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Curaçao Carnival’s Grand Parade

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Events related to Curaçao’s Carnival, such as the Tumba and the Horse Parade, had been taking place throughout the months of January and February. And they were all leading up to the Grand Parade: a long procession of music, costumes, drinking and dancing, and a celebration of pure joy.

Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"

The parade gets started at 10am, and doesn’t end until well after the sun has gone down. Luckily, spectators are under no obligation to show up on time. It begins in the northern neighborhood of Santa Maria in the morning hours, but doesn’t reach the heart of Otrobanda until around 5pm. And by then, after seven consecutive hours of partying, the guys and girls marching in the parade are in great spirits.

We showed up on Breedestraat at around 4:30pm, just before the first groups arrived. The harlequin costumes and make-up worn by the participants are wildly colorful, and every group decides upon a different theme: casinos, boats, and India were some of this year’s. Most of the groups march with two big trucks; one to carry the DJ or tumba-playing band, the other to carry liquor.

Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"

Imagine a military procession, with rigid rows and columns of stern-faced men and women marching in perfect synchronization. Carnival’s parade is exactly the opposite of that. There is no order here, no discipline. These crazy harlequins are having the best time imaginable, drinking, shaking their butts, posing for pictures, and running over into the crowd to greet friends. And it’s impossible to watch without being infected by the Carnival fever. Multiple times, I caught myself unconsciously dancing to the Tumba beats … I might have even tried shaking my booty.

We followed the parade all the way to Brionsplein, where we grabbed seats under a statue and had almost as much fun watching the spectators as the parade itself. Carnival is an island-wide party, and we didn’t see an unhappy face the whole evening. Of course, there might be plenty of unhappy faces the next morning, when all of Curaçao wakes up with one massive hangover. But we could worry about that tomorrow… for now, let’s dance!

Caribbean Carnival Costumes

Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
Grand Carnival Parade "Gran Marcha"
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February 8, 2016 at 8:19 pm Comments (0)

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)

First Impressions of Willemstad

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Willemstad is the capital of Curaçao and by far its largest city, with about 98% of the island’s total population. In many respects, Willemstad is Curaçao. And for 91 days, it would also be our home.

Curacao Blog

Willemstad was founded by the Dutch West India Company in 1634, immediately after the Netherlands took over Curaçao from Spain. The city has preserved much of its colonial architecture and style, prompting UNESCO to name it a world heritage site in 1997.

The location for Willemstad was chosen because of the Schottegat, a large natural port which connects to the Caribbean by way of the Saint Anna Bay. It was ideal geography for the sea-faring Dutch, who settled down on the bay’s eastern side, and began constructing a neighborhood that wouldn’t look out of place in Amsterdam. This eastern section, known as Punda, is the oldest of Willemstad’s four historic districts.

Once Punda became overcrowded, in the early 19th century, people started to populate the western side of the bay. This new neighborhood was called Otrobanda, literally “other side,” and presents a slightly different style of architecture to that of Punda. Today, Otrobanda is considered to be Willemstad’s cultural heart, where locals come to shop, eat and party.

Curacao Blog

The other two historical districts are smaller, but still of interest. To the east of Punda, Pietermaai is where the Dutch ship captains and officers settled. This neighborhood is notable for its proximity to the sea, old theaters, and neoclassical architecture. Finally, there’s the Scharloo, just north of Punda, across the Waaigat Bay. This was home to the upper-crust of Curaçaoan society, and still preserves many of its colonial mansions.

We spent our first day in Curaçao walking around the capital city. The first thing I noticed was the city’s outrageous color scheme. Almost every building in Willemstad is a different shade of blue, yellow, green or red. This rainbow array is actually mandated by law in Curaçao — before 1837, when sunglasses were not yet in widespread use, the buildings had been completely white, and the glaring sun caused headaches and eye problems. The colors helped, and the law has stuck around into the present day. Curaçaoans seem to take great pride in their buildings; we often saw homeowners at work repainting their houses.

After the color, the next thing I noticed was the music. Our first excursion into Willemstad was on a Saturday afternoon, and cumbia, samba and salsa were blasting out of houses, booming from the windows of passing cars, and being played by bands at touristy restaurants. We even saw a DJ who had set up on a regular street corner in Otrobanda. Curaçaoans apparently enjoy living with a constant soundtrack of feel-good rhythms.

Curacao Blog

Other random first impressions: there seem to be as many tourists as locals, but this surely waxes and wanes whether a cruise ship is in port. The family across the street from us owns a rooster. Policeman are rare, though there are a lot of security guards protecting higher-end shops. Also, there are plenty of dogs but we hardly saw cats. And there’s all types of income-levels: During our first week in Willemstad, Microsoft founder Paul Allen’s yacht, the Tatoosh, was docked in the bay (this is a boat which comes equipped with multiple other boats and a helicopter). I was admiring it, when a crazy-eyed guy with a yellow beard and an apparent drug habit came up to me. “What a boat! Hey man, you have a guilder?”

With all the music, the people randomly dancing, the bars spilling out onto the streets, the festive atmosphere, the sun’s warmth, and the brightly-colored houses, Willemstad is certainly not a city for those who enjoy being dour. There’s nothing gray about it, and it would be difficult to stay in a bad mood once you’re outside and mixed up in the happy-go-lucky vibe. In fact, during the extent of our stay in Willemstad, I don’t think I had a single grumpy day. That can’t possibly be true, but it’s how I remember it… and I guess that’s all that matters, now.

Book Your Flight To Curacao Here

Curacao Blog
Curacao Blog
Curacao Blog
Curacao Blog
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December 10, 2015 at 9:09 pm Comments (0)
Curaao Carnival's Grand Parade Events related to Curaçao's Carnival, such as the Tumba and the Horse Parade, had been taking place throughout the months of January and February. And they were all leading up to the Grand Parade: a long procession of music, costumes, drinking and dancing, and a celebration of pure joy.
For 91 Days