After the Spanish navigator, Alonso de Odjeda, a lieutenant of Christopher Columbus, discovered Curaçao in 1499, the Spaniards began to settle here in the early 1500s. In 1634, the Dutch captured the island and founded a Dutch settlement with its Governor Peter Stuyvesant in 1642. In 1646, Stuyvesant became governor of the New Netherlands of which New Amsterdam (now New York City) was the capital. On their way to Curaçao to throw out the Dutch, 23 French warships were lost in April 1668 when they hit the reefs of Las Aves, just 35 miles east of Bonaire. Over 1200 sailors lost their lives and it’s one the most dramatic sea disasters in history. From 1766 until the early 19th century, the English and French alternately tried to take Curaçao from the Dutch. In 1800 Curaçao became a British protectorate. It was returned to the Dutch, however in 1802, recaptured by the British in 1807, and finally regained by the Dutch with the Treaty of Paris in 1815. Curaçao on two occasions gave asylum to Simon Bolivar, the South American liberator, during the South American Wars of Independence. Now, more than 50 nationalities comprise Curaçao’s cosmopolitan population of 160,000.

In its early history, the island’s prosperity depended largely on its participation in the slave trade. With the abolition of slavery by King William III of the Netherlands in 1863, Curaçao lost much of its economic importance. But the establishment of an oil refinery in 1915 gave impetus to its prosperity. Curaçao has one of the largest oil terminals in the Western Hemisphere. In addition, Curaçao has the largest non-military dry-dock in the region, its famous Curaçao Liqueur, the Amstel Beer brewery (using distilled sea water to produce one of the finest beers in the Caribbean), soap factories, etc. Tourism has become the number two industry on the island.

The Netherlands Antilles are an autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and consist of Curaçao, Bonaire, St. Martin, Saba and St. Eustatius. Its form of administration is a parliamentary democracy. A governor, appointed by the Queen of the Netherlands, represents the Crown. There is a Legislative Council, an Executive Council and an Advisory Council. As Curaçao is the largest and most populous island of the Netherlands Antilles, the seat of the government is in Willemstad, the capital city of Curaçao. Each island territory has its own legislative and executive body called an island council. Members are elected for four years by universal suffrage during a general election.

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