Curaçao Just 44 miles north of Venezuela lies a Dutch-Caribbean paradise where the party never stops - above or below the surface. From wrecks, walls, reefs and shore dives to world-class dining, music and shopping, Curaçao offers excitement 24/7. Diversity abounds in the crystal-clear water off Curaçao: It holds a plethora of critters and surprises. Mushroom Forest -named for its mushroom-shaped mounds of star corals created by boring clams and sponges - has loads of juvenile spotted drums, trunkfish, squirrelfish, soldierfish and snappers, so divers are guaranteed to find a few new friends. The 200-foot-long Superior Producer has been resting on Curaçao's sandy bottom since September 1977, when the overloaded freighter - packed with merchandise headed for Colombia - took on water and quickly sank. A visit to 100 feet allows you to explore this wreck, sitting upright and home to orange cup corals, groupers, barracudas and mackerels. But don't expect to find much lost cargo; looters stripped most of its goods, namely Levi's blue jeans, shortly after its sinking. Topside, the diversity continues: Curaçao's population of 138,000 is a melting pot of more than 50 nationalities. Although the official language remains Dutch, 90 percent of the local population speaks Papiamentu - a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and African dialects. However, English and Spanish are also widely spoken, making this a destination where almost anyone will feel at home. Located on its bustling east end, Curaçao's capital, Willemstad, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The pastel architecture of its 17th- and 18th-century Dutch-colonial buildings resembles the quaint designs of Amsterdam, with a colorful, Caribbean twist. The floating Queen Emma Bridge connects the two sides of Willemstad - Otrobanda and Punda - and is the gateway to multicultural shopping, offering everything from European clothes to African jewelry. Christoffel National Park, on the quieter west end of the island, offers a more-scenic view, with a hike to the peak of the 1,230-foot Mount Christoffel, the highest point on Curaçao. When hunger sets in, the local food, called krioyo - famous for dishes like cactus soup and keshi yena (chicken or seafood with Gouda cheese) - will satisfy an adventurous palate. Every night spent on Curaçao should end the right way: Hit the town and experience all the flavors of this unique island. After all, a place that has a liqueur named after it is sure to have a good nightlife.
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