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Curacao’s Maritime Museum

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Ever since the dawn of the 16th century, when it was finally drawn onto the maps of European explorers, Curaçao’s fortunes have been tied to the sea. The Maritime Museum, located across from the Floating Market at the beginning of the Waaigat Harbor, is a must for anyone interested in understanding the history of the island.

Maritime Museum Curacao

The museum occupies one of the most stunning mansions of the Scharloo, directly at the end of the pedestrian L.B. Smith bridge. This two-story house was built as a private residence in 1729, but burnt to the ground in 1988. After a complete renovation, the building re-opened to the public in 1998 as the Maritime Museum.

The renovation of the property was marvelously done, with an interior designed to evoke the hull of a ship, including portholes, railings and even the spiral staircase which leads to the deck… although in the museum’s case, it leads to a third-story room for special exhibitions.

Maritime Museum Curacao

Even those without a special interest in the seas should find plenty inside this museum to hold their attention. The exhibits start at the very beginning, with the canoes employed by the Arwak Indians to reach Curaçao from the Venezuelan mainland. The museum then moves on to the “discovery” of the island, its occupation by the Spanish and Dutch, and the Atlantic slave trade.

We enjoyed the section about the dawning of cruise ship tourism. I had never thought about when this phenomenon began, but it’s older than I would have guessed. The first cruise ship reached Curaçao from New York City in 1901. Passengers in those days eschewed the island’s beaches, disembarking primarily to shop in Willemstad, which was known for fashions and jewelry at prices unheard of in Manhattan.

With further exhibitions about the Isla Refinery and its dry dock, as well as old nautical maps and uniforms, this museum could easily occupy an hour or more, and we highly recommend a visit. Keep in mind that they also offer a ferry tour of the Schottegat Harbor two days a week. If you plan correctly, you can buy a joint ticket for both the museum and the tour.

Location on our Map
Curacao Maritime Museum – Website

Hotels In Curacao

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February 25, 2016 at 12:14 pm Comments (0)

Pietermaai Smal

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One of Curaçao’s four historic districts, Pietermaai Smal lays just to the east of Punda, between the Waaigat Harbor and the Caribbean. Once the most exclusive neighborhood on the island, Pietermaai endured a long, painful period of deterioration. But recently, it’s picked itself back up and become a home to the island’s trendiest clubs and restaurants, and its most popular boutique hotels.

Pietermaai Curacao

Willemstad’s initial expansion outside its city walls was west, across the Saint Anna Bay into Otrobanda. But in the 18th century, the capital expanded east as well. Pietermaai Smal was originally constructed as a home for merchants and the officers of the Dutch West Indian Company, and their high status is reflected in the impressive size of the homes. The neighborhood was known for its theaters and restaurants, and soon became the center of the island’s cultural and business life.

But in September of 1877, Pietermaai was devastated by the “Orkan Grandi,” a powerful hurricane which wiped out many of the neighborhood’s houses, and prompted residents to move elsewhere. Many relocated north into the Scharloo District, and the seeds of Pietermaai’s long twilight were planted.

Throughout most of the 20th century, and up until just a few years ago, Pietermaai was overrun with drug dealers who installed themselves inside the neighborhood’s deteriorating houses. But recently, a major effort has been made to clean up Pietermaai and restore it to its former glory.

Pietermaai Curacao

As far as we can tell, that effort has been a rousing success. There are still some destitute houses, but most have already been restored. There’s a burgeoning culinary scene here, with well-regarded cafes and restaurants setting up shop. And Pietermaai is a great place to go out — the 27 Club, Scuba Lodge and San Tropez are just a few of the bars and clubs in which we spent some fun nights.

Pietermaai was once home to the Dutch officers of the West Indian Trading Company, and today the neighborhood is once again dominated by their blue-eyed descendants. Walking around here on a Friday night can be shocking; the huge majority of people are white, and the only language you’ll hear is Dutch. Tourists heavily outnumber long-term residents in Pietermaai; the deteriorated houses were bought up by developers with business interests, and mostly converted into hotels.

Like all of Willemstad’s historic neighborhoods, Pietermaai is nothing if not colorful — every house is painted a different shade. During the day, it’s fun to stroll along the main strip and see the bright greens, reds and yellows of its historic buildings. And at night, the neighborhood is so lively that it can almost seem like one big party. Even if you’re not staying here, Pietermaai shouldn’t be missed; the neighborhood is yet another of this diverse country’s distinctive faces.

Location on our Map

List of Curacao Hotels

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February 12, 2016 at 7:28 pm Comments (0)

The Historic Neighborhood of Punda

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Punda was the first area in Willemstad to be colonized by the Dutch, and today has become famous for the superb condition of its colorful, 18th-century buildings. Although we lived in Otrobanda, we crossed the bay almost daily to spend time in Punda, to eat, shop, or just enjoy the neighborhood’s lively atmosphere.

When it was originally settled, this neighborhood was called “De Punt” (“The Point”), a name which eventually evolved into Punda. Willemstad’s most historic buildings are found here, from Fort Amseterdam and the Fortkerk to the Mikvé Emmanuel-Israel Synagogue. And this is the location of the Handelskade: the waterfront collection of multi-colored buildings that has become Curaçao’s most emblematic image.

Over the years, Punda has developed a split personality, in its attempts to please two completely different sets of people. This is ground-zero for cruise ship tourism, and when ships are in port, you’ll find thousands of foreigners roaming the streets of Punda, ordering over-priced meals along the Saint Anna Bay and raiding souvenir shops. But the neighborhood is equally popular with locals, who come here to work and socialize.

If you’re in the mood for local grub, Punda is the place to go. Plasa Bieu might be the most popular spot to try Curaçaoan fare, but there are any number of other affordable joints. We love the Kowloon Restaurant on Keukenstraat, as well as Yat Sun Snack across from the Floating Market. Don’t let the Chinese names throw you off — these restaurants are Curaçaoan through-and-through. We can also recommend the Latin flavors at Kriollomanía and Yammie Madness Chef, for their food as much as for their names. And we liked they tiny Restaurante Simone, for Indian dishes via Suriname.

Not many people reside in Punda, any longer; the neighborhood has become almost strictly for business, eating and shopping. But this always has been, and likely always will be the center of Willemstad… and thus of Curaçao. And we’ve found it impossible to spend time here, without enjoying ourselves. If you’re not smiling in Punda, you’re probably the only one.

Locations on our Map: Handelskade | Plasa Bieu | Kowloon | Yat Sun Snack | Krillomanía | Yammie Madness Chef | Restaurante Simone

Travel Insurance For Curacao

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February 6, 2016 at 8:51 pm Comment (1)

Otrobanda – Willemstad’s Other Side

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In the early 19th century, the neighborhood of Punda was becoming more and more crowded, and the city was forced to expand. Many residents looked to the other side of the Saint Anna Bay, to a district which would become known as Otrobanda: literally the “other side.” Today, Otrobanda is arguably the most vibrant residential area in Willemstad, and considered by many to be the cultural heart of Curaçao.

Otrobanda Curacao

We think Otrobanda is the best place to live in Willemstad, although we might be biased, considering that it was the location of our temporary 91-day home. Still, it’s hard to imagine that any other neighborhood would have been better. Punda is great for sightseeing and shopping, but not too many people actually live there. And Pietermaai might be fun for a night out, but you don’t really get a feeling for local culture. Otrobanda, on the other hand, is a place where Curaçaoans live, work and party, where the streets are almost always crowded, and music is blasting from bars and restaurants at all hours of the day.

Otrobanda Curacao

And the architecture is beautiful. Mostly built between 1840 and 1870, Otrobanda’s multi-colored houses are a little newer than those in Punda, but a little older than those in Pietermaai. The best way to see them is by following the walking tour recommended by Ser’i Otrobanda, a foundation dedicated to restoring and beautifying the neighborhood. This walk leads from the bay, past the renovated buildings now claimed by the Kura Hulanda Lodge, around the neoclassical mansions of streets like Hoogstraat, and down small alleys that seemingly haven’t changed in centuries.

Otrobanda Curacao

The tour ends with a stroll along Breedestraat, which is the closest thing Willemstad has to a main street. Packed with shops, bars and restaurants, this street is always hopping. Breedestraat ends at a large plaza called Brionplein that borders St. Anna Bay. With multiple kiosks selling snacks and beer, a playground, benches and frequent free evening concerts, this is a favorite place for Curaçaoans to congregate.

Although it’s not officially a part of the program, you should continue the walking tour of Otrobanda by going down the narrow streets on the western side of Breedestraat. These are quiet blocks with more humble houses, not the grand architecture found on Hoogstraat, and you’ll get a better sense for how Curaçaoans live. Almost every house keeps its doors open for the draft, and whoever’s sitting inside will often shout out a “bon dia” as you pass.

Flights To Curacao

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January 20, 2016 at 9:44 pm Comments (0)

The Mansions of Scharloo

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Found across the Waaigat Bay from Punda, Scharloo is the newest of Willemstad’s four historic districts and, as evidenced by its abundance of stately mansions, was home to Curaçao’s richest citizens. Today, the wealthy have moved on to other neighborhoods, but the mansions have remained.

Scharloo Mansions Willemstad

Because it was outside of the city walls, Scharloo had been considered an undesirable place to live for much of Willemstad’s early history. It wasn’t until the 1870s that the neighborhood came into fashion. Jewish merchants were the first to recognize its potential and mansions began to spring up along Scharlooweg. The process only accelerated after Pietermaai was devastated by a hurricane in 1877, prompting Curaçao’s elite to look for a more secure home.

But the glory days of Scharloo were short-lived. The grand residences are still there, but few (if any) of them are owned by families as private homes. Some have been bought by businesses, others by the state, and a considerable number have been left to deteriorate.

Scharloo Mansions Willemstad

We took a stroll through the Scharloo on a quiet Sunday afternoon, and found the vibe to be more of “desolate creepiness” than “refined opulence.” All the stores were closed, and the only people we encountered were two drunk guys, one of whom decided that he was going to give us a tour of the neighborhood, protests to the contrary be damned. Luckily, stumbling drunks are easy to outdistance.

But the mansions in the Scharloo really are amazing. Most of them are on Scharlooweg, the long street which runs parallel to the Waaigat Harbor. Just like all the houses on Curaçao, Scharloo’s mansions come in a rainbow of vibrant color. Forest green, cotton candy pink, blood red, sky blue, and all of them with neoclassical flourishes like white columns, triangular pediments and decorated cornices.

Scharloo’s golden age might have come to an end, but that doesn’t mean its story is over. Seeing the potential in the neighborhood’s grand architecture, investors have been renovating them as guesthouses and boutique hotels, similar to what’s already happened in Pietermaai. Although we love the romantic and mysterious atmosphere generated by huge, dilapidated mansions, it’s a good thing that this historic neighborhood isn’t being totally neglected.

Location of Scharlooweg on our Map

Cheap Flights To Curacao

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January 18, 2016 at 11:06 pm Comments (0)
Curacao's Maritime Museum Ever since the dawn of the 16th century, when it was finally drawn onto the maps of European explorers, Curaçao's fortunes have been tied to the sea. The Maritime Museum, located across from the Floating Market at the beginning of the Waaigat Harbor, is a must for anyone interested in understanding the history of the island.
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