the island. There is a big Jewish community and the island houses the oldest synagogue of the Americas that is in continuous use.
Flag of CuraçaoThe official languages are Dutch, Papiamentu and English, but a lot of people can speak Spanish as well. Papiamentu is a is a creole language derived from Portuguese and/or Spanish with influences from African languages, English, Dutch, and Arawak native languages. It is spoken on Curaçao and Bonaire, on Aruba they speak a dialect called Papiamento.

Map of Curacao from 1675

The original inhabitants were the Arawak indians. The first Europeans to discover the island was a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499.
The Dutch seized the island from the Spanish in 1634 and founded Willemstad. The island has been in English and French hands several times, but in 1815 the Dutch gained stable control again at the end of the Napoleonic wars.
Curaçao has been a center point in the slave trade from Africa to the Americas. Dutch merchants shipped and sold, under a contract with Spain called Asiento, large numbers of slaves to various destinations in South America and the Caribbean. In this time the island flourished and many of the monuments were build. In 1795 a group of slaves revolted under the leadership of Tula. They went from the plantation Knip to other farms freeing other slaves. After a month the rebellion was crushed. In 1863 slavery was finally abolished. The end of slavery caused economic hardship and many former slaves emigrated to other islands.
When in 1914 oil was discovered in Venezuela Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch Government had built an extensive oil refinery installation and with that came an economic uplift. But also discrepancies appeared among the social groups that let to rioting and protests on May 30, 1969.
In recent years island developed a tourist industry and offered low corporate taxes to encourage many companies to set up holdings.

Caribean Sea

The island is about 60 kilometers long and its highest point, the Christoffelberg (Mount Christoffel), is 375 meter above sea level.  Off the coast of Curaçao, to the southeast, lies the small, uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao (“Little Curaçao”).
The climate is mainly dry with tradewinds blowing from the North-East, the wet season usually occurs in the months October to December, but this can differ in certain years. Curaçao is just outside the Hurricane belt, but tropical storms like Omar (2008) and Tómas (2010) were quite devastating, the latter dropping half a years of precipitation in one night in certain places on the island, resulting in widespread flooding and even two deaths.
Much of the vegetation is adapted to this dry environment and consists of cacti thorny shrubs, evergreens, and the island’s national tree, divi-divis.  Notable species of Curaçao’s wildlife are the white-tailed deer, a subspecies only found on this island, several bat species, the white-tailed hawk, the Caracara, parakeets, trupials, hummingbirds, flamingos, many different species of lizards and geckos and the king of Curaçao’s reptiles the Iguana.
Under water there is even more life to be found, around the island coral reefs line the blue ‘drop off’. Many species of colorful fish, like parrot fish, barracuda’s, French Angel fish, manta rays, coral and sea anemones can be found, turtles graze on sea weeds and dolphins are seen around the island also.

The beaches, the warm weather and the many beautiful dive spots attracts a lot of tourists. Most of the beaches are open for the public, for some you have to pay a beach fee, some are free and some are only for hotel- or resort guests.
Many dive spots are accessible from the shore and snorkeling in the usually calm waters of the southern coast is very nice. Some notable spots are Porto Mari, Tug boat at the Caracasbaai peninsula, or take a trip with Captain Goodlife from Santa Cruz.
View on fort Amsterdam and WillemstadTaking a stroll along the bright coloured buildings of Punda and Otrobanda or take a guided tour is a perfect morning activity, but make sure to see the Handelskade and the Queen Emma bridge also at night. Kurà Hulanda is a renovated part of Otrobanda with a hotel and restaurants, nice squares and alleys. The Kurà Hulanda Museum impressively exhibits the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade in its totality.
The island has several natural areas of which Christoffelpark is the largest, the park has two scenic car routes, several hiking trails, one to the top of the Christoffelberg, and organises guided tours and activities. Another park is Shete Boka, situated next to Christoffelpark on the the rocky wave-exposed northern coast. It is a place where waves thunder into an underground cavern, formed a natural bridge and where they burst into the sky with gunfire like explosions.
On the most western end of the island lies Westpunt (West Point). Jaanchie’s restaurant is a famous lunch stop to have some local food from the menu recited by owner himself. At Playa Forti dare devils jump of the rocks next to the restaurant which is build on the ruins of a fortress.
Stamp of 12.5 cents Nederland-Curacao 1634-1934All over the island you will see landhuizen (country- or plantation houses), the former houses of the plantation owners. Some are open to the public like Landhuis Ascension (every first Sunday of the month or guided tours on Thursday mornings), Landhuis Knip, Landhuis Jan Kok, Landhuis Brakkeput Mei Mei (restaurant), Landhuis Chobolobo (distillery Senior Co, producer of the famous Blue Curacao) and many more.
You don’t have to bored in the evenings because every day there is a happy hour somewhere in one of the many (beach) bars, restaurants, clubs or casinos. If you want to go dancing underneath the stars, sit and relax with a Mojito with your feet in the sand or have a Polar with the local at the snèk, it is all possible.

Sources: Wikipedia, The World Factbook, Curacao.com, Carmabi.