Willemstad is a big town, but easily walkable. The city is divided by Sint Annabaai channel, a waterway which leads to the largest natural harbor, now used primarily for petroleum refining and a large shipping port. The oldest section of town, Punda, has buildings dating from the mid-1600s, including Fort Amsterdam which now houses the government. The later buildings from the 1700s illustrate what has become known as the Dutch Caribbean style where the facades are painted pastel colors to eliminate glare from the sun. The city really is an architectural historian’s paradise. There is also a colorful floating market where Venezuelan merchants offer produce and souvenirs.
The channel was spanned in the 19th century by a bridge built by an American entrepreneur. It was replaced more recently with a pedestrian walkway that opens for transiting ship traffic. We actually rode the bridge as it moved for a freighter. (What cruisers will do for fun!) The bridge allowed the development of Otrobanda, the other side of Annabaai, and became a middle-class residential area. In the 1970s, the Queen Juliana bridge was built for vehicle traffic. On this side of town a developer bought about 20 buildings to create the Kurá Hulanda museum and hotel. The museum is dedicated to the history of the slave trade and African art. The gardens were a welcome respite for us after we had traipsed all over town touring one day.
In the heart of Punda is the synagogue, built in 1732. It is the home of an active Sephardic congregation, Mikve Israel-Emanuel. The temple is a large building within a walled courtyard and has a sand floor, the tradition recalling the days of the inquisition and the conversos. We contacted the synagogue and were able to attend during Yom Kippur. The services were mostly conducted in English and Hebrew, though during aliyahs, some of chanting was in Ladino, the language of the Sephardim.
On another foray into town we spent some time in the Maritime Museum, across the water from Punda in Scharloo. This part of town, originally built by Sephardic Jews, had some large mansions. One of these old mansions, was rebuilt for the museum. The 500-year maritime history of Curaçao is fascinating, and the museum does a decent job of covering it.