In past posts, I’ve written about fun at Mambo Beach, the relaxing infinity pool at the Renaissance Hotel, and the fantastic food and views at de Gouverneur. I still love all these places and have returned to them a few times, but in recent visits, I’ve found more to admire about Willemstad, Curacao. There is history that lies beyond the charm and beauty.
My parents came to visit at the beginning of August, and my mom was excited to do a walking tour of Willemstad, as it is a UNESCO World Heritage City. Shore excursion reviews mentioned that there was enough signage around the city that you could do a tour on your own. This was true at the beginning, but eventually we found ourselves just wandering. We still learned and saw a great many things, however!
According to signs just outside the port, there are about 142,000 inhabitants in Curacao, comprised of around 40 nationalities, with 80% being Dutch Caribbean. Rif Fort, the fort near the port, was established in 1828. It now holds various shops and restaurants, but has incredible views, and has maintained much of the original stonework.
With a map from an information booth in hand, we crossed the bridge and stopped to see the Governor’s palace. We continued on to the Waterfront Arches, where we found gorgeous restaurants on the water. Next, we walked to a park, but there was a lot of construction, so there wasn’t much to see. A sign from the Government of Curacao said they are upgrading the “Downtown infrastructure in order to provide… an even better service the next time you visit with us.” I couldn’t help but wonder how long that sign had been in place.
Walking on, I was surprised to come across what claims to be the oldest synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere. Next, we found ourselves at an outdoor market selling beautiful fruits and vegetables. If I were able to bring produce on board, I would definitely have bought some!
We crossed back over the bridge to have lunch before my dad ran back to the ship for a conference call. Mom and I meandered to the Kura Hulanda Museum nearby, where we had an informative and humbling visit. A brochure I took with me describes Kura Hulanda as “a museum of the history of Mankind”. It exhibits the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from capture in Africa, through the Middle Passage, and relocation in the New World. It also features artifacts from West Africa, boasting the largest collection of African artifacts in the Caribbean. It also includes art exhibits from other parts of the world, demonstrating the exchange of goods and cultures throughout history.
Although the exhibits showing how slaves were transported and shackled were heartbreaking, and the exhibits about modern day slavery were somewhat shocking, the museum managed to present an air of hope. “Let not woes of old enslave you anew,” and “In the garden of your soul: Weed out rage so as to sow peace,” were painted on exterior walls. In walking through the museum, I realized how filtered my historical education had been. I learned much more about the slave trade than I had in any history classes. I also gained a deeper appreciation for the rich history and art of Africa. If you are ever in Curacao, please visit this museum.
Ready for a rest, but feeling a bit over-stimulated, Mom and I stopped for an espresso at the fort. From the restaurant, we could appreciate the clear blue sky above and the crystal ocean below. It was the perfect setting for reflecting on all we had just seen. Curacao truly is more than just beautiful.