Cruise ships dock at the Port of Willemstad, located on the Otrobanda side of the Santa Anna Bay. Large ships dock at the Mega Pier, while smaller ships tie up at Mathey Wharf, the cruise terminal within the harbor. From the pier, it’s an easy 10-minute walk to a Dutch-colonial wonderland, where cobblestoned streets beg to be explored. If you’d rather not walk, taxis are in ample supply.
The picture-perfect waterfront resembles something out of a fairy-tale: a pastel rainbow of gingerbread townhouses in neat rows shimmers across the smooth-as-glass waters of the bay. The buildings mimic the architectural style of Amsterdam, but tropic-friendly verandas, porches, and shutters make the structures decidedly Caribbean. Local lore tells the source of the signature color palette: The story goes that an early governor banned white buildings, claiming that the reflection of the bright sun gave him headaches. Come to find out that the politician owned stock in a paint company.
The Spanish founded the colorful capital in the 1500s and dubbed it Sint Anna. Today, that name is reserved for the Santa Anna Bay, which divides the city into two districts: Punda (the commercial center) and Otrobanda (literally “the other side”), where the cruise ships dock. The floating Queen Emma Bridge connects the two. Known as the Swinging Old Lady, the pontoon-bridge opens periodically each day to let large ships in and out of the harbor. To witness the lady in action, grab a table at one of the waterfront cafes, where the people-watching is also pretty top-notch.
Savvy bargain hunters shouldn’t skip Otrobanda town without a stop at the Renaissance Shopping Mall. It houses quite the collection of upscale guaranteed stores and is just a short walk from the cruise pier.
Throughout Punda, quaint alleys lead to high-quality shops, mostly concentrated within a bustling six-block radius. Closed to traffic, Herenstraat and Gomezplein are charming cobblestone walkways where guaranteed stores abound with Dutch delights: traditional blue-and-white china, rich Dutch chocolates, wheels of Edam and Gouda cheese, and stroopwafels (street waffles). There’s also an abundant supply of diamond and gemstone jewelry, Italian leathers, French perfumes, Japanese electronics, Indian batik prints, and other international imports. Two principal shopping streets are Breedestraat and Madurostraat, where merchants are exceedingly friendly and never push, and goods are priced to sell.
While exploring Punda, don’t overlook one of the island’s most vivid sights: the Floating Market, just around the corner from Handelskade, along the Sha Caprileskade. Boats from nearby islands and vessels from not-so-nearby countries come to the harbor laden with tropical fruits and vegetables to sell to the lively crowds. In Plaza Jojo Correa, a small artisans’ market is a great place to peruse local crafts.