Visiting Curaçao with your Southern Caribbean cruise or staying near Willemstad? Rent a car and beach hop the Curaçao beaches.
Please note: this trip and post was written pre-Covid.
Out of the ABC islands, when I booked our Celebrity Equinox Southern Caribbean cruise, I was the most excited to visit Curaçao. I would see colorful photos of Willemstad, beautiful blue waters, flourishing markets, and just imagined myself in these photos.
Just like our day in Aruba, we had a full day in Curaçao and I was ready to explore this Dutch Caribbean island. Most people get off the ship and spend their days in the capital city, Willemstad, but as usual, I wanted to see more. Specifically, Curaçao beaches. That doesn’t mean we didn’t take some time to visit Willemstad too at the end of our day.
Obviously, the past year I yearned being at the beach more than ever. I’ve always been a beach person, but more than ever before, I’ve been craving the comfort of the warm sun, salty air, and the sound of the waves crashing against the shoreline.
Curaçao Cruise Port
We didn’t do much exploring of the Curaçao Mega Pier, but I thought it was easy in and out of the terminal. Relatively quiet, compared to other Caribbean cruise terminals. We booked a car rental in advance to be picked up at the terminal.
Should you rent a car at Willemstad, Curaçao cruise port?
If you would like to visit Curaçao beaches like we did or even just drive north to see more of the countryside, rent a car. I can’t press how freeing it is to explore at your own pace – of course within the time your ship is at the port.
There are pros and cons to it. If you’re driving, that means you have to navigate on your own with a provided map or Google maps and there is no tour guide to educate you on the local history and culture.
Having your own car means you can make as many stops as you want, go in the direction you want and explore local spots your tour guide may not show you.
It can cost as little as $50 for a car rental for the day. I suggest booking a car rental as soon as you have your cruise itinerary. The earlier you book, the better your rate and the faster you can secure a car rental as they do get booked up fast. All you need is a valid Driver’s License.
We booked a car with Avis.
The Avis office is right in the terminal. Once you check-in, they will bring you to your car. Now, the only complaint I have from the day was that we had to wait for our car to be ready for about 30 mins, even though we booked it for a specific time. Remember, you’re on vacation, just go with the flow.
Driving in Curaçao is easy and safe. There wasn’t a ton of traffic and the beach stops are mostly off of one major road. Most are free unless you’re heading to a resort beach.
Beach Hopping Curaçao Beaches
Did you know Curaçao has some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the Caribbean? We don’t scuba dive, but we do enjoy snorkeling.
At each one of the beaches we visited, there were many snorkelers and sometimes scuba divers. I watched one diver suit up by his car, hike the tank over his shoulder, and walk right down to the beach and into the water.
If you’re looking to beach hop on your own during your Southern Caribbean itinerary, Curaçao is probably one of the best islands to do so. Also, keep your eye out for flamingos, you never know when you’ll come across them.
Probably because it was a weekday during the fall and rainy, none of the Curaçao beaches we visited on this day were crowded. So I can’t speak to what a summer day is like with a cruise in town. So if you do beach hop the Curaçao beaches and arrive at a crowded beach, you can always get back in the car and head on to the next one.
Here are some beach hopping tips:
- Have your own ride so you can explore it on your own. OR, book a beach-hopping tour.
- Designate a certain amount of time you’ll spend at each beach. If not, you get caught up at the beach and miss out on the actual hopping part. If you decide to stick to one beach, that’s okay, just make sure everyone in your party is in agreement.
- Have at least a bottle of water and a couple of packaged snacks to have in between beaches. Even though I ate breakfast, at some point I got so lightheaded and thirsty.
- If you plan to snorkel, make sure you have all your gear ready.
- Wear your swimsuit. Facilities are sparse.
Beach Packing List
Planning some fun in the sun. Don’t forget to pack these items for your beach vacation.
We came across a few cruisers here at Daaibooi Beach. It’s a great first stop. And if you need any snorkeling gear, there is a hut on this beach renting snorkeling and diving gear. We ended up purchasing fins for hubby here.
Now when you snorkel here, you want to go left of the rocks. There are beautiful fish in that area and you may even spot a sea turtle or two.
Absolute pristine water and worth the drive north to visit this beach. The snorkeling, according to hubby, some of the best yet. You may also spot a turtle!
You can rent chairs here. We didn’t since we were beach hopping the Curaçao beaches. There is a snack bar here. There is a bathroom that you will need to pay to use.
We found Playa Forti when we went for lunch at Blue View Sunset Terrace. So after lunch, you can guess where we spent a good portion of our time.
Here there is a spot where you can cliff jump. We chose not to but were entertained at lunch watching those that did. See a video and more pictures under our Tasty Itinerary section.
Cas Abao Beach
Looking for a resort-style beach in Curaçao? Or a beach to have lunch and lounge for the rest of the afternoon? Cas Ababo Beach is a great option.
You can get off the cruise and head straight to this beach to lounge under a palapa for the day. This beach has it all from massages, snorkeling, kayak rentals, a beach bar, and a restaurant.
Island Hop to Aruba!
Have you visited the beautiful beaches of Aruba?
Explore Willemstad, Curaçao
One of the best things about this port is you can leave your cruise and in minutes you can be in Historic Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site. So if visiting the Curaçao beaches or touring the island doesn’t interest you, you can absolutely take a free walking tour of this dutch town filled with European colonial history.
After our day beach hopping, we returned the car in the late afternoon and then to the ship to freshen up. Our cruise ship didn’t leave until 8 pm, so we had a few hours left to explore Willemstad. Since it stopped raining, we wanted to make the most of the port.
We did not explore Willemstad at the best time as the markets and shops were starting to close. However, we definitely got a feel for this beautiful town. For me, it was reminiscent of San Juan, Puerto Rico with the historic colorful architecture and cobblestone streets.
What to See in Willemstad
The 19th-century Rif Fort
On your way to historic Willemstad, Punda, you will walk through the 19th century Rif Fort. What was once a fort built to defend the island of pirates, is now a sort of a shopping mall. You will find a variety of shops, bars, and eateries here.
Queen Emma Bridge
Now, we didn’t know the Queen Emma Bridge is a popular attraction until we started to walk from the Otrabanda to Punda. This floating bridge connects the two sides of the city. And you may want to make it to Punda to explore, it’s where you’ll find the colorful town you see in photos.
As I was saying, we started to cross the Queen Emma Bridge and in the middle of our crossing, a horn went off and the barriers at each end of the bridge closed down. We had no idea what was going on. To say we were bewildered would be an understatement. Everyone around us was either as confused or completely overjoyed by what was about to happen.
Beneath us our feet, we felt a sudden vibration. Within minutes the bridge began to move in a lateral position to give passage to another boat through the St. Anna Bay.
Right place and right time. We enjoyed the unexpected experience.
Fun fact: The Queen Emma Bridge is also known as the Swinging Old Lady.
Explore Historic Willemstad
Once you’re off the Emma Bridge and in historic Willemstad, you will quickly see the “Lock Your Love” sculpture to your left. Just like Paris, you can take a padlock and secure it to the sculpture.
When you explore Willemstad, you want to look up at the Dutch European architecture. Colorful Willemstad is worth walking through. You will find lots of shopping and tourist shops.
In the Punda side, you will also find the Curacao sign the further you walk into town. In the same square, you’ll find the justice buildings and police station.
The Floating Market
Sadly, this is permanently closed. I was so disappointed.
It’s one of the things in Curaçao I was looking forward to the most and I found out that it no longer exists. I figured I’d let you know, just in case you had it on your list or heard of it.
We missed this, but here are some things you can fit into your itinerary if you’re planning a day in Willemstad:
Curaçao Tours You Can Take from Willemstad
Not interested in beach hopping or exploring Willemstad? Been there and done that, but you’re looking for something adventurous. Perhaps one of these Curaçao excursions will pique your interest.
- Half-Day ATV Adventure
- Stand-up Paddle-boarding Through Mangroves
- Boat Trip to Klein
- Discover Scuba Diving
Tip: Don’t wait to book a tour. As the cruise or travel dates approach, the best tours get booked up quick.
Tasty Itinerary: Where to Eat in Curaçao
Blue View Sunset Terrace
It started to rain again after leaving Grote Knip so we decided to break for lunch. We came across Blue View Sunset Terrace right at Playa Forti and with everyone coming and going from the parking lot, we decided it had to be good.
This eatery was super casual with island vibes and the best ocean view. On the menu, they had iguana. I could not get myself to try it. Where I come from, iguana is not normally -I mean, ever- on the menu. Have you tried iguana? How do you like it?
What I also loved about this restaurant is that the terrace has the most amazing views of Playa Forti. We sat the counter, facing the ocean and watched cliff jumpers dive into the water on the other side of us.
Don’t worry, I have a video of one of the cliff jumpers you can watch. It appeared to be a group that kept rotating the jumps. It was quite entertaining to see while we ate.
You’re probably not going to be impressed by what we ordered as we didn’t venture outside of what we’d eat back home. That’s okay because we really enjoyed our lunch at Blue View Sunset Terrace.
I will say, my BBQ chicken wings were one of the best I’ve ever had. They were crispy, not soggy and their homemade BBQ was sweet and smokey, and just fantastic. I really enjoyed them. I had some of hubby’s fries and they were cooked perfectly. Everything was great tasting and great quality.
Location: Weg Naar Westpunt, Westpunt, Curaçao (Google Map It)
Old Market at Plasa Bieu
I did not make it to the Old Market in Willemstad. However, it is on my list for authentic Curaçaoan eats. If you’re exploring Willemstad and you’re hungry for lunch, head to the Old Market.
Try one of the many food stands serving some local classic eats. Enjoy it on one of their picnic tables and maybe do some souvenir shopping when you’re done.
Note: The Old Market is not open on Sundays.
Old Market at Plasa Bieu | De Ruyterkade, Willemstad, Curaçao (Google Map It)
Curaçao is a Lovely island
It is a beautiful island and I’d love to visit all the Curaçao beaches in the future. I think I had circled about a dozen beaches on the map and sadly, we only made it to a few. My expectations were high and I, unfortunately, left the island not as wowed as I expected to be.
The water there is amazing. Perhaps, if I had visited on a sunny day, instead of a rainy day, I would have left it with a different opinion. Sometimes the weather can dampen an experience and sometimes it can highlight it. Exploring Colorful Willemstad at the end of the day brightened my day.
We do need a redo and will return in the future.
There is amazing marine life in Curaçao. For avid snorkelers and scuba divers, this is a great place to explore sea life.
Next stop: The Magical Island of Bonaire
Is Curaçao on your bucket list? Are you planning to go beaching hopping Curaçao beaches?
Have you been to Curacao? What did you love the most?
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