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Curaçao – The Island Country In The Southern Caribbean

Curcao 001 panoramic-view-of-willemstad-curacao main feature picture
Curacao, Island Country of the South Caribbean

 bannerI was in Curacao about two years ago when I was on a cruise to Southern Hemisphere. This particular itinery was cirumventing the Southern Caribbean and the prospect of great weather according to the forecast made it all more exciting because I had some on-land tours to go on. In the end I only went on one due to the lack of time. It was nonetheless very enjoyable!.

The Holland America Line, Ms Noordam

This was the cruiseship I was on at the time and the day started out a little dreary, cloudy with the prospect of it remaining a pretty dull day but I was to be preoven wrong as you will see as we progress with the various shots I took whilst onshore in this wonderfully colourful town of Willemstad which happens to be its capital.

Coat of Arms of Curacao

Curaçao is an island country in the Southern Caribbean Sea, approximately 65 kilometres (40 mi) north of the Venezuelan coast, that is a constituent country (Dutch: land) of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Formally called the Country of Curaçao, (Dutch: Land Curaçao; Papiamento: Pais Kòrsou), it includes the main island and the uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao (“Little Curaçao”). It has a population of over 150,000 on an area of 444 km2 (171 sq mi) and its capital isWillemstad.

Prior to the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 10 October 2010, Curaçao was administered as the “Island Territory of Curaçao” (Dutch:Eilandgebied Curaçao, Papiamentu: Teritorio Insular di Kòrsou), one of five island territories of the former Netherlands Antilles.


The original inhabitants of Curaçao were Arawak peoples. Their ancestors had migrated to the island from the mainland of South America, likely hundreds of years before Europeans arrived.

The first Europeans recorded as seeing the island were members of a Spanish expedition under the leadership of Alonso de Ojeda in 1499. The Spaniards enslaved most of the Arawak as their labour force. They sometimes forcibly relocated the survivors to other colonies where workers were needed. In 1634, after the Netherlands achieved independence from Spain, Dutch colonists started to occupy the island. European powers were trying to get bases in the Caribbean.

Map Of Curaçao
Old Map of the Island of Curacao

The Dutch West India Company founded the capital of Willemstad on the banks of an inlet called the ‘Schottegat’. Curaçao had been ignored by colonists, because it lacked gold deposits. The natural harbour of Willemstad proved to be an ideal spot for trade. Commerce and shipping — and piracy—became Curaçao’s most important economic activities. In addition, in 1662 the Dutch West India Company made Curaçao a centre for the Atlantic slave trade, often bringing slaves here for sale elsewhere in the Caribbean.


Sephardic Jews settled here with the Dutch and in then-Dutch Brazil; they have had a significant influence on the culture and economy of the island. Some merchants were part of the Dutch colonial slave trade.



In the Franco-Dutch War, Count Jean II d’Estrées planned to attack Curaçao. His fleet — 12 men of war, three fireships, two transports, a hospital ship, and 12 privateers — met with disaster, losing seven men of war and two other ships when they struck reefs off the Las Aves archipelago. They had made a serious navigational error, hitting the reefs on 11 May 1678, a week after setting sail from Saint Kitts. Curaçao marked the events by a day of thanksgiving, celebrated for decades into the 18th century, to commemorate the island’s escape from being invaded by the French.

Although a few plantations were established on the island by the Dutch, the first profitable industry established on Curaçao was salt mining. The mineral was a lucrative export at the time and was a major factor for the island being part of international commerce.


Dutch architecture along Willemstad’s harbour

Many Dutch colonists grew affluent from the slave trade, and the city built impressive colonial buildings. Curaçao architecture blends Dutch and Spanish colonial styles. The wide range of historic buildings in and around Willemstad has resulted in the capital being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Landhouses (former plantation estates) and West African style kas di pal’i maishi (former slave dwellings) are scattered all over the island. Some have been restored and can be visited.

In 1795, a major slave revolt took place under the leaders Tula Rigaud, Louis Mercier, Bastian Karpata, and Pedro Wakao. Up to 4000 slaves on the northwest section of the island revolted. Over a thousand of the slaves were involved in heavy gunfights. After a month, the slave owners suppressed the revolt.

Curaçao’s proximity to South America resulted in interaction with cultures of the coastal areas. For instance, architectural similarities can be seen between the 19th-century parts of Willemstad and the nearby Venezuelan city of Coro in Falcón State. The latter has also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the 19th century, Curaçaoans such as Manuel Piar and Luis Brión were prominently engaged in the wars of independence of Venezuela and Colombia. Political refugees from the mainland (such as Simon Bolivar) regrouped in Curaçao. Children from affluent Venezuelan families were educated on the island.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, the island changed hands among the British, the French, and the Dutch several times. In the early 19th century, Portuguese and Lebanese migrated to Curaçao attracted by the business opportunities. Stable Dutch rule returned in 1815, at the end of the Napoleonic wars, when the island was incorporated into the colony of Curaçao and Dependencies.

The Dutch abolished slavery in 1863, bringing a change in the economy with the shift to wage labour. Some inhabitants of Curaçao emigrated to other islands, such as Cuba, to work in sugar cane plantations. Other former slaves had nowhere to go and remained working for the plantation owner in the tenant farmer system. This was an instituted order in which the former slave leased land from his former master. In exchange the tenant promised to give up most of his harvest to the former slave master. This system lasted until the beginning of the 20th century.

Historically, Dutch was not widely spoken on the island outside of colonial administration; its use increased in the late 19th and early 20th century. Students on Curaçao, Aruba, and Bonaire were taught predominantly in Spanish up until the late 19th century. There were also efforts to introduce bilingual popular education in Dutch and Papiamentu in the late 19th century (van Putte 1999).


When in 1914, oil was discovered in the Maracaibo Basin town of Mene Grande, the fortunes of the island were dramatically altered.

Curcao 002 Curacao_Willemstad Riverfront Picture

In 1915, the Royal Dutch Shell (Shell) and the Dutch government decided to establish an extensive oil refinery installation on the former site of the slave-trade market at Asiento. The oil company suddenly had many jobs for the local population and attracted a wave of immigration from surrounding nations. The installation became operational three years later. There were a number of geographic and political advantages to establishing a refinery on an island off the Venezuelan coast: the predicted market growth in the US, the politically troubled Mexican oil production and the expected increase of traffic through the Panama Canal.

A natural deepwater harbour and a stable political climate made Curaçao the obvious choice. Shell has been the largest employer on the island since 1918. Of the 44,344 inhabitants in 1929, 10,924 worked for the oil industry. This number peaked in 1952, with 12,631 employees. The refinery was an important source of fuel for allied forces in the World War II. Economically, the refinery has been the mainstay of Curaçao since 1915: it generates currency necessary for vital imports and is thus crucial to the future economic development of the island. The refinery’s success is also its weak point. If this sector is threatened, the consequences for Curaçao would be immediate and significant.

In the years before and after World War II, Ashkenazi Jews emigrated from Eastern Europe, many of whom were Romanian Jews.


In the early years, both Shell and Exxon held drilling concessions in Venezuela, which ensured a constant supply of crude oil to the refineries in Aruba and Curaçao. Crude oil production in Venezuela was inexpensive. The integrated companies Shell and Exxon controlled the entire industry from pumping, transporting and refining to marketing the end product. The refineries on Aruba and Curaçao operated in global markets and were profitable partly because the of margin between the production costs of crude oil and the revenues realized on products. This provided a safety net for losses incurred through inefficiency or excessive operating costs at the refineries. The nationalization of the oil industry in Venezuela in 1975 was a setback. The companies had to buy oil on the international markets at higher prices. As the Shell refinery on Curaçao was best equipped to process the Venezuelan heavy crude, the company was subject to Venezuelan oil politics when it came to price and supply. Coupled with high operating costs, these difficulties were the reasons the refinery on Curaçao continually operated at a loss.


Curaçao experienced an economic downturn in the early 1980s. Shell’s refinery on Curaçao operated with significant losses from 1975 to 1979, and again from 1982 to 1985. Persistent losses, global over-production, tougher competition and low market expectations threatened the future of the Shell refinery in Curaçao. In 1985, after a presence of 70 years, Royal Dutch Shell decided to end its activities on Curaçao. Shell’s announcement came at a crucial moment; the fragile economy of Curaçao had been stagnating for some time.

Several revenue generating endeavours suffered even more during this period: tourism from Venezuela collapsed after the devaluation of the bolivar, the transport industry deteriorated with deleterious effects on the profits of the Antillean Airline Company and the Curaçao Dry Dock Company experienced major setbacks. The offshore industry (financial services) also experienced a downturn because of radical new tax laws in the US. Significant intervention in the public sector was required to reduce budget deficits. The future did not look promising: a macro-economic study predicted economic stagnation for several years even if Shell stayed and other industries experienced growth. It was more likely that the gross domestic product (GDP) would shrink by 20 percent, unemployment would rise to 35 percent and emigration would increase. It was clear that closure had to be avoided because the consequences could be disastrous.


Curaçao was an ideal site for the refinery, as it was away from the social and civil unrest of the South American mainland, but near enough to the Maracaibo Basin oil fields. It had an excellent natural harbour that could accommodate large oil tankers.

East and South Asian immigrants arrived during the economic boom of the early 20th century. Shell brought affluence to the island. Large scale housing was provided and Willemstad developed an extensive infrastructure. However, inequality among the social groups of Curaçao led to discontent and the antagonisms between Curaçao social groups and culminated in rioting and protest on 30 May 1969. The civil unrest launched a social movement that resulted in the local Afro-Caribbean population attaining more influence over the political process (Anderson and Dynes 1975).

In the early 20th century, Dutch was made the sole language of instruction in the educational system to facilitate schooling for the children of expatriate employees of Royal Dutch Shell (Romer, 1999). Papiamentu, the local Creole language, was tentatively reintroduced in the school curriculum during the mid-1980s.

Curaçao gained self-government on 1 January 1954, as an island territory of the Netherlands Antilles. The islanders did not fully participate in the political process until after the social movements of the late 1960s.


The island has developed a tourist industry and offered low corporate taxes to encourage companies to set up holdings in order to avoid higher taxes elsewhere. It has emphasized its diverse heritage to expand its tourism industry. Since the late 20th century, immigrants have come from neighbouring countries, such as Venezuela, but also from the Dominican Republic, Haiti and theAnglophone Caribbean and Colombia. In the early 21st century, a number of Dutch pensioners (pensionados) have settled on the island for its mild climate.

In the mid-1980s, Shell sold the refinery for the symbolic amount of one Antillean guilder to a local government consortium. The aging refinery has been the subject of lawsuits in recent years, which charge that its emissions, including sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, far exceed safety standards.The government consortium currently leases the refinery to the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.

On 2 July 1984, the 30th anniversary of the first elected Island Council, the council inaugurated the national flag and the official anthem. In the 2000s, the political relationship with the other islands of the Netherlands Antilles, and with the Netherlands, came under discussion again. In a referendum held on 8 April 2005, the residents voted for separate status outside the Netherlands Antilles, similar to Aruba. They rejected the options for full independence, becoming part of the Netherlands, or retaining the status quo.


Sorry if you dont speak Spanish/Latin American but the video will highlight the wonders of Curacao 



On 1 July 2007, the island of Curaçao was due to become a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. On 28 November 2006, this was delayed when the island council rejected a clarification memorandum on the process. A new island council ratified this agreement on 9 July 2007. On 15 December 2008, Curaçao was scheduled to become a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (as Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles were). A non-binding referendum on this plan took place in Curaçao on 15 May 2009, in which 52 percent of the voters supported these plans.

The dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles came into effect on 10 October 2010. Curaçao became a country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the Kingdom retaining responsibility for defence and foreign policy. The kingdom was also to oversee the island’s finances under a debt-relief arrangement agreed between the two.Curaçao’s first prime minister was Gerrit Schotte. He was succeeded in 2012 by Stanley Betrian, ad interim. After elections in 2012 Daniel Hodge became the third prime minister, on 31 December 2012. He led a demissionary cabinet until 7 June 2013, when a new cabinet under leadership of current prime minister, Ivar Asjes, was sworn in.


Political debate has centered on the issue of Papiamentu becoming the sole language of instruction. Proponents argue that it will help preserve the language and will improve the quality of primary and secondary school education. Proponents of Dutch-language instruction argue that students who study in Dutch will be better prepared for the university education offered to Curaçao residents in the Netherlands.


 Curaçao, as well as the rest of the ABC islands and also Trinidad and Tobago, lies on the continental shelf of South America, and is thus geologically considered to lie entirely in South America. Curaçao’s highest point is the Sint Christoffelberg 375 m (1,230 ft). The coastlines bays, inlets and hot springs offer an on-site source of natural mineral, thermal or seawater used in hydrotherapy and mesotherapy, making this island one of many balneoclimateric areas in the region.




As you see (above photos) this is the “square” so to speak that “greets you” once you dibark from the cruiseship. Its obviously a comparatively new area recently built to greet tourists and cruiseship passengers docked only five minutes behind of this “circle”. Many shops hadnt opened yet but I am sure by now – as these photos were taken about three years ago – most have opened their doors to tourists and cruiseship passengers alike. Kind of  “high-end” looking shops but nonetheless attractive enough for first time visitors to this island state.

The weather in Cauracao/Willemstad is warm and I guess being the Caribbean you’ll get you fair share of rain being tropical. For me, today was a warm and dry day and the heat did get to you once you got walking around town a bit which I did for the next few hours. Enjoy the photos (below) I shot on that wonderful morning/afternoon in Willemstad (Curacao). By the way, I have visited this great island a total of 3 times and I would go back if I had the chance.













If youre the type who loves to travel around the world, especially the Caribbean, I would highly recomment Curacao/Willemstad or any of the Dutch Antilles/States that in this part of the Southern Caribbean. The weather is generally welcoming and gets you away from the cold winter in Europe and the United States. I believe I was here around end of 2013, so you can well imagine how many European and American tourists were onboard the cruiseliner for this vacation alongwith me.


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