The southern Caribbean island of Curaçao boasts a vibrant cultural mix, from the colonial architecture of the Dutch to the mouth-watering cuisine of the Creole. This combined with the natural beauty of the island makes it a real gem worthy of discovery. Think rolling desert plains concealing rocky coves trimmed by massive cliffs, to long sandy beaches flanked by clear blue-green water, while leafy nature trails offer quiet seclusion – you'll find them crisscrossing much of the island. Wander past landhuizen, which means 'land houses', and old plantations juxtaposed near cacti clusters and desert shrubbery.
The island's handsome UNESCO heritage capital of Willemstad offers visitors a window into the past with its pastel-coloured houses and cobblestone plazas. For the commercially minded, music-filled malls bustle with bag-laden shoppers and cut-price deals.
Situated on the outer fringe of the hurricane belt, Curaçao weathers a strong breeze that lessens the intensity of the Caribbean sun. It also makes Curaçao ideal for water sports, while the island's stunning coral reef draws divers from across the globe.
If it's the coastline you've come for, you won't be disappointed. There are some 40 beaches, some of them several kilometres long, with powdery sand that looks from a distance like blankets of silk. You'll also find a number of small coves; often you can claim them for yourself.
Although for much of the year Curaçao is tranquil and sleepy, carnival is perhaps the best time to visit. A huge party engulfs the island, and more revellers are flocking here to take part in the festivities every year – part of what makes carnival so compelling here is the multicultural vibes of the inhabitants.
So whether you want to lounge on a beach, explore rugged nature, wander colonial architecture or party until dawn, Curaçao will not disappoint.