A special thanks to Arie and Henrietta two of the most fantastic people here in Curacao
Since this our first blog let me explain the format, I write about things regarding the sailing department, as first mate Peggy would put it ( the important stuff); and she writes about what she calls the interesting stuff.
Let’s start with the first impression. If you are planning to come here on a short (1 week or 2) at a resort and do not plan to venture too far out, then this is a very nice place. But if you plan to be here for a month or so boating from bay to bay and gunk holing there is one word: DON’T.
Actually I am waiting to set sail before posting this blog as I am sure the local authorities will not appreciate what I think about Curacao.
Two years ago they got their independence and the general feeling of the island has made a 180 degree turn. One of the local politicians was quoted in the paper as to say, “ all whites should be taken off the island in body bags.“ It might have been simple rhethoric, but you get the picture. There is a huge sense of not being wanted there.
Don’t get me wrong, there are many fabulous people around but the majority do not like outsiders (whites), and are unfriendly, not service oriented at all, downright cold and their favorite past time is to ignore you. Even if you are in their store to buy $1,000.00 of merchandise, expect to be ignored.
Gunk holing is not permitted, boaters have to stay in a marina in the water or on the hard, or in Spanish Waters.
Me, I am refitting Ete Infini in Piscadera bay at Royal Marine( yes with an ‘e’ not ‘a’ ). People here are the very friendly kind with Juan-Carlos the marina manager but he will nickel and dime you to death: we were leaving Nov 30, paid up until Dec 12 but were still charged $20 for water use. Here you can dinghy to Pirate Bay just adjacent to Piscadera Bay. Nice swimming water, but the beach is full of broken coral thanks to a hurricane a few years back.
The price at the marina is somewhat affordable, haul in and out and three months with power was about $1,800.00 U.S . But I am sure things will go higher soon. Since the island is almost bankrupt and prices are already starting to climb.
Boat store wise, is on the good part of this trip. There is plenty of marine stores here, Budget marine (2) and Island Water World are my favorites, but get their catalogue first. Some items are cheaper at one store, and others are cheaper at the other store; they are very competitive. So shop around. They have a very decent inventory. Other marine stores are, Curacao Marine fairly ok, and Caribbean Nautical. This one I would stay away from. Caribbean Nautical was formely known as ABC marine. I waited 3 months for a quote on $4,000.00 worth of electronics, $1,500.00 worth of installation, still I only have a partial quote. As I said before, people ignoring you is a national pasttime here.
Most beaches, if not on resort properties, have entry fees, and like I said gunk holing is frown upon. Some people do it, until the authorities kick them out after a few days. On the other hand, the boat entrance is fairly easy, uncomplicated and somewhat efficient, mind you Custom and Immigration are quite a bit apart, so a cab ride would be a good idea. Clearing out is also easy, visit custom a day or 2 before the planned date, and turn in your visa card at immigration the day you leave, and you are on your way. If you had the same experience that I had, it will be a one time visit.
Pegg: a blurb about what we found in Curacao. Pictures to follow.
It can take a bit to get around Curacao, especially in town, ie Willemstad. But that’s where pretty much everything is so you got no choice. Sorry about that.
There are no (or very few) street names, even on what seem to be main roads. The streets themselves are more like what we would call alleys, or large driveways. They are laid out like a rabbit warren so even looking down them to see if they connect to anything is useless. The map is extremely large scale and every single road/pathway/alley/driveway/cowpath is on it, paved or gravel. What is approximately 2 inches away on the map is only about 100 yards in actuality. But that is only in town – once out in “the country”, that all changes. If you are lucky enough to have a navigator, please cut her some slack when she says “I just don’t have a clue.” If her nose is in the map trying to figure out where you are, she’s missed the turnoff already.
We found that navigating by landmarks is THE way to go. Turn right at KFC, left at Subway or just past McDonald’s….you get the idea. (For you fast food junkies, you’ll be in seventh heaven here! More on that in the food section.) In fact, KFC and Subway are about the only places actually written out; other stores, banks, gas stations are icon only. Take a pen with you and mark stuff on the map that you come across. I will tell you that you’ll find all kinds of neat stores and shops when you get lost and if you don’t mark them, you’ll never find them again.
And to top off your adventure: turn signals are only an option, cars are usually halfway into the intersection before they stop and most of this is done at high speed. Have fun! J
Currency accepted here is either Dutch Guilders or US Dollars and almost all businesses take either or even a combination of both. If you don’t bring Guilders with you, don’t try to change them at the bank. IF the bank allows you to without an account, they’ll charge you 6% on top of the exchange rate.
The easiest way to exchange your money is right at the store. You give them US Dollars and they’ll convert it and give you Guilders in change. Do that a few times the first day or so and it will build up fast. If you have a hard time differentiating the coinage (like we do) just hold out your hand full of coins and the cashier will pick out the correct amount. One thing I’ve noticed is that they are very nice about it and completely honest.
If you are here for any length of time, shop around for the best prices. Otherwise, here are a few ideas for staple items:
Centrum– groceries, small household items, beer, cigarettes, drugstore items that don’t need a pharmacist.
La Curacao – big department store, great for bedding, housewares, small and large appliances
Kooyman – a semi-independent store competing with Home Depot and doing a fine job of staying in business. They may not have as much stuff but what they do have is quality and the staff is most excellent. Potable grade marine hose is available here.
Building Depot – the large chain wannabe of Home Depot, and it seems they expanded into more home-making oriented items. They do the tool thing, plumbing and electrical supplies, bathroom and kitchen fixtures, carpet and flooring, lawn and garden…..all the same as HD; but they also have a department store type portion with bedding, housewares, appliances, some sports equipment, school supplies, decoration and knick-knacks. The staff is not as friendly as Kooyman, though, and a lot of items are not priced so you have to take them to the cashier to find out.
Budget Marine – a large chain around the Caribbean found on most islands. Register your boat with them and save the tax. Good selection of hardware, plumbing and painting supplies. Not bad electronics and water sports departments. The store here has super nice and helpful staff and they remember you when you come back for stuff you forgot the first time – which always happens.
Island Water World – a large, semi-independent store with great hardware and plumbing supplies. A good selection of electronics, painting and plumbing supplies. Some water sports equipment, some clothing/footwear, a few charts, and good miscellaneous items like coolers and air horns. Very nice rope/chain section.Register your boat and save the tax. Most helpful and friendly staff, extremely clean store.
Caribbean Nautical (ABC Marine) – a smallish store with big attitude. It seemed to me that paint and electronics are their specialties with not much else. They may know a bit more about electronics but customer service is not their forte.
The three marine stores are on the same road within .5 mile of each other so it’s easy to shop around.
If you have a Yamaha motor, there is only one guy on the island that can or will work on it, Jan Tak. Ask at one of the marine stores to get his number – then be prepared for a run-around that takes lots of time and energy. He’s good at what he does and comes highly recommended but the guys you have to deal with up front are a pain.
There is no certified Garmin technician on the island. There are, however, lots of people that will tell you they are. Some are good techs, some I wouldn’t trust our machine with. Island Water World staff don’t know a whole lot about electronics but they are extremely helpful in finding someone who does.
Gas stations are not as plentiful as we are used to but an unexpected empty fuel tank means only a couple miles walk anyway. The island is just not that big.
There is only one place to get propane on the island and it’s tucked back into one of those rabbit warrens I mentioned earlier, and closed on weekends. You need to go to the CurOil office and get a receipt for your tanks. We were charged $24.80 NAG per tank, a full BBQ tank price even though ours were only 12 pounds not 20. We took the tanks across the compound and left them Monday morning and were told to come back Wed afternoon for them; he took one copy of the receipt and we took one. Wed afternoon, they weren’t there – “come back tomorrow”. Our car was due to be turned in that day so we now had to pay an extra day. Thursday at 2:00 pm turned into 4:00 pm but we finally got our tanks. Once we were sure they were in this shipment, it was back to the office to pay for them, bring the receipt back and he turned them over. Super nice guy, we couldn’t get angry as it wasn’t his fault.
Downtown in the Renaissance Hotel area is a huge promenade full of upscale stores. If you are dire need of a new Rolex or Gucci bag, you’ll find it there.
There are clothing, footwear and sports stores scattered all throughout the Willemstad area. Some little jems are tucked away on side streets and are only discovered when you’re trying to find somewhere else.
You can find computers and parts, printers, office supplies, music, cameras and photo equipment…pretty much anything. There are a few large strip malls but mostly it’s independent shops and boutiques.
There is free wifi at Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King and some Subways. There is also wifi at the marinas but not very strong so you need to either boost it, get closer or just go with what you get.
There is fast food all over the freakin place. McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, KFC and they all seem to be on corners which makes navigation easy. We found a Tony Roma’s and a Denny’s as well. Of course, there are little cafes and bistros all around, several Chinese and Thai and Spanish and Italian restaurants, and down on the promenade there are many independent restaurants. You won’t lack for food here.
I was very surprised and impressed to see the various medical facilities here. Thank goodness we didn’t have to use them but I hear they are great. There is a huge hospital here and I saw signs for Internist, Cardiologist, Nephrologist, Immunologist, and many many MDs. There are dental clinics and denturists, as well. The pharmacy section at Centrum is pretty well stocked with normal stuff from Tylenol to shampoo, first aid supplies, tooth care, skin care, etc. For anything else you need to go to “Botica” which is sorta like a Shopper’s or Rexall. There you can find just about everything you need. For contact lens wearers – there are optical stores that carry Bosch and Lomb products.