Port of Curacao
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Curacao was discovered by Spaniards in 1499 and was taken over in 1634 by the Dutch, who settled its capital city, Willemstad, as a naval base. The city drew Dutch and Jewish merchants (old Jewish neighborhoods -- like Scharloo, north of Willemstad -- still exist), and there's still a distinctly Dutch feel in the centuries-old buildings that line the waterfront in all those fantastic colors.
Willemstad, where cruise ships dock, is a vibrant and cosmopolitan city with waterfront shops and cafes. It's walkable and always warm, but never stiflingly hot, thanks to constant, breezy trade winds. The city is split into two districts -- one on each side of a narrow but deep channel, traversable by a landmark floating pedestrian bridge. Beyond Willemstad, Curacao is rife with opportunities to dive and swim, with more than 35 uncrowded beaches.
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Where You're Docked
Willemstad is split into two main districts by the Santa Anna Bay, a deep but narrow channel; Punda is on the east side, and Otrobanda, where cruise ships dock, is to the west. The port has two main docking spots. The Curacao Mega Pier is designed for large ships that can't fit under the city's famed Queen Juliana Bridge. The Mega Pier is located in West Willemstad, just a few minutes' walk into downtown. Smaller ships dock at the Curacao Cruise Terminal. Both are within walking distance of the Queen Emma Bridge, which connects the two sides of the city. (Punda, the side opposite the cruise docks, features the main shopping and business areas.)
Curacao's port facilities include ATMs, currency exchanges and port guides on site. Taxi stands are also available outside the port.
It's an easy walk from the port to Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (just like the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal) that features sidewalk cafes, funky museums and shops, and neat architectural touches like gables and arches.
Good to Know
Though exceptions are often made when cruise ships are in town, shops and restaurants are generally closed on Sundays.
On Foot: Visitors to either terminal can take an easy stroll to the Queen Emma Bridge (known as the Swinging Old Lady by locals). This century-old pontoon bridge connects the two sides of the city and is a tourist attraction in its own right. It swings open (sometimes 30 times a day) to make way for ship traffic. If the bridge is open, you can take a free ride from one side to the other on a passenger ferry.
Taxis: Passengers should agree on a fare with the driver before the ride. You'll find taxi stands at both port locations. For sightseeing, the rate is about $20 per hour.
Buses: If you're traveling on the most common urban routes, you can hop a "collective" car or van. (Make sure it says "Bus" on the license plate.) You can pick up a "Buki di Bus" (bus schedules and routes) on the island. Fares vary but are generally around $2.
Renting a Car: Drive on the right-hand side of the road. No special permits are required, but you'll need a valid driver's license and an international credit card. Avis (800-331-1084) has operations at both piers with rates starting about $45 per day. Budget (800-527-7000) offers free pickup at either pier; rates begin at $35.
Trolley: A fun twist on the standard city tour, this 75-minute trolley ride takes in the main sites and begins at historic Fort Amsterdam. (You can't hop on and off.)
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The official currency is the Netherlands Antillean Florin, but nearly all vendors and shops take U.S. dollars. Several banks are located on the bustling street of Handelskade on the Punda side of town. Most have ATM's, and money exchanges are available at the port with currency exchanges. For the latest exchange rates, visit xe.com or oanda.com.
Expect to hear English, Spanish and Dutch spoken widely, as well as the local language of the ABC islands: Papiamento. (Bon bini means welcome.)
Food and Drink
Casual In-Town Joints: A number of eateries straddle the famous Handelskade, anchored by Penha & Sons (the oldest building in the city, built in 1708), and offer great views of downtown. Among them are the Iguana Cafe, which offers lunch and dinner favorites like chicken, fish, shrimp and burgers. Drinks include tropical favorites like pina coladas and Blue Whales made from authentic Senior Curacao of Curacao Liqueur. (Handelskade 13 Punda, Willemstad) At the Sea Aquarium, Mambo Beach Restaurant is a good, casual choice; you can eat on the beach, and the menu is deli fare. If You're In The Neighborhood: In Westpunt, stop in at Jaanchi's Restaurant for Antillean cuisine; try the goat stew or fresh snapper, served Curacao style.
Casual In-Town Joints: A number of eateries straddle the famous Handelskade, anchored by Penha & Sons (the oldest building in the city, built in 1708), and offer great views of downtown. Among them are the Iguana Cafe, which offers lunch and dinner favorites like chicken, fish, shrimp and burgers. Drinks include tropical favorites like pina coladas and Blue Whales made from authentic Senior Curacao of Curacao Liqueur. (Handelskade 13 Punda, Willemstad)
At the Sea Aquarium, Mambo Beach Restaurant is a good, casual choice; you can eat on the beach, and the menu is deli fare.
If You're In The Neighborhood: In Westpunt, stop in at Jaanchi's Restaurant for Antillean cuisine; try the goat stew or fresh snapper, served Curacao style.
If you can't bring back a bottle of Curacao liqueur, look for handmade crafts, such as painted wooden boxes or ceramics.
Sample genuine Curacao liqueur (produced in Chobolobo, a 17th-century plantation house). Belly up to the bar, and order drinks like the Blue Lagoon, Zombie, Bleeding Heart and Fuzzy Pirate.
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