Curaçao is the "C" of the "ABC Islands", made up of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. The country was formerly part of the Curaçao and Dependencies colony from 1815 -1954 and later the Netherlands Antilles from 1954 - 2010, as "Island Territory of Curaçao", and is now formally called the Country of Curaçao.
It includes the main island of Curaçao and the much smaller, uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao ("Little Curaçao"). Curaçao has a population of 158,665 and an area of only 171 square miles. Its capital, Willemstad, is where I spent a few hours back in March of 2017 when my Southern Caribbean cruise aboard the Adventure of the Seas called port.
Believe it or not, I have never been to Europe... I know, I'm working on it... However, I have seen those really cute photos of the colorful Dutch buildings along the river in Amsterdam, and Curaçao was exactly like that, except much warmer I'd imagine.
The port itself is very underwhelming, even by Caribbean standards, but it immediately lets out into a beautifully manicured area on the grounds of the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino.
The resort wraps around the natural waterway leading into St. Anna Bay and butts up to what appears to be a historic building, Rif Fort. This entire area is essentially an outdoor mall that mixes that traditional Caribbean market feel with a touch of European elegance, which means it's kept neat and tidy (this is not like the Straw Market in Nassau if you get what I mean).
Any historical significance to this fort was washed away, in my opinion, by the integration of the shopping area. While it looked very pretty, it wasn't very inviting for those who love history and ruins because of all the marquees trying to get you to spend a buck.
The day was absolutely gorgeous while we were at port. There was a varied mix of tourists and locals but it wasn't very busy with tourists like some of the Eastern or Western Caribbean port of call.
Once you pass the Rif Fort, there's a taxi stand serving locals and tourists alike. A few locals had small stands selling some typical souvenirs, which I quickly bypassed when I saw what was on the other side of the bay. Am I in Europe?!
Adjacent to the bay, located on Handelskade Street, is a piece of the Netherlands! The beautiful and distinct Dutch architecture and colors make you feel like you've crossed the earth and immediately transported to Northwest Europe.
This is another example of not doing lots of research before traveling. Honestly, I wanted to go on this cruise because I have always wanted to go to Aruba so this was a pleasant surprise.
Crossing the bay as a pedestrian was kinda fun! As you can see, there is another cruise docked in the bay and you would need a really big bridge to allow a ship that big to pass. This town had an ingenious solution: a rotating pontoon bridge!
I have never seen anything like this, nor could I have thought something so creative up. Queen Emma Bridge is literally floating across the span via pontoons and rotates at one of its ends. As you can see, some people don't even bother getting off the bridge as it rotates back in place.
Once you get to the other side you are met with a mix of Curaçao and (what a cool name!) and Dutch culture. This area is a retail and dining district where you find your traditional Caribbean shops like Diamonds International right alongside a fast food joint serving everyone taking a quick break before heading back to work.
I enjoyed exploring for the short time I spent in Willemstad. After roaming the streets for a while I realized that this was definitely a place that I could make a destination vacation, where I could spend a few days or a week at.
Me being the seeker of local cultures, I obviously found a place to get a quick bite and drink. Here are some tips: look for mostly locals, follow your nose, and if there is a street band and locals dancing: go there!
As I mentioned, while I didn't get to spend much time here, it made an impression on me. I have been to lots of islands where just spending those few hours exploring was sufficient, but this was not one of those places!
I hardly went further than 30 minutes of walking away from the ship and I loved it all. I can only imagine what else this little island has in store for people who are willing to spend a bit more time there. I recommend going there even if only going on a cruise.
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