Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino, Curacao, Netherlands Antilles

One of the most unusual and historic places in the Caribbean is also a luxury resort located right in the heart of Willemstad, on the island of Curaçao. But, if you didn’t know it was a resort, you’d think you stumbled into a beautifully restored section of the city. The Hotel Kura Hulanda is actually an entire neighborhood that’s been enclosed and renovated as a luxury hotel. The place is huge, about seven city blocks, and it was originally streets and shops of the city area that have been combined and a roof put over them. As you walk along the cobblestone streets, you’ll notice that many of the original narrow buildings have been transformed into bedrooms and suites. Each retained its original façade, but the interiors were completely transformed into first class accommodations.

The hotel opened on November 1, 2001, and is comprised of three Restaurants, the Museum Kurá Hulanda – a world-acclaimed anthropological museum; a modern conference center; a split-level boutique casino and spa facility. The spa has lots of courtyards and gardens, thus the name. You see, Kurá Hulanda is Papiamentu (Curaçao’s native tongue) for Dutch courtyard. Nestled above the glorious St. Anna Bay in central Willemstad, Hotel Kurá Hulanda Spa & Casino is about 15 minutes from the airport and a five minute walk in to town.

Dutch Colonial Caribbean buildings from the 18th and 19th century have been meticulously restored to create 80 alluring suites surrounding intimate walkways, pools, shops, restaurants and lush courtyards. When the complex was built, the buildings were already there so they had to work around them, since most were historic buildings. They weren’t allowed to move the walls around, so they had to put the bathrooms in certain areas. The end result is an array of different shapes and sizes, so it’s a surprise when you enter the room.

Each room features unique hand-carved mahogany and teak pieces, antiques, superb replicas and hand-woven linens from India. Walls feature one-of-a-kind designs hand-painted by local artisans creating a visual design connection between the guest rooms, however, varying patterns, colors and fabrics ensure that no two are identical. Thus the look is very unique and not just something you buy from a factory. Even the cobblestones on the street were replaced, all hand-chiseled in India and shipped over here. Now that sure kept a few villages busy in for a year!

If you are there working, they have a state-of-the-art business center with high-speed Internet connection as well as meeting facilities, conference facilities, an auditorium, closed circuit television, and state-of-the-art audio and visual equipment. Now wait for it, they have thought of everything, there is a simultaneous interpreter/translator available if you have non-English speaking clients doing big business with you at the facility.

To relax, hit the pools, or you can visit the fitness center and spa with complimentary sauna, steam rooms, showers, and the latest fitness equipment and cardio theater available anywhere. Full spa treatments are available and the menu for those is guaranteed to find your sore spots and soothe them into oblivion.

For the more adventurous types, there is the European style, split-level boutique casino featuring American roulette, blackjack tables, poker tables and slot machines. The high rollers have access to the Mansion executive lounge, part of the new addition to the hotel that was a former Mansion in Willemstad. And either those games of chance are going to give you butterflies or you’ll be ready to eat in no time!

No problem, some great restaurants can also be found under one roof! There is gourmet continental cuisine at The Astro Lab Observatory: If it’s authentic Tandoori cuisine you are hankering for, then Jaipur is the place to go. If it is early evening and you want cocktails, you’ll find Jacob’s Bar offers a full bar and tapas with daily happy hour specials. Cosmopolitan, anyone? The Museum Restaurant is an open air courtyard restaurant serving lunch and dinner daily. On the run? Grab a cup of java at the News Café it serves coffee, tea and small bites all day. I’m sure you’ll find something to satisfy your palate.

Now, it’s the history that makes this place so special. Once a run-down slum area, where slaves were traded right off the boat, this village within Willemstad is now alive with art, and of course everyone’s favorite, shopping. The early slave trade history here has been somberly remembered. Instead of pushing the memory under the rug, the square where slaves were sold to the highest bidder has been memorialized. And, Kura Hulanda Museum is now the focal point of the hotel.

Here, the culture and art of the early African inhabitants are literally, put on a pedestal, and every visitor to Curaçao is invited to see it….both inside & out! During the day, there are tours through the hotel area and museum. They have all kinds of different sculptures, but the real draw is the artwork. They have authentic Rubens paintings hanging in one of their meeting rooms. The great works of art are not overpowering, they are casually displayed to be noticed in passing, as part of the ambiance.

Now, if your’ not a guest, you can still come visit. In fact, the streets here, are still, technically, public. The hotel has leased the area for 60 years, and they are allowed to close the gates at night for security reasons, but during the day, the public is always welcome. People can come here, walk around, eat and drink in the restaurants, have spa treatments and gamble in the casino. The only thing they can’t do is go in the pool. Who’d want to walk around in a wet bathing suit while sight -seeing, anyway?

The Kura Hulanda is a hidden gem, less than a block from the waterfront! Staying here is a real experience, but even if you’re not staying here, it’s definitely worthwhile to come have a look. I’m sure you’ll be glad you did.