Curacao (Photo:Sorin Colac/Shutterstock)
Curacao (Photo:Sorin Colac/Shutterstock)
2019 Top-Rated Southern Caribbean Destinations
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

Erica Lamberg
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Curacao

The brightly hued island of Curacao, 42 miles east of Aruba, is part of the ABC chain of islands, which also includes Aruba and Bonaire. Legend says that an early governor suffered from migraines and mandated the pastel-colored houses, now a trademark of the Southern Caribbean island, because white paint aggravated his condition. Whatever the reason, there's something wonderful about approaching by cruise ship and spotting buildings in shades like cotton-candy pink and deep, ocean-blue.

Shore Excursions

About Curacao


Pro

Pretty pastel architecture and a famous floating bridge differentiate the island from others

Con

If you're docked on a Sunday, you might find many shops and restaurants closed

Bottom Line

Pleasant weather pairs with a rich history that brings authentic flavors to Curacao's downtown


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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.

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.)

Port Facilities

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.

Getting Around

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.

Language

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.

Shopping

If you can't bring back a bottle of Curacao liqueur, look for handmade crafts, such as painted wooden boxes or ceramics.

Best Cocktail

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.


Curacao Awards

Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards

2019 Top-Rated Southern Caribbean Destinations
2018 Top-Rated Southern Caribbean Destinations
2017 Top-Rated Southern Caribbean Destinations
2016 Top-Rated Southern Caribbean Destinations