14x Beautiful in iconic Punda on Curaçao
Written by Kim Annemarie
August 15, 2020
With its colorful quay, its beautiful fortresses, cute alleys, beautiful squares, authentic bridges, beautiful shops and many restaurants, Punda is by far the nicest part of the center of Willemstad Curaçao. It is not very big and yet there are a lot of sights.
In Curaçao we do not say that we are going to Willemstad; we go either to Punda or to Otrobanda. The city center of Willemstad is divided into two parts and is divided by the Sint Anna Bay. The oldest part of the city center is Punda (pronounced: Poenda) which literally means Point and consists of nice streets, squares, hot alleys and iconic places where it is more than cozy at times. These are the highlights of Punda Curaçao.
Punda: Hotspots, Sightseeing and Highlights
14x Tips for your visit to Punda Curaçao
In Punda you will find expensive perfumery and jewelry shops, cozy squares, nice galleries and cozy alleys. But also forts, a synagogue, the famous Dushi Curaçao letters, the floating market and the famous Handelskade are located in Punda. There is plenty to see and experience in Punda and you can easily enjoy a whole morning or afternoon. Shopping, grabbing a terrace, by ferry or across the Pontjesbrug to the other side (Otrobanda), there is always something to do in Punda. Ready? Nos ta bai Punda! These are the hotspots and places to be.
History and story of Punda
But first a bit of history. Punda or actually Willemstad was founded in the seventeenth century by the WIC, the West India Company. As Wikipedia says, this company was “a private-law company with public-law tasks”; that is to say that the company did not belong to the government (the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands), but performed such tasks and had to be accountable to the government. The WIC focused on trade and shipping in the Trans-Atlantic triangle of Africa, Caribbean and America and was granted exclusive rights by the government to these activities in this area.
The WIC was looking for a strategic maritime base and chose the Sint Anna Bay of Curaçao for this. In 1634 a trading post was founded on the bay and the construction of Fort Amsterdam started. The entrance to the harbor was called point and that’s where the name Punda comes from. Punda then developed at lightning speed and all kinds of things were built in different styles, in which you can see the style of Amsterdam quite clearly. Today Punda is a cozy, colorful and lively part of Willemstad where you can shop and have drinks, bites and walks.
Content: Highlights and sights in beautiful Punda
Handelskade • Penha Building • Pontoon Bridge • Juliana Bridge • Fort Amsterdam • Wilhelmina Square • Water fort • Temple Emanuel • Floating market • Waaigat • Plasa Marshe Bieuw • Wilhelmina Bridge • Amalia Bridge • Punda Vibes
You cannot possibly miss it: the Handelskade of Curaçao. Even if you’ve never been to the island, you have undoubtedly seen it pass by many times. The Handelskade is perhaps the most iconic part of Curaçao and it is not without reason that it is listed on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. The quay is particularly charming and colorful and is perkily shining along the Sint Anna Bay as if it had never done otherwise.
The Handelskade used to be a real trading quay: there was a lot of trade and hard work loading and unloading ships and freight traffic, but now it is mainly a tourist attraction. From the other side of the bay you have the best view, when you cross the bay by ferry the quay gets a different look and if you walk to the other side via the Pontjesbrug, don’t forget to take that one iconic photo. From the high Juliana Bridge you look down on it and at night the buildings are illuminated and they look super spectacular.
2. Penha Building
It is the first or the last building of the colorful Handelskade and is located on the corner of Handelskade-Breedestraat in Punda: the Penha building. With its yellow glow, graceful moldings and perky shape, the Penha building has a special mention on the UNESCO list. It was built in the 18th century as a trading building and later also served as a residence. It is called the Penha building because it has housed the classy duty-free perfume shop Penha for years now, which also has other branches on the island. It is a small place, that Penha building.
3. Pontoon Bridge or the Swinging Old Lady
The famous Swinging Old Lady is officially called the Queen Emma Bridge and is the bridge that connects Punda with Otrobanda over the Sint Anna Bay. The bridge is special because it floats on the water and you will hardly find that anywhere else. When you walk over it it looks like you are actually on a boat (or like you are drunk) and that is certainly a super fun experience the first time. When ships arrive that are heading towards the Schottegat, the pontoon bridge slides aside and is out of order for a while. You can then take the ferry to the other side.
4. Juliana bridge
The Juliana Bridge also crosses the Sint Anna Bay and is that very high bridge. It is over fifty meters (!) high and is intended for motorized traffic that cannot / may not cross the Pontoon Bridge. It has only existed since 1974 and was built to relieve the load on the pontoon bridge. It is really quite a colossus and it is always exciting to drive over it, but you have to if you want to get from one side of the city to the other (or you have to drive all the way around the Schottegat, but that seems a bit unnecessary). Nice detail: the bridge is painted in the colors of the Curaçao flag: blue and yellow.
5. Fort Amsterdam
Fort Amsterdam stands on the corner of Sint Anna Bay and the sea and was built in the seventeenth century when Curaçao came into the hands of the Dutch WIC (West India Company). Due to its strategic location (near the sea), the building served as a defense work, but also as an office. Fort Amsterdam is now the government building of Curaçao. The fort has a courtyard with a church and a house that you can visit and is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO.
6. Wilhelmina Square
You enter Fort Amsterdam from the Wilhelminaplein and on this square are the photogenic Dushi Curaçao letters. It can be a bit of a challenge to find a spot for a photo that does not include anyone else, but it is definitely worth it. On the square you will find many restaurants, including Pleincafé Wilhelmina, which has been super popular for years among Dutch interns and tourists. It is fun at any time of the day.
7. Water Fort
Another fort in Punda is the Waterfort and is approximately adjacent to Fort Amsterdam. You also enter this fort from the Wilhelminaplein and the nice thing is that there are restaurants located in the fort. From pizzas to seafood and from local food to fine dining; the Waterfort Boogjes are great and also super romantic. Jetties have been constructed over the water where you can eat and / or have a drink, while the sea laps against the rocks under your feet and you have an endless view of the sea. If you look closely to the east, you can even see Mambo Beach and Jan Thiel further on!
8. Temple Emanuel
Although the majority of Curaçaoans are Christian, Curaçao also has a large Jewish population. In the seventeenth century the first Jewish families came to Curaçao, originally from Portugal and the Jewish community can no longer be ignored in Curaçao. In Punda there is a beautiful synagogue – which I always thought was a church – the Emanuel Temple, or in full the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue (Mikvé means hope). A special building of a special community.
9. Floating market
The floating market is the floating market around the corner from Handelskade. Early in the morning every morning, Venezuelan market vendors from Venezuela moor here to offer their fresh wares and return in the evening. There is mainly a lot of fruit and vegetables for sale, but other products are also sold there. When you stroll through Punda, take a stroll along this cozy market, where you will undoubtedly get to taste something from one of the Venezuelan men.
The Waaigat is inland water and starts around the corner from the Sint Anna Bay where the floating market is and continues all the way to the back, even to Pietermaai. The Waaigat is located between Punda and the Scharloo district on the other side. With the bridges that cross the Waaigat and the road that runs along it so you can drive all the way around it, the Waaigat is a special attraction in Punda. There are boats, there are terraces (in the part of Pietermaai), there is a market hall (Marshe Bieuw) and of course the floating market. It is iconic that Waaigat.
11. Plasa Marshe Bieu
The covered market in Punda is a place where you can experience the real local Curaçao life. You can shop on the market and also do your shopping, but you can also eat there and enjoy the Curaçao cuisine. The Marshe Bieuw (Oude Markt) is a super cool place and a melting pot of people of all colors and sizes.
12. Wilhelmina Bridge
The Wilhelmina Bridge is a drawbridge, lies across the Waaigat and connects Punda with the other side Scharloo. In 2005 the bridge was due for replacement and it was replaced by a green one from Limburg. The “coincidence” (coincidence does not exist) meant that the bridge in Limburg had exactly the same dimensions as the Wilhelmina Bridge and now it is located in the Waaigat. What a priviledge!
13. Amalia Bridge
The Amalia Bridge is a bit of an odd one out. Where most sights have already originated in ancient history, especially from the period of colonization (hence all those Dutch names), the Amalia Bridge has only existed since 2016. Just like the Wilhelmina Bridge, this drawbridge crosses the Waaigat and connects Punda with Scharloo. The Amalia Bridge is a pedestrian bridge, which starts at the Marshe Bieuw and ends at the Waaigat car park on the other side. Handy to get from one side to the other and it is also a picture.
14. Punda Vibes
Thursday evening is late night shopping in Punda. Not only are the shops open until late, it is also incredibly cozy. There is music, even in the narrowest alleys and dancing is also allowed. The catering industry has specials on the menu during Punda Vibes and so it is crazy in Punda on Thursday evening. The event ends every week with fireworks.
Eat and drink in Punda
The Handelskade may be a famous quay and even on the Unesco list, it is not necessarily a place with a lot to do or where there is a lot of fun. there is a sidewalk along the buildings and a street along them and in some places you will find a terrace on the other side of the street, on the bank of the Sint Anna Bay. The nicest terrace on the Handelskade is without a doubt the Iguana Café. It is pleasant and especially in the evening there is music and your feet are off the floor.
There is an “open-air café” on the Wilhelminaplein and that café is called the Pleincafé Wilhelmina. The café is an über-Dutch terrace, but in the Curaçao sun. It is therefore not surprising that Pleincafé is especially popular with interns and Dutch tourists. The menu is there as you would expect in a Dutch pub, there is a special beer menu, football matches are shown and in the evening there is a daily special.
For a nice cup of coffee or a good lunch you have to go to Café Bonchi on the Hanchi Snoa. Café Bonchi has existed since August 2020 and is a high end coffee bar located in the middle of Punda.
At the Waterfort that I just mentioned there are five different restaurants and together they are called the Waterfort Boogjes. The terraces are on the deck over the water; the lovely location to eat or have a drink. Highlights are the Grill King and Scampis, but also Perla del Mar and the Italian Dal Toro are great places to eat a bite.
La Bohème Curaçao
In the Columbusstraat around the corner from the Wilhelminaplein you will find La Bohème Curaçao. Whoppers, smoothies and just coffee too. La Bohème is unique, rustic and different from usual in the middle of the center of Punda. La Bohème is run by a Chilean family and the employees come from all parts of the world, which makes this place even more unique.
Staying in Punda and / or Willemstad?
Punda has a number of places to stay. Nice, because you are in the middle of the city and the liveliness.