Welcome to this month’s edition of my Travel Column at Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord. Today I’m taking you to the beautiful Caribbean island of Curacao.
As we all freeze and huddle around our computer screens to keep warm, D.G. Kaye.. Debby Gies continues to bring sunshine into our lives… This month it is Curacao…not just blue seas but also a wonderful blue liqueur.
Welcome to this month’s edition of the Travel Column. Today we’re going to Curacao.
Curacao is classified as part of a group of the ABC islands – Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. These islands are part of the Lesser Antilles. Curacao lies approximately 40 miles north of the tip of Venezuela, and is considered a Caribbean island along with Bonaire and Aruba. They are part of North America, despite them lying on South America’s geographic plate.
Formerly part of the Curacao and Dependencies (1815 to 1954), Curacao is now formally called the country of Curacao, along with its 1.7 kilometres long, uninhabited sister island – Klein Curacao. The capital of Curacao is Willemstad.
The first inhabitants of the island were the Arawak People, migrating from South America centuries before the Spanish came in with the Spanish expedition of 1499, using the Arawack people for slave labor.
In 1634 Netherlands became independent from Spain and began colonizing the island. Curacao had previously been ignored by colonists because it lacked gold deposits, but proved valuable for trade. The natural harbor of Willemstad was the perfect location for trade.
In 1662, the Dutch West India Company made Curacao a center of Atlantic Slave Trade, selling slaves to other islands and South American mainland. Although a few plantations existed, the main source of trade came from their salt mines. Many Dutch colonists grew rich from slave trade and the city grew with impressive colonial buildings. A wide range of historic buildings had deemed Curacao a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, ownership of the island had changed hands several times between British, French and the Dutch. In 1815, after the Napoleonic wars, the island was incorporated into the colony of Curacao and Dependencies. During that time, the language spoken on the island was predominantly Spanish. In 1863 slavery was abolished.
In October of 2010, Curacao became a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The first language of the island spoken today is Dutch, followed by Papiemento (creole), English, and Spanish.
Legend has it there are two stories to how Curacao got its name. The first tell us that back in the 16th and 17th centuries, sailors on long voyages became ill with scurvy because of lack of Vitamin C. According to old accounts, sick Portuguese sailors were dropped off to the island, and when their ship returned, these sailors had miraculously recovered from the abundance of availability of fruit. The Portuguese referred to the island as ‘Island of Healing’ – Ilha da Curacao. A different belief is that the island’s name derived from the Portuguese word for heart ‘coracao’. With the Portuguese pronunciation, the first ‘o’ is pronounced as a ‘u’ sound, making the word for heart pronounced as ‘kuresaw’. The Spanish kept the name as did the Dutch.
This capital of Curacao is Willemstad, and its downtown core is a World Unesco Heritage site boasting an array of pastel and primary colored buildings that line the waterfront market (Handelskade – merchant’s wharf). In 1918, then governor Albert Kickert wasn’t happy with the whitewashed looking paled out buildings and ordered up some color be painted on those buildings. As it turns out, the governor coincidentally owned a paint company, and consequently, not long after this discovery it prompted Curacao to put in a new law that politicians are not allowed to have private economic interests. But these colorful Dutch colonial buildings give off a feeling of old-world European charm.
Willemstad has a kind of artsy feel to it with the colorful buildings and the numerous galleries, outdoor cafes, and interesting stores lining the wharf and surrounding streets. At night the citylife lights up with plenty of bars and jazz clubs, and don’t forget to have a ‘blue’ drink and buy a bottle of Curacao’s own liqueur – Blue Curacao.
Curacao is ranked one of the best and affordable islands in the Caribbean. You can actually drive around the whole island in just under two hours.
Please continue reading at Sally’s blog for more information on shopping, beaches, transportation, and more!