After a relaxed day at sea on board Britannia, we were really excited to wake up to find the ship about to arrive in Curaçao, a small Dutch Caribbean island of the Lesser Antilles, about 40 miles off the coast of Venezuela. ‘CURE-a-sow’, with the female pig meaning of the word ‘sow’, is the best way I can find to describe how to pronounce the name.
We’d ordered room service breakfast, as we had a fairly early start for our first shore excursion of the trip: an island tour and a visit to the renowned Hato Caves. We watched the ship dock over coffee and pastries on our balcony.
It wasn’t long before the ship had docked, and with our cabin on the port side we had a fabulous view of the island’s capital, Willemstad. Lots more better views of Willemstad later in this post…
Having finally figured out how to get off the ship (!), we met our tour group out on the quayside and we were conducted to a waiting bus. Our excellent tour guide was a local girl, Shadia, who had an American accent as she’d grown up watching American television! After a brief drive around some interesting parts of Willemstad, our first port of call was the Curaçao Museum, housed in this former military hospital dating from 1853.
The building has been a museum since 1948, making it the island’s longest-running museum. The main rooms house various kinds of Curaçao furniture, all made from mahogany as I recall. We saw mahogany trees growing on one of the other islands we visited.
The traditional kitchen was my favourite room. It’s painted that lively polka dot colour because it apparently confuses the flies!
These passageways are designed to create a sort of buffer zone between the occupants of the building and the heat of the outdoors, so theoretically it kept the building cool in the days before air conditioning. There were lots of curiosities dotted about.
Trust us to find a plane! Or the remnants of one, anyway… This is the cockpit of KLM’s first plane to cross from Holland to Curaçao.
From there, it was about half an hour’s drive to the Hato Caves, which are right alongside the airport. On the journey, we stopped by a lake that had dozens of flamingos on it! Unfortunately they were too far away to get a decent photo of them, but I was so thrilled to see them in the wild. I was also delighted by this rather marvellous collection of cacti near the entrance to the caves!
You can see the end of the Curaçao Airport runway and a couple of parked planes in the background!
We weren’t allowed to take photographs of the most impressive parts of the caves, sadly, but you’ll have to take my word for it that there is a magnificent selection of stalagmites and stalactites in there, along with a colony of bats and some fascinating traces of human habitation from runaway slaves. There was one chamber in which photography was permitted, but I’m afraid the iPhone camera singularly failed to do justice to it.
(A side note: the film crew you can see in the photo below were with us to film a promotional video for P&O Cruises. When we got back to the ship they interviewed Lee and me with Britannia in the background, asking for our thoughts – as younger people!! – on how we’d found the tour and the cruise in general!)
Back out in the sunshine, it was back on the bus towards Willemstad. Along the way, our guide told us lots of interesting things about life in Curaçao, including the amazing fact that people there grow up learning no fewer than FOUR languages: Papiamento (the local dialect), Dutch, English and Spanish.
We crossed the Queen Juliana Bridge, which connects the Punda and Otrobanda districts of Willemstad. There were the most stunning views across Willemstad, with Britannia and another cruise ship looming over everything in the background.
Our final stop of the morning was the Curaçao Liqueur Distillery. This is where they make genuine Curaçao liqueur, and the factory is housed in this former plantation building.
I always love a good antique sign.
These are the different colours and flavours you can buy. We’d already grown so used to using our cruise cards to pay for everything that we’d quite forgotten to bring any real money, so we didn’t buy anything!! But we were able to try free samples of three different varieties of liqueur, and I liked them all.
We also learned a bit about how they make it. It’s made using the dried peel of the Laraha, or Curaçao orange, an evolution of the Seville orange, which was originally brought to the island from Spain in 1527.
Arguably the more exciting thing about this stop on the tour was this striking fellow, who was clinging to this branch right outside the factory. I sensed from his not infrequent hissing noises that he wasn’t too happy about the attention he was getting! It’s an iguana, by the way. They eat them in Curaçao apparently, and among the many iguana recipes is a soup that has the same status as chicken soup, i.e. something that one has when one is under the weather!
Having arrived back at the ship, we had a nice lunch by the window in one of the restaurants and headed briefly back to our cabin, from which we had this lovely view of Willemstad. The bridge you can see is the one we crossed in the video above. I couldn’t wait to get out to explore on foot, so we headed out pretty much straightaway.
It’s a pleasant walk from the quayside to the town centre, and it only takes about 10 minutes.
Here’s the view of Britannia!
And a video…
I don’t think I realised how many different kinds of palm trees there are until I visited the Caribbean. I liked these ones.
This floating bridge, connecting the two halves of Willemstad, can be cleverly retracted whenever a boat or ship needs to come through.
There’s another view of the Queen Juliana bridge, with more colourful buildings.
The story goes that the reason why the buildings in Willemstad are so colourful is that there was some governor in days gone by who alleged that the previously stark white buildings gave him a headache by gleaming in the sun all the time. So he ordered all the buildings in the city to be repainted in lots of different colours. It was only after he died that it emerged that he had had shares in the island’s only paint factory…! But whatever the reason for the colours, I think they’re delightful and really add to the charm of the place.
All those colourful buildings were an Instagram-lover’s paradise! You can’t quite make it out in the picture, but that’s Britannia at the end of this little alleyway. So I guess when she’s not there you’d be able to see the sea.
I love all the peeling paint. We saw it everywhere in the Caribbean and I think it adds rustic charm.
When we were back on the ship, we enjoyed a lovely view of colourful Curaçao over an aperitif in the Crow’s Nest bar.
We stayed in port a bit later for Curaçao, so we also had this view of floodlit Willemstad from our balcony.
Our next stop would be another Dutch island, Aruba, which will be the subject of my next Caribbean post.