I met Reggie late one night outside of Curacao’s only airport. The air was hot and humid and the competing sound of tree frogs was the only thing I could hear. I was approached by a man with a beaming smile and a blue shirt that read “CURACAO.” He charismatically introduced himself as “Reggie” and let myself and the others know he would be our guide for the duration of the trip. We boarded his van and made our way through Curacao’s dimly lit streets, Reggie honking and waving to people mid-conversation. He asked if we were tired and wanted a coffee or water, then slyly looked back in the rear-view mirror and posed…”or beer?” Little did I know that short ride from the airport to the hotel would set the tone for my whole trip, and little did I know I would get to see a fantastic country through the eyes of such a warm and engaging host.
The next day we took a walking tour around Curacao’s capital city, Willemstad, a colorful and bustling city located along the Caribbean Sea. The cafe culture of Europe certainly made its way to Curacao; the bistros around Willemstad were full of tourists and locals alike sipping espressos and people-watching while the sound of reggae music from street buskers vibrated between the buildings. We went by the floating market where fisherman and vendors from Curacao and neighboring Venezuela tie up their boats to sell fish and exotic produce, as well as hand carved African influenced masks and vibrantly painted artworks. The tour of Willemstad ended at Plasa Bieu, an open-air market with numerous vendors serving up savory meals and sweet snacks, like cactus and barley soup, or the island’s famous pumpkin pancakes.
Curacao, like most Caribbean islands, is known for its natural beauty. The island’s highest peak, Mount Christoffel was on our itinerary for the following morning. Upon arriving we were greeted by our tour guide, a park ranger, who had a peculiar sense of humor and a dry tone, leaving half the group wondering if his anecdotes about the park were fact or fiction. During the tour he pierced his hand with a barb to show us how sharp the local cacti were and told us about the time he met Arnold Schwarzenegger. The park was beautiful and our tour took us up rocky roads, toward the peak, in an old Toyota 4X4, our guide’s maniacal laugh spilling out of the windows with every acceleration.
We left the park and drove west to Playa Knip, a gorgeous, quaint beach frequented by locals. Upon arriving, we stumbled into a small snack stall where a woman was selling fragrant cheese empanadas and aqua de coco, and we immediately knew where we would purchase lunch. We loaded up on the delightful fare and headed down to the powdery sand to discover families laughing and splashing together in the crystal clear waters and others simply relaxing under a palm hut, cold beverage in hand. My personal plan was to rejuvenate my muscles and rear-end after the bumpy ride on the 4×4’s rigid bench seating, by way of cool ocean water and warm tropical sun. The calm rhythmic waves were the icing on the cake!
As our trip was coming to a close, Reggie suggested we try a delicious local restaurant called the Seaside Terrace, a charming little open-air restaurant with a great view of the beach, Playa Marie Pampoen. The owner who was very excited to have us met us by the van. He took our drink orders (I had a tangy, freshly made tamarind juice) and told us which seafood was freshest that day and the available sides. Some opted for the popular Lion Fish, but I chose a vegetarian option akin to red beans and rice with fried plantains.
The food was good, but the atmosphere was great! I found myself getting up twice to walk around and take pictures. There were local families cooking on beachside BBQ grills and vacationers from Venezuela enjoying their neighbor’s attractions. I had a special encounter with two young men performing wheelies on their bikes while masterfully navigating a nearby jetty. We laughed and made numerous attempts to get the photo just right, trying not to harm any bystanders in the process. This truly was a special beach that had such a strong sense of community, and I promise, anyone who visits will have a true local experience.
On our final day we were invited by Reggie to his friend’s house party. These impromptu get-togethers happen throughout the island on Sundays and are generally promoted through word of mouth invitations. We were given a warm reception and after a short time were treated with the comradery of old friends. The people of Curacao have a way of making everyone feel relaxed and welcomed, something I soon won’t forget. I relish the day I can visit with Reggie again – beaming smile, infectious attitude and all.