My Solo Trip to Curacao

I have SO much to tell you guys about my trip to Curacao that I barely know where to begin! I’ve gotten a lot of questions about my decision to take a solo trip, how I could afford the trip, the island itself, and my sanity, so I’m going to try to cover everything in this article. I’ve broken down the info into smaller sections so you’re not overwhelmed, so please read through everything before asking me in the comments what airline I flew with and what beaches I went to because trust, I answered it!

The Decision To Take a Solo Trip
I’ve always wanted to travel and see the world, and since my name means “safe journey” or “travel well,” I’m pretty sure it’s what my parents wanted for me as well. And while you can travel at any time in life, I wanted to be able to do so before I become accountable to a husband, children, and/or a career in the next however many years. As I made my 25 before 25 bucket list, to take a solo international trip was immediately one of the first things that popped into my mind. So half the story was the desire to take the solo trip, and the other half was that I felt adequately prepared to do so. I live by myself in New York City, so I’m a pro at basic safety/awareness/street smarts things, like walking as if I know where I’m going, not talking to strangers, and figuring out how to have a grand old time without spending that much money.
Why Curacao?
I didn’t even know who, what, or where Curacao was the day before I booked my flight. Did you hear about all the people who are going to Abu Dhabi from the Etihad Airways glitch fare (while y’all were all shopping for Abu Dhabi for $200, I realized South Africa was only $400 and booked that for later this year)? Lots of people found out about that through The Flight Deal, a site that posts both domestic and international flight sales every day. Back in October when I decided I was going to take a solo trip, I started tracking tweets from The Flight Deal, getting notifications on my phone once anything popped up. I realized you have to act fat – I once missed a $250 flight to Mumbai because I spent too much time researching and polling my friends as to whether I should go, and was pouting for the rest of the week. When they posted a sub $300 flight to Curacao with a photo of a beach, I first googled where the heck it was, what languages were spoken (English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento), quickly checked the cost of AirBnB accommodations (more about that in the next section), and read two articles: one about a woman who travelled there solo with positive experiences, and one about things to do in the country. Then I booked!

Travel Preparations
If you clicked the link in the above section, you know that I flew American Airlines through Miami to Curacao. I booked my trip for January, when it would be cold enough to need an escape and also when I had a huge chunk of time off from school. While the posted fare was $266, I ended up paying $320 total because of my travel dates and American Express Travel’s $10 cut. I book all flights with them so I can get double membership points on my card. I also searched for an AirBnB because Curacao hotels were not cheap, and understandably so as many of them are right up along the beach. I looked for a private room just a bit outside the city center, and found a young looking married Belgian couple (Joke & Bram) who had a few rooms available in Curacao, and offered to pick me up from the airport. After chatting a bit with them about their space, I booked my room for a total of $137 for four nights, which is cheaper than the 1 night stay cost at most hotels on the island. Accommodation costs are the most expensive difference in traveling solo, since it’s usually split at least two ways, so it was more of a priority for me to keep that cost down than to wake up on the beach. I stayed in Brievengat, which on the map seemed close enough to downtown for me to commute daily, but in a residential enough part of town that I would get the “local” experience that I also wanted. A quick word on local transportation: many reviews say that you must rent a car to fully enjoy the island, and car rentals are about $35 per day. I did not want to be worried about parking, getting into an accident, or not getting car jacked while on vacation, so I opted to do less via public transportation. Curacao has big busses (think coach busses) called Konvois that run hourly on specific routes around the island for about $1 a trip, and smaller vans called busses (I know, confusing), that will go anywhere for a few extra bucks. If I had gone with someone else, I would have probably rented a car for Day 2 of my trip.

In terms of things to do, my research pretty much said that Curacao is the place to be for their beaches. With over 40 beaches, many of which are fairly uncrowded by tourists, beach lounging was at the top of my list of things to do. The island’s beaches are also known for being great dive sites, so many reviews mentioned that. I can’t scuba dive (I snorkeled once!), so I didn’t care, and tried to avoid the beaches known for diving because I assumed they might be more crowded or rocky. The popular beaches for tourists were Sea Aquarium and Mambo, but I also read about Jan Thiel, Knip, Cas Abou, and Porto Mari. Other than that, there are a few museums, historical, and tourist sites in Curacao that I identified as possible things to do: Maritime Museum, Kura Hulanda museum (see Day 3), Mikve-Israel-Emanuel Temple (Day 1), Tula Museum, Sea Aquarium, Punda’s floating market (Day 1), Rif Fort (Day 3), Queen Emma Bridge (Days 1 & 3), and Christofell National Park (Day 2). Here are a few sites that gave me good information to prepare for the trip: Top 5 Things to Do in Curacao, Nomadic Matt’s Curacao Travel Guide.

Day 1: Punda & Jan Thiel Beach

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After arriving into Curacao the previous night, I set out on Wednesday morning to explore Punda, one half of Willemstad’s downtown area. I waited at the bus stop headed for the wrong direction for 20 minutes before asking someone for help and being sent across the street. Bus struggles were a big part of my trip, but I embraced them because it gave me the opportunity to see a new side of the island. My first stop in Punda was for some food, and I ventured into Plasa Bieu, a cafeteria style dining area with different families cheffing it up in a space that used to be the old market. As it was 11am, the African I am needed some rice to jump start my day, so I ordered rice and stew chicken which was… ok. I then struggled to find my way to the Mikve-Israel-Emanuel Temple, the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The coolest part about it was that the floor of the temple was covered in sand, so it was like they workship on the beach! There was also a museum attached to the synagogue and while it was pricy at $10, I felt like it was going to a good cause of preservation and whatnot. After the synagogue, I wandered the streets of Punda, passing by several government buildings (which are all painted the same shade of yellow), tried to take a selfie in front of the large Curacao sign, and started walking in the direction of the Queen Emma bridge, which connects Punda to Otrabanda. A cruise ship that had recently docked, since hundreds of people all of a sudden filled the store lined (both souvenir and American shops like Lacoste) streets. I roamed around until I reached the Maritime Museum, but then decided I didn’t care enough to spend I think $14 or so. The Maritime Museum is right opposite the Floating Market, where fishermen and farmers from Venezuela bring fresh fruits and fish daily to Curacao on boats, and I couldn’t resist buying myself a mango. When I sat down to eat it and plan my next steps based on the map I’d yet to consult, I realized I’d led myself to several of the tourist spots just by wandering! I’d had enough walking so I took a bus to Jan Thiel, where my original plan was to bake in the sun until dinner time, since there was live music beginning at 7:30. When I got to the beach, I slept, tanned, dipped in the water (my crochet braids prevented me from swimming sadly), people watched, read, and slept some more, until about 5:30. Then I went to Zanzibar Restaurant for some pizza and a taste of a Blue Margarita, made with the island’s famous Blue Curacao liqueur. The pizza was amazing and came with a thick white garlicky sauce and a spicy hot sauce called pika, which I subsequently requested everywhere I ate. I managed to find my way home, and though I didn’t stay long enough to hear any live music, I felt like I had to get back before 8pm to be on the safe side, since it had already gotten dark.

Day 2: Otrabanda Part 1, Christoffel National Park & Playa Forti

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On Thursday, I’d planned to take a 7am bus from Otrabanda to Westpunt, so I could hike up to the tallest point in Curacao. I took the wrong bus pretending like I knew where I was going, so missed the 7am bus and thus had to wait for the 9am one. This gave me a lot of time to kill in Otrabanda, so I walked around, taking in what is known as the more residential side of downtown Willemstad, compared to Punda, which has all the shops. A ship was passing through, so I got to see the Queen Emma bridge open and close, which was cool. Since it was so early in the morning, the streets were free and I got a lot of looks from the few people out and about since I looked like them (wasn’t white), but was taking photos of things like a tourist. Now that I think about it, I walked about for an hour BEFORE doing a 3 hour hike! Who does that? Anyway, by the time I boarded the bus and reached the park, I was overwhelemed with excitement about the hike. My boyfriend the night before had been pleading with me not to do it alone, but I thought I could manage it. Luckily, God sent a random Dutch man who spoke a bit of English and had hiked the mountain 7 times before, because I was already confused by the trails and out of breath by the time we walked from the info center to the info center to the parking lot for drivers -____-. Nick, who was visiting his girlfriend who works in Curacao, and who was a race car driver in Holland, made small talk as we navigated our way up the mountain, and was super kind, asking if I was comfortable with him taking his shirt off and offering to hold onto my huge water bottle that wouldn’t fit into my backpack. The hike was TOUGH, and the last ten minutes is really rock climbing rather than hiking, but I made it to the top! After resting for a bit and snacking, Nick and I came back all the way down and missed the bus going back to town (remember, it’s every two hours), so I decided to go further west with a few locals who were going to the beach. They were 3 girls and a guy, between 21 and 22 years old, and they seemed friendly so I said what the heck and joined them. When we got to Playa Forti, I was starving and ordered Shrimp Enchilada from the sole restaurant on the beach, expecting a cheesy filled tortilla. These people brought out some shrimp with rice on the side! Hunger has no choice so I ate then changed into my suit and just laid by the edge of the water so it would come crashing over me, but not get my hair wet lol. I talked to my new friends about school in Curacao (they were all in college, 2 in Curacao, 1 in Argentina, and 1 in Holland), being able to speak 4 languages, how they felt about tourism, and of course, dating and relationships. An interesting tidbit they shared is although the country is 80% Catholic, many people never get married, they sort of just move in together and build a family. After chatting I took a quick nap on the beach and nursed my sunburned forehead (from the hike), before heading back to town and then to my host place.

Day 3: Otrabanda Part 2, Riffort Village

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I was still pretty pooped from the previous day’s hike, so I layed around in bed until about 11am on Friday, when I finally decided to venture out and walk to the Curacao Liquer Distillery. Google Maps said it was 35 minutes away on foot, so I set out under the hot sun and trekked along the road, and sometimes even along the highway. Now I didn’t have cell phone service in Curacao, but Google somehow can still triangulate your location so I navigated my way to where I was supposed to go – except the distillery was nowhere to be found. By this time I’d been walking nearly 45 minutes so I stopped at the first place I saw that might have had WiFi – a bookstore.  I browsed through the shelves and bought a book on hairstyles of the Caribbean, and asked the clerk where the distillery was. She said it was in another part of town, and sure enough, when I looked up the address on the website, it was elsewhere. So Google Maps fail. The only good thing to come out of this second and unintended hike was that the strawberry smoothie I had at the cafe attached to the bookstore was BOMB. When I finally reached the distillery, by bus, I was – underwhelmed. When I went to Puerto Rico last year, I went to the Bacardi Factory and so was expecting a similar experience, but the distillery was literally one large room where I guess liqueur was actually being distilled and bottled, with a bunch of plaques and descriptions on the walls. I was the only person there so I just slowly walked through and snapped some photos and kept it moving. At the end of the room, there was a separate gift shop and tasting area, where I tasted the 4 flavors of the Curacao liqueur: original, chocolate, coffee, and rum raisin. I hated all of them besides the original, but I can imagine them being nice in a spiked hot cocoa or something. From the distillery I ventured back to Otrabanda to see the Kura Hulanda museum, which is a slave & African culture museum that sits in a former plantation house. I won’t say too much about the museum itself, but I forced myself to walk through despite my fears. For some reason, I was very spooked by the exhibits, and although I’d been in slave museums before, something about being the only black person in a room with chains, a slave ship basement simulation, or a KKK robe freaked me the heck out. Many times, I had to wait for one of the elderly European tourists who were also there to walk into a room before I could muster up the courage to. Luckily the exhibit ended more positively with a spotlight on advances in civil rights in America in the latter 20th century, and this dual imagery of Malcolm X & MLK Jr. really stuck out to me.  There were also two houses with bronze statues and masks from West Africa but those scare me normally, not to talk of already being scared by the other things I’d seen, so I passed. I’d love to come back and see this again, with a companion. After the museum I went to Rif Fort, a real fortress turned outdoor shopping mall for a fancy dinner overlooking the sunset. I ate at Steak and Ribs Restaurant and at the waiter’s suggestion, ordered Surf & Turf and a Mai Tai. Some appetizer was brought out that was called cornbread but was really a delicious fried ball of corn with a gob of cheese in the middle. I really enjoyed my food and the view, and felt very much at ease and relaxed. I had intended to go to Mambo beach that night – apparently it’s the Friday night hotspot in Curacao – but I decided to just come back to my place because I was not in the least bit willing to spend $40 to take a taxi to get home, and I wasn’t confident I’d be able to find a bus to bring me back. I did go back to the Queen Emma bridge, which is lit up beautifully at night, and walked across it to Punda – it was a lot wobblier than I expected so I more like high-tailed it across!

What I Did In My Down Time

Since I arrived on Tuesday evening, with a total of 7 hours journey from NYC to Curacao (3 hour flight to Miami, 1 hour layover, 3 hour flight to Curacao), I spent almost all of Tuesday reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies, which I absolutely loved. Between Wednesday and Thursday, I read Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names, which I couldn’t put down – until I discovered the Serial podcast, which carried me through Saturday. I also watched Dark Girls & the Italian Job on Netflix, as well as Blackish and Empire (which has officially replaced Scandal for me… I can’t have four black shows and HTGAWM rounds out my list) on Hulu. While I read emails, I promised myself I wouldn’t reply to any unless they were urgent, and more or less kept to that. I also caught up on some bible reading, since I’m behind in my goal of reading through the whole thing by my 25th birthday. I’m one of those people who has no problem laying in bed while on vacation, so I was able to fit in probably one or two month’s worth of leisure into just 4 days!

Reflections
I am extremely glad that I went on this trip, and it was definitely one of the most defining moments of my life. I surprised my parents in that I managed to come back without anything but good news, and the only time I was afraid was when my hosts’ cat ran into my room in the middle of the night. I surprised myself by climbing up that mountain, and by striking up conversation with people. I was able to relax, explore, and recharge myself for what is shaping up to be an incredibly busy but awesome year. Would I go back to Curacao again? Most definitely. Would I go by myself? Probably not. Would I take another solo international trip? I could, but the type of person I am, I like exploring and experiencing new things with other people. I think I’d be more content visiting U.S. cities I’ve never been to alone – Austin, Phoenix, Nashville, etc – just for a weekend, rather than take a several day long trip alone. The one benefit of traveling alone that is so key though, is being able to be the sole dictator of how you spend your time!

Would you guys take a solo international trip? Where would you go and how would you spend your time?

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Comments

  1. I’m going to Curacao in Oct. It’s not my first solo trip (I’ve done several), but I’m curious about where to stay. AA had an under $300 flight that I couldn’t pass up. Never tried airbnb, but I’ll do some research. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I think it’s super smart that you check languages and accommodation before booking. Accommodation is one big reason i haven’t jumped on any of the Puerto Rico deals (plus, it’s so nearby that i’m being a little bit of a snob LOL)

    To answer your question though, i’d totally take a solo international trip – i didn’t even know it was weird to travel alone until i read something about somewhere online last year Lol I’ve been to India, Brazil,and a bunch of other places solo. I love it because i always like to do and see weird things when I travel

  3. i really enjoyed reading about your experiences! I’ve missed out on all of the great flight deal/steals because i’d like to travel to some of these places with at least one person or I’m thinking too much about it. Also trying to narrow down travel destinations starts feeling like a burden, so using price as a motivator might be the move. Most of my travel to-date, domestically and internationally, has been solo but I really want to experience travel with companionship so that has sort of put a stop to my travel but not entirely.

    I think what will happen is that I’ll probably cave and travel alone anyway. I also might even add curacao to the list!

  4. I think I’m the type to prefer solo travel! I moved abroad to East Africa (Uganda) by myself and to this day it was one of the best experiences and times of my life. I still endlessly talk about the time I lived abroad and I’m actively working to recreate the feeling of just deciding to go abroad, and doing it! I’ve also realized there is comfort in traveling with others because of the shared experience, but I will travel solo in a heartbeat because it’s just me, my decisions and my intuition.

    I actually booked a trip to Nairobi ($400 RT) and South Africa ($273 RT) with glitches posted on the FlightDeal – I seriously love the site. I feel like the continent is so diverse and is worth experiencing with other people so these trips aren’t solo. I want to add one more trip for 2015 and I know it’ll be a solo adventure. I have had Haiti on my mind for a longggg time. As soon as the fares drop, I’m there!

    1. I’m going to South Africa too! I definitely want to explore more of Africa, but I agree, I’m not sure if I could or want to do it solo. You’re so brave for moving to Uganda all by yourself!

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