Known as part of the ABC island chain (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao), for years this former Dutch colony took a back seat to its rival islets.

Curacao is a curious place. Its Dutch colonial buildings painted in shades of yellow, orange and blue are reminiscent of Amsterdam, yet the dry climate, barren soil and cacti are more akin to the southwestern U.S. But Curacao's greatest natural beauty lies offshore—around the island's coral reefs, which are drawing an increasing number of divers and snorkelers.

Some of the things that set Curacao apart have little to do with tourism. With its unique buildings and natural harbor, the capital Willemstad became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. The town is a big, bustling port (and the largest dry dock in the region). Huge ships sail right through downtown, and the Queen Emma Bridge creates a unique sight when it turns sideways to let them pass.

With a mixture of 55 different nationalities on the island, Curacao has a fascinating multicultural aspect. It also has a cosmopolitan character: The majority of residents speak at least four languages—English, Spanish, Dutch and their own Papiamento.

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