Exploring Curacao

Christoffel Park



Willemstad: The administrative capital of the Netherlands Antilles, lies on the southern coast overlooking the St. Anna Bay and is fabled for its Dutch colonial architecture: the many gabled houses in beautiful pastel colors. Legend has it that one of the early Dutch governors outlawed white for painting buildings since the glare from the sun was giving him headaches, and ever since, the tradition has continued. The city offers many points of historical interest as well as a number of attractions that are unique in the world.

Fortresses: Most of the fortresses that ring the harbor were erected in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to fight off attacks from pirates as well as the English and French navies. Now many of them, with their sweeping, panoramic views, have been opened up as restaurants and cocktail terraces.

Waterfort Arches, just outside of Punda were originally constructed in 1634, but they were put to use again during World War II when Allied Forces encamped there to protect the Caribbean from Nazi submarines.

Fort Beekenburg, built in 1703 to defend the outer bays, has been well preserved, and its main tower is still standing.

Fort Amsterdam dates back to 1769 and now houses the Governor's Palace and a Dutch Reformed Church.

Fort Waakzaamheid was beseiged by Captain Bligh of "Mutiny On the Bounty" fame in 1804, and an English cannonball is still imbedded in one of its walls. Although largely in ruins now, the fort has a lovely view and a dining tavern nearby.

Fort Nassau, which was named for the Dutch Royal House of Orange, was built in 1797 and has been preserved in close to its original state, with the recent addition of a restaurant and discotheque.

Riffort is an impressive structure built in 1838 with a commanding view of the outer sections of Otrobanda .

Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge: The largest floating pedestrian bridge in the world, it was built in 1888 by the American consul Leonard Burlington Smith, who made a sizable profit on the tolls he charged across it. For humanitarian reasons those too poor to afford shoes were allowed to cross at no charge. However, it had the opposite effect intended, as the less fortunate would borrow shoes so as not to appear poor and the rich would remove their shoes to save money. Human nature remains the same.

At 700 feet in length, it was regarded as a remarkable feat of engineering in its day and is still a major tourist attraction in Willemstad. The bridge floats between the two shopping districts of Punda and Otrobanda, swinging open up to thirty times a day to let in ships to St. Anna Bay. When the bridge is open, a free ferry plys across the channel. The "Lady," as it is fondly called by people who live here, gives the city something of its distinctive character and charm.

Floating Market: Schooners come in from Venezuela to set up market at the docks in downtown Willemstad to sell fresh fish, fruits, and spices alongside of local merchants. The colorful canopies make for a very picturesque photo opportunity to remember the island by.

Mikve Israel Synagogue: The oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Americas, Mikve Israel was founded in 1732 by Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in Portugal and Spain. The floor is covered in white sand just as in the Old World where Jews prayed on sand to avoid being heard in the temples. The sand is said to symbolize the desert of the Israelites and God's promise to Abraham to make his descendants as "countless as the sands of the sea." Curaçao 's Jewish community is much older than the synagogue, however, dating back to 1651 when 12 families crossed over from Amsterdam. The Beth Haim cemetery goes back as far as the seventeenth century, and many religious articles from the old community are on display at the Jewish Historical & Cultural Museum in the synagogue compound

Central Historical Archives: Located in a large green mansion called "Bolo di Bruid" or "Bride's Cake" in the local language of Papamientu, the archives house historical documents from Curaçao 's past in a place where some of Curaçao 's wealthiest merchants once lived.

Gallery 86: The studio houses original paintings, sculptures, and ceramics by many well-known artists from the Antilles, the Netherlands, and throughout the Caribbean.

Octagon House: This eight-sided building provided sanctuary for the sisters of Simon Bolivar when they were in exile and now is home to the Bolivar Museum.

Landhuizen (the Dutch name for Plantation Houses): Although not usually suited for large-scale agriculture due to the dry climate, the plantations grew enough to support the families that lived on them and mainly mined for salt. Peter Stuyvesant, when he was governor of the island, divided the countryside up into 'landhuizen' for more effective control of the land, and the Dutch settlers depended on slave labor to cultivate their properties until slavery was abolished in 1863. Many of the old plantations are open now to the public for tours.

Curaçao Liqueur Distillery: The distillery, which is housed in one of the old plantations, is open for tours and tastings.

Amstel Brewery: Tuesdays and Thursdays, the famous brewery opens for tours, so you can see them brew beer from desalinated water.

When not marvelling at the towering cliffs that frame many of the island's secluded beaches or snorkeling through the coral reefs, nature-lovers may want to take in the rugged beauty of some of Curaçao 's other natural attractions.
Christoffel Park: Surrounding Mt. Christoffel, the highest peak on the island, Christoffel Park is a natural preserve covering 4,500 acres of land near the northwest coast forty minutes outside of Willemstad. Many species of plants and animals, some of which are only to be found in the Netherlands Antilles, can be seen here, and guided tours are offered by jeep, or there are well-marked trails running throughout the park for hiking.

Boca Tabla: A grotto located on the northern windward coast, Boca Tabla has deep caves carved out by the pounding surf.

Hato Caves: These limestone caverns feature stalactites and stalagmites in unusual formations, underwater ponds, and 1,500 year-old petroglyphs. In the nineteenth century, the Hato Caves were used as hiding places for run-away slaves, and formerly, ancient religious ceremonies were conducted here.

Curaçao Sea Aquarium: Every species of indigenous marine life is displayed in beautiful aquaria: sea-turtles, stingrays, giant moray eels, and twenty-foot sharks, to name just a few. Diving and snorkeling visitors can even get up close and personal with sharks and stingrays in an unusual interactive exhibit called Animal Encounters.

Underwater Park: A favorite dive-site for divers from around the world, this 12.5 mile coral reef has been granted protected status by the government as a national park. The fish have been getting used to human visitors, and a semi-submersible submarine also makes tours of the park for a drier viewing of the sealife.

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