The colorful capital of the southern Caribbean island, Willemstad was founded in the 1500s by the Spanish, who dubbed the town Sint Anna. Curaçao has been one of the southern Caribbean’s most important commercial centers since The island’s sheltered, deepwater harbor supports a thriving shipping industry and a flourishing capital. Willemstad is home to about 150,000 people hailing from 55 nations.
Before October 10, 2010, Curaçao was one of the five island territories of the Netherlands Antilles. Today, it is an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The independent nation now reaps the benefits of its local economy, which is fueled by tourism, offshore banking, and oil. Refineria Isla Curaçao, the Caribbean’s largest oil refinery, processes crude from nearby Venezuela.
At the point of land by the harbor’s entrance, Fort Amsterdam has stood sentry over the city since 1635. The UNESCO World Heritage site is the most important of the island’s eight forts, and it currently serves as the seat of the government.
The Punda district is crowned by the 300-year-old Penha building, a baroque yellow landmark opposite Government House that is the oldest existing merchant house in Willemstad. The iconic building is home to Penha & Sons, a retailer with an illustrious history dating back to 1865.
Unlike many Caribbean islands where the past plays a distant second to fun in the sun, Curaçao has a rich history that has been well-preserved in its museums. Museum Kurá Hulanda is an anthropological chronicle of the predominant cultures of Curaçao, from the origin of man to West African empires through the middle passage to the Americas. The Curaçao Museum showcases the island’s geological history and displays pre-Columbian artifacts. Both are located in Otrobanda.
In Punda, the Maritime Museum pays homage to the island’s status as a major seafaring and commercial center. Housed in a restored 1729 mansion, the museum features antique miniatures, 17th-century ship models, and maps dating back to the 1500s. The nearby Mikvé Israel-Emanuel synagogue, circa 1732, is one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere.
Board a trolley for a historical tour through Willemstad. Start at Fort Amsterdam, then see Scharloo’s picturesque homes built during the 1880s. Continue to the Mikve Israel Emmanuel Synagogue, the oldest in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere.
Visit the historic Curaçao Winery, the Caribbean’s first vineyard, and enjoy a wine-tasting experience featuring locally produced vintages. Discover the unique differences between European and Caribbean vineyards with an experienced guide, followed by a scenic stop at the Rif Fort.
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