5 Unique Attractions For Curious Travelers in Curaçao

Unique attractions in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles
Willemstad, Curaçao
Curaçao nestles in the Netherlands Antilles of the Caribbean, surrounded by sandy coves and rich coral reefs. Its colorful capital is Willemstad, renowned for its pastel-colored colonial architecture. Meanwhile, the city also features the floating Queen Emma Bridge, as well as the 17th-century, sand-floored Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue. Naturally, Willemstad is a gateway to Curaçao’s idyllic beaches, including the popular diving site of Blue Bay. However, besides being a gorgeous Caribbean destination, the island features less usual and unique attractions for the curious traveler. Here are five.

1. Klein Curaçao

Klein Curaçao
LIghthouse on Klein Curaçao
Around a two-hour sail from Willemstad, curious travelers can discover an abandoned island. Named Klein Curaçao – or Little Curaçao – the island has been deserted for generations. For those who love exploring old abandoned ruins, this island has many, including the deserted lighthouse. While the lighthouse (pictured above) was originally a coral pink in color, it has faded since its construction in 1850. Despite this, the wooden stairs to the top of the lighthouse are still intact. Meanwhile, the rooms used to house the lighthouse keepers are also still intact.

Meanwhile, many of the other abandoned crumbling buildings also used to be residents’ homes. However, besides the buildings, the island hosts the 1960 shipwreck of the oil tanker Maria Bianca Guidesman. Meanwhile, washed up next door is the remains of a once 30-foot luxury boat, smashed on the sharp coral reefs.

Wreck of the Maria Bianca Guidesman`
Wreck of the Maria Bianca Guidesman
While many deserted islands are green, tropical paradises, Klein Curaçao is a stark place but does have a tropical beach on its northern side. For those who wish to explore, day trips on a catamaran are offered by Bounty Adventures.

2. Williwood sign

Williwood, Curaçao
Williwood sign
Sint Willibrordus was originally a quiet, little-known village, 12 miles from Willemstad. As the locals got tired of being overlooked by visitors, someone with a sense of humor cleverly rebranded the village “Williwood” by building a “Hollywood” sign on the hillside above.

The village’s previous only claim to fame was its grand 1880s church. However, since the sign was erected, the town has grown in popularity. In fact, Sint Willibrordus was officially renamed Williwood in 2011. Nowadays, visitors can purchase t-shirts, hats and other souvenirs bearing the name.

3. Abandoned Pietermaai Mansions, Willemstad, Curaçao

Pietermaai, Willemstad
Pietermaai, Willemstad
While Willemstad is known for its neat, colorful architecture, one neighborhood features the ruins of former colonial mansions. These mansions were built by the rich settlers of the Dutch West India Company who colonized the island in 1634. At that time, the Dutch found the island ideal for their slave trade with Africa.

Once the Dutch abolished slavery in 1863, the colony’s fortunes started to wane. In fact, by the end of the 20th century, the owners of the mansions had long since departed the island, leaving the buildings to fall into neglect.

However, during the last decade, the Pietermaai district has started to revive, with many of the mansions restored into boutique hotels. However, despite this, many still stand in a dilapidated state, side by side with the revived mansions. Meanwhile, the local artist community has begun to spruce up the mansions with giant colorful murals. In fact, some of those murals depict the horrific slave trade that once fueled the colony.

4. Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, Willemstad

Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, Willemstad
Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, Willemstad
The Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue is the oldest surviving synagogue and Jewish congregation in the region. What makes the synagogue an unusual site is that the floor is entirely covered in sand. It is believed the reason for the sand-covered floor could have been an attempt to avoid Jewish persecution.

The Jewish congregation was founded in 1651 and its original name translates to The Hope of Israel. However, the Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue was constructed between 1729 and 1732. Meanwhile, the synagogue has been in continuous use ever since.

Located in a quiet street in Willemstad’s Punda neighborhood, the building has an inconspicuous exterior. However, on entering the synagogue, towering chandeliers, rows of pews and a shining mahogany bemah can be seen. The most unusual fact about the building is that as people walk into the synagogue, their feet sink into the sand on the floor. While there, visitors can also visit the Jewish Cultural Historical Museum close by.

5. Cathedral of Thorns, Willemstad, Curaçao

Cathedral of Thorns
Cathedral of Thorns
The walls of this prickly labyrinth are a work of visual art, made completely of thorns. However, the Cathedral of Thorns also features a variety of sculptures, standing in indentations on its walls. First conceived in 2014 by Dutch artist Herman Van Bergen, the Cathedral of Thorns is a work in progress. The artist hires unemployed youth to help in its construction.  Meanwhile, The living labyrinth is crafted from sumpiñas, the thorns of Acacia tortuosa, a desert plant that flourishes in Curaçao.

Visitors can stroll through the labyrinth while experiencing what the artist dubs “a journey through a troublesome history toward a bright future.” Van Bergen says the troublesome history is represented by the “hostile yet beautiful thorns.”

Cathedral of Thorns, Willemstad
Cathedral of Thorns
Explore these unique locations on your next vacation in Curaçao, while enjoying all the usual aspects of the island.

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Anne Sewell

Freelance writer and travel writer who has lived in Malawi, Zimbabwe and South Africa, now living happily on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain.

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