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.
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
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
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:
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.
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
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.