Curaçao

Curaçao is the largest and most populated of the Dutch ABC Islands. The historic district of Willemstad is divided by the St. Anna Bay into two sides: Punda and Otrobanda. The entire charming, colorful capital city is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. You will also enjoy the beaches.

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1 Introduction to Capital City of Willemstad, Curaçao

The initial inhabitants were the Caiquetío, an Arawak Indian tribe. Soon after the Spanish arrived in 1499, they named it Curaçao because they believed the island “cured” sailors of scurvy. The Dutch conquered it in 1634. Today, Willemstad has a population of about 150,000 people and is the capital of this constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the foreground is a late 18th century cast iron cannon. The 24 pounder next to the Queen Emma Bridge points across St. Anna Bay towards Otrobanda.

Kon. Emmabrug, Willemstad, Curaçao
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2 Rainbow of Colorful Buildings in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

The beautiful hallmark of Willemstad is Dutch architecture in a kaleidoscope of colors like these along Handelskade. This charming characteristic dates back to 1816 when Governor Albert Kikkert blamed his migraine headaches on the sun reflecting off the white buildings. He issued a degree demanding everything be painted any color but white. Within three years the town became a rainbow. After he died in 1819, it was learned Kikkert owned a majority share of the only local paint company.

1 Heerenstraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
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3 Fort Amsterdam Inner Courtyard in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Shortly after the Netherlands overthrew the Spanish in 1634, the Dutch West India Company began building a fortress on the eastern shore of the Sint Anna Bay. Fort Amsterdam saw military action by the British in 1804 and fell to Venezuelan soldiers in 1929. Notice the two cannons in the inner courtyard that once protected the city. This beautiful old citadel now serves as the home of the island’s governor plus contains other government offices.

Governor's Palace Gouvernementsplein, Willemstad, Curaçao
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4 Governor on Stairs at Fort Amsterdam in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

When the Netherland Antilles was dissolved in 2010, Curaçao became a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This means all internal affairs of the island are now governed locally. The Dutch king appoints a governor to a six year term. In 2013, Lucille George-Wout became the second person to hold the office. The native Curaçaoan is seen here returning to her residence at Fort Amsterdam.

Governor's Palace Gouvernementsplein, Willemstad, Curaçao
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5 Fort Amsterdam Church Clock Tower in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Fort Amsterdam’s first church probably dates back to the early 18th century. The current Fortkerk was constructed in 1769, making it the island’s oldest active church. In 1903, this round clock tower replaced an earlier version yet it initially retained the 1788 clockworks. The bright yellow and orange colors of the steeple, plus its height of 52.5 feet, make this United Protestant Church visible throughout Punda. The Fortchurch was extensively restored in 1991 and now also serves as a museum.

Fortplein Plaza Piar, Willemstad, Curaçao
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6 Wilhelmina Park in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This terraced bandstand and fountain are part of the Wilhelmina Park in Punda. Its namesake is Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Marie. She was the Queen of the Netherlands from 1890 until 1948. Her 58 year rule qualified her as the longest reigning Dutch monarch. She was also the last member of the House of Orange-Nassau when she died in 1962. In the background is the Fort Amsterdam church clock tower.

Wilhelminaplein, Willemstad, Curaçao
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7 Curaçao Sign in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

The perfect spot to take a selfie while in Willemstad is in front of these giant blue letters at Wilhelmina Park. Your friends back home will love seeing you on a winter vacation in a tropical Dutch island while they are buried waist deep in snow.

Wilhelminaplein Willemstad, Curaçao
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8 Dushi Sign in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

If someone calls you “dushi” while you are in Curaçao, smile back; they think you are a nice. The Dutch and Papiamentu word can also mean good, sweetheart, babe, hot or even sexy. So you may want to judge by their return smile what connotation they have in mind when using the word. This huge red sign is located in Wilhelmina Park in Punda.

Wilhelminaplein Willemstad, Curaçao
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9 Penha Building in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Punda’s best shopping surrounds this early 18th century, bright yellow building with ornate white trim, green shutters accenting its arcade and gabled rooflines. This prominent historical landmark is the flagship department store for Penha, a retailer founded in 1865.

1 Heerenstraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
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10 Shopping District in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

If you spell the word vacation as s-h-o-p-p-i-n-g, then you will agree with the sign “I Love Curaçao.” This is Breedestraat, one of the three main retail streets in Punda. The other two intersect it: Handelskade and Heerenstraat. Market stalls are located along Shailio Caprileskade on the Waaigat waterfront. The place to explore on the Otrobanda side is the 50 stores at Renaissance Mall. If you are interested in European items, then consider Saliña Galleries. These are just a few of your options. You will find other malls and boutique shops across the island. Your credit card will get worn out before your feet do.

Breedestraat & Keukenstraat Willemstad, Curaçao
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11 Urban Angel Mural in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

In a city famous for its brightly colored buildings, talented local artists still find huge canvases to create their beautiful street art. This engaging mural called “Urban Angel” is the backdrop for a parking lot on Kuiperstraar Street. Created by Garrick Marchena in 2009, it was his first outdoor painting. Since then he has produced at least a half dozen more large murals around Curaçao. He obviously has a long and productive future ahead.

Kuiperstraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
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12 Attorney General Office in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This yellow building began as the Masonic Lodge De Vergenoeging when it opened in 1869. A century later it changed hands several times among various financial companies before becoming the Attorney General Office in 2011. Notice the three flags. They are from left to right: Curaçao, the Netherlands and Sint Maarten. The Parket Procureur-General also provides public prosecution services to the BES Islands (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba).

Hendrikplein & Waterfortstraat Willemstad, Curaçao
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13 First Prime Minster Statue in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Moises Frumencio da Coasta Gomez established the National People’s Party in 1948 with the goal of achieving autonomy and self-government for Curaçao from the Netherlands. He became the first prime minister when the Netherlands Antilles was created. This was a group of six islands who collectively became a constituent country of the Netherlands in 1954. Curaçao was the capital. In 1986, Aruba seceded from the group. The status of remaining islands was dissolved in 2010. Now Curaçao, along with Aruba, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands, are each considered to be a constituent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Breedestraat #44 Punda, Curaçao
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14 Temple Emanu-El in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Numerous Jewish families began arriving in Curaçao in the mid-17th century and formed the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel congregation. In 1864, a liberal group called the Reform Jewish Movement broke away. Three years later they built this Temple Emanuel. In 1963, when the two communities merged back together, this synagogue was closed. After a restoration was completed in 1998, it became the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Hendrikplein & Waterfortstraat Willemstad, Curaçao
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15 Coat of Arms in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This coat of arms graces the pediment of the Parliament di Kòrsou building in Punda. The crest closely resembles the Royal Arms of the Netherlands. The greater version with a mantle was introduced in 1815 when William I was the first king of the Netherlands. It was used until 1907. The two forward-facing lions rampart hold a shield from the House of Nassau which dates back to 1250.

Parliament of Curacao, Willemstad, Curaçao
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16 Male Caricature Mural in Punda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

The street art in Curaçao ranges from simply graffiti to beautiful paintings worthy of any city’s outdoor gallery. Some murals are fun to look at like this male caricature along Plasa Piar. I am not sure it has a meaning, but it is an artistic way to dress up an otherwise boring doorway.

Plaza Piar & Gouvernementsplein, Willemstad, Curaçao
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17 Waterfort Terrace in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

One of Willemstad’s defensive walls was built by the Dutch along the southern waterfront of Punda in 1634. It measured over 1,300 feet. In 1827, it was replaced by the Water Fort. This historic structure on Plasa Piar and adjacent to Fort Amsterdam is now a collection of restaurants with spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea. The Waterfort Terrance also includes bars, shops and the Plaza Hotel.

Waterfortstraat 41, Willemstad, Curaçao
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18 Floating Market in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This view of the Floating Market from the Queen Wilhelmina bridge makes it seem the market is conducted from the tethered boats along the Waaigat waterfront. However, behind those tarps are produce stalls brimming with fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. They are built along the colorful buildings of Shailio Caprileskade. Many Venezuelan merchants live in those small wooden boats. They also use them to transport their fresh product from their homeland 40 miles away across the Caribbean.

Kon. Wilhelminabrug Willemstad, Curaçao
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19 Central Market in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Visit the Central Market near the Waaigat waterfront for a different type of shopping experience. Beneath this clamshell-shaped roofline are local entrepreneurs selling everything from homemade products, clothes and crafts plus food. The bustling atmosphere alone is worth the visit.

Marshe Nobo Willemstad, Curaçao
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20 Plasa Bieu Old Market in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Most restaurants in Willemstad cater to the tourists, but not Plasa Bieu. This is where the Curaçaoans eat. Don’t expect much ambiance. The Old Market Food Court resembles a large shed with picnic tables. There are several stalls serving foods like Chinese and Jamaican. The local food is called Krioyo. Menu items include stobá (a vegetable and goat stew) and various soups like kadushi (yes, like the cactus), guiambo (seafood and okra) or sopi mondongo (intestines). You will probably not like the taste but consider it as a culinary adventure.

Old Market De Ruyterkade, Willemstad, Curaçao
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21 Monument to the Fallen in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This exquisite sculpture on De Ruyterkade along the Waaigat waterfront is a memorial to the local servicemen and citizens who were killed during World War II. It features a bronze female accented by two blades towering 36 feet into the sky. The “Monument to the Fallen” was created in 1957 by artist Federico Carasso. Along the circular base is a plaque with the names of those who died from 1940 through 1945.

Kaya Curaçaose Courant & Waaigatplein, Willemstad, Curaçao
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22 Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

The island’s Jewish congregation dates back to 1651 when Joao Ilhao arrived from Portugal. Soon afterwards Jewish immigrants came from Amsterdam. In 1659, they created a cemetery. It is now oldest Jewish cemetery in the Western Hemisphere. Their first house of worship was purchased in 1674 and their second was consecrate in 1692. The current Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue was built in 1730. This makes Snoa the oldest synagogue in the Americas. It became a National Monument in 1995. Inside is a fascinating Jewish Cultural Historical Museum.

Hanchi di Snoa 29, Punda, Willemstad, Curaçao
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23 Queen Emma Bridge in Punda, Eastside of Willemstad, Curaçao

The Queen Emma Bridge was built in 1888 during the reign of Emma of Waldeck and Pyrmont. She was the wife of King William III. Nicknamed the Swinging Old Lady, this 550 foot pedestrian bridge spans the St. Anna Bay and connects the Punda (in background) and the Otrobanda sides of Willemstad. When a ship approaches, its diesel propellers cause the sixteen pontoons to swing open the bridge.

Kon. Emmabrug, Willemstad, Curaçao
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24 Cruise Ship Mega Pier in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Each year, more than 200 cruise ships bring over 400,000 passengers to see and enjoy Curaçao for a day. The larger ships dock at Mega Pier located along the Caribbean waterfront of Otrobanda. From there it is a short walk through the Rif Fort and the Renaissance Mall to begin exploring the colorful capital city of Willemstad.

Ferry Terminal Otrobanda De Rouvilleweg, Willemstad, Curaçao
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25 Entrance of Rif Fort in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Rif Fort was established at the western mouth of St. Anna Bay in 1828. The large citadel measures 315 by 98 feet and was constructed at the command of Dutch Lieutenant General Cornelius Krayenhoff. Baron Krayenhoff was an interesting historic figure. He was an expert in electricity dating back to the 1780s, he helped to map the Netherlands and he was the head of Dutch fortifications. After Riffort was decommissioned, it was as a waterworks, a prison and then a police headquarters. It is now a shopping mall and museum.

507 Pater Euwensweg, Willemstad, Curaçao
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26 Defensive Wall Battery at Rif Fort in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

The first level of Rif Fort is now the Renaissance Mall filled with upscale stores, restaurants, entertainment venues plus a museum that opened in 2014. History buffs will enjoy the second level. You will see part of the defensive walls dating back to the early 19th century. They were constructed with coral and reach a width of almost five feet. Notice the batteries. They were used to position and fire some of the Riffort’s 56 cannons. When you climb those wooden stairs you will be rewarded with an amazing view of the Caribbean Sea.

507 Pater Euwensweg, Willemstad, Curaçao
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27 Dr. Efrain Jonchkeer Statue in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This statue near Rif Fort is Dr. Efrain Jonchkeer. The former politician is seen holding a petition he presented in 1946 to Wilhelmina, the Queen of the Netherlands. His entourage sought autonomy for the member islands of the Netherland Antilles. In 1954, shortly after the Nederlandse Antillen was established, he became the Prime Minister and held the office until 1968.

507 Pater Euwensweg, Willemstad, Curaçao
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28 Artificial Lagoon and Beach in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

You will need to leave downtown Willemstad in order to enjoy the island’s beaches with one exception. The guests of the Renaissance Resort & Casino can lounge along the sand at their manmade private lagoon. It is adjacent to the Megapier and Rif Fort at the mouth of St. Anna Bay so it is an ideal location.

1 97223, Baden Powellweg, Willemstad, Curaçao
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29 Male Guitarist in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This street performer in Otrobanda earned more tips from people snapping his photo than from his guitar playing and singing. Curaçao’s music is influence by their African and European heritage plus many of the neighboring islands. One native genre is tumba. It began in the 19th century and is associated with saucy lyrics. You might also hear tambú. This is Curaçaoan spirit music accompanied by drums and gyrating dance steps.

507 Pater Euwensweg, Willemstad, Curaçao
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30 Tale of Two Districts in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

Willemstad began as a walled-in city on the east side of St. Anna Bay in 1634. That historic center is now called Punda (the point). By the early 18th century, the population expanded into Otrobanda (which means the other side). Until recently, this neighborhood was rustic and home to artists and the less wealthy. Recently it has undergone a colorful transformation, at least along the waterfront. Here you will see this statue of Simón Bolívar, the Venezuelan military leader who is called The Liberator.

De Rouvilleweg & Breedestraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
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31 Cruise Ship Near Queen Juliana Bridge in Willemstad, Curaçao

The older of Curaçao’s two cruise ship ports is inside of St. Anna Bay. It is located in the Otrobanda quarter on the west side of Willemstad along the Mathey Werf. In the background is the Queen Juliana Bridge. Its namesake is Juliana Wilhelmina. She was the Queen of the Netherlands for almost 32 years from 1948 until 1980. The bridge’s 185 foot height makes it the tallest in the Caribbean.

Bitterstraat & Werfstraat, Willemstad, Curaçao
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32 Casinos in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

If your idea of a fun vacation includes gambling, then you are in luck in Curaçao. There are at least fourteen casinos on the island. They range from humble, like this one near the Mathey Wharf, to fancier ones inside the better hotels and resorts. All offer slot machines and gaming tables. Most have a restaurant and bar. A few provide entertainment. Yet none rival Las Vegas.

Mathey Wharf, Willemstad, Curaçao
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33 St. Martinus University in Otrobanda, Westside of Willemstad, Curaçao

This historic site was a plantation called Scherpenheuvel before becoming a seminary in 1898. The building was later used as an orphanage, a vocational school and then the offices for the Roman Catholic School Board. St. Martinus University converted it into their campus in 2013. This Faculty of Medicine was founded in 2000.

St Martinusstraat Willemstad, Curaçao
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34 Spanish Water Near Willemstad, Curaçao

About five miles south of Willemstad is a sheltered bay named Spanish Water. Its marinas are filled with sailboats, charters and yachts supported with active clubs and amenities for every type of sailor. Its name is derived from when the early Spaniards favored this as their safe-haven port. The surrounding area is growing quickly with high-end resorts, condominiums, apartments and upscale residential developments.

Kaya Guinea Jan Thiel, Curaçao
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35 Caracas Bay Near Willemstad, Curaçao

Caracas Baai is a favorite spot for snorkels and scuba divers, especially around a sunken tugboat where schools of colorful fish swim around the wreckage. Visibility tends to be good down to fifteen feet. Diving tours are available but it is also accessible from land. The bay’s beaches are filled with pebbles, coral and rough sand. They are favored by the locals and not tourists. Along the shore of the peninsula in the background is an industrial port.

Kaya Guinea Jan Thiel, Curaçao
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36 Papagayo Beach Infinity Pool Near Willemstad, Curaçao

Papagayo Curaçao is a major resort complex offering a resort, hotel, beach club, villas, a casino, watersports plus restaurants, bars and shopping. But once you discover the lounge chairs surrounding their amazing infinity pool, you may not have time for all of those other activities.

Zest Mediterranean Kaya Damasco, Jan Thiel, Curaçao - E, Willemstad, Curaçao
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37 Jan Thiel Beach Near Willemstad, Curaçao

The warm, shallow, aquamarine water in Jan Thiel Baai is as inviting as a giant bath. The Jan Thiel Beach is a favorite among families because the kids can wade out and play in the calm water while their parents enjoy the sunshine on the beach. It is also fully equipped with restrooms, showers and the Zanzibar restaurant for snacks and sandwiches.

Zest Mediterranean Kaya Damasco, Jan Thiel, Curaçao - E, Willemstad, Curaçao
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38 Couple on Seawall at Cabana Beach Near Willemstad, Curaçao

Most of Curaçao’s best beaches are protected from the Caribbean waves by seawalls consisting of giant boulders. These barriers create calm, crescent-shaped lagoons that are ideal for swimming like this one at Cabana Beach. The breakwaters are also the perfect spot to sit with your partner while soaking up the sun.

The Beach House z/n Bapor Kibrá, Willemstad, Curaçao
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39 Lounging Under Umbrella at Mambo Beach Near Willemstad, Curaçao

Curaçao’s climate is everything you dream of on a tropical island. The average daily high is in the 80°s Fahrenheit with lots of sunshine, especially during the dry season from January through September. So to protect yourself from too much of a good thing, it is best to rent some shelter like this beach umbrella. At night you won’t need a sweater or coat. The mean low is in the high 70°s.

Madero Ocean Club Bapor Kibrá, Willemstad, Curaçao
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40 Ocean Encounters at Kontiki Beach Near Willemstad, Curaçao

The orange building along this pier is associated with Ocean Encounters. The company has four locations on the island. They offer everything for diving and snorkeling including gear, courses and five boats for fishing and underwater excursions. Their main office is located at the Sea Aquarium next to Mambo Beach.

Kontiki Beach Resort Bapor Kibrá, Willemstad, Curaçao
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41 People Swimming at Mambo Beach Near Willemstad, Curaçao

Along Curaçao’s 38 miles of southern shoreline are an almost equal number of beaches. The majority of them are north of Willemstad. This is also where you will find numerous scuba diving and snorkeling sites. Along the coastline south of the capital city are where most of the resorts are located. Each of them tends to have a pool facing a beautiful stretch of protected sand and water.

Madero Ocean Club Bapor Kibrá, Willemstad, Curaçao
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42 Top Rated Mambo Beach Near Willemstad, Curaçao

One look at this idyllic water explains why Mambo Beach is the most famous and top- rated beach on the island. There is also a two-story shopping mall here. When the sun goes down, it is the spot for nightlife. So enjoy the party scene into the early hours. Then catch up on your sleep in a beach chair tomorrow.

Chill Beach Bar & Grill Bapor Kibrá, Willemstad, Curaçao
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