Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Curacao Sunshine Destination

Curaçao---Gay Friendly Caribbean Island
As winter approaches gay snowbirds often begin their planning for that much needed winter-break somewhere sunny, warm and by the ocean. The Caribbean Islands have long been a favorite winter get-away destination for Canadians but they are not traditionally renowned for their gay friendliness. Just ask Rosie O’Donnell about the welcome she received in Nassau, Bahamas when her inaugural Family Cruise docked there in 2004 amidst a flurry of local anti-gay religious demonstrations. Or perhaps you’ve heard some of the stories about Jamaica and their homophobic behavior amongst some local residents. Well now there’s some good news as Curaçao proudly demonstrates their gay-friendly reception for GLBT tourists and welcomes you to their tropical island with some of the most beautiful white sandy beaches and luxury resorts in the Caribbean.
Located just a two and a half hour flight from Miami, Curaçao is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is perfectly situated just outside of the hurricane belt. This Dutch influence may be partially responsible for the gay-friendly attitude of the local residents. On this tropical island you will find an eclectic mix of history and culture, which has served to create a Caribbean experience unlike any other. Also known for its eco-tourism and pristine diving conditions, Curaçao attracts the adventure traveler as well as those looking to unwind and enjoy its perfect climate. Visitors to the island will enjoy the thirty plus white sandy beaches, 18-hole championship golf course, amazing dolphin interaction program, casinos, gourmet restaurants, European shops and much more.
Curaçao’s rich history comes alive in the stunning architecture to be seen all across the island—especially in its capital city, Willemstad. Established in the mid-1600s, Willemstad’s diverse buildings recall the quaint designs of Amsterdam, with exquisite 17th and 18th century Dutch colonial buildings not to be found anywhere else outside of the Netherlands. Willemstad’s traditional Dutch styles were modified to accommodate the island’s dry and breezy climate, Caribbean accents such as verandas, porches, fretwork, and shutters were added. The pastel colour scheme introduced a bright, bold palette which distinguishes this island from many others. In 1997, the UNESCO World Heritage Site committee selected the historic city center of Willemstad—one of just six Caribbean sites chosen—because of its “outstanding value and integrity, which illustrates the organic growth of a multicultural community over three centuries, and preserves to a high degree significant elements.” Strolling around the town you can enjoy these sights along with many relaxing cafes, bars and restaurants.
Although there are no exclusively gay accommodations on the island there are many resorts who welcome the GLBT community with open arms. As a demonstration of their commitment to embracing gay travelers Hotel Kura Hulanda, Lodge Kura Hulanda, Avila Hotel, Hilton Curaçao, Floris Suite Hotel, Sunset Waters Beach Resort, Lions Dive Hotel, Papagayo Beach Resort, Habitat Dive Resort , Waterside Apartments along with Yellow Tour Info Center, Explore Curaçao and International Accommodations & Concierge Services all joined the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) to further their gay friendly statements with real support for the community.
The dedicated GLBT website lists the gay-friendly weekend hot spots, citing the gay gars being Limbo Bar (located at Keizershof in Otrobanda), Lyric's Café frequented by locals (located at the Waterfort Arches in Punda) and It's my Life (located near Yolanda snack at Groot Kwartier). Additional gay-friendly places are Mambo Beach which is the place to be every Saturday night while Tu Tu Tango is a Friday night hot-spot. Wet & Wild is the Sunday night destination, Ay Caramba on Tuesday nights and Cinco on a Thursday night. This selection of gay and gay-friendly venues is probably the largest number to be found on any Caribbean Island and provides a wide range of choices for gay vacationers to enjoy the nightlife after a day in the hot sun or enjoying a wide variety of aqua sports.

Naturally, with such beautiful white sandy beaches, the clear blue ocean and the perfect temperatures---nearly always around 80 degrees Fahrenheit---water sports are one of the most popular vacation activities. Almost every resort and hotel with a beach will rent snorkeling and scuba diving equipment to enjoy the underwater coral reef which begins within one hundred yards of most beaches. It is also possible to enjoy windsurfing, sea kayaking, jet skis, coral reef boat tours and much more.
At the Dolphin Academy visitors get the opportunity to meet dolphins and swim, snorkel or even dive with these special animals in six different programs. These are very reasonably priced and conducted with expert supervision for the experience of a lifetime amidst these fascinating intelligent creatures of the sea.
If you are looking for activities away from the ocean then Curaçao affords a unique combination of other outdoor activities.
The Hato Caves, open seven days a week, were formed below the sea level millions of years ago. With the Ice Ages the water level dropped down and Curaçao was born. The Hato cave covers an area of 4900 square meters, and is the home to the beautiful limestone formations, romantic pools, waterfall and the famous Madonna statue. Also inside the Cave is a colony of seldom-seen long nose fruit bats. Tours are on the hour starting at 10 AM to 4PM each day.
If you enjoy nature hiking along deserted paths then the Shete Boka Natural Park on the north eastern tip of the island offers a spectacular rugged coastline and numerous hiking trails. Huge waves thunderously pound the rocky coastline creating huge caverns and magnificent blow holes. You will also discover the breeding grounds for three species of turtles.
Yellow Tourism Solutions can take you on a Jeep Safari to explore the island’s central desert, northern coastline and underground caves. Or you can plan a horseback ride, rent a bicycle or mountain bike or a motor scooter to venture out to explore on your own . The numerous 17th and 18th century plantation houses are a fascinating part of the island’s history and the Landhuis Groot Santa Martha built in 1696 has been magnificently restored and is well worth a visit.
One of the island’s major historical attractions is the Museum Kurá Hulanda. It is an anthropological museum that focuses on the predominant cultures, ancestry and history of Curaçao. It offers a world-class chronicle of the Origin of Man, the African slave trade, West African Empires, Pre-Colombian gold, Mesopotamian relics and Antillean art. Set in the original dockland buildings from some of the historic sea-trading days of Curaçao’s past this is a fascinating step back in time to the island’s origins.
Local gay and lesbian residents create their own version of Pride celebrations each year at the end of September called the Wet and Wild Weekend. This a fun weekend full of parties, celebrations and festivities for the local GLBT crowd and visitors to the island. It includes parties in all the bars and clubs, a movie night on the beach, a midnight cruise and of course water sports at the popular Sunset Waters Beach Resort. This is a fun time when the gay community steps out and is highly visible around the island.
Several U.S. airline carriers fly to Curaçao and from November to April Sunquest offers vacation packages with direct flights from Toronto once per week.
So there’s no longer a reason to fear homophobia on the island treasures of the Caribbean. Without a doubt this gay-friendly paradise is destined to become the newest gay choice for a Caribbean vacation get-away. From the ocean playground to the historic sites, the natural unspoiled countryside, the spectacular nightly sunsets, gourmet dining and fun nightlife, every day can be filled with different holiday activities for a perfect vacation in the sun. Perhaps Rosie O’Donnell should consider Curaçao as one of the ports of call on her next Family Cruise---there‘s a guaranteed friendly welcome awaiting her arrival!
Be sure to pack plenty of suntan lotion as Curaçao is just a few degrees north of the equator and year-round the days are mostly hot and sunny. But that’s perfect to enjoy the crystal clear blue waters of the Caribbean Ocean and forget about the cold, snowy winter days---just for a while!

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