Known as one of the “ABCs” of the Caribbean (along with Aruba and Bonaire), Curaçao is a small island nation all its own, owned by the Dutch, and on a clear day, within sight of Venezuela, South America. With lots of influences and loads of charm, it makes a great cruise stop, weekend trip, or week-long island getaway. But, as with anywhere you’ve never been, there are a few things to know before you go!
Fill Out Your Digital Immigration Form in Advance
I wish we’d known this before we arrived! I totally dropped the ball on this, but you don’t have to! All visitors, regardless of nationality, must fill out a digital immigration form up to 7 days in advance to enter the island. Don’t forget to do it!
Also helpful: The Ultimate Traveler’s Guide to Passports
The official language on Curaçao is Dutch, but the local Papiamento language is more widely spoken. You’ll also hear Spanish, English, and I definitely heard some Portuguese while we were there, too! But if you only speak English, you’ll still be able to get around just fine.
Essential info: The Words to Learn in the Local Language Wherever You Travel
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Renaissance Hotel next to the cruise port, within walking distance to many sites, restaurants, and the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge to cross the bay. We thought it would be an ideal place to stay, but it’s actually a little far from most of the other things we wanted to do, which were all on the far west side of the island. It’s a small island, but it’s long. It was about a 45-minute drive from the national parks, beaches, snorkeling sites, and restaurants with views we wanted to experience.
If we had it to do over again, we would have stayed on the west side of the island, or at least close to the middle. You can do everything on the east side that you want to do in just one day, but if you’re like us, you’ll want to spend multiple days (and less time in the car) on the west side. Learn from our fumble!
A fun read: The Most Legendary Hotels in the World
You Can Drink the Water
It’s hit-or-miss whether visitors can drink the water on Caribbean islands, or a variety of other countries around the world. On St. Martin, for example, the locals can drink the water, but visitors who aren’t used to it can get a bellyache if they drink it. This is not the case on Curaçao! They have excellent water filtration and purification on the island, so you can drink, brush your teeth, and accidentally swallow shower water without issue. Drink up! (And tap water is FREE at restaurants.)
More here: The Best Places to Eat on Curaçao
Start Your Mount Christoffel Hike by 10:00am
It gets so hot in the afternoons, and the hike is quite challenging, so if you plan to hike Mount Christoffel, you are required to start before 10:00am. Check in at the visitor center across the street to sign your waiver and pay your fee. You’ll have to sign a statement saying you have food and water with you, too. The hike is no joke!
All the details: Everything You Need to Know about Hiking Mount Christoffel
Guilders or Dollars Will Do (and there’s a lot of rounding happening)
Curaçao is officially on the Antillean Guilder (ANG), but U.S. dollars (USD) are accepted as well. Use the XE app to find out the current exchange rate, but generally there will be some rounding going on. Sometimes it’s in your favor, sometimes in theirs, but only a little bit. It’s all a wash in the end, so don’t get bogged down in the pennies. You’re on an island; go with the flow.
Read next: Can I Use the U.S. Dollar Abroad
ATMs have a $10 USD Fee
Well, at least the one we used had a $10 USD fee! We wouldn’t have balked at a small percentage or a flat $3 USD fee, as most ATMs in the world have, but $10 USD seemed quite steep! We only used an ATM once to get out some ANG. We also brought some USD with us, and we used them interchangeably. I recommend bringing plenty of USD with you, and only getting out ANG if you feel like you need or want them, and only if your bank reimburses that fee!
Tip 10-15% at Restaurants
This is the most awkward part of travel, right? How much do you tip? Is tipping customary at all? What’s insulting? What’s going to make me look like I’m throwing away money?
On Curaçao, 10% is the customary tip, with 15% being a generous tip. It may or may not be included in your bill as a “service charge,” so look before you tip. Cash is preferred, but if you want to put the tip on your card, you’ll do that before you pay. You can’t add the tip to the card later, as is typical in many other places.
More here: How to Plan a Trip (a step-by-step guide)
Gas Stations are Cash-only
It seems odd if you’re not used to it, but there is a man inside a fully-enclosed kiosk who will take cash for your gas before you pump it. He will give you change if you give him more money than is needed to fill your tank. The important thing is that it’s cash only, though you can pay in ANG or USD.
Pack well: What to Pack for 5 Days on Curaçao
Be Careful What You Reserve
Make sure your car rental reservation is for an automatic if you need it, and also for a right-road driving vehicle if you need that, too. You’ll be driving on the right-hand side of the road, as you would in North America, but we saw cars with drivers in both Continental European drivers’ sides and British drivers’ sides.
Worth noting: The guy in front of us at the car rental counter was being given a manual transmission, British-style vehicle. That is not what he intended or wanted! Can you imagine trying to drive a stick shift with your left hand if that’s not what you’re used to? Make sure your car rental reservation is what you need it to be before you reserve!
Keep reading: The 10 Best Things to Do on Curaçao
Be Ready for Roundabouts and Speed Bumps
There are only so many roads on an island, but these features got old after a while! We’re not opposed to roundabouts or speed bumps, but there were a lot of them. Even at intersections without roundabouts, there were extremely large speed bumps in addition to stop signs. Think more like “platform” and less like “speed bump.”
Parking Seems to Be FREE Everywhere
Woohoo! I would expect to pay a minimum of $3 for parking on an island, and would not blink an eye if someone was charging $20. Thankfully, neither is the case! Parking was FREE everywhere we went, even at the hotel, and even at popular beaches.
More here: What to Know Before You Visit the Caribbean
Want more? Check out all you need to know to plan your trip on my dedicated Caribbean Islands Page!
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