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Curacao

The airport was designed to harvest natural light and ventilation and includes two interior gardens. American Airlines, InselAir and Dutch Antilles Express fly to Curaçao through Miami, and United Airlines brings sun-seekers once a week through Newark. What will you find once you leave the terminal?

Take a hint of Holland, a touch of international flair and a major dash of Caribbean spice, and you might end up with something like Curaçao. In capital Willemstad, gabled buildings recall a Dutch look but come in colorful West Indian colors - and behind those exteriors lie some distinctly urban pleasures.

Art lovers admire contemporary work in such spots as Gallery 86 and Gallery Alma Blou, while gourmets savor the international cuisine of Astrolab Observatory Restaurant, the Indonesian delights of Tempo Doeloe or the fine French food of The Wine Cellar. Those wanting a taste of the local head for the Old Market, a large round building where Curaçaoan ladies dish up massive amounts of giambo (okra soup), baked cucumber, galiña stoba (stewed chicken), and concoctions of goat, conch and fish.

You'll find museums aplenty in one of the Caribbean's most sophisticated capitals. Kura Hulanda Museum, located in a former slave yard, explores some of Curaçao's unsavory history; it also presents an enviable collection of African art and varied archaeological finds. Don't miss the Curaçao Maritime Museum, devoted to the island's seafaring traditions; sea turtles, sea lions and more at the Sea Aquarium;and be sure and visit the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the Caribbean's oldest continuously operating synagogue, with a fine display on the island's Jewish history.

For total immersion into Curaçao's culture, arrive in winter for the Curaçao Carnival. You'll find parades with floats, Jump Ups (outdoors), Jump Ins (indoors) and, along the way, outrageous costumes.

But this many-faceted island isn't all about city pleasures. Head to the western shores for a series of beautiful beaches; each feels unique because it occupies a separate cove. You might want to explore all 35+ to see which one's character suits you best - popular Daaibooi, for instance, or tiny Playa Lagun. Or perhaps you'll choose Playa Knip, which opens onto a large bay of luminous water among a crescent of cactus-covered cliffs.

While in the west, spend a morning in Christoffel Park, 4,500 acres dominated by the green-clad Mount Christoffel, at 1,239 feet the highest point on the island. Drive, hike, or hop a horse for an awesome trip through kadushi cactus, tamarind, divi-divi trees and lignum vitae trees, the road curving upward to amazing vistas of Mount Christoffel, which presides over acres of cacti and the sea. Look out to Boka Grandi, one of the Shete Boka (Seven Mouths) that line up along the coast. You can see where they got their name, as the water pours in and crashes on the rocks at rounded inlets carved into the bay like whales' mouths. For pure, overwhelming nature, visit Boka Tabla, a vast rock shelf where you can watch the water pour in with immense power, crashing on the rutted stones and rebounding 10 feet or more into the air.

Tour companies make exploration easy, bringing visitors on a National Park Yellow Jeep Safari, a Willemstad by Amazing Island Tours, Curaçao Tropical Toursand Fiesta Tours, for starters. Scooter tours to historic caves and bike tours on or off mountains are other options with Curaçao Acteif and Eric’s ATV Adventures.

Don't just admire the ocean; dive into it to see such alluring underwater attractions as the Mushroom Forest, the steeply inclining Curaçao Wall, the anemones and scorpionfish of Klein Curaçao, and even an underwater 'traffic jam' created from old car bodies. Thrill-seekers can take an open-water dolphin or sea-lion dive.

The eastern part of the island has the fascinating Den Panadera, Dinah’s Botanic and Historic Garden, where you'll amble along trails as you get a lesson in native medicine. The region's only ostrich farm is here too, as is the Curaçao Liqueur Factory, where the eponymous Blue Curaçao liqueur of the island (this is the original, folks) is produced, with its distinctive orange flavor and rainbow assortment of colors.

Curaçao is home to the world-famous Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival. The two-day annual music festival covers a wide range of international artists performing at the festival grounds which are located at Piscadera Bay. In the week preceding the festival, the island submerges itself in jazz, soul, Latin, hip hop and r&b, all with a Caribbean touch.

Nights? Dance to a Caribbean beat at Tutu Tango, check out who's seeing and being seen at Papagayo Beach Club or join the good-naturedly raucous crowds at Mambo Beach. Another good bet: the locally famous Jazz Night at Blues Restaurant on a pier overlooking the sea. Classy, joyful and mellow, it's the perfect summary of what's so appealing about Curaçao

 

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