Curacao says it with color
Written by Roosontheroad – 28 March 2020
The architecture makes you feel like you’re in the Netherlands. But more colorful and with the sun on it. The pastel-colored houses are rightly a business card of Curacao. It’s too hot for colourful tulips on this cheerful island, but in exchange you get cacti, lagoons, clear blue diving paradises and iguanas.
The Spaniards rewarded Curaçao, for lack of gold veins, disappointed with the name ‘Isla Inutil’. A useless island, until the Dutch came up with it.
Curaçao’s Dutch influence is most evident in the capital Willemstad, virtually a mini-Amsterdam with narrow roads and streets and even a canal in the harbor to divide the city in two: the neighborhoods Punda and Otrobanda. The big difference with the Netherlands is that Curacao is not afraid to color the houses fresh. Willemstad owes this to the then governor-general Albert ‘Froggie’ Kikkert. The man got a fierce headache during the sunny reflection of the then still bright white houses. Promptly he insisted on painting all the houses in Willemstad in a different colour. The fact that Governor Kikkert had ties with the paint sector is not to be said, Curacao will remain eternally grateful to him for that act.
The port has a long canal, St. Anne’s Bay, which connects the Punda district (point) on the east bank with the Otrobanda district on the west bank. It is the waterfront in Punda that you always see on photos and postcards of Curacao. Punda, the heart of the historic city, is a network of narrow streets with low-priced shops, restaurants, souvenir stands and shops, interspersed with beautiful colonial houses.
A fine example of this is the Penha House from 1708. The shop in this monumental house is still run by the great-grandchildren. The entire area on the Punda side, with its 750 buildings, has been officially declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. At night, the vast majority of this colourful little world changes into various open-air bars and karaoke cafes.
Around the corner of the Handelskade floats the ‘Floating Market’, where daily, fish, herbs, vegetables and fruit, and dried meat arrive in small boats with skippers at the helm braving the sea from Venezuela and Colombia. The stalls, just in front of the berths, offer a colourful spectacle.
An imposing building that you must have seen in the Punda district, is the yellow-coloured Fort Amsterdam from 1635. It’s the biggest fortress on the island. Nowadays this is the seat of the government of Curacao. You’ll also find the Governor’s House and Fort Church (1763). From the stairs outside the church you have a magnificent view.
Before you know it you are in front of the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue (1732), the oldest synagogue still in use in the western hemisphere. The interior with its mahogany walls stands out, just like the sand floor. The Jews have been importing the sand from the Holy Land for centuries.
The Queen Emma Bridge or Swinging Lady, with its 170 meter long floating pedestrian bridge, is the longest rotating pontoon bridge in the world. The bridge was designed by an American architect and was effectively built in 1888 to connect the Punda district with the Otrobanda district. Then everyone had to pay a toll. At least, anyone who could afford a toll. They looked at the civilian’s feet. Someone with shoes on meant pay! Those who arrived barefoot were let through. Of course, the shoe wearers soon realised this and they also crossed the bridge barefoot. This quickly led to the abolition of this failing payment system.
At any moment a cruise ship can arrive, fifty meters from the waterfront, then the bridge keeper activates the engine, rings the bell and ‘sail’ the bridge to the Otrobanda side of the bay.
Those who have not been startled by the bell in time or who want to keep on deliberately, enjoy a free ride. Hurried crossings that don’t want to wait for the bridge to return to its original position can get on the ferry. The water below you is so clear that you can see up to fifty meters deep. From the bridge you can see many coloured fish, even in this busy canal.
In the Otrobanda district you’ll pass through Breedestraat where the locals buy clothes and cheap household goods. What you should definitely check out on this side is Kura Hulanda, a hotel that was conceived as a village, annex museum and restaurants.
When Curaçao was discovered in 1499, Dutchman Jacob Gelt Dekker rediscovered it almost 500 years later. Dekker, his fortune gathered together, including instant photos, fell in love with the island and Otrobanda became his pet object. Jacob Dekker bought as many small houses as possible in 1998, the former grounds of drug addicts and prostitutes. He created Kura Hulanda or ‘Dutch Gardens’, an exclusive hotel with eighty rooms. Kura Hulanda is like a village in a town. This project provided employment and idealist Dekker also offered the junkies and prostitutes a new job. The swimming pool at the hotel was long thought. It eventually became an eco swimming pool surrounded by natural rock formations, watered by a waterfall. The most beautiful building in the Kura Hulanda complex, is still the home of Jacob Gelt Dekker himself, the Mansion Kura Hulanda: outside an imposing facade, inside a jewel, decorated in colonial empire style.
Museum Kura Hulanda opened in 1999. A wing was provided for ‘the black holocaust’, and begins with transcontinental African slavery under the hegemony of the whites. The entrance to the building is flanked by two large stone pillars with a wooden beam and a bell, from a former plantation nearby. It was used to call the African slaves to and from the field. The most poignant thing in this museum is the replica of a – at true size – slave galleon. A dark space without air and ceilings far too low, in which a hundred Africans were chained for four to six weeks during their journey to the new world. Here pictures of black slaves learn how the concept of ‘silencing someone’ originated.
The period of the Black Power from the 70’s is also highlighted in the museum. Among other things, you can see the bloodstained clothing of the Ku Klux Klan. Dekker found this at a lady’s in Atlanta. When she offered to wash the clothes, he hurried to say that this was not necessary. If you’re wondering why these ‘treasures’ are not kept behind glass, the answer is simple. Dekker wanted a viewing and feeling performance, also a disgraceful past should not be forgotten.
At the dis
Local specialties can be found in the Marshe Bieu or Old Market where you sit at the long tables. Handwritten menus announce the delights: stewed goat, chicken, steak and fish, preferably served with rice or polenta. In local restaurants you can sometimes find iguana on your plate.
To the drink
The famous Blue Curacao liqueur is made from the peel of a small bitter orange. The blue color will be added later. That’s why the drink is now available in all flavours and colours. Everything here is multicolor!
A valid passport is required.
Check that the document is valid, in case the stay lasts longer than planned.
The Belgian identity card does not qualify as a travel document for Curacao. Children need their own travel document. A description in a parent’s passport is no longer valid since 2012. Within the Schengen zone it is advisable (not mandatory) to bring a copy of the passport of the unaccompanied parent(s) with a consent form, this can prevent delays during checks. On request you must be able to show the following at the customs in Curaçao:
- A return or transit ticket.
- A completed ID card (foreign visitors only). It is advisable to apply in advance, this saves waiting time at customs. For more information and to request the SD card, please visit edcardcuracao.com.
- A yellow fever vaccination certificate (only necessary if you enter the country from a yellow fever area). For more information, please visit www.itg.be/afspraak.