Don't forget these essentials, make your stay on Curaçao a good one.
Curaçao is a Tropical Isle located south of the Caribbean hurricane belt. Besides the obvious (Sunscreen, Bathing Suits, Flip-Flops, etc.) there are, from personal experience, a few essential items a well prepared traveler should include on their equipment list.
We at Poppy Hostel have more than 5 years experience in advising budget travelers on the most important things you should remember for your trip. The order of this top-5 list is important. None of the items take up much room (ladies take note!) and will make your stay on our Dushi Isla. Better to include these items in your luggage instead of things like: extra clothes (especially cold weather attire) medicine (there are plenty of pharmacies on Curaçao).
#1 Insect Repellent w/ DEET
You've probably already heard about the Zika Virus.... If not, the salient facts, according to the WHO, are:
- Zika virus disease is caused by a virus transmitted primarily by Aedes mosquitoes.
- People with Zika virus disease can have symptoms including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms normally last for 2-7 days.
- There is scientific consensus that Zika virus is a cause of microcephaly and Guillain-Barré syndrome. Links to other neurological complications are also being investigated.
The stuff that works best is protecting yourself with a spray or stick containing DEET. This nasty stuff is the best protection against A-Aegypti, the main infection vector (sexual transmission has also been recorded). This striped mosquito has distinctive white stripes on its abdomen and legs. It is active during sunset and sunrise hours (5-7pm and 5-7am) so slop on the DEET before that time and/or wear long sleeves and pants. This stinging insect is quite small and easy to miss. It likes to ambush you especially on the feet. Burning a citronella candle or repelling incense under the table is a good idea.
All the openings to the bedrooms at Poppy have recently been fitted with mosquito screening. As long as the window shutters are kept closed before the sun sets, blood-sucking vampires will not be able to enter your room. Should you notice any buzzing, zap 'em with the electric tennis racquet, smoke them out or for those needing extra protection, there's klamboe to hang over your bed.
Although Zika has been reported on Curacao, it is by no means widespread or entrenched. Only pregnant women, or those thinking of becoming pregnant, should take note. Otherwise, those contracting the virus often do not present symptoms. If you do get sick, it's usually mild and symptoms disappear in a few days.
You can usually buy brands like "OFF" on Korsou, usually. If the "boat didn't come in" as we say there may be a run on the local bug-spray inventory and then the price and availability are adversely affected... If you have a preference for a certain type of bug spray, you may want to just bring your own. Put all liquids and gels in the checked luggage. There will be no mosquitos on your flight to or from Curazao.
#2 Snorkeling Equipment
Curaçao is basically made of Coral. Besides its beaches and colonial history, the isla is also an underwater paradise. You'd be remiss in forgetting a snorkel and goggles. Fins and a wetsuit are not essential although wearing some kind of shirt while floating face down in the Caribbean Sea will help protect against a sunburn.
Diving equipment is available for sale and hire all over the place but if you already have the equipment, bring it! You can find cheap sets for sale. Don't buy this at a gift shop or rent them on the beach unless you have cash to burn. A budget set, at Goisco MegaStore on the Schottegatweg Noord, will set you back about 50 Guilders or US$30. Just like with the spray, sometimes the "snorkeling container" gets caught up somewhere and there's no, or only expensive, equipment available.
You can also opt for a guided snorkeling trip with our underwater adventure partner Scubacao. This superb mobile dive shop also provide an excellent guided SCUBA diving experiences, including transport from and to your accommodation.
Reaching the best beaches is essential. Central Willemstad has a few good dive sites (Marriott Beach and Marie Pompoen). The best places to have a look under the waves are on the south west coast. More about this below...
#3 A valid Driver's Licence
Visitors on a shoestring often opt to use public transport. If you have time to kill this is an economical way of getting around. Almost invariably, however, sightseers choose to rent or borrow transportation for at least a part of their stay. Though generally traffic law enforcement can be lax, no car rental company will rent you anything without a driver's licence. Be aware that most outfits will ask that you are 23 or older before they let you drive off.
Those thinking of renting a scooter or moped will also have to provide some sort of licence. A 2-wheeled mode of transportation may seem like a cheap and convenient way of getting around. Keep in mind that renting 2 wheels instead of 4 is only marginally more affordable. Expect to pay about US$20-25 a day for a minibike and US$30-40 for a sub-compact car. Kòrsou has one car for every 2 inhabitants. Driving a car can be an adventure. Exploring on two wheels carries an added risk; motorists can be cowboys and there is little room on most roads for anything other than cars. Be especially vigilant on the weekends....our drink driving laws are rarely enforced!
Thanks to our own ISLA oil refinery, petrol on our piece of paradise is relatively cheap. Comparable to what you'd expect to pay in the USA and about 50% of what fuel costs in Europe. There are plenty of gas stations and they all accept US$.
Here is some added information on piloting yourself around the island. If you would like some tips on the best and most economical ways to get around, leave a comment below.
#4 Smartphone & Recommended Applications
Traveling without your iPhone or Galaxy S7 is a big no-no these days. Coming to Curacao is no different. Everyone here is hyper connected! There are free wifi hotspots everywhere and thanks to our good infrastructure, access to a fast internet connection is easy to find in Willemstad. This is a different story on the west side, aka bandabou. Mobile internet (3G, CDMA) is offered by both cellular providers (UTS(Chippie) and DIGICEL). Data roaming with a foreign carrier is outrageously expensive, you have been warned!
No smartphone is worth it's salt without the right Apps. On Curacao we know a lot about salt, and even more about cellphones. Most islanders have 2!
Here are a few essential applications you should load before you head out to the beach or outside internet range.
(OK, you will need internet access for this)
European and South American guests can skip to the next one. Basically, everyone here and on the continents just mentioned use this app to communicate. It's simple, uses your existing cell-phone number to put you in touch with friends in your telephone contact list (also using the app). You can send pics, vids, contacts, locations and even make voice calls. All for free vis the internet, data costs may apply. Get it for your iOS or Android NOW!
Facebook & FB-Messenger
Curaçao lives on facebook. period. Even where business is concerned, many only have a facebook presence and no website. The average Antillian is always on the smartphone, also while driving.....look out! Facebook is the killer app anyway. use it to search and communicate. The messaging app can be kind of cumbersome and drains your phone's memory more than WhatsApp. If you don't have a flash new celly, stick to whatsapp.
If all else fails. Good old SMS is something (almost) everyone here can relate to. It's not a bad idea to get a temporary sim-card at any corner shop and for US$20 you get the chip and like 25 Guilders credit. You can even buy MBs, the cellular network signal is passable almost everywhere. Just ask in the shop what carrier has the best deal going: Chippie or Digicel.
Location, Bearings and Directions on Curacao
Paper maps are so last century. There's a bunch of 'em purporting to give you directions on this rock. They are usually printed on poor stock and often blow away here, like almost everything else. Your best friend smartphone has the perfect solution, just instal: Maps.ME. She's a pretty big download but has the following benefits:
- Uses the open source map; locations, street names and even paths are well displayed.
- Fully downloadable maps, you don't need an internet connection because you load a map of the entire island on your phone.
- Search and routing function. Make sure you chose the routing data when downloading the map. This will help you generate a turn-by-turn description of the optimal route.
You will need to turn on your GPS functionality. Maps.ME uses Google play services. This gives you accurate positioning, based on WLAN, even where GPS is out of range.
We find this app easier to use and less resource hungry than Google Maps. The graphics and user interface are a bit less flashy. It does run better on older model phones, is you have enough free space for the maps of course.
Dedicated Island Apps
There are a few players here. Both have their own take on things. We have tried both but cant really find a bunch of use out of either of them. You can give them a burn but they don't provide nearly as much information as google. What they show is a bit easier to digest but don't forget that these are free applications, we all know that nothing is really free. Make up your own mind. Both are available from the respective app stores:
Curaçao App (Bit of a poor name choice but the company that designed it is called CRAPPS....!?) This is most popular local app on Google Play Store with 10K downloads but a slightly lower score (3.9) than the competition.
Curacao To Go Is the next runner up with only 5K downloads. Like the other app, it's got a map and info on what to do-see-drink-eat.
For charging purposes: standard plugs are single phase US/Canada type and volts here is 127v at 60Hz. Most chargers are accepted so you don't need a voltage transformer, just a plug format change will be fine (this holds true for your PC power supply as well). It may be a good idea to bring a USB battery pack. There's precious few power outlets on public beaches.
#5 A Fair Amount of Patience
They say it's a virtue, well on Kòrsou patience is essential! The predominant attitude to time we have is called "poco-poco" in Papiamentu. Be prepared to wait from the moment you get off the airplane. Even before if you are traveling on InselAir. Nobody is in a hurry here, except when they are driving. Behind the wheel all bets are off, it's drive to survive baby (ok that's an overstatement, we have Sunday drives as well)
There are a few things you can do to mitigate time spent waiting. Mainly, it comes down to embracing the wait.
At the Hato Airport
Get with the program before you leave for your trip. We are the first Caribbean nation to install E-Gate technology. This means you can pre-register for your Visa-Waiver. This should help cut your time in the immigration line. Register yourself here. If you don't and you arrive between 2-4pm, be prepared to wait up to an hour in line for a human immigration officer!
Customs and baggage retrieval are a breeze. Organize a transfer to your accommodation. Poppy Hostel can arrange this for you for US$20 (up to 2-3 people). Picking up a rental car is also a good idea. If you got time to kill, public transport is intermittent, unreliable but cheap. Don't take a taxi if you can avoid it and if you do keep in mind that there are no meters in the taxis on Curacao. Always agree on a price on forehand.
When consuming "local" hospitality
It is important to keep in mind that the tourism economy is still in it's infancy. The majority of visitors are "Dutch", you can read that as "Cheap". Tipping is not required nor expected in most places and this is reflected in the level of attention you receive. A good rule of thumb is looking at the prices of your fare. If these seem a bit expensive, you can expect western service levels. If it's cheap, well I think you get the picture.
Most Curacaoans are very friendly. An initial smile and a relaxed approach towards your wait staff (and any inhabitant really) can work wonders. We have a different approach to time on the island, hence the term mañana-land. Expect the levels to improve as Curaçao continues to grow it's tourist economy.
When making appointments:
Our rule of thumb, especially if this is the first meeting, is to make the appointment for about 20-30 before you actually plan to show up. If you're lucky, or the other party is on to it, you'll be early or only have to wait a few minutes. This advice only pertains to real locals. If you decide to stay with us, you can expect us to be early! We take tips too ;)
Things you do not need to bring to Curacao...
More than 1 pair of dress shoes.
Ladies, take note! There are few, if any, establishments on Curacao that have a dress code. Unless you are coming for a wedding or you are some kind of sex-in-the-city chick, a pair of sneakers is all you need (and your flip-flops, of course). Besides, there's plenty of opportunity to go shopping for bargain, throw-away asian foot wear. Local dushis love heels and wedges; in all shapes, colors and most importantly sizes.
Any Fear of contaminated tap water.
We have some of the purest, and most expensive, tap water on the planet. Thanks to the state owned Aqualectra company, we pay up to 10 Guilder Cents (US$0.6) for a liter of water. All the water that comes from a tap here is safe to drink. The supply comes from the "water factory" in Mundo Nobo west of Otrobanda. You can recognize the desalination and reverse-osmosis plant by the 3 huge chimneys on the south coast west of Willemstad.
Believe me, there's enough of that on the island. People here are usually gregarious and approachable at the best of times. Keep in mind that the ex-slave population has a lively and obstinate history with a distinct Dutch post-colonial flavour. If you act like a spoilt tourist, you will be treated as such. We are generally kind and accommodating but don't shy away from an argument. Watch this video for a caricaturized impression of local customer service.
We hope these tips have helped you prepare for a visit to our Dushi (no, it doesn't mean what you're thinking) shores. If you have any further questions, comments or suggestions.