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April 4, 2007

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 Curacao Guide

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Kon ta bai from Curacao! Curacao (pronounced Cure-a-sow) is an island 37 miles (60km) long and 6 3/4 miles (11km) across at its widest point. It’s located 35 miles off the coast of Venezuela in the Southern Caribbean. As you might imagine, its turquoise water is beautiful but this place has much more than just stunning beaches. Curacao, the Portuguese name of this island oasis, means “heart” and the locals show a lot of it. Not only that – the food is good, the architecture makes you feel as though you’re in Europe and best of all … there’s Carnival! That’s right! I’m not only here checking out this wonderful place, but celebrating the island’s biggest event of the year! If you’re up for dancing until your feet hurt, cliff jumping and exploring the island on ATVs (the way Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes did), then grab your dancing shoes and costume because we’re off to the Netherlands Antilles! For those of you who are in a hurry or have ADD (it’s okay, I have it too!), there’s a 4-minute Johnny Jet video at the end of this week’s story.

You might think it'd be tough to get to this island, located 35 miles off the coast of Venezuela, but it's not. You don't need to go through Chavez's crime-riddled country to get here. Instead, hop on one of the two U.S. carriers that offer service. American Airlines has flights from Miami and San Juan, while Continental offers a flight from Newark. Those who live in Holland actually have more choices (four different airlines to be exact). Although Europe is much farther away, the majority of the quarter-million annual visitors hail from there. Even more surprisingly, U.S. travelers only represent 20 percent of Curacao's visitors. How bizarre! I read that Curacao has one of the lowest ratios of U.S. tourists in the Caribbean. Once you see this island, you'll agree that this doesn't make sense.

What makes Curacao so attractive (at least to me) is that it's only a two hour and forty minute flight from Miami. It's on Atlantic Standard Time (1 hour ahead of New York in the winter) so you won't experience jet lag if you're arriving from the east coast. The water is safe to drink (they have a huge, modern desalination plant). Curacao lies outside of the hurricane belt. The average temperature is 81°F (27°C) and as for the wet stuff – the average rainfall is only 22 inches per year. And thankfully, there's not much crime. I felt safe all the time and I didn't see any street beggars or depressing slums.

Curacao is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which includes five Caribbean islands (the other four are: Bonaire, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Maarten). Curacao operates its own government and relies on the Netherlands only for military support and foreign affairs. Curacao's residents have Dutch passports and can travel freely to and from the Netherlands.

Note: Aruba used to be a part of the Netherlands Antilles but gained its independence in 1986. Curacao and Aruba are part of what's called the A-B-C islands (Aruba-Bonaire-Curacao). There's more European flavor in Curacao than in the other islands and at times I really thought I was in Holland. There are windmills, and streets and squares reminiscent of Amsterdam. That's because in the 1600s, the Dutch built many of the buildings that are still standing today. The capital city, Willemstad, is so impressive with its pastel-colored Dutch architecture, that UNESCO named Handelskade Street a world heritage site.

Obviously, there's a lot of history here. It would be impossible to go into all the details, but to give you some background, here are some key dates: In 1499, Alonso de Ojeda, one of Christopher Columbus' lieutenants, discovered Curacao. Spanish troops killed most of the peaceful Arawak Amerindians who were living on the island. The Spaniards thought the island was worthless and in 1634 the Dutch took it over because they liked the location (it took only 40 days to sail there from Europe). They founded a Dutch settlement and it has been associated with Holland ever since. NOTE: During Dutch control, there were brief invasions by the British and French. The Dutch then turned it into the center of the slave trade (more on this later). In 1915, the Royal Dutch/Shell Company built one of the world's largest oil refineries in Curacao, in order to process crude oil from Venezuela. It turned the island into a multicultural community as workers came from around the world and is still Curacao's biggest industry today, not tourism as one might expect. The population of Curacao is about 171,000 and 85% are of African descent. The rest are made up of various races and nationalities, including Dutch, Portuguese and American. After the slave trade ended, Curacao turned into a place of racial tolerance and religious freedom. Now, one of Curacao's mottos is "Biba i laga biba" ("Live and let live"). The majority of the residents are Catholic but Jews, Muslims and Protestants all have their own houses of worship. In fact, Curacao has one of the oldest, continuously operating synagogues in the Western Hemisphere – it was built in 1732. To learn more about Curacao's history, visit:

Most of the locals are multilingual and speak Dutch, Spanish and English. However, the official language of the island is Papiamentu (In Aruba it's Papiamento), a distinct blend of seven different languages but mostly Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese. Because the US dollar is accepted everywhere, I didn't even bother to change my money into Netherlands guilders (NLG). It's a bit weird that they aren't on the Euro like Holland. All the menus I saw were priced in guilders or U.S. dollars and written in both Dutch and English. At the time of publication $1 USD = 1.65 NLG.

SPEAK LIKE A LOCAL: Masha danki (mas-ha-dank) means "Thank You" in Papiamentu.

Curacao has a brand new, $44 million international airport terminal (it's really nice) and I was picked up by one of the coolest men I've ever met. Stanley Camelia is an official tourist guide. Although he recently retired from working in the Curacao tourism office, he still offers private tours. (If you want to hire him, here's his business card). For those taking taxis, they are not metered so be sure to ask the driver how much the ride will cost before you get in. There's an official rate sheet, which they're supposed to show you if you ask. Note: After 11pm, fares increase 25%. If you plan on exploring the island, you might want to rent a car. Avis, Budget and Hertz have offices here. The roads are paved so it's easy to get around. They drive on the right side of the road, U.S./Canadian visitors can use their own licenses and most (if not all) hotels don't charge for parking.

TIPPING: Islanders and Dutch don't tip but tourists are welcome to tip up to 10%.

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Copyright 2007 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Welcome To Curacao


American Airlines


Curacao's New Airport


Stanley "Boy"


Handelskade Street


Handelskade Street




Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue


Plantation House Door


Drive On Right Side


Curacao Marriott






Marriott's Beach


Beach Volleyball


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