Walking tour through Punda
This route winds through the main streets, past the main shopping areas and tourist attractions of this district. It is not the most direct route to any particular location, but it is intended as a short excursion to give you an impression of the district and to show you that Punda has many different activities to offer (tourist attractions, architecture, shopping). This is a good way to become familiar with the atmosphere in Punda. Without interruption, you will walk the entire route in an hour, but count on plenty of time for shopping, sightseeing and quietly having a drink while people-watching. There is little shade in the streets. As you walk this route, look up occasionally so as not to miss architectural details of buildings from different periods.
- The route starts at the foot of the Emma Bridge. From here you have a nice view of Otrobanda with : the Rif Fortress, on the far left, guarding the entrance to the harbor; the Brion Square, just across the bridge; the Otrobanda hotel; the tourist complex Coral Agostini, behind the ferry terminal; the terminal for the cruise ships along the waterfront; and the Kura Hulanda complex.
- Now turn around and look towards Punda: the street running along the harbor on your left is the Handelskade. You can also see the old trading houses on this quay from Otrobanda. On your left you will see the harbor where you can take the free ferry to Otrobanda when the bridge is open. Directly in front of you is Breedestraat, one of the largest shopping streets in Punda. At the corner of Breedestraat and Handelskade is the Penha Building, one of the most famous examples of 18th century Dutch colonial architecture. Note the ornate, curled gables and the galleries surrounding the second floor. Originally open, they were later closed to save space.
- On your right is Fort Amsterdam, the seat of the government of the Netherlands Antilles. This is the first stop on this route. If you walk in the direction of the large, yellow fort, you will see further back along the waterfront the stone walls of the original Waterfort. This was built in the early 17th century, just after the Dutch came ashore. Behind it is the Plaza Hotel, with its toucan on top.
- Right in front of Fort Amsterdam is the Horn of Plenty Monument, a gift from the Netherlands in gratitude to the inhabitants of the Netherlands Antilles for their indispensable help and solidarity during World War II. (When most of Europe was occupied and heavily bombed during the war, Curaçao provided indispensable assistance to the Allies). On one wall of the fort is a small plaque commemorating the 25th anniversary of the abolition of slavery.
- Before entering the grounds of the fort, see the abstract, erotic female figures carved into some of the trees in front of the fort by Mac Alberto - a former radical union leader turned street artist.
- You enter the courtyard of the fortress through a narrow, covered passageway. The bright yellow building right in front of you with the flags and white columns is the Council of Ministers building of the Netherlands Antilles. To its left is the old Fort Church, a pale yellow building with a domed roof on top. The church was built late in the 18th century and still houses a Dutch Protestant community. It is also home to the Fortress Church Museum. Several government offices are located in the buildings surrounding the courtyard.
- Walk past the entrance to the Council of Ministers building through a narrow passageway on the right and you will enter Wilhelminaplein. This square is named after Queen Wilhelmina, who reigned from 1898 to 1948. As you cross the street to the square, note the detailed, wooden latticework at the rear of Fort Amsterdam. Then stroll around the square at your leisure. You'll find a music stand, benches and a children's playground with plenty of shade. Sometimes musical events and other cultural activities are held here during school vacations and other days off.
- On Wilhelminaplein, take a few minutes to orient yourself. Across the street, to the right of the square are the police headquarters, next to Fort Amsterdam, and the Court of Justice. The latter building, which bears the shield of the Netherlands Antilles, dates from the second half of the 19th century. Next door are the blue-green Tele Museum and an elegantly restored building housing a commercial bank.
- Behind these buildings on the waterfront is the Water Fortress complex. This consists of a number of restaurants and stores built into the fort. Here you can have a snack or a drink and watch the waves crash against the old walls of the fort. When the parapets are open you have a beautiful view of the sea and Otrobanda.
- Further down the street is a long, yellow and white building. This is the old Jewish synagogue - called The Temple - built towards the end of the 19th century and recently renovated. Across from the parking lot of The Temple is the Cinelandia building. This former movie theater is one of the few remaining examples of 1940s art deco architecture. Beyond the parking lot the Pietermaai district begins. At the beginning of this district lies the office of the Curaçao Tourism Development Bureau; it is a well-restored yellow and white building where you can get general information.
- From Wilhelminaplein, walk down Breedestraat, one of Punda's biggest shopping streets, back to the floating bridge. At the corner of Breedestraat and Wilhelminaplein is a gray, stone building, the Central Bank of the Netherlands Antilles (by the beginning of the year 2002 the bank will move to new quarters in Scharloo). Just across from the Central Bank building on Breedestraat is the Munten Museum, with a substantial collection of local and rare coins.
- As you stroll leisurely down Breedestraat and other streets in the heart of Punda, don't forget to look up from time to time. Of course it is fun to look at the shop windows, but don't miss the many architectural details of these old buildings. For example, enclosed galleries, wooden shutters, curled gables and pointed roofs. Also note that all the buildings here are in tight rows, with no courtyards, unlike Otrobanda and Scharloo; some are particularly narrow. What also sets Punda apart from most other parts of Willemstad is that almost all the buildings have been in continuous use, from the time they were built several hundred years ago. As a result, Punda has not seen any major deterioration or revival. Other than minor renovations, such as modern windows, the only notable difference is that the upper floors used to serve as living quarters, and are now mostly part of the storefront.
- On your right is Gomez Square, named after Moises F. Da Costa Gomez. He was the founder of one of the largest political parties on the island and responsible for creating the blueprint for the autonomy of the Netherlands Antilles in 1954. A small kiosk in this square sells local crafts. You will also often find wooden carvings and brightly colored paintings from Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Outdoor eateries and restaurants with outdoor cafes give Gomez Square a cozy and relaxed atmosphere.
- Before walking across Gomez Square, look to your left and you will see the narrowest building in Punda.
- Just before you get back to the pontoon bridge, turn right onto Heerenstraat. This wide street is not accessible to vehicles. It is the oldest shopping street on the island, selling mostly clothing and electronics today. You are now walking along the front of the trading houses on the harbor of Punda. Some buildings have the date and original house number engraved on the top of the facade. During Christmas, Heerenstraat is festively decorated with brightly colored lights.
- The alleys you will occasionally find on the left lead to the Handelskade. The first alley leads you to the Art Gallery 86, the largest gallery on the island. At the end of Heerenstraat is the Plaza Jojo Corea, named after one of the first local bankers. Here you will find the same kind of crafts as in Gomez Square, as well as some benches and a few hot dog stands. If you cross the square straight, you will end up at the famous floating market . If you turn right in the square, you will enter Maduro Street - also pedestrian street, which runs parallel to the Floating Market.
- From the square you also have a good view of part of Scharloo. Pay particular attention to the once magnificent residence, which now houses Hotel Caracas. This building dates back to the late 18th century and was once owned by a president of the Dominican Republic. The building to the right of this, which was destroyed in a fire in 1988, was once the distinguished Hotel Venezuela. This is where local hero Pedro Luís Brión died. (Brión fought on the side of Simón Bolívar during the Latin American wars of independence.) It now houses the Maritime Museum. The route continues through a small street, parallel to Heerenstraat. Here lies the Post Museum, housed in the oldest building on the island. Continuing down the alley, you come to a cozy, tucked-away square with cafes; this is one of the few places in Punda with enough trees to provide some real shade. On the weekends, live music is sometimes played here by local musicians.
- Leave the little square on the left and turn left again at Gomez Square; at the end of this square, turn right into Hanchi di Snoa ("Synagogue Lane"). You will walk past a number of renovated buildings and café-restaurants. At the end of the block of houses on your left is the pastel yellow Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue - the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere that has been in continuous use.
- Turn left onto Columbus Street and walk down this street. Straight ahead you will see the Wilhelmina Bridge that leads to Scharloo. On your right is the New Market where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables; behind it is the salmon-colored post office and then comes the busy Marshe, the old market where you can enjoy a delicious lunch consisting of local specialties.
- If you turn left at the Waaigat inlet, you'll walk past one of Curaçao's most famous places: the quaint floating market . The colorful rags over the food offer some much-needed shade as you stroll leisurely along the narrow channel toward the Sint-Annabaai.
- At the end of the market, turn left and walk along the Handelskade. Here you will find more stores and harbor cafes, from where you have a nice view of Otrobanda. The route ends where you started, at the pontoon bridge.