When I won a trip to Curacao earlier this year, I was excited but had no idea what the island held in store. This small sliver of paradise – a beautiful little secret – located near Aruba and a few hours north of Venezuela is what I like to call a “gumbo” of different cultures.

The climate is always summer with beautiful blue seas to cool you down. It was easy to reach with a 2.5 hour flight direct from Miami on Insel-Air. Conveniently, the island could be explored by rental car – 45 minutes in either direction takes you to the island’s farthest reaches. 

This island is filled with people of African descent who boast a strong Dutch heritage. They speak four languages: Dutch, Spanish, English and the local dialect of Papiamentu – a curious Creole blend of African, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and Arawak Indian.

My first day of exploration was to have lunch at The Curacao Liqueur Factory at an old plantation house called Landhuis Chobolobo. These historic plantation house sites dot the island and have been beautifully preserved. I walked around the historic city center, Curacao’s Willemstad – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area was extremely pedestrian friendly and alive with vendors, restaurants and the gorgeous Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge.

The structures there recall the designs of Amsterdam with 17th and 18th century Dutch colonial buildings not to be found anywhere else outside of the Netherlands. In this area I also sampled “Rum Berde” Green Rum at the famous Netto Bar.

On day two I explored the island by car and enjoyed lunch in Playa Lagun, where wild iguana begged for food at my table, which overlooked rocky cliffs that gave way to colorful fishing boats, snorkelers and crystal blue waters. I LOVED seeing the crashing waves at Shete Boka National Park and beautiful art painted on trees near Playa Grandi.

The third day brought lots of rain, so we opted to do something mostly indoors. I cried at Kura Hulanda Museum, an anthropological museum that focuses on the predominant cultures of Curacao. 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.

The slave shackles and slave boat replica touched me deeply. I could feel the anguish of my ancestors who endured horrible conditions so that I might one day have the opportunity to discover a place so beautiful.

If you are looking for a quaint island with a heritage unlike that of most Caribbean islands, I highly recommend discovering Curacao, where all are Bon Bini.