In many Caribbean ports of call, visitors need to travel well beyond the cruise pier to explore the historical and cultural significance of the island. Luckily, when visiting Willemstad, Curacao, you do not have to venture too far beyond the port to experience the rich and colorful legacy of this island, as Historic Willemstad Curacao is within minutes from the pier.
In fact, historic Willemstad consists of two quarters that are conveniently located within walking distance of your cruise ship (Otrobanda and Punda). With only your feet and a map, you can travel back to the 17th and 18th century to explore the buildings and origins of this island with influences from the Spanish, Portuguese, French, African, and Dutch who have shaped the history of the island and its people.
If your next vacation is taking you to the ABC islands and you are considering taking a stroll through historic Willemstad, here are some points of interest that you need to capture during your Walking Tour of Historic Willemstad Curacao.
Walking Tour of Historic Willemstad Curacao
The Port of Curacao
Depending on the size of the cruise ship and when you visit, you may dock at the Mega Pier, near the Renaissance Hotel Curacao, or right in St. Anna Bay. When you exit your ship on the west side of the city (also known as Otrobanda) you will be greeted by some brightly colored historic buildings, as well as an open air market. The famous Queen Emma Bridge spans St. Anna Bay allowing visitors to easily cross from Otrobanda into Punda.
A rather quiet Port of Curacao on the Western Banks of St. Anna Bay
With just a short stroll from your cruise ship, you come upon Rif Fort, a 19th century fort which has never seen any military action since its construction in the early 1820s. Originally housed with over 50 cannons, the building and surrounding fortification has served multiple purposes over the last 100 years. Today, this impressive stone and rock building (that was bomb proof when it was built) is now used for a more commercial purpose- it is a shopping mall. This historic building is a great place not only to visit but to grab a bite to eat or secure yourself a keepsake to remember your trip to Historic Willemstad Curacao.
The city’s oldest and most prestige monument, Fort Amsterdam’s construction started in the 1630s when the Dutch gained control of the island from the Spanish. Built to protect the city, especially St. Anna Bay, Fort Amsterdam housed many important offices for Dutch West India Company. A waterfront was constructed in the 1800s to protect the old city but was never completed. Today, the Plaza Hotel and Casino resides in the courtyard of the waterfront. A great view of the exterior of the fort can be had from the waterfront on the Otrobanda side of the city.
Surrounding Walls of Fort Amsterdam in Historic Willemstad Curacao
Governor’s Palace of Curacao
Inside of Fort Amsterdam visitors can continue to explore some of the city’s historic buildings including the Governor’s Palace. Here, the island’s leaders still meet to discuss business of the day. The building’s current facade is the result of renovations that occurred during the mid-nineteenth century. This neoclassic design extends to other buildings in the complex including the Fort Church, the oldest Protestant church on the island that still hosts daily mass. When visiting try to find the cannon ball lodged in the church; the cannon ball has been embedded in the exterior wall since an 1804 battle with the British.
The Floating Market
Some of the freshest fruit, vegetables, and seafood can be found literally right on the water. The Floating Market contains many Venezuelan vendors who take the short trip from South America to sell their agricultural products. These merchants often live right on the boats and obtain a pass from the island to remain in the harbor for a specific period of time. In the early days, customers would actually board each of the boats to purchase goods, but now vendors have a small section of the sidewalk to set up shop. If you are looking for a mid day snack while touring Historic Willemstad Curacao, then be sure to take a stroll through this historic marketplace.
Now where locals go to pay their parking tickets and other fines, “The Temple” dates back to 1865 when it was built by Jewish settlers that had broke ranks with another sect on the island. It remained in use as a place of worship up until 1963. Now used by the city, this beautiful building has maintained its traditional “neoclassic design” with several embellishments on the corners and sides of the building, as well as arched moldings. This prominent building is certainly worth a few photo ops during your walking tour of Historic Willemstad Curacao.
Queen Wilhelmina Park
Not far from “The Temple”, you will find Queen Wilhelmina Park. This park features some unique attractions, including giant signs with the name of the island and the term dushi, a popular Papiamentu word (the native language of Curaçao). Dushi can take on different meanings depending on the context, but is usually used as a term of endearment, like “babe” or “sweetheart”. The park also contains some statutes, including one of Queen Wilhelmina herself and a giant lizard. A gathering spot for both locals and tourists, this section of the city should be on top your picture taking itinerary.
The Hope of Israel-Emanuel Synagogue
The community of worshipers who hold services at this temple dates back to the late 17th century and consists of Portuguese and Dutch Jewish immigrants. Also known as the Snoa, this building dates back to 1730 and is the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the western hemisphere. Visitors can tour parts of the synagogue as well as visit the The Jewish Cultural-Historical Museum which is accessible from the inner courtyard of the synagogue. The Museum houses cultural and ceremonial Jewish artifacts, with some relics believed to be over 500 years old.
The Snoa in Curacao – Christine Davis |Source |CC by 3.0
The Penha Building
Built in 1708, the Penha Building, located in the main commercial area of Punda, is the flagship store of this Caribbean retailer selling apparel, fragrances, and cosmetics. The building itself holds prominence as one of the finest examples of the baroque style of architecture on the island. The curved lines and gable tops of the building transport you to 18th century Europe. This is definitely one building that you shouldn’t miss during your walking tour of Historic Willemstad Curacao. In fact, it is the most photographed building in Curacao.
Take a Walking Tour of Historic Willemstad Curacao
Our guided walking tour was part of a shore excursion we booked with our cruise line, Royal Caribbean. The tour was entitled Caves and City Center with the total tour lasting approximately 3 hours. The tour was run by Taber Tours and included about 90 minutes at Hato Caves and 60 minutes completing the guided Walking Tour of Historic Willemstad Curacao.
Our walking tour started near Queen Wilhelmina Park on the Punda side of the city, and we were guided through the major attractions on this side of the harbor. Our guide then led us to the ferry over to the Otrobanda side to explore these sites on our own or head back to the ship. You could also choose to stay on the Punda side for more exploration and return on your own later in the day.
Highlight: The walking tour was well organized, and our tour guide provided us with the historical and cultural significance of many of the different locations along the way.
What’s Missing: It was difficult at times to hear our guide, even though she did use a microphone with a portable speaker. The tour only included part of the city with no maps or written materials provided during the tour.
Seeing the Sights: There are several options for seeing this vibrant city including a guided tour on foot, the Curacao Trolley Train, or setting out on your own personal tour. No matter what option you choose, exploring Historic Willemstad Curacao is a great way to spend your day on this colorful island.
Have you completed a Walking Tour of Historic Willemstad Curacao? What do you like to do while you are docked in this Southern Caribbean port? Drop us an anchor below to help your fellow travelers find the right shore excursion for their stop at this picture perfect island.