I bite my tongue a lot in Curacao. The lovely island, after all—the largest of the Dutch Caribbean ABC Islands (completed by Aruba and Bonaire)—is home to 150,000 residents from more than 55 different cultures; what this adds up to is a veritable Tower of Babel. You never know who’s speaking what: Is that Dutch? Spanish? English? Papiamentu, the local creole? Best bet is to simply stay silent and smile.
Curacao’s multiculturalism—you can almost feel the place creolizing by the minute—also adds up to something that makes this Caribbean-phile especially excited: an incredibly diverse, breathtakingly alive local music scene. I jumped at the chance to take in some of this scene at the island’s premiere festival, the North Sea Jazz Festival, and now happily affirm what I’ve long suspected: It’s a Dr. Baz-endorsed, must-attend annual ritual. Here’s your thumbnail guide.
STAY A collection of 23 sumptuous rooms, suites and villas on a private beach, sheathed in Asian influences—ubiquitous Buddhas and waterfalls, winding free-form pools—Baoase Luxury Resort is Curacao’s most fabulous property. Food is French with Asian touches; a weekly Asian night menu serves up a delectable array of dim sum and sushi. A dozen units feature private plunge pools, but if that’s not enough exclusivity for you, check into Baoase’s “Isla Kiniw,” a private island in the Spanish Waters bay boasting a four-bedroom villa, boat, putting green and helipad (Baoase.com). For a more affordable option, go with nearby ACOYA Curacao, where the grounds are expansive and the villas are comfortable and spacious, with private plunge pools that are, well, fabulously private (Acoyacuracao.com).
Baoase Luxury Resort
PRE-PARTY Willemstad, Curaco’s absurdly picturesque capital—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—is chock-a-block with buildings that look like multicolored gingerbread cookies and plenty of live music venues. In the cobblestoned Pietermaai section of the city, home to colonial buildings turned hipster-friendly bars and restaurants, I fell in love with the oh-so-charming Miles Jazz Vinyl & Cigars, where the stellar band featured local gem Gedion Chandler, a keyboard player whom I happily allowed to serenade me until the wee hours (Milescuracao.com). Also in Pietermaai is Blues Bar & Restaurant, a bar and restaurant on a pier at the Avila, an 18th-century Dutch mansion turned chic hotel. It feels like a modish tree house: planks for walls, simple wooden floors, a jam-packed bar and superb live jazz every Thursday (Avilabeachhotel.com/restaurants-bars/blues-bar-restaurant).
THE FESTIVAL Don’t let the name fool you: the North Sea Jazz Festival is not a jazz festival. Well, not exclusively so, anyway. Big-name lineups over the years have included genres ranging from R&B, hip-hop and reggae to soul, reggaeton, pop and, yes, jazz—in other words, the festival is as multicultural and multilingual as Curacao itself. On three different stages I took in heavenly performances by Damian Marley, Sting, Patty Labelle and more, and was vastly impressed by both the open-air venue’s unique array of food vendors (vegetarian pasta or teriyaki chicken, anyone?) and the overall efficiency of the event, in which a deeply Caribbean vibe meets a Dutch commitment to timing and organization.
AFTERPARTY After-hours might just be my favorite part of Curacao. At humble clubs in and around the city, full-on ten-piece bands serve up signature local music, born in the early 1980s and called, fittingly enough, ritmo kombina—Papiamentu for “combined rhythms.” To say this divine genre is sexy is an understatement; much like Haitian zouk, dancing to it means mastering the art of precise pelvic grinding. Hunting for a performance by my favorite local ritmo band, Dreams, I landed in two hotspots in Salina, a shopping district outside Willemstad: Club Spoonz, a cavernous warehouse-like club (Facebook.com/SPOONZcuracao/), and Gostoso, an unassuming restaurant-turned-dance-club that had me blissfully dancing till dawn—literally (Facebook.com/gostosocuracao/).
R&R: Curacao’s 35 beaches serve up something for everyone: white, black or gold sand, some clogged with cruise ship passengers, others practically deserted. At two ends of the spectrum are Mambo Beach, which feels like a Miami mall on sand, and my beloved Marie Pompoem, where I was alone with the lustrous sea and a Rasta fisherman, who reasoned with me for hours.
Baz Dreisinger : Contributor
I am: writer, globetrotter, professor, activist, culture-hound. Born and raised in New York City, with one foot fixed in the Caribbean and another in South Africa, I have written about travel, the arts and identity politics for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal and many more; I produce on-air segments about global music and culture for National Public Radio (NPR). I am ceaselessly curious, fearless in my journeys, relentlessly ravenous to see and learn more. My global routes marry luxury with local, which is the essence of this travel blog: Welcome to a place where wanderlust meets culture-lust, where otherworldly high-end meets rootsy down-home.