Curacao is beautiful and it’s schizophrenic. I know that sounds odd but I swear it really isn’t. How else could I possibly describe an island whose European looking capital city, – with its pastel-coloured colonial buildings sitting on a waterfront no less – is juxtaposed to a vibe that is distinctly Afro-Caribbean (though there are several nationalities represented in Curacao). However, Curacao blends its personalities well.
Firstly, it could not be more picture perfect and Instagram worthy. The city is safe and bustling at night; as for the beaches, I wouldn’t be lying if I declared them some of the most beautiful in the world. But mostly, what makes Curacao even more special is its multilingual people (most Curacaolians speak 4 languages).
I visited the island directly after Christmas and one of the most frequently asked questions I was messaged on social media was: “Can Curacao be visited on a budget? The short answer is YES, even if you are a Caribbean resident with an unequally yolked currency, it is possible to do Curacao on the “cheap.”
Now full disclosure, my 7-day trip included stays at a three-star hotel as well a five, I’m going to tell you how I saved money at the top of my trip when I stayed in the Willemstad so I could afford to spend a few days at a gorgeous beach resort in Santa Barbara.
I’ll also show you little tricks you can do to have a more budget-friendly experience. Let’s start at the airport. Oh, and all prices are quoted in USD.
Arriving anywhere in high season means you can expect prices of just about everything to double. Since I visited Curacao directly after Christmas and at the height of the cruise ship influx, renting a mid-sized vehicle from the airport was quoted at $200 per day. Sure, everything is more expensive at the airport and yes, you can pre-arrange a taxi pick-up for about $40.00 to get Otrabanda in Willemstad, which was the location of my first hotel.
But there is an, even more, budget-friendly way to get your hotel and that’s by the public bus system. Cost? $1:00
If you have one piece of luggage I highly recommend the bus, which is clean and runs on time. It stops right in front of the airport and arrives every 30-45 minutes or so. While it goes through many villages and communities, the dry landscape and ways of living are well worth taking in before the cool sea breeze from the ocean and brightly coloured buildings in Willemstad obscure bits of the island’s realities.
From the bus depot, it took me 5-8 minutes to walk to Kura Hulanda, a great “budget-friendly” city hotel.
I was duped by the phone card hawker just before I picked up my luggage at the airport. It wasn’t her fault as much as it was mine. I wanted to be connected as soon as I exited immigration and paid $20.00 for 3G of data. “It will last the full week,” she said. Of course, it didn’t. Here’s the lesson. If you can be a little patient you can buy 1GB of data from Curaçao’s leading telecoms provider for as little as $1.70 for every 1G of data saving yourself $15.00
There are 4,000 hotel rooms in Curacao, I learned this fact during one of our booked tours. Curacao has every type of accommodation from all-inclusive 5-star hotels and resorts directly on the beach to pocket friendlier ones; the difference in service and amenities will naturally reflect what you are willing to pay. Now, of course, the biggest thing you can do to save money on a 7-day trip is to visit the island during the low season where you can shave $350 of your week’s tab.
I recommend staying in the City for the first couple of days and doing a beach resort later, if so inclined. In Otrabanda, I recommend Curacao Suites and Kura Hulanda, both are adjacent to each other though each hotel has a different feel.
Curacao Suites provides very spacious rooms with a bit of outdated furniture and is definitely more basic. There is no spa, no pool, no gym, no museum but choosing the former you will also shave $500 off a seven-day stay. If you don’t intend to spend much time in your hotel room, Curacao Suites is a good option, they provide breakfast in their package and have the friendliest staff.
However, I have a cool budget-saving tip, if you decide to make Curacao Suites your seven- day home. You can pay $10 per person to enjoy the pools at Kura Hulanda (the neighboring hotel) and another $20 to visit Curacao’s historic African museum, also located there. And since you won’t be doing that every day during your stay you can really save money if you decide to stay at the budget friendlier Curacao Suites and enjoy the luxuries of Kura Hulanda. One more thing, a seat in Kura’s gorgeous courtyard taking in the sculpture garden while sipping tea is absolutely free.
UNESCO Heritage Site
Emma Bridge Walk
Visit the Jewish District
A City Tour
Mall Crawl at Rif Fort
Things You Shouldn’t Leave The City Without Doing
Mambo Beach Visit: $8:00 for admission and beach chair
Paint the Chi-Chi doll on Thursday night at the art district: $8 and up depending on the size of your doll
Food in Curacao is diverse as the seventeen political parties that exist on the island. Yes, I gasped at that fact too. In the city, there are a ton of restaurants from American food joints like KFC to moderately priced open-air restaurants where a meal starts around $9 and goes to about $24 per meal. These restaurants aren’t anything amazing, they have typical American food that will fill you, but I found them to be happy spaces with even happier foreigners, and on any given night you’ll catch a live band or two in a lovely open-aired vibe.
Still, there are plenty of upscale restaurants in the city and you can expect to pay about $60 and up for a meal but you’re not here for my feedback on that so here’s how you can save major dollars on food. Eat local!
Curacao’s local food is amazing. My friends had the Keshi Yeni, which is just a perfectly baked large round ball of Gouda, stuffed with spiced meat, olives, capers, onions, and tomatoes, and then it was baked until perfection. What makes the island’s food special is the African and Dutch influences. Local meals begin at $10:00 and you can find them in local restaurants without any frills like 10 percent to 12 percent service charge that will be included on the final bill at the more expensive restaurants.
I have to tell you I loved driving in Curacao, I didn’t encounter one maddening situation, the roads are well pitched and wide. No one is in a rush and traffic is minimal. Curacao is too beautiful an island with unique things to see and do outside the city for you not to consider renting a car. We were able to rent a mid-sized car for $64 per day, we took it for three days. Smaller cars cost $54 once you rent them at one of the budget friendlier hotels- a vast difference from the prices quoted at the airport. The best saving of all though is getting a local to take you around. In fact, we were introduced to someone who charges $300 for a week of driving.
An Irie one day tour (yes stolen directly from Jamaica will cost $54-64 dollars for an 8-hour tour and while it does not include lunch (you pay extra a for that) the tour will take you to the wild and beautiful Hato Caves, one of the gorgeous beaches on the west coast, a city tour, a stop at the Blue Curacao factory and a visit to see the Scarlet Ibis.
There are ways to travel on a budget once you plan. It requires that you think creatively and ahead of time but it never means that you still can’t have the time of your life.
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