Exploring Curaçao’s Historic Capital – Willemstad
As one of the most exciting cities in the Caribbean, Willemstad, Curacao’s charming colonial capital, allows visitors to experience everything from historic architecture and museums to world-class dining and shopping. Willemstad is divided by a central canal into two districts, Punda and Otrabanda. Generally speaking, Punda is of more interest to travelers as the most interesting historical sites and shopping areas are located on this side of the capital. For example, if you want to see the pastel colored colonial houses that Curacao is famous for, the Punda section is definitely the best place to spend your time. On the other hand, Otrabanda, which means “other side”, is known as the contemporary half of the city and home to some exciting new developments. Regardless of where you spend your time in Willemstad, you’ll find plenty of sites and activities to excite any traveler.
One of the best ways to explore Curaçao’s capital is by tram. Each day, these open cars begin a 75-minute tour of the city, passing all the most fascinating historical sites. Groups gather at Fort Amsterdam within sight of the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, one of the island’s most significant technological advances. After touring Willemstad by tram, tourists can cross this pedestrian bridge that connects the Punda and Otrabanda sections of the city. As the walkway rests on the city’s busiest canal, the bridge was equipped with a diesel engine and designed to open several times a day, allowing cruise ships and commercial fleets to enter the bustling port.
As Willemstad is a city steeped in a rich colonial history and cultural traditions, the local museums offer some of the most captivating sites on the island. One of the most interesting collections can be found in the Kura Hulanda Museum, one of the largest museums in the Caribbean. Showcasing the life’s work of Dr. Jacob Gelt Dekker, Kura Hulanda’s restored colonial warehouses are filled with African artifacts and oddities. Since African culture has played an important role in the post-colonial development of the Caribbean, several exhibits are dedicated to this historical relationship. The most impressive example of this history is a full-scale reproduction of a colonial slave ship, directly inspired by a ship that sailed from the Ivory Coast to the Caribbean and the Americas. Located in Otrabanda, this fascinating museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm and offers a unique and informative experience for the whole family.
Another good place to learn about the history of Curaçao and the Caribbean is the Maritime Museum. Located in the picturesque neighborhood of Scharloo, the Maritime Museum details the history of the island from the arrival of the first inhabitants around 600 BC to the present day. With the help of 40 permanent exhibits, visitors can trace Curaçao’s economic and cultural development chronologically. Along with the antiques, artifacts and historical maps, visitors can also view a series of video presentations featuring oral histories given by some of the island’s most colorful personalities.
Near the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, you can find the charming Curaçao Museum. Housed in a 19th-century military hospital that was painstakingly restored in the mid-20th century, this small museum now houses historic paintings, sculptures, and furniture made over several hundred years by local and Dutch craftsmen. The open-air pavilion is also a popular destination, as many performances by local and traveling musicians take place throughout the year.
This bustling neighborhood near Fort Amsterdam and the pontoon bridge also marks the entrance to the city’s best shopping district. As you walk through the Punda district and approach the harbor, you’ll discover one of the most exciting stretches of shopping at Waterfront Aches. It’s hard to miss this special ¼-mile strip, as it’s marked by 30-foot-tall historic stone arches and cobblestone walkways. Beneath the arches, you’ll find numerous boutiques and specialty restaurants, with options for all tastes and budgets. This waterfront district also offers great nighttime activities, as many businesses stay open late and the narrow streets are elegantly lit up every night.
Close to the central waterfront shopping area, you can also visit one of Curaçao’s great shopping traditions. Every day, small boats line the central canal of the city and sell their wares directly from their boats at the Floating Market. As many of the ships arrive from Venezuela, Colombia, and other Caribbean islands, vendors not only offer the freshest produce and seafood imaginable, but also sell art, crafts, and other unique products from throughout the region. The floating market generally opens at 6am daily and new boats arrive throughout the afternoon, guaranteeing shoppers a unique experience each time they visit.
When you visit Curaçao, be sure to spend some time in the island’s captivating colonial capital. Regardless of which areas of Willemstad you visit, your family will enjoy historical, cosmopolitan and always exciting sites and activities.