If you’re on Instagram, you’re sure to have seen Willemstad. It’s the type of city that was born to be a star with its candy-colored buildings lining the waterfront. It’s as if the Lucky Charms leprechaun blessed it with his magical leprechaun ways and sent a sea full of Skittles raining down onto the town below.
It’s basically what I would call The Most Instagrammable City on the Planet™.
And it’s also a fascinating blend of Dutch and Portuguese architecture, its roots dating back to 1499 when it was first discovered by the Spanish.
Our first morning on Curaçao for AFAR, we got a crash course to the island and its capital of Willemstad thanks to our guide Maya. We started from the Curaçao Tourism office downtown and, from there, moseyed through the central square with its bright, welcoming signs and into Fort Amsterdam.
It’s hard for an American to conceptualize how old buildings in other nations are, even in the Caribbean, given that our country is still relatively young. This former military fort in Willemstad, for example, was constructed by the Dutch West India Company in 1634 and currently houses the Curaçao government.
The city itself is relatively compact, and you can walk through it in 15 minutes or so, though you’ll likely want to stop frequently to photograph its architectural marvels as you meander.
Once you reach the waterfront, you’ll find another fascinating structure: a floating bridge, which separates Otrabanda from Punda via a narrow harbor that cruise ships dock along.
The Punda side reminded me a lot of Copenhagen’s waterfront dining district, Nyhavn, and was peppered with cafes and restaurants.
Otrabanda, or “the other side,” is a bit different. As soon as you cross the bridge and veer left, you’ll reach a row of artisans who have set up shop before arriving at the entrance to Rif Fort and the Renaissance Mall, a bustling area of activity that’s popular with tourists.
I totally get why everyone is so cheerful and friendly on Curaçao. It would be pretty impossible to stay sad with buildings like these greeting you daily, wouldn’t you agree?
One fun fact we learned while on the island is that the homeowners paint their houses a different color every one to two years, so they may look totally different from one visit to the next. As someone who recently painted her own house, I cannot possibly fathom doing that so frequently!
The area of Pietermaai, in particular, is a great place to go and get your Instagram shoot on with its hill full of colorful homes, all lined up in a row.
Being a former house painter, SVV couldn’t leave Curaçao without a trip to the paint store to pick up some samples. Luckily, our noble driver and guide Cecil Ringeling was up to the task!
Even the food in Willemstad matches the rest of the island. As we made our way to lunch, we passed the Floating Market, where merchants from Venezuela sell their goods, freshly plucked from the ocean.
Downtown Willemstad was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992 and is definitely worthy of an afternoon of exploration.
To continue a very colorful afternoon in town, we dropped in at Landhuis Chobolobo, home to the original Blue Curaçao Liqueur.
There have been other companies who have made knock-off versions, but the real deal hails from here, using a type of orange, the Valencia, native to the island that was too bitter for the Indians to eat. Even the island’s goat population wouldn’t touch them.
Centuries later, it was discovered that if dried, the peels emitted an extraordinary fragrance, and they came to be the base ingredient for Blue Curaçao. The distillery now makes eight different colored liqueurs, each of which we tried because research, obviously.
There’s also a bar on site that mixes up some pretty darn good cocktails, too.
But the day wasn’t over yet: We still had to stop by Serena’s Art Factory to check out her digs….