During our trip to Curacao, we mostly focused on visiting Willemstad, the capital. We have plenty of beaches in Bonaire as well, so we needed some diversity. If you are visiting Curacao on a cruise ship, spending your day in Willemstad can be a wonderful use of your time. Or, if you are on holiday here, it’s worth to allocate one day to the capital only.
Willemstad offers its visitors a refreshing European flavour. Until recently it was part of the Netherlands, so this should not come as a surprise; many actually call it “Amsterdam of the Caribbean”. But it is more than that! Willemstad has its own authenticity and charm, due to the multicultural environment present here for centuries.
Included in the UNESCO World Heritage more than 20 years ago, as Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour, it features 765 listed buildings. They are a great mixture between Dutch architecture and urban planning with local Caribbean influences. There are four districts included here: Punda, Pietermaai, Otrobanda, and Scharloo, with buildings like Fort Amsterdam, Governor’s residence, Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge or Penha building.
We started exploring the city near the “Plasa”, where the bus stop is. We passed through the local market, colourful, featuring a strong cinnamon fragrance. Unfortunately, the floating market was now empty. This is the place where Venezuelan traders used to come with their small boats full of fresh fruits and vegetables. This is restricted now, due to Venezuela’s current political situation.
Wandering in Punda’s narrow cobblestone streets we had the feeling we are in a European coastal resort. This very structured, grid-like area used to be the Dutch centre of commerce a few centuries ago. We could admire old colonial architecture and modern street art, chic souvenir boutiques or elegant designer stores. Among other historical buildings, in Punda you will find Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, in use since 1732, the oldest continually running synagogue from the Americas. Founded by Spanish jews displaced here during the inquisition, the synagogue also holds a museum that hosts various artefacts.
But, since we travel with a toddler, the main attraction in Punda was Wilhelminapark, where Eric could run, jump and climb on the well known touristic marks. As it was lunch time, we looked for a cosy little place to have a quick bite. We chose La Boheme, a colourful little restaurant & smoothie bar. It was a great, highly recomended choice! We had here a refreshing tropical fruit drink and huge sandwiches, fresh and tasty, that all the three of us enjoyed.
Queen Emma Bridge
Then we could continue our relaxed walk towards St. Anna Bay that separates Punda and Otrobanda. Crossing the bay on Queen Emma Bridge is an experience by itself. Built in 1888, it is one of the only floating wooden bridges still used today. The locals call it “Swinging Old Lady”, as it features two propellers that allows the bridge to swing towards one shore, to allow ships to enter the harbour. It is a strange funny feeling to be on the bridge when it starts moving! But do not worry, it only lasts a few minutes. If you are caught on the wrong side of the bridge while it is open, you can use a free ferry service.
From Queen Emma Bridge you have an even better view towards the Handelskade, Curacao’s colourful landmark. The legend says they are so colourful after the doctors advised to avoid white paint, as it is too harmful for the eyes under the strong Caribbean sun rays. You can also admire the Queen Juliana Bridge, the tallest of the Caribbean. With 56 meters height, it is designed so that large vessels could pass underneath.
On the other side of the bay, Otrobanda is very different, but still charming. People started to settle here only later, when, due to the growth of the city, more space was needed. It is not as neat and organised as Punda, but its maze streets hosts many historical buildings as well. You can visit here Kura Hulanda Museum, on a former slave market location. It details very well the slave trade in the region and its deep implication in Curacao’s history and cultural diversity. This is quite a strong and disturbing subject for many people who visit the museum, so beware it might deeply affect your mood for the day.
We continued wandering towards the cruise ships docking site, passing through Rif Fort. The 200 years old building is nowadays beautifully restored into a shopping centre. We climbed on the thick walls to admire the panorama and then walked around for some window-shopping. A cold drink and an ice cream on Rif Fort terrace was a great final to our wonderful day in Willemstad.
Did you visit Willemstad? What impressed you the most here?
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