4 Cool Curacao Experiences
PHOTO: Fishing boats moored at Willemstad’s Floating Market. (photos by Brian Major)
It was last month, while strolling around the Llandhuis Chobolobo estate in Willemstad, when I asked Andre Rojer, marketing manager, North America for the Curacao Tourist Board, how many languages a Curacao native could expect to learn in childhood.
Four, said Andre: Dutch, Papiamento, English and Spanish. Using his perfect English, Andre explained that Dutch was his family’s household language, and to this day, is the one he is most comfortable speaking.
What could be cooler than growing up in a country where learning four languages is a fairly routine occurrence? It turns out there are plenty of cool aspects to the southern Caribbean nation of Curacao.
The pastel-colored colonial merchant houses that line Willemstad’s Handelskade offer one of the few instantly recognizable urban districts in the entire Caribbean. In addition, Curacao is full of historic architecture and sites tied the island’s past as well as the broader landscape of region-wide Caribbean heritage and legacy.
A constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Curacao was a home base for 17th century Dutch privateers and the center of the Dutch slave trade between 1670 and 1815. Willemstad’s synagogue is the oldest surviving house of worship for the Jewish faith in the Americas, and the waterfront Rif Fort in Punda, separated from Willemstad Otrobanda section the Sint Anna Bay, dates back to 1828. All this history elevated the city center to UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Here are four experiences travelers should be sure to undertake in Curacao while on the never-ending search for cool travel encounters.
Stroll the Floating Market
Yes, it’s possible to walk Willemstad’s Floating Market. The Market is situated along Sha Caprileskade, a long avenue bordering the harbor. Every morning, colorful fishing boats from nearby Venezuela and other countries dock at the Market, carrying the latest Caribbean Sea catch. Strolling down the long avenue and away from the waterfront, visitors will find the fishing boats giving way to vegetable and produce dealers.
The fishermen themselves offer a compelling story and are generally very friendly, calling out to visitors to inspect their wares. Anglers clean and prepare fish purchases right before the customer’s eyes. The fishermen and merchants are highly regarded for providing Curacao with a supply of fresh fruits and vegetables that the arid island could not otherwise produce in sufficient quantities.
Willemstad residents visit the Market to mill about, talk amongst themselves and engage local residents. It soon becomes clear that the Market doubles as a social scene, one at which travelers can enjoy a little local flavor.
Make With the Museums
To some vacationers, spending time strolling a museum is among the more unlikely ways to while away the hours on a Caribbean vacation. Yet Curacao is among several Caribbean islands that feature impressive and underrated architectural and cultural attractions. This includes a small but magnificent collection of first-rate museums, most located within close proximity of Willemstad.
The Maritime Museum on Van der Brandhofstraat is located in one of the oldest houses in Scharloo, a largely residential neighborhood of neo-classical mansions located across the Queen Wilhelmina Bridge from Punda.
PHOTO: Curacao’s Maritime Museum.
The Museum’s exterior has been restored in historically accurate fashion, but inside is a modern facility filled with interactive displays, historic artifacts, photographs, charts, maps, letters, paintings and hundreds of other materials tied to Curacao’s distinguished seafaring history.
In the Westpunt area of Otrobanda travelers can visit the Kura Hulanda Museum, which offers one of the Caribbean’s largest displays of African artifacts. The museum faithfully and frankly chronicles slavery’s devastating impact on Curacao’s African population, and also reports on the island’s transition post-slavery. The streets surrounding the museum feature 65 restored historic buildings, plus gardens featuring decorative sculptures.
Back in Punda, the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum, accessible from the courtyard of the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue on Columbustraat, displays traditional religious objects. The synagogue is the oldest in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.
Lastly, admission is free at the Tele Museum, which offers a surprisingly lively display of Curacao telecommunications history.
Lunch at Plasa Bieu
PHOTO: Plasa Bieu, Willemstad.
Virtually at the end of the Floating Market Punda is Plasa Wilson “Papa” Godett, a small, tree-shaded plaza and gathering spot named for a revered Curacao politician and union leader who got his start as a successful boxer under the name “Daddy Diamante Negro.”
One block from Plasa Godett, strollers will find Plasa Bieu, an open-air dining hall with dozens of wooden picnic tables covered by a metal roof. Plasa Bieu is actually a collection of several restaurants, with each using a distinctive tablecloth pattern to mark their establishment. Cooks prepare meals within sight of the tables on huge barbecue grills over charcoal-fed fires. They offer reasonably priced, native Curacao fare that includes fish, peas and rice, goat, plantains and other dishes.
It seems everyone who visits or lives in Willemstad has a lunch or two here, and just like the Floating Market, it’s a great spot for casual conversation with residents or other travelers. Visitors are recommended however to arrive early for the 12 noon lunch, as the facility tends to fill up quickly.
A visit to Llandhuis Chobolobo
Andre was happy to take us to Llandhuis Chobolobo, the home of Curacao’s famous blue liqueur. Located in Salina, a neighborhood minutes from Willemstad, the Landhuis Chobolobo is a mansion and grounds built in the early 1800s.
The mansion and other buildings, which now comprise the reception area, offices and other rooms, are at the center of a two and one-half acre plot of land, which is tied to the country’s colonial history.
Shortly after arriving in Curacao in 1499, the Spanish conquistadors planted seeds of Valencia oranges they carried on their journeys, with an eye toward agricultural development of their new possession.
Curacao’s blazing sunshine and arid climate destroyed that plan, as the new trees produced a tiny, bitter fruit that was virtually inedible. Decades later, a person whose name and identity are lost to history discovered the peels of this orange contained etheric oils that produced a highly pleasant fragrance.
The fruit was by then named “laraha.” In time, the first Curacao liqueur was distilled in Curacao around 1886 from a recipe developed by the Senior family. In 1947, N.V. Senior & Co. purchased Landhuis Chobolobo, where today the liqueur is processed.
Visitors can tour the facility for free, where they can peruse colorful and impressive displays, including original machinery utilized in the production process. Of course, there’s a shop where Curacao’s most distinct beverage is sold.
More by Brian Major
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