A day in Willemstad on Curaçao

A day in Willemstad on Curaçao


Curaçao - An irresistible island

There may be people who Healingcao consider it a brand of liquor. A visit to the Antilles island of the same name in northern Venezuela makes it clear that “Curaçao” means more than liqueur. Visits with cruise ships offer good conditions to the island and its capital Willemstad to discover.

Cruise ships use two piers: small and medium-sized ships dock at Mathey Wharf. If the pier is used, the ships are opposite the Punda district. Large ships dock at the Mega Pier behind the Rif Fort. This is where our ship, the MS Koningsdam the Holland America Line.

Mathey Wharf with MS Rotterdam
Mega Pier with MS Koningsdam

Visitors are provided with instructions at a stand of the Curacao Tourist Board in front of the pier. Next door we find souvenir shops and the customs authorities under an expansive tent roof. The Curacao Ports Authority informs about the (fixed) taxi prices on a notice board; the associated taxi stand and the stands of the tour providers follow. We walk a few minutes to the Rif Fort, one of Willemstad's sights.

Mega Pier - Information Desk
Willemstad - Cruise Terminal - Taxi fares

Parts of the historical city are under the protection of the UNESCO World Heritage. During our tour of the city districts Otrabanda and Punda we follow the recommendations of a folding plan from the Curaçaos tourism authority.

Willemstad - Otrobanda district

The branch canal Sint Annabaai connects the protected natural harbor Schottegat with the open sea. The Schottegat was a suitable haven for a port city to be built. It started with the district east of the canal Punda.

Sint Annabaai with cargo ship

Sint Annabaai with cargo ship


When there was no longer enough space for settlements there, another district was built west of the canal. It started in 1707, and a name was quickly found: Otrobanda, which means something like "on the other side".

District Otrobanda - the governor

District Otrobanda - the governor


The formerly bourgeois district was characterized by loose, spacious buildings. As a result of the dense development that appeared later, the area was transformed into a "poor people's quarter" and deteriorated. The turning point brought the Dutch entrepreneur and philanthropist's commitment in 2001 Jacob Gelt Decker. He bought up several street blocks for the purpose of redevelopment.

He succeeded in renovating the complex in an unprecedented manner. The area of ​​the Kurá Hulanda Museum and the connected 4,5 * hotel Kura Hulanda is a small town within the city. Beautiful colored houses, narrow streets, paved paths, small squares, shady trees, restaurants and much more create a tranquil ambience. The Kurá Hulanda Ethnological Museum is dedicated to the history of slavery and the slave trade on Curaçao. Kurá Hulanda is a revelation for us.

Kura Hulanda Museum
Kurá Hulanda hotel area
Kurá Hulanda Hotel and Museum
Kurá Hulanda Hotel - the Rubens Lounge

After visiting the Kurá Hulanda complex, we will reach the Breedestraat, the main street of the district. Later we will meet the Breedestraat again in the opposite Punda. In the district of Otrobanda, the former trading houses flanked the street. The business premises of the merchants were on the ground floor; the private rooms were on the floors above.

 

 

Auf dem Brion Square, the large square next to the Sint Annabaai, we will see the arrival of “Sinterklaas” on horseback on November 20th. Nicholas is accompanied by his helpers, the "Pieten", among them the "Zwarte Piet". Grandstands have been set up, loudspeakers are noisy, marching bands accompany Sinterklaas on his way to Punda; Willemstad goes "crazy" for a couple of hours.

Sinterklaas arrives in Willemstad

Sinterklaas arrives in Willemstad


Enthusiasm arouses what is on the UNESCO World Heritage List reef fort. It was built in the late 1820s. One and a half meter thick walls of coral limestone and 56 cannons protected the approach to the port from the west.

Rif Fort and the Rouvilleweg

Rif Fort and the Rouvilleweg


The fort was completely renovated. Shops and restaurants fit in well with the property. We recommend stepping onto the accessible walls of the fortress and taking a look at the fort's spacious courtyard.

Rif Rort
Shops, restaurants and cafes in the Rif Rort
Bar in the Rif Rort
They defended the Rif Fort

In the neighboring Renaissance shopping mall Guests who come to Curaçao not alone with cruise ships and who are keen on luxury will find more than 50 shops of well-known brands, restaurants and a casino. Willemstad looks like a spacious shopping paradise.

Row of shops at the Rif Fort and the way to the Mega Pier

Row of shops at the Rif Fort and the way to the Mega Pier


Willemstad - Punda district

To from Otrobanda to PundaTo reach the nucleus of Willemstad, we cross the Sint Annabaai by means of a swiveling pontoon bridge, the "Queen Emma Bridge". The pedestrian bridge was built in 1888; It was restored in 2005 and 2006. When seagoing vessels pass through the branch canal on their way to or from the Schottegat, it swings to the side. As soon as the bridge is open, two ferries connect the two parts of the city.

Koningin Emmabrug - when open

Koningin Emmabrug - when open


The eye-catcher on the corner of Handelskade / Breedestraat is the magnificent, sunny yellow one Penha-Buildings. Its construction began in 1708. The curved gables show the building as a prime example of the "Curaçao Baroque".

The Penha building on Breedestraat

The Penha building on Breedestraat


One of Willemstad's frequently photographed motifs is the one that runs alongside the Sint Annabaai trade cade. The architectural style, perceived as "Dutch", was not exclusively influenced by the colonial power of the Netherlands. Portuguese and Spaniards also left their mark in Willemstad. Bars and restaurants have moved into the former, colorful merchants' houses of the Handelskade. Tourists enjoy the Caribbean flair under countless parasols.

The Handelskade seen from Otrobanda

The Handelskade seen from Otrobanda


At the end of the Handelskade the blowhole to the Sint Annabaai. Until March 2018, the Floating Market. Since Curaçao does not have enough acreage for vegetables and fruit, Venezuelans took over the supply of Curaçao. Venezuelan traders used barges to deliver food that was sold by market stalls and boats.

The former floating market

The former floating market


The rotunda of the is located just behind the disused floating market Ronde market. The building, which looks like a small stadium, houses permanent market stalls where everyday items, tools, clothing, souvenirs and other souvenirs are sold.

The Ronde Market

The Ronde Market


Two hundred meters separate the Ronde Markt from the Plasa Bieu, the "Old Market". There visitors get to know the traditional cuisine of the island. Regional dishes are prepared on various hotplates. People eat at simple tables covered with oilcloths. For our perception, the atmosphere of the hall seems rustic and takes some getting used to.

Plasa Bieu - the Old Market
Food stall in the Plasa Bieu

Beyond the Waaigat it borders Scharloo district to Punda. On the opposite Van der Brandhofstraat, within sight of the Floating Market, is the HealingCao Maritime Museum. It represents the 500 year maritime history of the island. Nautical charts, maritime equipment, ship models and audiovisual techniques can be viewed. The museum is housed in an old villa. Next to it is another building worth seeing, the green-painted “Villa Maria”.

Curacao Maritime Museum

Curacao Maritime Museum


 

 

We stay in the Punda district and walk through Columbusstraat to Wilhelminaplein. It is on our way Mikvé Israel-Emmanuel Synagogue. It is considered to be the oldest continuously operating synagogue in the western world. It was built in 1732. The floor of the synagogue is covered with sand. This is reminiscent of times when, for safety reasons, sand dampened the noise of the parishioners. The synagogue is one of the city's tourist attractions. It borders on the synagogue Jewish Cultural Historical Museum.

The Mikvé Israel-Emmanuel Synagogue

The Mikvé Israel-Emmanuel Synagogue


Punda's central place is that Wilhelminaplein. Besides a statue of the former Dutch Queen Wilhelmina, the gigantic lettering "Curaçao" and a few shady trees, the space offers us little. In the current Instagram times, the head-high lettering “Curaçao” has mutated into a popular selfie point.

Selfie Point on the Wilhelminaplein
Selfie Point on the Wilhelminaplein


Behind the Wilhelminaplein is the former on Hendrikplein Emanu-El Synagogue. Because of its soaring tower, it could be mistaken for a church. In fact, the building was a Jewish place of worship. After the merger of two competing Jewish communities, another use was found for the sacred building. Today the building is used by the Curaçaos public prosecutor's office.

Emanu-El Synagogue on Hendrikplein

Emanu-El Synagogue on Hendrikplein


To protect the Punda district, the Waterfort built. A much larger bulwark was originally planned; Due to financial difficulties, further security measures were waived. In the middle of the 18th century, arched vaults, so-called “boogjes”, were added to the Waterfort. Today shops and restaurants reside in the arches. The "Plaza" high-rise hotel was built in the courtyard of the facility.

The Waterfort complex with the Plaza Hotel and Casino
The Waterfort Boogjes

FortAmsterdam is the most important contemporary witness of the colonial era. Construction of the fortress opposite the Rif Fort began in 1635. The system secured the access to the Schottegat in an emergency. An essential part of the fort is the representative one Governor's Palace. Ministries and authorities of the central government of the Netherlands Antilles also use the former bastion as an office. Inside the fortress stands De Fortkerk. It was Curaçao's oldest Protestant church. It has been used as a museum since 1990.

The Governor's Palace

The Governor's Palace


Most of the buildings in the district were preserved despite fire damage or meanwhile neglect. Much representative, historical building fabric has been saved into modern times. The colors of the houses, which are perceived as refreshing, are based on an official order from 1817. To protect the eyes, the houses were no longer painted chalk white but muted colors. Historical sources show that eye protection was not a key factor in this decision; rather, a councilor who was decisive for the decision was involved in a paint factory ...

Colorful houses in the Breedestraat

Colorful houses in the Breedestraat


Summary

When Willemstad was admitted to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1997, the world organization made a wise decision. Willemstad is one of the most beautiful and attractive cities that we know in the Caribbean. Our enthusiasm is not diminished by the unsightly oil refinery that has existed on the Schottegat since the 1920s, nor the huge Queen Juliana high bridge that rises behind the historic center.

Petroleum refineries on the Schottegat
Koningin Julianabrug - in front of that the Waaigat

The tour through the two parts of the city, which takes about four hours, brings us closer to Willemstad. Visitors who find it too difficult to tour the city on foot choose the Trolley Train Tour. The starting point and end of the 60-minute tour through Willemstad is the Gouvernementsplein in front of Fort Amsterdam. The journey takes you past the city's most famous attractions. Adults pay $ 25 for the pleasure.

Update July 2022

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