When you first see Willemstad,
you may experience a case of deja-vu.
Why does the capital of Curacao (pronounced Koor-uh-So) look so familiar? Because for many decades whenever magazines or advertisers wanted to depict the cheerful Old World architecture found in some Caribbean cities, they often chose Willemstad's striking yellow, blue, green and orange waterfront.
Not surprising since these stores and homes, many dating back several hundred years, create a welcoming atmosphere modern neon and plastic can never match. (See Things To Do)
Willemstad is divided into two almost separate entities by a main channel that makes this such a valuable port. A pontoon bridge known as Queen Emma conveys pedestrian traffic across to the other side of the channel. When Queen Emma is retracted to allow a ship to pass through (or when it's put out of commission because a tanker has collided with it), a ferry boat will transport you across instead. This place is a joy to walk around.
The two sides of Willemstad are known as Punda and Otrobanda. Punda, meaning "point," sits on the east bank. Punda is the older settlement, dating back to 1634. In Otrobanda, which means "the other side," development began in 1707. Until recently, the Punda side was the more visitor-oriented. Now Otrobanda is catching up with all its new stores and the opening the Kura Hulanda hotel and museum.
Willemstad is another of the Caribbean's great shopping malls, easily surpassing nearby Aruba. Curacao's cosmopolitan population (more than 70 different nationalities) is best reflected in its tremendous choice of dining establishments. The local specialty is the rijsttafel (pronounced rice-tah-fel), an Indonesian smorgasbord containing a dozen or more different dishes.
With so much happening in & around Willemstad, too many visitors never see the other parts of Curacao. These include the hiking trails of Christoffel National Park, the pleasant sailing waters of Spanish Waters, the many old plantations (landhuises) open to the public, the Hato Caves and more.
Curacao's beaches tend to be small, located mostly at the west end. The scuba diving is grand.
Background Facts & Map