When you first think about the Caribbean, crystal clear waters and endless white sands fills your mind. While the small island of Curçacao has no end of beautiful beaches, it has so much more to offer; its rich culture, history and delicious foods.
Get your walking shoes on and get ready to explore the capital city of Willemstad. The city has a small and dense historic district, with colorful neighborhoods stretched in every direction.
Walking Map to Willemstad, Curaçao
Top Attractions in Willemstad, Curaçao
We began on the Otrobanda side of town with the Rif Fort, which was constructed in 1828 to help protect the island from invasion. This historic site now a small mall with restaurants, cafes and several stores. Make sure to find your way up the several sets of steps to wall along the old fort walls.
Down the street is Brionplein, a large open square, which often hosts public events and holidays. The plaza has a good selection of eateries as well. This is also where you will get the best photos of the colorful and iconic row of buildings, Handelskade, on the other side of the channel.
Just a few blocks onward is Kura Hulanda, an upscale resort and spa, but more interestingly, an anthropological museum which houses the largest African collection in the Caribbean. The museum generally focuses on the predominant cultures of Curaçao.
Queen Emma Bridge
To get to the other side of the city, we walked across the Queen Emma Bridge which crosses over Sint Anna Bay. It is a pontoon bridge, which means 16 floating pontoon boats support the bridge, and two powerful motors allow the bridge to swing open and shut.
When the bridge swings open to allow boats and barges through, there is a small ferry that brings pedestrians across the bay free of charge.
From the bridge you also the best view of the Queen Juliana Bridge, which is the road bridge crossing the bay and one of the tallest in the Caribbean to allow for tall ships to float underneath.
Across the bridge to the right is Fort Amsterdam, built in 1634 by the Dutch West India Company as their headquarters. It is now the seat of the government and governor of Curaçao. Inside the fort is the Fortchurch, with a museum to the rich history of the Protestant community on the island.
If you see a photo from Curaçao, there is a good chance you are looking at the colorful waterfront buildings of Handelskade. The story goes that one of the first Dutch governors made it law that all houses should be painted in colors other than white because the reflection of the sun was too bright. Which has turned into a tradition upheld to today.
There are many restaurants with waterfront seats lining the street. But beware of the higher prices as this is tourist central.
Around the corner is the Floating Market. Due to the arid climate of Curaçao, fresh fruits and vegetables are brought in from Venezuela and sold in stalls right in front of the boats. Grab some fresh snacks to keep your adventures going.
Past the floating market is the New Market, located in a distinctive round building. The stalls include locally grown fruits, vegetables, fresh breads and some handicrafts from islands around the Caribbean.
Just behind the New Market is the Old Market, also known as Plasa Bieu. The market has transformed into food stalls, filled with locals from 11:30am to 2pm, where you can try the local flavors of Curaçao at a locals price.
Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue
Walking back into the heart of the Punda district, our next stop was the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. It is the oldest surviving synagogue in the western hemisphere, with the community dating back to the 1650s and the building from 1730. The sand covered floor synagogue still holds weekly services and is open for tours during the week.
Queen Wilhelmina Park
Our last stop in town was the small Queen Wilhelmina Park. Most importantly for tourists, this is the location of the big Curaçao and Dushi sign. Dushi is from the native Papiamento language. It has a lot of meanings, but it mostly means sweet, nice or good.
A 4km walk east of downtown Willimstad brings you to the best beach in the city, Mambo Beach. It is a 900 meter long beach with a two story mall, with restaurants and bars along the beach and stores on the upper floor, at street level.
If you are not up for the long walk, we would recommend taking the East Side Tour with Irie Tours, which includes a long stop at the beach.
If you have always wanted to swim with dolphins, now is your chance. At the far end of Mambo beach is the Curacao Sea Aquarium and Dolphin Academy. Get up close and personal with the marine life of the Caribbean at the aquarium and take a dive with a dolphin at the Dolphin Academy.
The The Ritz Village Hostel is located just a three minute walk from downtown Willemstad thanks to a new walking bridge. Its low prices and fantastic amenities make it the perfect stop for those budget friendly travelers looking to explore the Caribbean.
Walking down the street the hostel is on, Scharlooweg, you get the opportunity to explore the old Jewish district, where several of the houses remain in the same families, while many more are local monuments for their unique architecture and history.