Curaçao is most well-known for its row of colorful picture-perfect building façades lining the Willemstad waterfront, water that matches the shocking blue hue of the island’s namesake liqueur and a quirky synergy of Dutch and Caribbean culture. But the island nation that sits 40 miles north of Venezuela outside the hurricane belt is actually referred to as “The Island of 35 Beaches,” and to that, we say, “challenge accepted.” Curaçao has a beach for every mood, vibe, and activity—including doing nothing at all. Many of its beaches have lagoons, which make them especially fitting for families with small children, snorkelers hoping to spot colorful schools of fish or anyone who just wants to spend a lazy afternoon afloat under the sun. Here are our picks for 10 to visit during a trip to this stunning island in the Lesser Antilles.
Also called Grote Knip or Kleine Knip, this acclaimed spot on the west side between the villages of Westpunt and Lagun is made up of a bigger beach (Kenepa Grandi) and a smaller and more private one (Kenepa Chiki). It’s only accessible by one road and tucked in a bay between ragged cliffs with breezy palapas set up on the beach, lending it a locals-in-the-know vibe. A shallow reef just a short swim from the shore is a must-hit spot for snorkelers; bring your own equipment and arrive early enough to snag a spot in the small parking lot.
Save a day during your trip to take an excursion to this uninhabited island 8 miles off the southeast coast known as "Little Curaçao," where you'll find the region's longest beach. Book a boat trip with Irie Tours; after a two-hour ride, you'll arrive at a scuba diver's and snorkeler's paradise with underwater caves, stunning coral, and abandoned shipwrecks. Spend the day exploring the oversized volcanic rock that forms the island and visiting the lighthouse; you can even stay for the night and camp out on the beach beneath the stars.
Adventure seekers can walk along a narrow path that runs along Restaurant Forti and spot the small fishing boats docked at nearby Playa Piskado before plunging forty feet into crystal clear water. Those looking for a tamer experience can descend the steps down and set out a mat or towel on Playa Forti’s sunny beach covered with coarse brown sand and tiny pebbles. Grab a table before sunset at Blue View Sunset Terrace for barbecued iguana and an ice-cold bottle of Amstel Bright.
Sure, you can jump in the water and swim with the sea turtles who hang out near the boats on this small quiet beach–especially before noon when the fishermen throw their chum into the water and attract more of these friendly creatures. But much more fun and immersive is to rent a personal underwater propeller from SeaBob Curaçao, hang on and ride alongside. If you don’t want to get wet, walk out on the pier and take that perfect IG photo with the nets and azure water as your backdrop before ordering a cold drink from the open-air beachfront snack bar.
Once a harbor for the small ships harvesting salt, Daaibooi was also used by American soldiers during World War II to protect the island from German attacks. It’s proximity to Willemstad makes it a quick jaunt and shallow calm water allows for easy snorkeling for beginners and children. Pergolas provide respite from the sun, there is a small trail west of the beach and the snack bar is open every day. If you are lucky you may run into Mr. Kees van Dongen, the manager of the restaurant, beach and surrounding area who’s at the ready to give you insider tips on making your visit to Curaçao unforgettable.
Playa Porto Mari
Situated on the west coast on the private estate of Plantages PortoMari, this secluded beach boasts white coral sand, a photo-worthy dock, and a unique double reef leading to a fabulous diving and snorkeling site. Three trails (the Seru Matteo, History, and Bird), which start at the beach’s parking lot, are perfect for hiking and mountain biking, and all activities here are managed sustainably. The boat-shaped bar and restaurant is known for its Indonesian-inspired dishes, including grilled chicken satays and nasi goreng as well as frikandel, a Dutch snack that’s basically a deep-fried minced meat hot dog.
You’ll recognize this beach by its in-water swing set, the focal point of a laid-back spot that has nooks, beach chairs and places to lounge aplenty as well as Trunk Divers, a dive center offering rentals and tours. The area definitely starts to draw a crowd as sunset approaches, as the aptly-named Kokomo Beach restaurant hosts live music and serves up tuna tartare, shrimp and steaks you can wash down with Blue Curaçao-based cocktails.
Jan Thiel Beach
One of the most happening spots on Curaçao, Jan Thiel is home to swanky beach clubs like Papago Beach Club, where attendants cater to your every whim. In the afternoon, step off your towel-draped chaise lounge to partake in activities from beach tennis to flyboarding to sailing and paddleboarding with Bounty Adventures. At night, Zest Mediterranean mixes up a dizzying array of gin and tonics to enjoy with their Mediterranean cuisine, Zanzibar Beach Club is the island’s go-to restaurant for stone oven pizza, and local artists play live acoustic sets on the sand.
Director's Bay Beach
Known as a top dive site, this area on the southeastern coast also has an amazing under-the-radar beach. One privately-owned by the Royal Dutch Shell Company, it was turned back over to the island in 1985 yet remains relatively remote. Limestone cliffs surround the cozy cove-like enclave—no wonder it’s been dubbed “Lover’s Beach. Swimming to the steep drop off close to shore rewards you with views of sea horses, eels, octopi and sponges as well as Tugboat, a famous sunken ship home to blue parrotfish and yellowtail snapper.
Located near the village of Lagoon on the northwestern side of the island, the towering cliffs, rock formations and colorful boats of Playa Lagun have lent comparisons to the beaches of Thailand. You’ll find coral, sponges and reef fish in every color of the rainbow in the long narrow channel, and there is a dive shop through which you can book a dive or work on your scuba certification. Climb the stairs on the right side of the beach to the snack bar to rent beach chairs and grab some refreshments.