Packing my bags for Curaçao, I threw in a bathing suit, a coverup, sunscreen and magazines. I was expecting to relax all weekend on the beach, cocktail in hand.
I wasn’t expecting to eat iguana (a Curaçaon delicacy), hold an ostrich egg or interact with the island’s more than 50 different cultures. One of the travelers from our crew described it perfectly when she said our trip was worthy of an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations.”
And while I did drink a few cocktails and catch plenty of sunshine at the beach, I quickly learned that Curaçao has much more to offer than the beaches the Caribbean is famous for.
I was introduced to the island’s cuisine at Equus, a former horse stable converted into a restaurant. The no-frills restaurant is only open on Friday nights, which means locals pack in early to claim a table. Equus doesn’t have a menu. It does just one thing: skewered meat. And it does it well.
There are no forks or knives at the restaurant – just long, sharp skewers with thick, juicy chunks of meat and veggies hanging over the tables. We tore the meat from the skewers with our hands, which were covered with sauces by the end of the meal. We lingered here for several hours, indulging in good food and conversation.
In true Bourdain style, our group made a point to try as many Curaçaon staples as possible during our trip – like a Dutch appetizer called bitterballen, a fried mixture of beef or veal mixed with beef broth, butter, flour and seasonings, and usually served with mustard for dipping.
At Jaanchies Restaurant – a charming, open-air building with pretty little birds flying in and out of the restaurant and its outdoor garden – we ordered from Jaanchie himself, who opened the restaurant 60-plus years ago.
In addition to the well- seasoned chicken and rice dish I ordered, our table shared a side of iguana. I was apprehensive to try it at first, but once I separated the meat from its many tiny bones, the flavor was comparable to chicken.
In between meals, our crew explored the island’s capital city of Willemstad, with bustling markets and historic buildings painted in Easter-egg pastels.
Curaçao lies outside of the hurricane belt and rarely ever experiences tropical rainstorms, which meant we had plenty of time for outdoor activities.
Our group took a short hike to the edge of the island’s north coast at Shete Boka National Park, where we witnessed deafening, violent waves. We removed our shoes and gingerly made our way down the slippery, rocky steps into the mouth of a cavern, where enormous waves slammed into the walls. Signs warned us not to go too far into the cavern – Shete Boka’s waves are so powerful that if you’re caught in them, there is little chance of ever reaching land again.
At The Curaçao Ostrich Farm, we went on a safari-style tour and fed the ostriches. Brave guests were offered the chance to ride an ostrich. The animals are blindfolded so they won’t panic and throw riders off, and our hilarious tour guide told us he did not recommend riding the ostriches. There weren’t any takers in our group.
We continued on to Den Paradera herbal healing garden, where vivacious owner Dinah Veeris took us on a tour of Curaçao’s gifts from nature. We learned that topical eucalyptus can heal arthritis, aloe capsules can help you lose weight, and cat’s claw can heal eczema and strengthen hair.
Before we left, Veeris gave us each a cup of her signature “love tea,” a delicious tea made from red flowers in her garden. She told us if we drank the tea, we would find love.
The tea was delicious, but I was pretty sure I didn’t need its magic: I had already fallen in love with the island of Curaçao.
Get there: Catch a three-hour, direct flight from MIA to CUR. American Airlines, US Airways and InselAir offer flights starting at around $400.
Where to stay: For romance, head to Avila Hotel, which is like stepping straight into the picturesque pages of Travel + Leisure. The beachfront resort is the most historic on the island; avilahotel.com
For a contemporary feel, head to Papagayo Beach Hotel, which has modern art, clean lines and a stunning saltwater infinity pool; papagayo-designhotel.com