Stroll the streets of Punda, Otrobanda, and Scharloo and you’ll see the heart of Willemstad has a lot to offer, from fine shopping and dining to magnificent architectural landmarks and museums. Most shops remain open all day long, while sunny terraces beckon invitingly for lunch, happy hour, and dinner.
The view of Willemstad from the natural harbor, St. Annabaai, is but a taste of the delightful sights that await as you stroll the historic streets of Otrobanda and Punda, the two neighborhoods on either side of the harbor, and Scharloo, across the Waaigat to the north of Punda. Boutiques, shops, art galleries, and museums now occupy the ground floors of the colorful three- and four-story houses a-long Punda’s main commercial streets of Handelskade, Breedestraat, and Heerenstraat. Making your way to Punda across the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, have your camera ready to capture the storybook vista of the pastel-colored colonial merchant houses and the typical curved baroque gables and arched galleries.
"Waterfort Arches, where there are still cannons perched on the battlements, is a great spot to enjoy happy hour and toast the sunset."
Architectural highlights in this part of Willemstad include the Penha building, which dates back to 1708. Retail high-lights include stunning jewelry, handsome gift shops, and hip fashion boutiques. Take some time to explore the alleyways between Handelskade and Heerenstraat, and wander over towards Gomezplein to stop in at the colorful Nena Sanchez Gallery. Walk along Heerenstraat towards the Sha Caprileskade, the Waaigat harbor waterfront. On the way, detour into Kuiperstraat to visit the Postal Museum in Willemstad’s oldest building (1693). Along the Waaigat is the floating market where Venezuelan and local merchants sell fresh fish and produce from their boats. Cross the Waaigat on the L.B. Smith E pedestrian bridge for an interesting perspective on the market and to explore Scharloo. This neighborhood lies one street back from the waterfront and is lined with faded but picturesque Georgian-style homes built by Curaçao’s wealthy merchants during the 1880s. The Maritime Museum on Van der Brandhofstraat occupies one of these.
Arriving back in Punda, keep going straight and take Columbusstraat to the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere, and the Jewish Historical Cultural Museum. Columbusstraat emerges at Wilhelminaplein; the statue of Queen Wilhelmina in front of the courthouse was erected in 1930. Turn right and walk through Fort Amsterdam, which contains the Fort Church Museum, built in 1745, and the Governor’s Palace. Waterfort Arches, where there are still cannons perched on the battlements, is a great spot to enjoy happy hour and toast the sunset.
Back across St. Annabaai is the largely residential area of Otrobanda. Take some time to visit the Kura Hulanda Museum on Klipstraat, an anthropological museum with the largest African collection in the Caribbean. The adjacent streets contain some 65 historic buildings that have been masterfully restored and are now part of the luxury boutique-hotel Kura Hulanda. All are welcome to enjoy the hotel’s gar-dens and retail shops. There are a handful of picturesque restaurants on the waterfront in Otrobanda, offering great views of the Handelskade waterfront.
Due south, along the seaside promenade, you’ll soon come to the Rif Fort. The original fort was built in 1828; these days, the area has been completely transformed by Renaissance Mall and the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino. The mall is a must for anyone who thinks a day is not complete without a bit of shopping.