We were in Curacao the day after we were in Aruba. Both are Dutch Islands, both are Southern Caribbean ports, and both are right by Venezuela. They are very similar…and very different. We once again decided to tour the town on foot. It’s very close to the Cruise Port area, definitely within walking distance.
First Impressions of Willemstad Curacao
Our first impression of Curacao was that it was much nicer than Aruba, but extremely hot and humid. I don’t know why it was so much hotter in Curacao than it was in Aruba, since they’re so close to each other but it was.
As you get off of the ship you’ll be in a small area with a number of small local shops that leads to a beautiful walkway area. You’re going to get a wonderful view of your ship from this area, and it’s a great photo op. This was one of the nicest cruise port areas that I’ve ever seen. It’s a very relaxing place to walk through,full of greenery and trees.
Renaissance Mall and Rif Fort
This beautiful walkway area leads to an outdoor shopping mall area and casino, called the Renaissance Mall. As well as the Carnaval (not to be confused with Carnival) casino, you’ll find the normal cruise port shopping and local stores also. Right past the Renaissance Mall is the Rif Fort, an old fort converted into dining and shopping areas. You can climb to the top of the fort for a great view of Curacao. My favorite shop there was full of Dutch pottery. The Rif Fort was built in 1828 to protect the entrance of St. Anna Bay and is on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Also in this area you’ll find a dancing water fountain. Your children…or you…can run through the dancing water to cool off. Looked like fun!
As you leave the Rif Fort area, you’ll find locals selling souvenirs. We decided to wait to shop here on our way back to the ship. There was also a gentleman selling cold bottled water for a dollar. Smart guy!
Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge
Curacao has a really cool pontoon bridge called the Queen Emma bridge. Curacao consists of areas on both sides of the St. Anna Bay, Otrobanda and Punda, and this bridge floats over the waterway connecting them. We got over the bridge fine, but as soon as we crossed, the horn blew and it started opening to let military boats pass through. People were scrambling to get onto and off of the bridge before it opened. Be aware that if you’re on the bridge as it opens, you’re stuck on it until it closes again. There’s no way off.
As you get off of the bridge and look to the left, you’ll see a beautiful metal heart filled with locks from all over the world. You may want to bring a lock to attach to the heart. There are also benches along the waterfront if you just need a rest.
If you keep going straight from there you’ll find the ferry that goes from one side of the waterway to the other. The ferry is free, but it takes longer to get from one side to the other. It’s a great option if the bridge is open and you need to get across, otherwise, the bridge is much faster. There is a small restroom here, but it costs $1 to use. It’s the only public restroom that I saw on that side of the bridge though. It was clean.
Downtown on the Punda side
We headed left down Handelskade St on the waterfront. The buildings are so beautiful there, all the colors of the rainbow. I found Curacao’s downtown area to be so much nicer than Aruba’s shopping area. You’re going to find the usual cruise area shopping, along with a lot of local shops. They do take American dollars, but use small bills so you don’t get Curacao Florins back as change. Most of the shops that I saw did mark their merchandise in American Dollars.
As you walk down the waterfront street and go around the corner, you’ll see a floating fish market. It consists of fishing boats, and they’re selling freshly caught fish. Quite interesting. Just past that is another local market full of souvenirs, handmade, and some probably made in China. We ended up with a set of handmade dominoes. Dominoes seems to be a popular game in the area, we saw some gentlemen sitting in the parking playing. You can haggle if you’re comfortable with that sort of thing. The market owner where we bought the dominoes was really nice, and made sure that I got under the shade since it was so hot outside. And just past that is a large produce market.
Right by the market there is a bridge to the left called L.B. Smith Bridge. This bridge leads across to a Maritime Museum. It looked interesting, but we didn’t go in. Not much else over there.
Blue Curacao Liqueur seems to be the big thing that they sell in Curacao. Every shop had it. And prices were not the same everywhere, so shop around. It’s a Liqueur made from a bitter orange peel, and then coloring is added for the blue color. We paid $8 for a small bottle, about 1 liter. It makes a great souvenir to take home.
Along with the Blue Curacao, you’re going to find just about everything you’d expect from a Caribbean town. There is plenty of shopping on the many streets of the Punda side. We found one shop advertising, in big letters, Cannabis Energy drink. Guess it’s legal in Curacao. And also a 7-even store, instead of 7-eleven.
A big seller is Dutch Pottery. I picked up a few souvenir Dutch clogs, the pottery is beautifully painted.
As you walk through the shopping area on the Punda side, take little detours and go through the alleyways to the shops inside. You’re going to find little secret areas of artwork all over the sides of the buildings. Beautiful! There are a lot of little squares open to foot traffic only that are full of surprises. You’ll find unique artwork everywhere.
To the right of Queen Emma Bridge
As you get off the bridge and look to the right, you’ll see the Governor’s Palace, and right past that Fort Amsterdam. There didn’t seem to be much open in the fort, or any way to get in. If you walk past the fort and to the waterfront, there is a good view of the ship. There is also a church and some government buildings in the area, along with guards.
We then went down Breedestraat Punda past all of the shops. At the end of the shopping area was a small park called Wilhelmina Park with a small playground for the kids. There’s also an ice cream shop with a huge multicolored ice cream cone on top.
The Otrobanda side
We decided to cross the bridge and check out the Otrobanda side of Curacao. Once we got off the bridge and headed to the right, we walked down Breedestraat, past a park area. I have to say that we were not impressed with this side of Willemstad. It seemed run down, and besides from a cute Catholic Church, there wasn’t a lot of tourist shopping. I think that maybe this is where to locals shop to get away from the tourists. Then he said that he’d seen a market along the waterway to the right of the bridge, so we started walking there. We never did find the market, and I don’t think there was one. My hand started swelling up at that point, probably because I had taken a salt pill because of the humidity. We decided to go back to the ship at this point and try and cool off a bit and grab some lunch.
Back to the Punda Side
After we cooled down we decided to head back out to do some more shopping. When we got to the bridge we discovered it was opened up because boats were coming through. We stood there for quite a while waiting for it to close back up so we could cross. We finally decided to go to the ferry since the bridge wasn’t moving and boats kept going through. Then we stood at the ferry terminal for a while waiting for the ferry to cross over. While were waiting for the ferry the bridge started finally closing. Since the ferry was discharging her passengers from the other side incredibly slowly, we ran down to the bridge and crossed. I think that we actually beat the ferry across.
Be cautious on what time you go over to the Punda side. You don’t want to be on the other side of the bridge close to the time your ship leaves, because you could get stuck over there for a while waiting for the bridge or the ferry. Leave plenty of time to get back to the ship.
We did a bit more shopping on that side and my hand swelled up again. I decided to go back to the ship after I bought a few more small souvenirs from the market. I wanted to relax in the air conditioned ship. We headed back through the Rif Fort and Renaissance shopping area, and back through the beautiful port area walkway. Once we got back to the guard house where they check your ship card to make sure you belong, we saw that the guard was asleep. We weren’t sure what to do, so we walked by, and she woke up and asked for our card. Good thing it wasn’t her supervisor coming through.
Final thoughts on Curacao
We loved Curacao way more than we loved Aruba. It was a more picturesque and colorful town, and I liked the shopping area better. If we go back, we’ll definitely do an excursion to see more of the island. I felt perfectly safe, although I felt safer on the Punda side than the Otrobanda. The locals were all friendly and welcoming. I really want to go back!