While Curacao is still affiliated with The Netherlands, I was shocked to see how little the island and the culture resembled its “motherland”, save for the architecture. It most definitely feels like a third world country, not the chic Dutch getaway I had envisioned. But where Curacao lacks the orderliness and efficiency of Northern Europe, it makes up for in color and flavor. Traditional Dutch buildings are painted in a riot of cotton-candy colors, salsa music pours from the windows, and the beach parties last late into the night. Many of my Dutch friends came to the island to escape the hyper-structured environment of The Netherlands, and they revel in the freedom and quasi-lawlessness of Curacao. Yes, it can be “gritty” and some areas may be best not to explore at night, but where else are public freeways closed spontaneously for an impromptu drag race?
It is precisely this mix of cultures that makes this island nation so fascinating. The island’s local language, Papiamentu, is a reflection of its Dutch, Spanish, French, and Portuguese backgrounds. The people are the usual Caribbean melting pot of African slave descendants, Dutch settlers, and South American immigrants. Nowadays, Curacao attracts both Dutch students looking for internships and a good party and posh expats living in gated communities, local fisherman living in shacks by the beach and American sailors stationed at the Navy base, Venezuelan vendors and Colombian visitors looking for a weekend getaway, and the daily dose of tourists disgorged for a brief escape from the cruise ship. It is difficult describe the feeling of Curacao, so go and visit for yourself and celebrate its contradictions. Up next: The 5 most interesting things to see on your trip.