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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)
Otrobanda - Willemstad's Other Side 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.
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