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.
Top Curacao Itineraries
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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.)
Good to Know
Though exceptions are often made when cruise ships are in town, shops and restaurants are generally closed on Sundays.
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.)
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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