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Blue Curaçao

Curacao, Antilles

Let’s settle the debate that’s taken place in a thousand bar-rooms right here and now: the correct pronunciation of this island country’s name and of the famous liqueur that’s associated with it is kurra-sow – with the stress on the last syllable, which should rhyme with ‘cow’.

Now that we’ve cleared that up we can forget about problems of naming and think about what makes this lovely island such a popular cruise destination. Curaçao is part of the Dutch Antilles, and, in principle, a dependency of the Netherlands. The people, who are among the most relaxed and friendly in the Caribbean (which, as you can imagine, is something of an achievement) speak a wide variety of languages. Although Dutch is the island’s official language, most people have at least some knowledge of English. At home, most people speak Papiamento – the local Creole language that draws on a variety of English, European and native American roots.

Curacao Capital: Willemstad The capital of the island, and the place where your cruise ship will make landfall, is Willemstad. The town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an honor which derives from its rich cultural heritage and history. Once you step ashore you’ll immediately work out that this is a place not like many others. It is divided into two halves, Punda and Otrobanda – the former just a little older than the latter, having been founded in the seventeenth century by the original Spanish colonists of the island.

The two halves of the town are divided by the waters of Saint Anne’s Bay. To move between them you must cross Queen Emma’s Bridge – an unusual and remarkable construction that is supported on floating pontoons. It’s not really built for heavy loads, though: motor vehicles cross the bay on the much more recent high-level Queen Juliana Bridge, which, with a roadway 185 feet above the surface of the water below, is one of the tallest bridges in the world.

Curacao Building The traditional high-roofed Dutch houses of the Trading Quay in Punda are painted in very distinctive Caribbean pastel colors – the effect is of a street in Amsterdam or the Hague which has been redecorated in full Technicolor. The Trading Quay gets its name because this used to be the very point where ships from Europe would moor to pick up produce – sugar, mainly – from the island. The houses were originally warehouses; the thick European slates on their rooftops were brought across the Atlantic in the holds of trading ships as ballast.

If you only have a short time in Willemstad itself – as is likely if you’re cruising – one of the most fun and enjoyable things to do in the town is to look around the many markets. There are three main ones:

  • Curacao Floating Market The floating market has been a fixture of life on Curaçao for years – the island can’t quite produce the volume of diversity of produce it needs to sustain itself and all of the visiting tourists, so ships laden with vegetables and other produce sail from nearby Venezuela into Saint Anne’s Bay and stay until all their produce is sold. Being on a fully-catered cruise you probably won’t need to stock up on supplies, but the atmosphere in the market is great.
  • The Public Market is a classic of its kind: a traditional Caribbean market with just about everything you can imagine available to buy. You won’t just find food here, but all kinds of local souvenirs and handicrafts to take home with you.
  • The Old Market is more a place to eat than a place to shop. There are many tables dotted around – you buy food from the vendor that interests you most, site down and tuck in! Most of the food is cooked barbecue-style, and there’s a great community atmosphere. In general the Old Market is only open on weekdays at lunchtimes – you have no need to worry about hygiene standards, as they are rigorously enforced.

Curacao Beach Wherever you decide to eat during your visit to Curaçao make sure you do sample the local Creole cuisine. This is earthy, filling, home cooking at its finest. It’s characterized by meats that range from the ordinary (beef) to the less ordinary (goat) to the downright exotic (iguana, which tastes like chicken). Vegetables aren’t exactly a staple, but fried cornmeal and plantains are very popular.

Cruises to Curaçao often feature locations on the northern coast of the South American continent in their itineraries. It’s interesting to contrast the island with the mainland, and to see which of two strong cultures – Latin American and Caribbean – has affected this small island the most.

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