When travelling to a famous international destination, we tend to have high expectations. Breathtaking views! Great food! Cultural exchanges with friendly locals! But too many times, our lofty aspirations are met with the harsh reality of dirty, overcrowded streets and pricey hotels. Local flavor? It's nearly impossible to find in many of the world's most touristy destinations. That's why we've created Journi Guides.
Journi Guides tell you where to beat the crowds, experience something authentic, and get the best 'gram of your life.
Check out this week's Journi Guide below to get our top recommendation of places you might not have heard of, but definitely should get to know.
Located safely outside the hurricane belt, there has never been a better time to visit the Netherland Antilles—Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, more commonly known as the ABC Islands.
Our bet is on Curaçao. Off the north coast of Venezuela you'll find the small, 170-square mile island rich hidden gem beaches, iguanas, and 150,000 friendly residents; the local concept of dushi (sweet or nice) isn't just a warm welcome for tourists, it's a way of life.
Need more incentive? Forbes reported Curaçao as one of the best bargain destinations of 2018, with an 11% dip in hotel prices. With luxe resorts, budget airbnbs, and everything in between, getting to this island paradise is easier than you might think: JetBlue flies nonstop from New York and American Airlines just added another route from Miami.
Consider this your guide to the best Curaçao has to offer.
Explore downtown Willemstad
With its candy colored row houses of Dutch and Portuguese-inspired architecture, Willemstad was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Many of the historic houses are government-owned, meaning that a number of them are free and open for you to explore during the day.
Admire—and bring home—the work of local women artisans
Whether it's the marine-inspired aesthetic of jewelry designer and ceramicist Evelien Sipkes; the painted ceramic Chichi dolls at Serena's Art Factory; the cooperative SilvanyRoss, filled with a locally made arts and crafts; or a visit to Dinah Veeris tends a lush garden of tropical plants and medicinal herbs for use in to herbal lotions, oils, and other bath products.
Drink the eponymous liqueur
Tour Landhuis Chobolobo, the sunshiney yellow 19th-century mansion with a central courtyard cocktail bar. But this isn't just any luxe locale in which to day drink; it's the home to the Genuine Curaçao Liqueur made from the native laraha orange. They serve homemade ice cream too, so this one's a no-brainer for an afternoon cooldown.
Visit the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere
In use since 1732, Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, known colloquially as "the snoa," is both house of worship to approximately 145 local families and a museum tracing Curaçao's Jewish heritage. Founded by Jews who fled Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century (the oldest tombstone in the cemetery dates back to the 1500s!). Be sure to also check out the floor. Made of sand imported from Israel, it is a reminder of ancestors who were forced to muffle the sounds of their worship.
Eat keshi yena
Don't miss the official dish of the Antilles: Gouda or Edam stuffed with chicken—often livers—olives, capers, pickled onions, and prunes. Keshi yena is served all over, but people rave about the ones served at Gouverneur de Rouville, a restaurant in a second-story colonial building in Otrobanda, that also serves panoramic views of Willemstad's waterfront.
Go out on a Thursday
One night a week, Willemstad transforms into an outdoor cultural festival called Punda Vibes. The city streets and squares fill with music—everything from a marching band to Latin and jazz—and on the main plaza at Gomezplein dancers demonstrate the Curaçaoan waltz. If you work up a thirst dancing, head to one of the many restaurants and bars offering happy hour specials. Just be sure to get back outside in time for the fireworks over St. Anna Bay.
Head to the rugged northeast to see untamed Curaçao. Check out a sunrise safari at Christoffel National Park and see the island's endangered white-tailed deer and native barn owl or hike 1,239 foot Mount Christoffel. Sea turtles nest along the island's rockiest shoreline at Shete Boka National Park, whose name translates to "Seven Mouths" or "Seven Inlets." Picture waves crashing dramatically against the rocks like geysers. The deserted beaches are a popular scuba diving spot, or hike the trails on limestone bluffs that lead to viewing platforms above the surf.
Eat like a local
Curaçao's cuisine reflects its diverse history and heritage, with influences from the Creole, Dutch, and Indonesian. At the open-air food hall, Plasa Bieu, vendors cook up local specialties like goat, iguana stew, and pumpkin pancakes. Food trucks come out after 9pm in Caracasbaai area near Willemstad and serve grilled meats in a party bus atmosphere. Other local specialties to try include: red snapper and cod with rice and beans; ayaka, meat tamales wrapped in banana leaves; sult, pickled pigs ears and feet; funchi, a cornmeal mush similar to polenta; okra stew; plantains; and any dish with cactus. Wash it all down with awa di lamunchi, a freshly squeezed and sweetened lime juice.
Head to the Floating Market
Due to its dry climate, There is little agriculture on Curaçao so every morning boats from Venezuela dock on the water in downtown Willemstad. At the Floating Market, you'll find the freshest citrus fruits, avocados, honey, bananas, tuna, and mahi-mahi (often called "dorado"), and vendors negotiating in Dutch, English, and the native Papiamentu.
Knock back some green rum
At 8 a.m., the doors open to one of the island's oldest water holes, Netto Bar, which has been making, bottling and serving shots of rom berde (green rum) since 1954. Sample the sweet-bitter liquor, distilled with anise and the dried peels of the native Lahara orange, in a green rum cocktail or in a shot.
Waste a day at the beach
With its many coves and inlets, Curaçao boasts 35 powdery white sandy beaches. Many of the beaches charge a nominal entrance fee, but Playa Kenepa is a public stretch where coolers are welcome. Snack vendors line up at the entrance selling the local pastechi, a crunchy pastry stuffed with seasoned meats. Parking and admission is also free at Playa Knip, and the swimming is divine. After a dip in the electric blue water, cool off with the a visit to the batidos stand serving fresh-fruit smoothies.
If after you've eaten like a Curaçaon and soaked up the sun, surf, and culture, you find your suitcase too stuffed to bring momentos home with you, remember the island concept of dushi. Sweet memories and island kindness are imports that can fit in your seatback pocket.