Curaçao: A bit of Europe and lots of Carribean | DW Travel | DW | 28.10.2015
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Curaçao: A bit of Europe and lots of Carribean

The first word that you learn on Curaçao is "dushi," which means "baby" and also describes all the good things in life. It expresses perfectly well the special attitude of people on this wonderful island.

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On the island just off the coast of Venezuela everything appears nice, sweet - simply "dushi." The locals are used to taking things easy and the occasional irritant is usually met with a smile.

The fact that the sun almost always shines down on Curaçao has a lot to do with this state of mind. The island lies "under the wind," which means to the south of the hurricane belt, and is thus spared the worst. There is no real rain season to talk of - and even when it does rain, the clouds are soon gone. The island's climate translates into plenty of sun and an annual average temperature of around 30 degrees Celsius. A gentle sea breeze helps keep the humidity at bay.

Island history

The island's population includes around 60 different nationalities: This rich melting pot with a wonderful mix of different languages makes it easy to get by. In the wake of the Spanish and the Portuguese came the British, who turned the island into one of their main harbors in the New World. And for over 200 years, Curaçao was the center of the Dutch slave trade. The island is rich in both history and culture.

Curaçao, Copyright: Dan Hirschfeld

The colorful houses lining up at the port of Willemstad make this a picture perfect destination

And you can't really miss it. Museums like the Kura Hulanda (an initiative financed entirely by a Dutch businessman) in the capital Willemstad hold exhibitions exploring the island's slave trading and colonial history. Curaçao's multi-cultural society is deeply rooted in this history which makes the island what it is today.

The colorful houses lining up at the capital's harbor, a World Heritage Site, lift the mood for shoppers and strollers alike. Tourist guide Clarina Gómez is on hand to tell us about the pontoon bridge which crosses the St. Anna Bay. Currently it's being restored. Suddenly she meets an old friend and they begin to dance to music coming from a nearby café.

Old trees and endangered coral

Curaçao, Copyright: Dan Hirschfeld

The roots of this 800-year-old tree in the Hofi Pastor National Park are almost the size of a person

The mood is cheerful on this island. After only a few days, the rest of the world seems so far away. Although the island's nature has been affected by some development, it is still largely intact. There are several national parks and it's a paradise for hikers. Why not visit Hòfi Pastor, an area of woods where some of the trees are centuries old. Humans appear small and short-lived compared to these dinosaur trees.

No less impressive are the beaches. The waters of Curaçao are truly crystal clear, giving a view right down to the sea bed. After a few steps into the water, you will be met by a myriad of colorful, tropical fish. The locals are justifiably proud and like to tell visitors that Curaçao's coral reefs are region's most beautiful; whatever the case, the waters around the island are home to dolphins, and countless other species. Happy diving.

Protecting their environment is something the islanders have long prioritized. Large stretches of coral reef are protected. As part of a project supported by Germany's Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, rare coral types are now being bred in order to replace damaged colonies. Workshops teach divers, vacationers and cruise ship tourists alike why coral is so important to the Caribbean eco system. Better resist the temptation to buy any souvenirs made of coral.

Tourism without high rise hotels

If you really want a souvenir try a Chichi, a colorful figurine made out of plaster with very feminine contours. These much appreciated artifacts have been produced for a number of years and are now as much a part of the island as the colorful facades along the quays of Willemstad. The idea behind them came from the German Serena Israel, and the first ones were made at her island atelier. She was sailing around the world when she arrived in Curaçao back in 2000.

Curaçao, Copyright: Dan Hirschfeld

Colorful and adorable: The Chichis by Serena Israel embody life on the island too

The Chichi was based on her first impressions of the islanders and they became an instant success. Today more than 40 women work for Serena painting the figurines at home; an excellent way to combine looking after the family with earning some money. Tourists from all over the world have taken the figurines to their hearts.

Until 2010 Curaçao was part of the Netherlands. Following a referendum on the island's status, Curaçao enjoys considerable autonomy while remaining a part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The islanders themselves have big ideas for the future. They want to develop tourism, but gradually. The concrete resorts we know from some other destinations is not for them. Curaçao sees itself more in the vein of La Gomera in the Canaries or Menorca in the Balearics: an island that's very much aware of its own unique beauty and charm. That's the secret of Curaçao's appeal.

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