Curaçao – A Europe in the Caribbean

Curaçao is currently a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. They have their own government, a separate currency system from the Netherlands, but share a central bank with another self-governing country within this Kingdom. However, that is not the most unique thing about Curaçao, which we will explore further in this article.

Curaçao – A Tiny Country Within The Kingdom Of The Netherlands

The Caribbean region consists of over 7,000 islands, arranged in no particular order, stretching from off the coast of North America’s Florida to the coast of South America’s Venezuela, forming three main island groups: the Bahamas (Lucayan) archipelago, the Greater Antilles, and the Lesser Antilles. Curaçao is located in the Lesser Antilles, in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea, and the closest point from Curaçao to the mainland of Venezuela is less than 70km. However, the distance from here to the Netherlands in Western Europe is very far, over 7,800km. Nevertheless, the connection between these territories is quite strong.

Curaçao is located in the Lesser Antilles archipelago, in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea
Curaçao is located in the Lesser Antilles archipelago, in the southern part of the Caribbean Sea

The country has a total area of 444km2. In addition to the large island of Curaçao, which accounts for most of the country’s territory, they also own a very small island, about 1.7km2 in size, called Klein Curaçao, located to the southeast, about 10km away from the main island.

A Country With Footprints From Most European Empires

In July 1499, the island was first discovered by the Europeans through the explorer Alonso de Ojeda. At that time, the island was already inhabited by the indigenous people of South America, with a population of about 2,000. The event quickly opened up a new era under Spanish rule. Initially, livestock farming and agriculture did not yield much results. Therefore, the Spanish referred to it as “Ilas Inutiles” (Useless Islands).

Everything changed when a fleet of the Dutch West India Company attacked and took control in 1634. They built a fortress called Amsterdam and considered Curaçao as a new port, developing commerce, production, and transportation of salt and wood. This became a point connecting Dutch colonies in South and North America.

Fort Amsterdam in Curaçao
Fort Amsterdam in Curaçao

In the 17th century, a new business sector, the slave trade, was considered high-end, and turned Curaçao into a bustling slave trading hub, which caught the attention of many British, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Chinese merchants. Therefore, many European powers at that time had ambitions to take over Curaçao.

In the years 1800-1816, the British occupied Curaçao twice but not continuously. Finally, by a treaty signed among the great powers in Paris, Curaçao was returned to the Netherlands. In 1863, the slavery system was abolished, and some slaves became salaried workers, while others moved to Cuba and other islands in the region. The history of Curaçao entered a new chapter.

Administration & Governance Of The Country

Pay attention to this section so that it will be easier to follow the subsequent parts later. Due to its relatively small size, Curaçao does not have lower-level administrative units. They manage themselves as an undivided community. Previously, there were three districts equivalent to three regions: Northwest (Bandabou), Central (Willemstad), and Southeast (Bandariba), but they were purely symbolic. Currently, except for Willemstad, which is considered the only city on the island, the names of the districts are not commonly used. Place names on the island are often called by smaller settlements or names of capes, bays, or ports.

Willemstad is the capital city of Curaçao
Willemstad is the capital city of Curaçao

The total population of the country is over 165,000 people. This is the most populous overseas territory of the Kingdom of the Netherlands outside of Europe. Since 1954, Curaçao, along with some other islands in the Lesser Antilles, has formed the Netherlands Antilles. A foreign territory organization that constitutes the Kingdom of the Netherlands. After several referendums, in 2010, Curaçao became a self-governing country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands until now. Currently, the Kingdom of the Netherlands includes four countries: Aruba, Sint Maarten, the Netherlands, and Curaçao. We need to distinguish between the Netherlands and the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Netherlands is a constituent part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Curaçao is still in the form of a constitutional monarchy, with King Willem-Alexander as the head of state and the Prime Minister as the head of government. Curaçao has self-determination in areas such as the economy, science, education, transportation, urban planning, etc. As for the Navy and other military bases on the island, diplomatic issues, and government spending, they are all dependent on the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Overall, Curaçao’s level of self-governance is low, and they maintain close ties with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Tropical Paradise

The terrain of the large island of Curaçao is mainly small plains and low hills. The hills are concentrated in the northwest, including Christoffel peak, which is 372m above sea level, the highest point in the country. From the middle of the country and heading east and southeast are low-lying strips of land, interspersed with more rugged hills. The small island of Klein Curaçao is almost flat, and it is an uninhabited island.

Like most countries in the Caribbean region, Curaçao also has ideal conditions for a tropical paradise. In fact, it has an advantage over other countries in the region because extreme weather events are rare. We often hear about hurricanes in the Caribbean countries of Greater Antilles and the east coast of the United States, as this area is located in the hurricane belt of the Atlantic Ocean. However, Curaçao is fortunate to be on the edge of this area, and direct hits from hurricanes are extremely rare.

Curaçao - Tropical Paradise
Curaçao – Tropical Paradise

The weather here is divided into two seasons, the dry season from February to around July, and the rest of the year is the rainy season. However, the amount of rainfall is not much, and mainly occurs in the early morning and late afternoon. The average number of hours of sunshine is 8.3 hours per day, which is double that of London. The average daily temperature in all months is between 26 and 29 degrees Celsius, making the weather ideal all year round. The peak tourist season in Curaçao is during the cold months in Europe. The country has 364 km of coastline with about 37 beaches, mostly in the center and southeast of the main island. The beaches here are mainly white sand, blue sea, and most are suitable for swimming, boating or snorkeling. The wildlife here is also friendly to humans.

Curaçao – A European Island In The Middle Of The Caribbean Sea

Willemstad, a city nearly 400 years old, is the capital of the country. Through the ups and downs of the island’s history, filled with invasions and immigration, Willemstad stands witness to the history of Curaçao and is the first landmark that people remember. Built from the old Amsterdam fortress, this world heritage city presents a very typical face, like being in a city of Holland or Denmark, reflecting the urban planning mentality of Europe. Initially, it was thought that the houses here should only be painted white. However, this did not suit the local weather and was repainted in a diverse range of colors such as red, blue, ochre, and green.

Curaçao - A European Island in the Middle of the Caribbean Sea
Curaçao – A European Island in the Middle of the Caribbean Sea

The center of Willemstad has two districts, Punda and Otrobanda. Punda is the area around the fortress, while Otrobanda literally means “the other side.” These two areas are connected by the Queen Emma pontoon bridge. This is one of the longest pontoon bridges in the world, with a length of about 170 meters, lifted by 16 boats and can be moved to expand for ships to enter the port. Due to the lack of administrative divisions, population figures for this city are often very different. If extended to neighboring areas, Willemstad accounts for 80 to 90 percent of the country’s population.


The reason why the Dutch people succeeded on this land is because they realized that Curaçao was more suitable for trade and services than agriculture, as most of the land here is not suitable for cultivation. Looking at the map, Curaçao looks like a leaf that has been partially eaten by worms. The indentations are actually lagoons or natural deep-water harbors that create channels for boats and natural ports. Because of this, after the time of slave trading, Curaçao became a refining center for the region.

Curaçao is the oil refining center of the region
Curaçao is the oil refining center of the region

In the early 20th century, oil refining accounted for up to 90 percent of the island’s exports. Most of the crude oil came from neighboring Venezuela. As people know, Venezuela has recently fallen into a serious oil and political crisis, so the crude oil supply to Curaçao has also been affected. The island’s oil refineries are also undergoing restructuring.

Another industry is finance and banking. Initially, it was a haven for Dutch multinational companies during World War II. Today, it is a financial center for the region. Due to low export taxes for companies registered here, Curaçao has become a tax haven. Of course, this also poses certain risks.

Another important economic sector is tourism. Mainly tourists come from Europe, North America, and neighboring countries. Each year, Curaçao welcomes about one million visitors. The average GDP per capita of Curaçao in 2020 was $16,765 per person, classified by the World Bank as high-income. However, we need to look at this figure in a different way. There are many businesses registered here, but in reality, they are not actually present here. The majority of the population lives at a medium level, with a poverty rate of around 20 percent.

Tourism is an important economic sector of Curaçao
Tourism is an important economic sector of Curaçao

Curaçao uses the Antillean Guilder currency, which is also used in Sint Maarten. One Antillean Guilder is worth about 0.55 US dollars. The currency is managed by the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten, which was inherited from the former Netherlands Antilles bank established in 1828. This is the oldest and leading bank in the American region. The Antillean Guilder is also being promoted by this bank for a new name change to Caribbean Guilder.

The People Of Curaçao And Their Diverse Culture

Not surprisingly, the residents of this small country have origins from many regions around the world, including Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. However, the majority are of African descent. There is a dominant presence of people of color on the streets and in all sectors of the economy. There are also about 300 Jewish people living on the island.

The main religion is Roman Catholicism, with about 80% of the population, followed by Protestantism. There is also a Baha’i temple and a synagogue on the island. The main languages in Curaçao are Dutch and Papiamento. Almost all of the residents are proficient in both languages. Papiamento is actually a mixture of Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, and some English and French, making it quite unique.

Celebrate Curaçao Carnival
Celebrate Curaçao Carnival

Because Dutch is used, Curaçao is not often considered part of the Latin American cultural region. However, in reality, they are heavily influenced by the culture of the region. Every year, there are many music festivals and carnival celebrations in the Latin American style. The festivals in Curaçao are lively and crowded with long lines of tourists and dancers wearing colorful costumes.

Electricity And Water

People may wonder where this island gets its electricity and water from, given that it is surrounded by the sea and fresh water sources on the island are scarce. Actually, for over 100 years, the people of Curaçao have been drinking seawater, which is filtered through a desalination process or a modern reverse osmosis method. The water treatment is carried out at two main water plants on the island.

Curaçao is developing renewable energy sources
Curaçao is developing renewable energy sources

As for electricity, all households on the main island have access to it. The price of electricity on the island depends largely on fluctuations in the global oil market, as it is mainly produced from fossil fuels. Initially, up to 97% of the electricity generated domestically was from this source. In 2012, it was reduced to 87%, and last year it dropped to 67% and was replaced by other sources such as wind turbines (29%) and solar power (4%). Their goal is to have 50% of domestically generated electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2035.

Means Of Transportation To Curaçao

Is there a way to get to the island? Despite being just a few dozen kilometers away from Venezuela, there is no maritime connection between Venezuela and Curaçao, even private boats are not allowed. The crisis in Venezuela has closed off this South American country from Curaçao, Aruba, and some other islands.

The most common way to get here is by airplane. Curaçao International Airport regularly receives flights from Amsterdam. Although not certain, this is likely the most popular route to Curaçao. In addition, there are direct flights from New York, Miami, Suriname, Panama, and Bogota. Curaçao Airport is also the main airport of Divi Divi Air, connecting this country to other Dutch Caribbean islands. Another way to get here is by long-distance cruise ships.

Curaçao International Airport
Curaçao International Airport

There are two issues to note when coming to this country. Firstly, there is a problem with petty theft, including theft of cars, so people need to be careful. Secondly, not only is there a busy international port, but this country is also a transshipment point for illegal trade in goods from South America to Europe. Therefore, the most important principle is not to help strangers carry luggage in Curaçao.

Curaçao pursues a relatively easy visa policy, with most European and American countries, as well as some Asian countries such as Malaysia, Japan, and Singapore, not requiring a visa to visit Curaçao. For other countries, a visa can be obtained at the Dutch embassy or consulate in their home country.

In summary, Curaçao is a unique country with a rich history and can be seen as a cocktail of various ingredients and flavors. It is a European in terms of urban planning and economic mindset, a Caribbean in terms of landscape and tropical climate, a bit of Africa in terms of identity and population, and ultimately a Latin American in terms of cultural life and festivals.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.

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