Downtown Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fairytale world of gingerbread Dutch houses, cobbled lanes, and water views. Red-roofed gabled houses painted in sorbet colors of pink, blue, and orange line the narrow lanes looking onto the canals of Curaçao's St. Anna Bay. The downtown area is divided into Punda, on the canal’s right bank, and Otrobanda, on the other side of the canal.
Take an open trolley train tour from Fort Amsterdam to see the bridges, stone forts, and gorgeous pastel-hued buildings; the 75-minute ride passes by the main sites, but you aren’t able to hop on and off. There are several good museums in the downtown area of Punda that explore topics from maritime and the Rif Fort to Jewish history. For a taste of the Americas, buy some tropical fruit from the Venezuelan floating market on the harbor. A popular attraction on its own, the pedestrian Queen Emma pontoon bridge connects the two sides of downtown and opens to allow ships to sail in and out of the harbor. Guided historical tours of Willemstad are also an option.
Things to know before you go
*Visit Plasa Bieu, a rustic market with vendors, where you can try stoba di kabritu (goat meat), fresh fish soup, and other local specialities. *The Punda side is filled with shops, restaurants, monuments, and markets, while the other side, Otrobanda, is primarily private homes. *Curaçao is part of the “ABC” chain of islands, along with Aruba and Bonaire.
How to get there
Large cruise ships arrive in Curaçao at the terminal in Willemstad, making it easy to explore on foot; it’s just a few minutes' walk into downtown. Smaller ships dock at the Curacao Cruise Terminal, which is also within walking distance of the Queen Emma Bridge. For those staying on the island, major hotels outside town typically offer shuttle service. Taxis are also readily available, but keep in mind that they offer fixed rates and not metered prices.
When to get there
Many shops and restaurants are closed on Sundays, so keep that in mind if you're docked or visiting Curaçao then. Because the island typically isn’t affected by hurricanes, the best time to visit is between May and November, when other Caribbean islands may get hit. The busiest time is during the winter months when northerners head south to warm up.