A Bit About Curaçao with Jify Shah
I was born and raised in Curacao and moved to NYC 15 years ago. Every time I go back home, I’m forced to ask myself why I’m still in New York, but that’s another story. So let’s dive in….
There’s a few theories to how the name Curacao came about. One theory dates back to the Spaniards who discovered the island and decided to leave their sick crew members there to die. When the ships returned to the island a year later, not only were the crew members still alive, they were healthy and healed. After that, the island was baptized as “Isla de la Curación” (Island of the Cure, or Island of Healing). Another theory says the name of the island is derived from the Portuguese word for heart (coração), and refers to the island’s key role as an important center for trade. I think the first theory is very interesting. For me, a big part of going home to Curacao has been literally to heal; mentally, physically and even spiritually. I find it quite interesting to learn that this is part of its history.
Despite it’s history, Curacao is still a fairly unknown island. This is a bit surprising considering its rich history and culture. For example, while still a part of the Dutch Kingdom, it is now considered its own country. Its population is extremely diverse; with over 50 different ethnicities and a relatively small population of 140,000 people, you can imagine the melting pot it has become, resulting in its own unique culture.
Everyone can at least understand and somewhat communicate in a minimum of four different languages: Papiamentu, Dutch (the official language taught at school), English, and Spanish (due to all the neighboring Latin countries). The language I grew up speaking is Papiamentu, which literally means “talking”. Papiamentu was just made an official language only a few years ago and reflects influences from Latin and Germanic languages, among others as well.
The islanders are bold and vibrant people. We’re considered the most LGBT friendly island in the Caribbean, and we love to party, which could explain why I ended up in the hospitality/nightlife industry here in NY. While the people generally are proud and protective, we do love socializing and, therefore, hosting visitors. Over the past few years, the island’s tourism has been really blossoming and so has its nightlife scene. We now have our own blues festival, the Curacao International Blue Seas Festival, and this year a few talented friends of mine from NY were invited to perform: The London Souls and Daddy Long Legs. This past year the festival was held in Curacao’s most upcoming area Pietermaai. Pietermaai is made up mainly of old colonial type buildings that have been recently renovated and now is home to lots of new restaurants, bars and boutique hotels. The same people who produce this festival also started the Curacao North Sea Jazz Fest (not exclusively Jazz though) which is now considered the biggest festival in the Caribbean and in it’s first five years, it has already hosted some of the world’s greatest talents: Prince (R.I.P), Stevie Wonder, Lionel Richie, Sting, Alicia Keys, Enrique Iglesias, Santana, Bruno Mars and this year Lenny Kravitz, Tom Jones and more. There are also numerous electronic music festivals throughout the year focussing on House, Techno, and EDM.
Well, I can keep going here, but I think part of the fun is to read and learn for yourself!!! Here are some of my own personal tips for your visit:
The island is only 171 square miles and can be broken down in two halves: Bandariba (Up Side) and Bandabou (Down Side). Bandariba is the more populated/city life half and Bandabou is the more rural half with most of the island’s untouched beaches (note: we have over 30 beaches to choose from). If you’re looking for a more social and cultural find a place to stay in Bandariba. For those, who want a more relaxing vacation find a place in Bandabou.
Christoffelpark and Hill is a great hike to the island’s highest point, where you can enjoy a priceless view, and on a clear day you can see all the way to Venezuela!
Captain Goodlife (aka Juni at Santa Cruz Beach) is the ultimate survivor kind of guy; eccentric yet charming. He has built his house right on the corner of the beach and offers the ultimate raw island life experience for those looking for an adventurous treat: boating, fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, diving, amazing fresh caught fish meals, as well as the opportunity to visit some of the island’s most private natural spots like the “blue cave.”
We love our street food, and especially it it’s prepped in a truck on the side of the road. I recommend BBQ Express on Caracasbaaiweg Street. They have a whole lot of sauces, which you’ve got to pour all over your meal - all of them. We’re all about the sauce, and one of the island’s all time favorite and original recipes is the “pinda” (peanut) sauce. It’s different that the Asian versions, more savory.
Walk around in the old towns from Otrobanda and Punda, separated by the Western Hemisphere’s greatest natural harbor, St. Anna Bay. To cross this, you will have to take our very own floating pontoon bridge, called the Queen Emma Bridge. Walk around and enjoy the beautiful colonial architecture with its Caribbean colors; sit down at a cafe and enjoy an Amstel Bright; and try some local favorite snacks like pastechis (cheese pastries filled with the best cheese on the planet) and bitterballen (Dutch-style meatballs); and visit some tourist shops. Lastly, stop by the Venezuelan boats that bring fresh organic fruits daily (it’s illegal to import chemicals or pesticides from America).
If you want to go diving, Tugboat is one of the world’s best diving spots. Ask for Jaime, and tell him I sent you. He will take care of you and he’s a great person to talk to about anything! The man has been around. Occasionally, you can find some of the best underground parties here as well!
Jify Shah lives in Brooklyn and is the owner of the (former) music venue Cameo Gallery.