Take A Trip To This Caribbean City For Your Next Family Vacation

Situated around 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Curaçao may be a Caribbean island, but its capital, Willemstad, has a distinctly European vibe. Take a walk around the city's UNESCO-listed historic center and waterfront, and you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in Rotterdam or The Hague. The Dutch took over the island in the 17th Century and it remains part of the Netherlands. Willemstad's colonial past is just part of the story, as the colorful city also has distinct influences from the Caribbean, Africa, and South America, resulting in a vibrant mix of cultures that makes for a fun and fascinating destination for curious families.

With hot year-round weather and direct flights from several major U.S. cities, there is never a bad time to visit budget-friendly Curaçao. Willemstad is a lively and welcoming place to visit where English is widely spoken, and the center, with its gorgeous architecture, is compact and easily strollable. With cruiser liners regularly pulling into port, the city is well-attuned to cater to visitors. It offers a rich blend of history, art, culture, shopping, culinary delights, and leisure activities. There is something to pique the interest of travelers of just about any age, so let's take a look at some of the highlights.

History and culture in Willemstad

Willemstad was founded in the 17th Century when the Dutch took over Curaçao from Spain. Its European influences are most evident in the historic quarters of Punda, Otrobanda, Scarloo, and Pietermaai, where you will see brightly painted Colonial architecture and two old forts guarding the waterfront and St Anna Bay. One of them, Rif Fort, has been converted into a shopping mall and offers great views across the water. 

The landmark Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge connects the two sides of the city; history buffs can find out more about the island's past at the Curaçao Maritime Museum on one side and the Kura Hulanda Museum on the other. The latter tells the story of the enslaved people brought to Curaçao from Africa and their enduring influence on the island's culture. You can experience an ongoing exchange of cultures by visiting the floating markets in Punda. Every day, vendors from Venezuela moor up in their colorful boats to sell fruit, vegetables, and fresh fish. 

Willemstad is well-known for its bursts of color on every building and around every corner, and its abundance of striking street art emphasizes that. Examples can be found all over the city, but the largest concentration of dazzling paintings and murals can be found in the historic districts. For a hands-on experience with local art, you can take a workshop at Serena's Art Factory on the outskirts of the city to paint your own Chichi doll.

Leisure time and beach fun in Willemstad

When you're done with sightseeing and history in Willemstad, the city offers plenty in terms of relaxation and leisure time. The trendy Pietermaai district is a popular spot for eating and drinking, with outdoor cafes and restaurants offering great people-watching opportunities. Be sure to try Kesha Yuna, a traditional Curaçaoan dish made from baked cheese stuffed with spiced meat and vegetables. You can also get a taste of Curaçao's Dutch culinary delights with snacks like Bitterballen (meatballs) or Stroopwafels (thin caramel waffles).

Willemstad is a maritime city in the Caribbean, so it would be a shame not to make the most of its coastal location, warm seas, and easily accessible reefs. Two excellent beaches for snorkeling are a short ride from the city center. Mambo Beach is a popular destination and can get a little busy, but it has great amenities and golden sands. Its house reef is perfect for novice snorkelers because a man-made rock wall protects the shore from big waves and ensures calm waters. Blue Bay Beach is less crowded and has two reefs to explore.

While the reefs have plenty of exotic fish to keep snorkelers happy, you also have a chance to swim with some larger, friendly marine mammals at the Dolphin Academy. Whatever type of vacation you and your family prefer, you'll be spoilt for choice with things to see and do in Willemstad.