What To See, Eat and Do in Willemstad

Exploring the capital of Curaçao 


 

The capital of Curaçao, Willemstad is a fascinating mix of Dutch and Caribbean culture. Its historical centre is divided into two districts. Punda, the older of the two, was built in 1634 when the Dutch seized control of the island from the Spanish. Its candy-coloured buildings have earned it the nickname Amsterdam of the Caribbean. Otrobanda, meanwhile, was founded in 1707 and is the island’s cultural hub, with a wealth of museums, theatres and the historic Rif Fort. 

9 a.m. to noon

Get to know the island’s food culture by joining Clarita’s Taste Trail. Tour guide Clarita Hagenaar will take you through The Floating Market, where Venezuelan farmers sell their exotic produce from boats, and then to the Round Market, where you can drink from freshly opened coconuts. Tip: Don’t worry about grabbing breakfast before heading out—the tour begins with warm black-eyed pea fritters and tropical fruit smoothies.  

Noon to 1 p.m.

What better way to cap off a culinary walk than with lunch? Hagenaar’s tour ends at Plasa Bieu, a bustling lunch spot well-loved by locals. There are five different food stalls in this warehouse-style building, but head for Yvonne on the left. Order the goat, which is moist and flavourful and comes with a generous helping of funchi (Curaçao-style polenta) and fried plantains. 

1 to 3 p.m.

Visit Museum Kurá Hulanda, which explores the island’s diverse roots and features a powerful and stirring exhibit of the transatlantic slave-trade history. See precious artifacts from Europe and West Africa before entering the dark and silent hold of a replica slave ship.  

3 to 5 p.m.

Check out one of Willemstad’s most famous attractions, the Queen Emma Bridge, a.k.a. the “Swinging Old Lady.” Order a Blue Lagoon at the nearby Iguana Café and enjoy your cocktail as you watch the pontoon bridge swing open to admit a cruise ship. Spend the rest of the afternoon browsing Punda’s high-end boutiques or the bright, noisy shops in Otrobanda.  

5 to 9 p.m.

Enjoy an early dinner at the Avila Hotel’s Belle Terrace Restaurant—the best place to sample the island’s signature dish, keshi yená (“stuffed cheese”). The dish is traditionally made with chicken, vegetables, seasonings and raisins that are stuffed into an Edam cheese shell and baked or steamed. Cap your field trip with a cocktail at Mundo Bizarro, which is known for its fabulous mojitos. 

Getting There: WestJet flies to Curaçao once a week from Toronto. 

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