First Impressions: Right Now in Curacao
As I find myself at the airport at 5:30 am awaiting my flight to Toronto, I wonder what the day will hold. Little did I know I would get very lost, in the dark on a small island in the south Caribbean. Little did I know that the people I met the next day thought it was all rather courageous of me to rent a car and drive by myself to the other side of their island. I have to tell you, I had my doubts for a nano second, then I remembered being lost late at night looking for our private game lodge in South Africa and then I recalled getting a bit lost getting to the first hotel in Costa Brava (also in the dark, late at night). We found our way. That being the operative word… OUR way. This time I was alone and I had to find MY way.
I did get lost, 30-40 minute drive took me just under 90 minutes. I didn’t start off well when I went right instead of going left… that was a lost 20 minutes, to begin with. Don’t even get me started on being stuck in the parking lot because I couldn’t figure out how to put the manual car into reverse… Good Lawd, I know how to drive a manual transmission car but this had me stumped. Kia’s have a button you have to push to engage the gear… ugh… so simple.
O.k. moving forward (finally), I make it to my hotel and park the car, check-in seamlessly, then go to the grocery store in the complex (bonus) and crack open a bottle of wine (double bonus). Best drink I’ve had in a long time.
I do have a few takeaways, though. A couple of tips for first-time car rental in Curacao:
- as much as I appreciate the reduced rate, I should have stuck to a company that had a desk at the airport by the time I got to my car, checked in and drove off was an hour – too long to take for sure
- inspect the car thoroughly and take pictures of any markings that there are (your picture will have a date stamp on it so you can prove it was there already)
- check about details of the make of car: where the gas tank cap is located, how to shift to reverse, road signs, pedestrian right-of-way, maneuvering roundabouts, tips on parking
- check with your credit card company to ensure you have the correct waivers for insurance, that will save you money
- get a good map at home at CAA or AAA if you can (the local ones may not be enough details – my case exactly)
- getting a GPS does not guarantee that it will take you where you need to know (their maps are not nearly as accurate as Google Maps)
- download Google Maps of Curacao and the routes you need to take
- take screenshots of the route so you can refer to it as you travel
- you can also download the route to your phone or tablet and refer to it as you go (you don’t need WIFI). It can be a bit trickier with the roundabouts so pull over safely if you need to double check your direction.
- Ask for speed limits (though apparently, that is an optional sign, in Curacao). There are not major highways as far as I know just two late streets with vendors, services & food stops along the way. People milling about so be careful.
- heed their advice and don’t leave valuables or anything that may appear valuable insight. Place items in trunk or in glove compartment (more than one person told me that)
- may areas have you pay for parking have change available
Once I got all those details squared away, the next day’s excursions were much more enjoyable. I felt more confident driving the car and navigating the streets. The best thing I did was ask the hotel staff what sights I needed to see while I have the car. How can I navigate without WIFI Google Maps on my tablet? The Sales Manager at Papagayo Hotel told me to download the map and directions and start the navigation while I have WIFI. It worked every time. BEST ADVICE EVER!
The morning was spent catching up on some sleep and listening to the rain from my balcony. Apparently, it does not rain here very often but this morning it rained a couple of times for a short period of time. It was enough to water the plants and set the day for some hot, humid but sunny weather. I joined Emerson from the Papagayo Hotel to tour the Hotel, Resort and Beach Club for a tour of the property and some tips on my stay in Curacao. I’ll be writing more in a future post but suffice to say, you are going to love to hear about this unique property.
After a delicious lunch of Red Snapper & THE best brownie, with the GM of The Beaches Club, Vanessa, I set out to scout out the ‘best ribs’ in town that she suggested (or the location for a future dinner or lunch). What can I say? I’m a foodie at heart.
With vague directions, I found the SUPCuracao Windsurfing and Paddleboard outfitter. After chatting with the boys for a bit, and mentioning that I was out looking for the Pirate’s Nest because of the ribs, they promptly corrected me with a suggestion of another place. It belonged to a local that now was located at a pop-up location on Thursdays at Madera Beach or Mambo Beach Boulevard. Where is that, I said?
Mambo Beach Boulevard (Madera Beach)
Apparently, I had not been informed of the hottest ticket in town: The Mambo Beach Boulevard or The Blvd is adjacent to the Curacao Sea Aquarium. It is fairly easy to get to and you can park for free on the premises. As you walk in you will see shops and for the Christmas season, a giant Heineken beer bottle Christmas tree.
The beach is not actually very long but there are plenty of places to rent a lounge chair and have a drink. As I arrived later in the day, I could only tell that there were different seating areas because the colour of the chairs were different. I’m pretty certain that if you sat down, someone would approach you to seek payment for the chair.
I took this picture just for my daughter that is a volleyball player. I know she would just love to play volleyball on this sand. Wouldn’t you? I hope to be back later on in the week and I will be investigating how one gets involved in a game.
The furthest point of the beach gives you access to some pretty large high-end properties.
I got in the car (see this is still the reason you rent a car) and quickly drove to the area. With only one wrong turn this time, I made quick time. It was, however, around 6 pm when many of the shops are closing or were already closed. That did not deter me from taking a leisurely walk around. This area is loaded with restaurants, bars on the beach and boutique stores. All of it is waterfront with public access to the beautiful beach that has a breakwater (to keep the big waves away). It is a great location for kids (as there is a ‘water’ playground, right in the water), the water is shallow and the sand is soft.
On The Boulevard, you can find all sorts of dining options. There was a steakhouse, pizzeria, sushi and Mediterranean place but the one that had the most patrons was the Chill & Grill pictured below. There were picnic tables to eat at right on the beach. As I mentioned it was later in the afternoon and too soon for dinner guests but families were around to be sure.
As I mentioned, there were plenty of shops for men, women and children. You could buy everything from flip flops to high-end jewellery. The store that caught my fancy was a jewellery shop. AHAV is an artisan jewellery shop. The artist designed the mosaic mural herself and the each of the pieces. I love the intricate pattern of some of these statement pieces. You know that you would own it and wear it with attitude. Make sure to drop by to see her work. I just loved it.
As I walked around, I realized that during the heat of the day, this would be fairly packed. No question about it but in the late afternoon, it would be a glorious place to have a few drinks by the bar and stay a while. The view of the sunset was extraordinary. I was hesitant to leave as there was such a good vibe but I needed to get back to the hotel.