Not too many people know about Curaçao. It’s this magical island that is pretty much untouched. Geographically, it’s part of the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) and is off the coast of Venezuela. At its heart, Curaçao is for the explorer – both in and out of the water. It’s a destination for divers, or, if you aren’t certified, for the snorkeler. Staying put in your hotel, on a beach chair and drinking Curaçao can be an option, but you would have a much richer vacation experience if you ventured out of your resort and experienced Curaçao’s culture. Looking for what to do? Here’s my family travel guide to Curacao. Thank you to the Curaçao Tourist Board and Hilton Curaçao for our trip!
Family Travel Guide to Curaçao | My 8 Tips
- Rent a Car. Take a taxi from the airport to your hotel, but you can rent a car at your hotel. The Hilton Curaçaohas a budget rental office on site, so you can rent a car. Tips on driving in Curaçao soon!
- Explore Curaçao. There’s more to Curaçao than sitting on a beach chair at your resort.
- Buy a Go-Pro. You will have so many opportunities for underwater encounters that you won’t want to miss it. (We didn’t have one, but I can tell you that we saw hundreds and hundreds of fish throughout our five days and we wished we had a Go Pro with us.
- Bring high SPF sunscreen and bug spray. You are 12 degrees north from the equator. Bring the sweat-proof stuff.
- Bring your own snorkels and fins.
- Keep activities to 2 a day. Since we have young(ish) kids, we tend to do 1 or 2 activities a day then have down-time in the afternoon at the hotel (something we learned from our Disney World trip).
- Don’t exchange your dollars. The US dollar (or credit cards) is acceptable everywhere.
- Make early dinner reservations. Expect restaurant service to be slow. You’re not in New York City. You’re on vacation. Take it easy. Enjoy yourself. But if the kids need to be in bed at a reasonable hour, make reservations for 6:00 p.m.
We stayed at the Hilton Curaçao (review coming up), centrally located from the west side of the island the east side of the island, which meant that it was 15 minutes away from the airport, 15 minutes away from Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, and 20 minutes away Porto Mari, a private beach on the west side of the island.
With four full days and two half-days (for arrival and departure) I put together your Curaçao itinerary:
Family Travel Itinerary for Curaçao
On our arrival day, we hung around the hotel, swam at the Hilton’s pool, the beach, and explored the grounds. Dinner was at Captain Bligh’s Bar and Grill.
8:00 a.m. Dolphin Encounter ($99 pp) at the Sea Aquarium and Dolphin Academy. The $99/pp dolphin encounter covers your encounter with a dolphin (incredibly memorable!), entrance fee to the aquarium. Visit the glass bottom boat (see the Lemon sharks!), watch the Dolphin show, sea lion show, flamingo feeding (get a picture!) and stingray feeding. Tip: Reserve the 8:00am appointment for your dolphin encounter so you have the rest of the morning to explore the aquarium. Spring for getting all your pictures on a USB drive from the photo shop. It’ll be worth it ($80).
1:00 p.m. Return to the hotel for snorkeling at the beach and pool is a must. Rent snorkels and fins and swim with hundreds of fish just off of the Hilton’s beach. The beach may look small, but it makes up for it in the crazy amount of fish in the water. You’ll be spending hours snorkeling. Tip: The water has no undertow or waves, but it gets deep fast (the whole family was swimming in 35-40 feet of water!), so make sure you have fins and snorkels so you can enjoy all the sea life the ocean has to offer. (Wish we had a GoPro!!)
9:30 a.m. Rent a car and drive the 15-20 minutes to Playa Porto Mari and you won’t be disappointed. This is a private beach with facilities (meaning showers and toilets), which, with a family is a necessity. It is a white sand beach that has rocks (like the other Curaçao beaches) and has the clearest turquoise water. You MUST rent snorkels and fins ($12/set) because Porto Mari has the most amazing reefs and you will see several hundred fish on your visit! (Now you know why I wished we had a Go Pro!). There’s a floating dock that you can swim to and take a break. The restaurant is casual, outdoors, shaded with waitress service. Tip: No towel service, so bring towels from the hotel. There is an admission fee, and you also can rent the beach chairs, so only get two chairs, if you are a family of four. Service at the restaurant is slow – but that’s to be expected. Just chill and enjoy the ocean view.
4:00 p.m. Tour the Hato Caves, a 200,000 year old cave ($56 for 2 adults and 2 kids). The tour is 45-minutes inside look at the cave and the residents that live in it — bats! You’ll finally understand what a stalagtite and stalagmite is. Tip: There are slightly steep 49-steps up to the cave but that’s the only “tough” part of the tour. Inside the cave, the paths are clearly marked and paved.
6:45 p.m. Dinner reservations at Ginger restaurant in the Pietermaii District on Nieuwerstraat Street. Mouth-watering Asian-Caribbean food.
9:30 a.m. Back to Playa Porto Mari because you won’t get enough of the amazing, turquoise blue water, snorkeling and seeing several hundred more fish. Lunch at the Porto Mari restaurant, then more swimming and snorkeling after.
3:00 p.m. Back to the Hilton Curaçao for more pool time and snorkeling. There’s just not enough time to snorkel in Curaçao. You can seriously stay in the water for hours. Tip: Make sure to go around the left side of the beach where there are many reefs and therefore, fish!
5:00 p.m. Head to Willemstad to the Punda district for a walk-around. See the floating markets, walk across the Queen Emma Bridge, take a stroll to Otrobanda District, then walk along Petermaii before dinner. Tip: When boats come to the harbor, the Queen Emma bridge swings opens – even with pedestrians are on it. Try to get on the bridge when it opens for a memorable experience. Visit the small playground on the Otrobanda side of the bridge for some play time.
6:45 p.m. Dinner at Bij Blaujw in the Petermaii District. More amazing food and an even better view.
9:30 a.m. Visit Cas Abao beach, which is the next beach over from Poro Mari. This is a larger beach in terms of sand and water area. There are toilets which are well-kept but the shower you have to pay a small fee. There is no dive shop so you must bring your own snorkels and fins, however, there really is nothing much to see because the reef and sea life isn’t as extensive as Porto Mari or the beach at the Hilton Curaçao. The restaurant is very causal: just order at the bar and find a table in the shade. Tip: No towel service, so bring towels from the hotel. There is a parking admission feel ($10 – $12.50 per car depending on the day) plus a beach chair rental fee ($5), so use 2 beach chairs for a family of four.
6:45 p.m. Dinner at Mundo Bizarro again at the Petermaii District.
9:00 am – 12:00 p.m. Do more snorkeling and swimming at the Hilton Curaçao’s beach and swimming pool. Take the latest flight (we took the 4:00 p.m.) Tip: Checkout is at 12 noon, but we asked for a 1:00 p.m. checkout, which they gave to us. Always ask. The worst they can say is, “No.”
Curacao truly is a magical island that your whole family will enjoy exploring.
p.s. See what I wore on our Curacao trip!
Thank you to the Curacao Tourist Board who provided airfare for me and my husband; and to the Hilton Curacao for our stay. For more information on our activities (which we paid for out-of-pocket) please explore their websites: Curacao Sea Aquarium , Dolphin Academy, Playa Porto Mari, Hato Caves, Cas Abao Beach, Curacao Ostrich Farm.