The largest and most populous of the Netherlands Antilles, just 56km (35 miles) north of the Venezuelan coast, arid Curasao still retains the storybook look of its 17th-century Dutch trading post heritage. As you sail into the harbor of Willemstad, look for the quaint Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge, which swings aside to open the narrow channel. From the pier, it’s a 5- to 10-minute walk to the town center, which is easy to navigate on foot (so don’t feel like you have to book an excursion for this port). top draw Willemsted’s historic center and the island’s natural harbor, Schottegat, have been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Fort Amsterdam, site of the Governor’s Palace and the 1769 Dutch Reformed church, guards the waterfront. slice of history Jews have lived on Curasao since the mid-17th century: historic sites include the Mikve Emmanuel Israel synagogue (the Western Hemisphere’s oldest), Beth Haim Cemetery (consecrated in 1659) and Landhouse Bloemhof, displaying art and artifacts. Off the beaten path In the Christoffel National Park (www.christoffelpark.org ), on the northwestern tip of Curasao, you can see ancient Arawak paintings and the Piedra di Monton, a rock heap piled by African slaves who cleared this former plantation.
For nature lovers The Curasao Sea Aquarium (www.curacao-sea-aquariumcom ), displays more than 400 species of fish, crabs, anemones, and other invertebrates, sponges, and coral. Shopaholics alert More than 100 stores line Heerenstraat, Breedestraat, and other streets in Willemstadt. Look for good buys on French perfumes, Dutch blue Delft souvenirs, finely woven Italian silks, Japanese and German cameras, jewelry, silver, Swiss watches, linens, leather goods, and liquor, along with island-made rum and liqueurs.