Curacao, Curacao, oh Curacao. What a gem. Seriously. Whether you know the island from the famous liquor Blue Curacao or you’ve heard of the ABC Islands mentioned by travel agents, this island is definitely worth paying a visit to. In 1634, the island was occupied by the Dutch. Today, it is an independent country but the Dutch influences do not go unnoticed. Dutch is Curacao’s official language and the currency is the Netherlands Antillean guilder, also commonly known as the florin. Even through the architecture can you see the Dutch influences.
I was excited for this one because not only was there a lot to see and do but there was a lot of TIME to do all the “seeing” and “doing”, which isn’t something you have a lot of during port days. The all-aboard time wasn’t until 9:30 pm later that night so we decided that after the ship tour, we were going to walk around on our own for a bit, head back to the boat and get some food, and then come out again after dinner for a late night stroll. We wanted to see how different Curacao – already stunning during the day – would look once the sun had set and the stars came out to dance.
The ship tour we were booked on was a tour of the Caves, the liquor factory, and the renowned museum. First was a bit of an island drive. I find that usually through the drive, you can kind of get a sense of how much you like the island already and the overall economic and political state of the island. During our drive, we got the chance to see a huge group of flamingos relaxing in the water.
Then, it was almost as if all the buildings and architecture imitated and mirrored the colour of the island’s wildlife – everything was so, so colourful. It was like a candy land because pastel colours were very popular. The tour guide told us a story which explained why all the buildings were a wide range of all types of saturated hues. In the past, when all the buildings were still painted white, the mayor at the time would complain because the white of the buildings, plus the sun, would give him migraines. He encouraged all the residents to paint their houses and their buildings their favourite colour. Later on, it was discovered that the reason he did this was because he was one of the owners of the local paint factory! Hilarious.
Tons of cacti everywhere.
Our tour guide continued to brief us a bit more about the port. Willemstad, the capital of Curacao, is ‘split up’ into two separate sections – Punda and Otrobanda (literally meaning ‘other side’). The two were joined together by the Queen Emma pontoon bridge, one of the island’s most renowned attractions. This isn’t any old bridge – it’s a moving one. The bridge is often referred to as the Swinging Old Lady because it swings like a pendulum throughout the day to allow ships in and out of St. Anna Bay, one of the busiest ports in the world. Papiamento – a Creole mixture of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and Arawak Indian – is a very popular dialect spoken and one of the most popular phrases said to all travelers is “Bon Bini!” which means ‘welcome’.
So after all the “Bon Bini” greetings were said, we headed to the Hato Cave where we got a great look at the stalactites and stalagmites.
According to our guide, it took 100 years for 1 centimetre of the formation to grow. For the columns to form, the top and the bottom had to come together and once they were married, there’s no going back. The top grew faster than the bottom, which had to grow in an upward direction rather than downwards.
We were only allowed to take pictures where light was present in the cave because the flash from cameras makes the algae green, as seen in the pictures. We also weren’t alone in the cave; we had company. Small bats, dashing back and forth, called the cave home and you could look up and see maybe half a dozen bats hanging from the rock together. They were nearly impossible to spot if you weren’t paying attention because of how fast they were flying.
After we emerged from the darkness into the sunlight again, we got the chance to see the ‘fauna’ part of flora and fauna!
We then made our way to the Senor and Co factory which was the liquor factory for the famous Curacao liquor. I’m sure we’ve all heard of Blue Curacao before – it’s found in over 508 different drink recipes and typically, if a drink has a very blue hue, it contains Blue Curacao. There was a brief tour of the factory’s history, a look at the famous Blue Curacao bottle and a tasting of the various flavours of the day. If you thought there was just Blue Curacao (which I did), you are wrong. They have 5 different colours – orange, blue, white, green and red – and while contrasting in colour, they have the same orange taste.
I decided to treat myself to some Blue Curacao flavoured ice cream (and because none of us were driving, we added in some of the liquor just for experimental purposes).
We were given some time to browse the gift shop and buy the liquor we wanted and then next was the Curacao museum. Resembling a house, it was here were soldiers who used to need to be quarantined used to stay. One of its main features is the big instrument with the bells.
The tour was finished after the museum and they gave us the option of being dropped off at the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, for anybody who wanted to walk over to Punda and explore that section a little bit, which we did.
We got off the bus and were instantly greeted by street vendors – tons and tons of them. There were probably about a dozen booths set up by the water’s edge, each boasting its own collection of beautiful Curacao souvenirs. We did our necessary souvenir shopping (can’t forget the gifts, of course) and then we headed over to get a closer look at the bridge.
The buildings by the water’s edge were a view of its own. It almost looked like how many Norwegian cities looked with the colourful buildings right by the water – very Bergen or Trondheim like.
Watching the bridge open was an even better sight and a necessary thing to see if you ever visit Curacao. A bell would sound, announcing its imminent opening, and we’d watch as the bridge would glide on the surface of the water and open up to let ships – big and small – pass.
I quickly figured out that getting from one side to the other wasn’t the easiest of tasks – the waiting for the bridge to finish its one ‘open and close’ cycle was tough and it wasn’t even ferry season, where the bridge would stay open for 45 minutes. And the bridge doesn’t only open once in a day – it opens about 20 or 30 times over the 24 hours. So if you are ever in a hurry, you’d better hope you catch the bridge and Miss Queen Emma at a good time.
When the bridge closed again and we could cross, we walked over to Punda. Punda was different from Otrobanda in that it was much more commercialized. There were many more franchises and shopping stores like Pandora, Aldo, and more. It was like a mall, but out in the open and along different streets.
Seeing that there weren’t any major attractions, we strolled around for a bit before crossing back to the other side, where we proceeded to head back to the ship after a long day in the colourful city.
At night, we came out again, mostly for the purpose of seeing the pontoon bridge light up with all the lights it was strung with. That was definitely a sight to see and something that you can’t see in the afternoon. It was stunning.
So Curacao was certainly a journey, a treasured memory, and an adventure all in one.
Onto Aruba, the last port of the trip. That was fast, but it will be a good finish. And it’s another island part of the ABC Islands so you know it will be good. Stay tuned!