Sitting 40 miles off the Venezuelan coast, the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao stretches close to 40 miles itself, from north to south. And though most of the action happens at beachfront resorts and sandy expanses crowded with cruise ship passengers, the isle offers myriad (and less-traveled) historical, creative, and natural spaces that will satisfy gourmands, nature lovers, and art and architecture aficionados alike.

Here’s the thoughtful traveler’s guide to getting beyond the beach in Curaçao:

> Nature:

Curaçao’s green—and not-so-green—landscapes were a bit of a mystery to me until my guide, Terence, pointed out wonders that were right under my nose. To ensure that locals and visitors don’t miss these treasures, he works with Uniek Curaçao (Unique Curaçao), a volunteer organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the island’s natural assets.

Rooi Rincon Park is littered with massive limestone boulders, forming grottoes that once sheltered island natives in prehistoric times. The early dwellers left behind evidence of their presence in the form of rocky shelves used to store items of value, such as the ocher they used to paint symbols on cave walls.

Dominated by mesquite and prickly pear, the wind-sculpted Hato Plains are ideal for mountain biking. Beyond a tangle of shrubbery, Kueba di Pachi (Old Man’s Cave) is inhabited by bats that flit above the cave’s most curious feature: zombie eggs, small globes formed from calcium-laden water runoff.

The sprawling Jan Thiel Lagoon is set in a landscape dominated by massive man-made salt flats and columnar cacti. Though the soil’s high saline content prevents most anything else from growing in the area, there is another sign of life: flamingos alighting on the waters to catch shrimp, the crustacean that lends the trademark pink hue to the birds’ naturally gray feathers.

And a cliff top fronting Ascension Bay provides an ideal platform for spotting another kind of wildlife, (Read more...)

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