On a day that could turn from sun to rain and back in the blink of an eye, our shore excursion from the Divina of MSC Cruises in Curacao included a walking tour of nearby Willemstad after a visit to Hato Caves. We had the free garbage bag-like rain ponchos from the ship this time, but they turned out to be more trouble than they were worth on this particular day. Once removed from the packet they don’t fold up that small again, and by the time we decided we might need them and put them on the rain pretty well stopped.
Our guide for the walking tour, a Curacao native of Dutch descent, held up a “lollipop” sign with the number 4 while waiting for passengers to disembark. At times along the journey she would hold this sign above her head to keep the group from getting lost in a crowd…or perhaps to discourage people from wandering off on their own or giving them a way back if they did.
First we saw what appeared to be a church, but it is now the judges chambers for the adjoining courthouse. It once housed a synagogue used when the Jewish population split into two factions, but they eventually rejoined.
Willemstad has numerous brightly colored buildings. The old buildings are made of coral and sea sand so paint does not stick well because of the salt. They constantly peel and need repainting often to stay looking nice.
We couldn’t miss the Holland America ship Massdam dominating the waterfront view, docked in St. Anna Bay near the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge. The much larger Divina we came on docked outside of the bay at a nearby cruise ship dock.
We passed the oldest Synagogue in continuous use in the Western Hemisphere, which is also a museum. Many Spanish and Portuguese Jews fled to Curacao in the mid 1600’s following the Spanish Inquisition.
Our tour took us by the floating market where vendors from Venezuela set up a row of stalls by their small boats and sell fresh fruits and vegetables to the people of Willemstad. Farming has historically never been profitable in Curacao’s arid soil. Their current water supply comes from desalinization, so the water is quite expensive. Rather than agriculture or even tourism, the island’s economy is based on oil.
We passed a number of street vendors around Willemstad, all seemed quite friendly and none aggressive like they are in some ports.
On your own in Curacao -The town of Willemstad is just a short walk from the cruise ship dock. Well for us it was. The smaller Holland America ship Maasdam docked right in the center of town.
On the way back to the ship we saw a guy with a sign for Island tours. For $15 the 2-hour tour covers all the island highlights.
Right off the ship we found a booth selling all sorts of local jewelry made out of everything from pearls to corals to a variety of shells. We did not see anything nicer in town, though one booth near the pontoon bridge did have a small selection of larimar necklaces.