Willemstad Curacao - Historic sites, museums, world-class restaurants, plazas and great shopping...UNESCO world heritage site [Handelskade]
Think candy-striped buildings transplanted straight from Amsterdam. YES….you can find this in the Caribbean indeed. Willemstad, the monumental old town of Curacao, certainly is one of the most exciting cities in the Caribbean.
Willemstad’s entire city center has been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site, and we are delighted to share such rich and unique history with YOU.
Willemstad Curacao consists of 4 districts namely Punda, Otrobanda, Scharloo and Pietermaai. The Queen Emma floating bridge also called the “swinging old lady” connects Willemstad’s two main districts: Punda and Otrobanda.Penha Shop in Punda
The Penha building was created in 1708 and to this day still maintains the charm and attention of every Curacao-visitor who pass through the streets of Heerenstraat, Handelskade or Breedestraat in Punda. The historical building is now used as a boutique shop selling fragrances, make-up etc.
As you can see in the map above, Willemstad Curacao is dissected by the harbor St Anna Bay. This narrow deep water channel leading to the busiest sea port in the Caribbean. See a constant parade of Cruise liners, yachts, sailboat, cargo ships and little tugboats passing under the Queen Juliana bridge.
Those who visit the island by sea will be entering the city from the Mega Port (Otrobanda) or any other small ports in the canal itself. And the vast majority of tourist who visit via Curacao international Airport can take a taxi to Punda or Otrabanda crossing over the Juliana Bridge.
At Punda you’ll find the most historic sites of the capital. It’s alive with boutiques, art galleries, shops and picture perfect postcard sceneries. The mayor attractions are; Water Fort, Fort Amsterdam (Governor’s Plaza), Handelskade (UNESCO renowned), Maritime Museum, Tele Museum and Mikve Isreal-Emanual Synagogue.
Let’s start your virtual trip through Punda at the Water Fort also called Water Fort arches. This Fort was built in 1634 intended to protect the city from possible attacks.
Today you can find exquisite restaurants with a cozy but yet historic vibe and an ocean view to die for. My favorite one is Grill King Restaurant! The 15 floor Plaza Hotel Curacao is also built atop of this Fort and is the favorite destination for business travelers.Fort Amsterdam (Punda), Curacao
Your next stop is Fort Amsterdam. Strategically positioned in the front-corner of Punda, this was home for a department of the West Indies Co during the slave trade years. Built in 1635 Fort Amsterdam became the most valuable Fort on the island of Curacao.Downtown streets (Punda), Willemstad Curacao
After visiting Fort Amsterdam you will find Breedestraat at your right side if Handelskade is in front of you. This is the best shopping alley in Punda. Here you can find high-end name boutiques, jewelry, banks, restaurants and a tourist information office. At the end of this street you will see a BIG sign you can’t miss.Curacao sign @ Wilhelmina Park
Make sure to snap a picture of the Curacao sign for your photo album of the best Curacao vacation ever!
After taking a memorable picture you can either take a drink at “Plein Café Wilhelmina” (just in front of the Curacao sign) or you can continue the impressive-historic trip through Punda.
You might be too excited to sit down and take a drink though. So maybe you should continue…Columbusstraat in the next street to follow. This street will take you to Mikve Isreal-Emanual Synagogue.
This synagogue has 350 years of history and is the oldest in the western hemisphere. You will find white sandy floors in the synagogue which reminiscence the forty year the Jews spend lost in the desert. Apart from the synagogue you’ll find in the back a Jewish Cultural Museum displaying historic artifacts and antiques of the Jewish culture, history and religion. The entrance fee is $10 and the opening hours are between 9:00am and 4:30 pm
After visiting the Synagogue you continue to walk in the Columbusstraat. At the end of this street you have two options. If you take the right hand street this will lead you to the Central Market and the Old Market.
At the Central Market you will find locals selling everything you can imagine. From plants, to fish, to footwear and clothes. Most of these products are just organic and made by hand. At the old market you can sit between the locals, sense the culture, learn some “Papiamentu” (which is the native language) and enjoy a delicious authentic “Krioyo” meal.Authentic Curacao food @ Old Market Floating Market in Punda, Willemstad Curacao
If you choose the left hand street (Sha Caprileskade) you will undoubtedly notice the floating market. Fresh fruits, vegetables and fish brought from Venezuela are the local’s favorite.
If you walk a bit more you will see the L.B Smith Bridge who will escort you to the Maritime Museum. Here’s where the islands maritime history as both a strategic military location and a vital commercial center is preserved. The entrance fee is $6 opening hours are between 9:00am and 4:00pm. TIP: ask for the harbor tour.The Face of Punda!
I’ve saved the best for last!
As you turn the corner of Sha Caprileskade you find yourself walking down the FAMOUS street of Handelskade which dates back to 1876 (UNESCO renowned). Building by building by building….they are all unique in a sense but yet created in the same century. This is Punda!
TIP: Sip a cocktail at Iguana Café Patio and enjoy the majestic harbor view overlooking Otrobanda.
After walking the streets of Punda your next stop should be Otrobanda Willemstad.
Otrobanda, literally meaning ‘’the other side’’ is where you’ll grab one of those delicious blended fruit shakes. But in order to get to the other side you need to cross the Queen Emma Bridge. This Bridge was built in 1888 and is now considered “the 8th wonder of the world” by virtualtourist.com. If you’re lucky enough….you can find the bridge closed, meaning that the harbor is open for vessels to visit the Island.
I said lucky enough because you got another option instead of walking the Queen Emma Bridge. This one I love the most. The white-blue Ferry trip across the bay…and all for FREE! It’s the best experience ever! You’ll feel the breeze of the sea caressing your face while absorbing the superb view of the harbor, the Juliana Bridge and of course the face of Otrobanda itself.
Howard Johnson Plaza & Casino and Otrobanda Hotel & Casino are the face of Otrobanda Willemstad. Both colorful and favorite of those you love to stay in the city-center.Kura Hulanda Museum, Willemstad Curacao
If you cross the harbor by foot you’ll be faced with Brionplaza in Otrobanda. Here’s where the flag day celebrations are planned. And if you cross the harbor by boat you’ll step out just in front of “The Governors Restaurant” (very delicious cuisine indeed).
Your next destination is Kura Hulanda Museum (see map above nr.2). Located right beside the Kura Hulanda resort. At this museum you’ll encounter history from 17th till 19th century.
The whole Slave Trade History is portrayed in a very captivating way. Original artifacts, instruments and art work show you the comprehensive and moving story of those dark days of slavery that the Dutch and Curacao was involved in. The entrance fee is $10 and the opening hours are from 9:00am till 5:00pm.
Save some time to visit their gift shop! A souvenir is a lifetime memory.
The Mega Port is the main platform where the big cruise ships dock in. Nearby is the splendid Renaissance Hotel & Casino. Known for his Restaurants, Casino, Cinema and renowned High-end Stores.Renaissance Hotel & Casino, Willemstad Curacao
Renaissance Hotel has become THE place for tourist and locals to shop, dine and relax. Brands like; Mango, Guess, Tiffany’s, Diesel, Max Mara, Armani exchange, Tommy Hilfiger Denim, Mont Blanc and so much more are all right at your fingertips. The modern hotel is based and connected with the historic Rif Fort in Otrobanda.Rif Fort, Willemstad Curacao
Rif Fort now also called Rif Fort Village is where you’ll find superb haute cuisine restaurants like Bistro Le Clochard. The Fort was built in 1828 to protect the other half of the city which is Otrobanda. Today you’ll find great stores, restaurants, bars and ice cream shops. Most of them with a relaxing ocean view.Bistro Le Clochard @ night, Willemstad Curacao
P.S: make sure you hit one of the many oceanfront cafes at night and prepare yourself as Caribbean magic is about to unfold right before your eyes! My favorite? Bistro Le Clochard Restaurant. (one of the best scenic views of Willemstad Curacao)