The island’s capital is definitely a must-visit when you are on Curacao: here are some impressions and a review of Willemstad.
Willemstad – Punda & Otrobanda
When you think about Willemstad, you first think about the colorful houses, the historic city center, which received UNESCO World Cultural Heritage status. Finally, you think about Punda and Otrobanda, the two central parts of the capital, East and West of the St. Annabaai channel and connected by the maybe most remarkable sight of the whole city: the mobile pontoon-based Queen Emma Bridge. When ships are passing by (mainly because they are entering Willemstad Harbour) a ship motor is moving the bridge next to the Otrobanda side bank – in case it is a major ship or the bridge needs to stay there for longer for other reasons, a ferry boat is set in place to connect the two parts of the city again – the only alternative collection nearby is the high-above-the-city Queen Juliana Bridge, which would take a long walk and is closed to pedestrians anyway due to massive winds 60 meters above the ground.
Willemstad’s city is however much more than just a bridge with colored houses: on both sides of the channel, there are some interesting museums, for example. On the Punda side, the top attractions are the Jewish Museum (which I could not visit due to lack of time) and the Maritime Museum. Otrobanda hosts the Kura Hulanda Museum. The Punda side market is also very popular, while on both sides, it is definitely worth to stroll through the streets and enjoy the scenery. Finally, the colorful houses and the friendly people just give a very memorable time.
On the Otrobanda side, one of our favourite places has been the Rif Fort right at the Oceanfront, which has been transformed to a shopping, dining and casino location including the Renaissance Hotel and one of the piers for cruise ships.
Willemstad – Shopping
For the statistics part of the Curacao immigration card, one of the first reasons why you travel Curacao you may check is “Shopping”. Apart from the “standard” souvenir shops everywhere, perfume and electronics stores are quite popular in the city center. I am not that much into current mobile phone brands and prices, but at least for video games, I did not see too significant differences to continental pricing, neither US/Canada nor European.
In addition, shopping malls are becoming more and more popular. The largest destination in Willemstad currently is Sambil, which is in the Western part of the capital. Not too posh from outside, but quite a decent small mall with a nice food court inside – and very popular among the locals, especially in the evening hours.
There are also some smaller shopping areas like the cute and very exclusive Landhuis Bloemhof, which is next to another small mall, Bloempot Shopping Center. There are also some other shopping destinations planned / under construction, like a mall next to the Curacao Liqueur Factory. Overall, I felt that strolling around in Willemstad is definitely nice, but the chance to get some real bargains is comparably limited.
Willemstad – The Beaches
It would maybe be a shame to go to Curacao and Willemstad just for the beaches – but it would also be a shame not to do them at all! The capital city has a couple of serviced beaches in its city borders. The one we loved most is Mambo Beach or Sea Aquarium Beach (due to the close proximity of the aquarium attraction), which has a lovely beach area, even a small pool and a lovely set of shops and restaurants. There are all facilities you need for a nice day at the beach (including lockers for your valuables, very good thing!) – or a dance at the night, as the place turns into an open air night club after the sun addicts have left the area.
We checked out some other beach / waterfront areas. One evening, we had a lovely dinner on top of the Spanish Waters, which is rather a natural harbor than a beach, but has some small beach areas. Jan Thiel Beach is very popular and offers services similar to Mambo Beach. There is a bit more entertainment at Jan Thiel compared to Mambo (like beach tennis courts), but in general I highly prefered the posh Mambo option. Another area which is very popular for tourists is Piscadera Beach at the Western part of the capital. We had some dinner at the famous Pirate Bay restaurant, which is quite fun and offers nice food (I would not recommend cocktails there, though). Finally, the Blue Bay Lodges we stayed in had complimentary access to the Blue Bay Beach, which is in city proximity. Using these beaches typically means that you have to pay a very limited entrance fee and use the services offered by the cafe or restaurant who is driving that part of the beach.
Willemstad – General Currency Information
In contrast to Bonaire, Curacao is not part of the Netherlands itself, but part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands after the elimination of the Netherlands Antilles (the best way to understand this might be Wikipedia). The official currency is the Netherlands Antillean Guilder, which is pegged to the US Dollar at a rate of 1.79. Likely, Curacao and Sint Maarten, who are currently using this currency, will opt to the Euro or the US Dollar soon. In the city, you can easily pay with US Dollar everywhere – if you pay by credit card, you sometimes even have to pay by US Dollar. I did not try to pay with Euro, but I guess this might not be possible apart from very touristic areas.
If you have to fuel up a (rental) car, you have to pre-pay your fuel in cash. I would assume that you may run into the situation here that only Guilder are accepted. Some gas stations have card payment facilities – these however seem to be limited to local Maestro card (I was at least unable to run them, neither with debit nor credit).
Willemstad – My Thoughts
Willemstad is a real beauty – and due to its economic and cultural dominance over the whole island, you will not miss it anywhere. If you arrive in Willemstad by cruise ship, I still feel a better option is – if time permitting – to head for the more remote areas like the National Parks in the Northwest – and when you return to the ship in the afternoon, you get to see the city center anyway. But, definitely, there is a lot to see in this comparably small town, as you can also see from the quite high number of separate postings on Willemstad attractions on the website.
Other Curacao Trip Postings
As part of my July travel to Curacao, I so far have additionally posted the following reviews:
- Blue Bay Lodges (Accomodation Review)
- Curacao Ostrich Farm
- Kura Hulanda Museum (Museum for Slavery and African Culture)
- Two Northern Curacao National Park Gems (Christoffel Park and Shete Boka)
- Visiting the Home of the Curacao Liqueur Factory
- Willemstad – the colorful capital
- Willemstad Maritime Museum and Harbour Tour
In addition, as part of this travel I have done a daytrip:
I flew Air Canada Rouge on this trip:
- Flying Air Canada Premium Rouge (Airline Review)
The following galleries have been published on this trip: