"Curacao - Old World Charm and Crystal Clear Water" Top 5 Page for this destination Curaçao by dlytle

Curaçao Travel Guide: 351 reviews and 722 photos

It looks like one of Europe's Canal Cities

This is a really wonderful place to visit! Hospitable and always sunny, Curacao (pronounced cure-a-sow) bid me a very warm welcome on my visit there in January 2004. Friendly inhabitants, wonderful climate, crystal clear ocean water, some of the world’s best SCUBA diving, European-style architecture, a unique international floating market, the world’s longest floating bridge and the many possibilities for excursions and entertainment really make Curacao a place that should be on your Caribbean wish list.

Since I was only going to be here for a single day, I did not have time to do all of the potential available activities such sunbathing on one of the 38 beaches and inlets or climbing Mount Christoffel or exploring the ancient Hato Caves or even taking a sunset cruise of the bay. I didn’t even get to do the Amstel tour to partake of some free beer!

What I could do was thoroughly enjoy the architecture and history of historic Willemstad's charming streets and pedestrian malls. And as a SCUBA diver I was looking forward to diving the world-class underwater paradise to be found here. And, although I didn’t try my hand at it, it was easy to see that there were plenty of casino’s located on this island for those of you who enjoy gambling and want to push your luck.

Here is a little background on the island. With a population of about 170,000 Curacao is located in the Southern Caribbean about 45 miles (70 km) north of Venezuela. Its total area is 276 square miles (444 sq. km), 38 miles (61 km) long and the width varies between 3 and 9 miles (5 and 14 km). It is generally flat with a highest top of 1,230 feet (375 m). The official language of Curacao is Dutch. The locals usually speak Papiamentu, which is a mixture of Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, English, France and African languages. Happily for me, and many other tourists, most of the locals also speak good English and Spanish as well.

Curacao is the largest of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao). No one knows for sure when Curacao’s first residents arrived. Perhaps the first settlers were the Caiquetios, a band of Indians related to the Arawaks, who settled most of the Caribbean. If they were then they established the first regular trade route to Curacao, bringing food and materials in from Venezuela. After the Caiquetios had established residence, it was discovered by the Spaniards in 1499 and then taken over by the Dutch in 1634. It was during the Dutch colonization period that Willemstad acquired its interesting and distinctive European look.

One of the sad notes of Curacao’s history is that it was the Caribbean's busiest slave depot in the seventeenth century. That horrible trade was finally abolished here in 1863.

Punda - the elegant 'Old' side of Willemstad

Willemstad originally started with today’s delightful and interesting Punda district. Fort Amsterdam, completed in 1639, was constructed soon after the Dutch took over the island. They also decided to build a number or walls and fortifications along the border of the St. Anna Bay and also the ‘river’, which was the waterway that preceded the present Waaigat Canal. I’ve been told that this original waterway was much wider, and placed a little differently, than the Waaigat is today.

With the arrival of more colonists who settled in the new walled city, Willemstad gradually grew. These colonists observed the European tradition and patterns of narrow streets meeting at right angles that delight tourists today.

It is readily apparent that Willemstad is divided into two parts: Delightful and appealing Punda with its old European ambience and, across the bay, Otrobanda, meaning ‘the other side’ – a newer area with a more contemporary flavor. I really did not spend very much time in Otrobanda but I would suspect that it would take about half a day to see most of its sights. These two parts are connected together by a cute little free ferry, an awesome looking land bridge and by a very interesting pontoon bridge.

I spent most of my time visiting the tourist sites in Punda. Of special note in Punda are Wilhelmina Park, Breedestraat (the main shopping street) and the old Jewish Synagogue that was built in 1732, making it the oldest in continuous use in the New World.

Otrobanda - the 'New' part of Willemstad

To my eye the brightly colored buildings in the newer Otrobanda district were designed to give the illusion of the age and architecture rivaling Punda, but it didn’t work for me. It is colorful but it seemed to me to be a newly-forged copy of a spectacular old original I did notice, however, that several bars and restaurants as well as the old fort Riffort afford stunning views of Punda’s Handelskade Street which is the best-known row of cartoon-colored Dutch Colonial buildings in the city.

Cruise ships visiting Curacao have availability of two widely separated piers on the Otrobanda side of Willemstad. One near the harbor entrance, basically still parked in the ocean at the Mega Pier Cruise Terminal and the other across from the Waaigat Canal, past the pontoon bridge and the free ferries pier. That one is called the West Wharf. The picture shows a cruise ship docked at the Mega Pier Cruise Terminal.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Beautiful European look, sunny skies and good weather, terrific SCUBA diving, good shopping
  • Cons:I don't live there!
  • In a nutshell:This place will cause you to smile, be happy, and bring contentment to your life.
  • Last visit to Curaçao: Jan 2004
  • Intro Updated Jan 15, 2004
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dlytle

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