Looking for a kid-friendly way to experience the Caribbean? The former Dutch colony of Curacao (pronounced keer-ah-sow), which became a self-governing island in 2010, is a great choice. Located off the coast of Venezuela, it’s filled with history, culture and postcard-worthy beaches. The pastel buildings of the capital city of Willemstad look so picture-perfect, you’ll think you’re on on the movie set for a quaint Caribbean island. Curacao’s clean, colorful and everyone seems friendly, no haggling tourists on this island.

Curacao's Big Knip Beach photo credit: Andrea Guthmann

Curacao’s Big Knip Beach photo credit: Andrea Guthmann / Midwest TravelingMom

Finding History in Picture Perfect Curacao

Spend an afternoon strolling the cobblestone paths, public art and gardens of Willemstad’s Kura Hulanda Village, where historic homes have been restored to their original splendor. This UNESCO World Heritage Site sits on what was once the Caribbean’s largest slave market. An incredible on-site museum explains the history of the slave trade in the Caribbean. Willemstad also is home to the Western Hemisphere’s oldest Jewish synagogue, Mikvé Israel-Emanuel. Tour it and you’ll notice another unique feature— it has a sand floor.

Old Market Food Stall photo courtesy: Andrea Guthmann

Old Market Food Stall photo courtesy: Andrea Guthmann

Where and What to Eat in Curacao

When it’s time to eat, do as the locals and head to the budget-friendly food stalls of Plasa Bieu, also known as the Old Market. Sample the popular goat stew or traditional Tutu, ground up beans with sugar and other ingredients.

Beautiful Beaches of Curacao

Divide your time between the capital city, Willemstad, and the idyllic beaches one hour away on Curacao’s west end. Dutch investor and philanthropist, Jacob Gelt Dekker, has made it easy to do that with his two hotels, each named Kura Hulanda.

A complimentary one-hour shuttle takes guests from Willemstad’s Kura Hulanda Village past the island’s arid landscape to the postcard-perfect beaches on Curacao’s west end.

Once you arrive at the Kura Hulanda Lodge & Beach Club, you’ll find your desert oasis—a turquoise blue ocean, luxurious pool surrounded by palm frond huts, and an on-site dive center. Daily two-and-a-half-hour snorkel trips with Go West Diving cost $30 for the first person and are half-price for the second when you bring your own equipment.

Of course you can enjoy Curacao’s beautiful beaches no matter what hotel you stay at. It’s an hour’s drive from Willemstad to the free Big Knip Beach on the island’s west end. Relax under one of the complimentary thatched huts that line this beautiful cove (chairs can be rented for $5). A beachfront stand rents snorkel gear for $15 when you’re ready to explore underwater.

Curacao's Carnival is kid-friendly photo courtesy: Andrea Guthmann

Curacao’s Carnival is kid-friendly photo courtesy: Andrea Guthmann

Curacao’s Family-Friendly Carnival

Like much of the Caribbean, Curacao is a wild mix of cultures. Over the years, it’s been ruled by the Spanish, French, British and Dutch. Today, the average islander speaks an impressive four languages— Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamentu, their own Creole mix.

A wonderful way to experience Curacao’s culture is by visiting in February for Carnival. During Carnival, Curacao’s rich history comes alive in a colorful spectacle. Neighborhood groups and clubs (some with hundreds) march in elaborate costumes, some of which cost up to $1,000.

The music, dancing and endless array of crazy costumes went on easily three hours when we were there, and that was just one of the parades during Carnival. Trust me, Curacao takes this party seriously!

Where to Stay in Curacao

We stayed at Acoya Hotel Suites and Villas, a great choice for a family vacation. It’s got a great multi-tiered pool with a waterfall. Breakfast is included and the large villas have full kitchens, so you won’t have to be taking the kids out for meals throughout the trip. A hotel shuttle van takes guests to the beach, downtown Willemstad, and the market.

Curacao is a beautiful option for a kid-friendly Caribbean vacation, and Carnival’s a great way for you and your family to soak up a bit of the local  culture, religion, history and food while having a lot of fun doing it.

If you want to experience Carnival for yourself, contact the Curacao Tourist Board. They’ll help you figure out where and how to watch the parade, you might even be able to participate!

Ever been to Carnival in the Caribbean? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments below.