Part of the Netherlands Antilles group along with St Maarten, Curacao is the largest island in the archipelago, an arid and largely flat island stretching about 40 miles in length. The southern coastline is scattered with spectacular bays, beaches and secluded coves and is more inhabited than the rough northern shore where the weather-beaten terrain takes the brunt of the wind, and cliffs are pounded by the rough surf. The best beaches are scattered along the southwest coast where the calm, crystal clear water also makes it a tropical paradise for divers, snorkelers and swimmers; towards the east are the largest bays, where the main port and historic capital city Willemstad is situated.
Curacao is an ideal holiday destination for underwater lovers, as the excellent visibility, warm water, active reef conservation and variety of dive and snorkeling sites ranks the island among the most popular dive locations in the Caribbean. On land there are also several interesting sites to visit, including the "living" Hato Caves where centuries-old stalagmites and stalactites are still being formed; the protected wildlife preserve of Christoffel Park encompassing Mt Christoffel, the highest point on the island, with fantastic views over the island from among the park's exotic flowers, bent divi divi trees and blue iguanas; and the dramatic caverns carved out of the limestone cliffs by the crashing waves within Shete Boka National Park.
The capital city and seat of government for the Netherlands Antilles, Willemstad has been a major international trading center for centuries, its society a mixture of different nationalities, races and cultures and its shops filled with goods from around the world. Old Willemstad dates from the 18th and 19th centuries and is one of the most remarkable historic areas in the Caribbean with charming alleys and superb Dutch colonial architecture housing restaurants, museums, shops and hotels. Many of the beautiful Dutch buildings have been adapted to life in a hot and breezy climate and sport Caribbean-style shutters, porches and verandas, lending further charm to the cheerfully painted historic structures.
Whether the days are spent in sun-soaked relaxation or by taking advantage of the endless activities on offer, on land or in the water, when the sun begins to set the trend is to slip into one of the bars, where happy hour is just the beginning of the night to come.