Like A Local: Curaçao

I can tell you what to do where until the cows come home, but wouldn’t you rather hear it straight from the source? In this series, I nab knowledgeable locals and get them to reveal the insider intel on the destinations they call home so you can enjoy the Caribbean the way Caribbeans do. This time around our savvy source is none other than Curaçao’s minister of tourism and economic affairs, Stanley Palm. I caught up with the gregarious legislator during a visit to Miami in March, when he graciously shared the scoop on his multi-culti island.

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WHY CURAÇAO? Tourists love our island but our island isn’t touristy. When you visit you’ll get a taste of our unique culture that’s part African, part European, all authentically Caribbean.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.48.17 PM FOUR THINGS YOU HAVE TO DO Whenever you come you have to snap a selfie with our iconic pastel waterfront buildings as a backdrop, and walk over the floating Queen Emma bridge connecting the districts of Punda and Otrabanda. But there are two really great times to visit: Curaçao Carnival season stretches from January to March, and the whole island parties – including me! – in the Grand Parade. The lineup for our Curaçao North Sea Jazz Festival in August features Bruno Mars; Nile Rodgers and Chic; Chaka Khan; and Dianne Reeves. We love to party here, and this event will be a great opportunity to join us.

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SERIOUSLY SPEAKING – JUST FOR A MOMENT The Kura Hulanda Museum in Willemstad documents the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and is the only one of its kind in the world. Touring it is a really moving experience, especially when you descend into the life-size replica of the hold of a slave ship.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 1.10.33 PM WHY YOU SHOULD LEAVE YOUR SKINNY JEANS AT HOME You can’t leave without having lunch at Marsche Bieuw, the food court in our market. There’s all sorts of krioyo (local) cuisine – iguana soup, stewed goat, pumpkin pancakes – cooked from scratch each day over coal fires. I like Zus’ stall, but the most important thing is to get here early (I recommend around noon), because when the food’s done, it’s done! Happy Hour at Mambo Beach is a favorite of mine, but after a long night out I always stop at the truk di pan (food trucks) between midnight and 4 a.m. One of my favorites is Hot Pepper (in the Fedex parking lot, opposite the Promenade Shopping Center) where I order a burrito with shrimp and tenderloin. It’s not on the menu, but tell them I sent you.

Screen Shot 2014-04-17 at 12.49.15 PMDON’T LEAVE WITHOUT BUYING Aside from our famous Curaçao liqueur, the most popular souvenirs are chichis, voluptuous and colorful clay figurines that are meant to symbolize the nurturing elder sister everybody needs. Visit Serena’s Art Factory on the east side of the island and you can paint your own. This fall we’ll be opening the Sambil Mall, with more than 150 stores, and we’re working on plans to make the entire island tax-free.