Curaçao is way more than just day trip destination and renting a car is definitely the best way to explore its natural beauty.
Located to the north of Venezuela, the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) are a popular stop for cruise lines in the Caribbean. I decided to explore one of the islands just by itself and planned a road trip around Curaçao.
After spending a week in Curaçao, I found out that sweet cocktails and white sandy beaches are just the beginning of the fun.
Planning a Route
Although the island stretches only 63km from southeast to northwest, Curaçao is not the place for renting a car and just do a day trip. Nature lovers will see in Curaçao a large amount of untouched landscapes and scenic views, in which you need way more than just a short glimpse.
While the eastern side of the island is way more populated, travelers who go and explore Curaçao’s west coast will find a rawer scenery as well secret getaways the island hides from normal tourists.
Curaçao turned out to be a country of natural contrasts and while driving around the island I was able to see giant waves crashing against limestone cliffs, quiet lagoons with hundreds of flamingos and secret beaches in which I was the only person around.
Renting a car in Curaçao
Renting a car in Curaçao should not be a problem at all. No matter if you are planning a full road trip in Curaçao or just a day trip around the island, most independent travelers do it, and since Curaçao is part of the Kindgom of the Netherlands, travelers using European driving licenses won’t have a problem in renting one.
Even though driving in Willemstad can be frustrating due to the number of vehicles around, traffic in other parts of the island flows quite smoothly.
The main road of Curaçao (which connects the east and the west) is in a good shape and 4×4 vehicles are not necessary for visiting the key spots of the island. There are some areas where the dense vegetation won’t be suitable for a small car, but these are just a few places in Curaçao and exploring them independently won’t worth the cost of a vehicle upgrade.
When renting a car in Curaçao I recommend pick up and drop off at the airport. It is the most convenient way to start and finish your travel as you won’t have to use the overly expensive taxis – a one-way cab drive to a hotel can be as expensive as 30 USD.
Booking the car can be done online and if you are arriving on a cruise ship, some companies even have an office right at the Mega Cruise Terminal.
Inside Tip: Renting a car in Curaçao can be even cheaper than booking a daily excursion. Curacao car rental prices are way lower than in Europe and since Curaçao’s main source of income comes mainly from cruise ship tourists, getting convinced of booking an overly expensive tour can happen very fast.
Exploring Curacao’s wild west
With a week to travel around this tiny island, I decided to take things easy and explore mostly early in the mornings and before sunset. During the rest of the day, I preferred to enjoy the beauty of Curaçao’s beaches and take a dip in the crystal-clear waters of the Caribbean. I also decided to stay in the heart of the country and outside from big cities, as I wanted move quicker from one place to another.
Although Curaçao is a very small country, rush hour can be a nightmare and you can spend almost one hour driving out of Willemstad early in the morning.
With the sounds of reggaeton in Papiamento and Latin music on the radio, I started my road trip in Curaçao and tried to explore its most adventurous side.
These are some of the best places I visited:
Boka Charomba and its cactus forest
Located less than 10 minutes from any hotel or resort located in the center of the island, visiting the inlet of Boka Charomba and its fascinating forest of giant cactus should be considered an obligatory stop in Curaçao. This is one of Curaçao’s best kept secrets, as travelers exploring the area will probably encounter only one or two fishermen during the whole day.
Once at Boka Charomba, visitors can follow a path that leads to the cactus forest at the top of the cliff, as well the best view of Boka Charomba’s inlet. It’s a very strange experience to walk along a coastline and starting to see how the whole area surrounding turned slowly into a forest of cactus. These can reach heights up to 10 meters and are commonly known as the Kadushi cactus.
Considered by many locals as the most important plant in Curaçao, indigenous communities in the island used it for almost everything. Locals see the Kadushi Cactus as big part of Curaçao’s cultural heritage.
Relaxing at one of Curaçao’s 35 beaches
I couldn’t say I’ve been to Curaçao without visiting one or two of its iconic beaches. There is at least one beach with perfect crystal-clear waters and fine white sand every 10 minutes when driving and with 35 different beaches to choose from, I knew I had a difficult task in finding the perfect one.
Although travelers will find more appealing to visit the world known beaches of Grote Knip, Lagun Beach or Kokomo Beach, I decided to use the advantage of having a car and tried to find more isolated and private beaches for relaxing.
I encountered some of the clearest waters at Playa Santu Petru, Playa Santa Cruz and Karakter Beach. These were not only way less visited than the others, but also had the astounding natural beauty I was looking for.
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Sleeping under the stars in Christoffel National Park
A perfect getaway during a road trip in Curaçao and probably my most memorable experience and top recommendation if you are visiting the island. I decided to stay overnight inside the Christoffel National Park and see the stars like never before.
With the idea of promoting a more technology free environment, travelers can book an overnight stay at the Christoffel National Park. It costs 200 USD and you can bring up to 9 friends with you at no additional cost. Once inside the park, one of the rangers will spend the night with you and tell you some stories about the park and Curaçao itself.
Since the job of the ranger is basically taking care of the natural environment and guide you in case of an emergency, travelers booking this very unique experience have to bring their own hammocks and food for the night.
I went with four Dutch expats who lived in Curaçao and spent the night telling stories, stargazing and having a drink next to a fire right in front of the beach.
Hiking up Christoffelberg
Since I was already at the Christoffel National Park, I had to climb Christoffelberg. This is Curaçao’s highest mountain (372m) and an obligatory activity for any adventure lover visiting the island.
Christoffelberg made me see Curaçao in a completely different way. With eight different hiking trails and different levels of difficulty, Christoffelberg is a quiet and beautiful hike, in which travelers can learn more about the nature of the country. The diverse fauna and flora of the park is exceptionally beautiful and the views from the summit are simply the best in Curaçao.
This is a very popular spot for locals and visitors and you will see many of them during weekends or holiday season. However, due to the extreme heat in Curaçao, starting to hike up the mountain after 10 am is not allowed. Most hikers usually start their trek right before sunrise when the doors of the park open.
Christoffelberg is one of these places that is only reachable when doing a road trip around Curaçao or renting a car in Curaçao for a day trip.
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Witnessing the force of nature at Shete Boka National Park
Literally translating to “seven mouths” in reference to the series of inlets located along the shoreline of northern Curaçao, this national park sets up a scenery that doesn’t look like the Caribbean at all.
Here, I was wandering around the trails located next to the cliffs and hearing the waves crashing into them. The area visitors can explore at Shete Boka National Park looks and feels also very isolated as well. There are no houses, souvenir shops or cruise ships on a sight – a true visit to raw nature.
This is not the Curaçao I heard about or saw on magazine pictures. While doing a road trip in Curaçao, I discovered an island with many natural escapes, wonderful sceneries and fantastic people always greeting with a smile.
Each moment in the island was very special to me and I’m almost sure I would have not been able to see so much of this country, if I didn’t rent a car in Curaçao and explored a different side of the island. Curaçao is not the common Caribbean island and although cocktails and sandy beaches are always available for relaxation, travelers should know that Curaçao has adventure and excitement for you to choose too.