Lively and colorful. This was the first impression that I got from the capital of Curacao, the largest and most populus of the three islands belonging to the ABC-Archipelago. Discovered in 1499, the name Curacao is adapted from the Portuguese term for “heart”. And along with the positive and friendly vibes of the local´s lifestyle, the colorful city Willemstad will swiftly put its spell onto everyone who is visiting.
Just a short walk away from the cruise pier, the historic city center of Willemstad consists of altogether two quarters which are separated by the city´s natural harbour, the Sint Anna Bay: Punda and Otrabanda.
Punda is the older part of town. It was founded in 1634 when the Dutch captured Curacao from the Spanish. Otrabanda (The other Side), which was established almost 70 years later (1707) is functioning as the newer, culturally more important centre of Willemstad. Both quarters are linked by the world-famous Queen Emma Bridge, a historic pontoon bridge which had been originally built in 1888.
Whenever the “Swinging Old Lady” is retracted to allow ships to sail in and out of Sint Anna Bay, a free of charge ferry service connects Punda and Otrabanda throughout the day.
Larger cruise ships, which may not sail directly into Sint Anna Harbour, generally dock at the Mega Pier in Otrabanda, about 15 minutes by foot from the Queen Emma Bridge.
Before crossing over to Punda, we really enjoyed to explore the residential areas of the so-called Koralengebied north of the pier. Little side streets, colorful neighbourhoods and lots of little restaurants and bars give you an authentic insight in what life is like in this 150,000 Caribbean metropolis.
Later on that day, we were told by a Dutch policeman that walking around in this area was supposed to be not the safest thing to do, particularly at night. Along the Caribbean islands, Curacao has a higher crime rate related to drug use because of its vicinity to South American countries such as Colombia and Venezuela ( I do not intend to sound biased here!!!).
Personally, we did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe at any time though, but I guess everyone has a different perception on this and should skip this tour if feeling queasy about it.
We did not and spent most of the morning strolling the little back streets and hiding in the shadow of the low-hanging trees as this November day was brutally hot and humid. Then, around noon, we walked over to Queen Emma Bridge to cross over to Punda. Luckily, we docked at Willemstad right on Sint Niklas Day and large celebrations were held around town.
Other than Otrabanda, Punda is the more touristic shopping area of Curacao with lots of luxury boutiques and shops. It was fun to walk the streets with all those colorful historic buildings and peeking here and there inside.
Two highlights of Punda are the Floating Markets and the Ronde Markt, the round market. The Floating Markets are just semi-floating as the rich offer on fruits, fish and vegetables is sold straight out of stands right at the street, but the name refers to the endless number of fisher boats tied right behind these, rocking tenderly on the waters of Waaigrat Canal.
The fishermen and traders come mostly from Venezuela and they take the six hours passage to Curacao into account every single day. I can still scent the different smells of ripe and juicy tropical fruits. A great place to visit, really!
The Ronde Markt just across the street sells this and that for everyday life. But it is also worth visiting if you are looking for a little souvenir to take home with you!
BTW, we took loads of pistachio essence with us. This is something very expensive in Germany and you can use it for cooking or making ice cream and puddings. There is a supermarket just around the corner from Ronde Markt. Pay in the local currency (Netherlands Antillean Guilder) to safe money!
Our highlight and the place we simply had to visit while in Willemstad was the Plasa Bieu, the Old Market.
Months before I had booked this cruise, we had watched a commentary about Curacao which also mentioned the local food stands inside the historic building. This is where foodies and food enthusiasts can enjoy all that traditional cooking and eating that Curacao has to offer. Hang with the locals and feast on things you have never tried before? We were definitely in for that and we loved it!
On Columbusstraat, where you will also find the oldest synagogue in the Caribbean, there is a bar that sells freshly blended smoothies out of a window facing the street. Unfortunately, I do not have the name in stock, but it is not too difficult to find and well worth it! I had an avocado, green banana, spinach and kale smoothie topped with Caribbean chocolate! A meal for itself, but absolutely delicious!
Literally stuffed and full of beautiful impressions from underneath the hot Caribbean sun, we decided to slowly head back to the ship in the late afternoon in order to let these wonderful experiences settle a bit.
I cannot wait to return to Curacao though! Willemstad had definitely sparked my exploration fire and I am looking forward to see a bit more of the island that stands behind this cultural melting pot and the nature and people who await outside the city´s borders…