When entering Pietermaai Boutique Hotel in the trendy Pietermaai District of Curaçao’s 17th century capital city Willemstad, you may notice an image of a building in ruins. It might take a second to connect the dots and appreciate that the photo is in fact the chic Dutch-colonial style building you’re standing in—a mere 10-minutes by foot to the legendary Handelskade, the globally-recognized rainbow-hued stretch of structures along Sint Anna Bay. Even if you’ve studied photos of Willemstad, a prized UNESCO World Heritage site, the stimulating colors will enchant—a spell the vividly restored hotel, a nearly 400-year-old structure, helps fuel.
The hotel sits comfortably ensconced in the bustling network of old narrow streets, surrounded by buzzy bars and nightlife, iconic sights, and, of course, the turquoise-blue beaches. And though it provides an inviting refuge with its 35 unique suites, two pools, and a pair of lavish oceanfront penthouses, you’ll find it to be a strategic launchpad from which to engage the sights and sounds of Willemstad and beyond.
There are plenty of options for those who prefer guided tours through the Curaçao Tourism Office, but the historic footprint is charmingly compact and safe, ideal for self-exploration. At the front desk I received a map and some helpful tips before heading west toward the harbor, passing Van Gogh Specialty Coffees, a staff favorite.
Naturally, you’ll want to pause at Queen Wilhelmina Park for an Instagram pic in front of the famed letters spelling out Curaçao and Dushi, a wide-ranging rich descriptive in the local Creole language Papiamentu which conveys all-things-positive, a full-throated endearing compliment. Dewi, a representative from the tourism office, laughingly compared Papiamentu to a cocktail, with the notable difference that it won’t get you drunk. A robust mashup of languages, it weaves together Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, and African dialects among others, pointing to the island’s rich diverse cultural landscape.
The intricate network of Punda, the oldest of Willemstad’s four districts, is peppered with personality-rich shops splashed with color. A small footprint, the area is conducive to strolling. It’s also easy to lose track of time in its delightful web of streets. Linger and learn about Curaçao’s signature shapely female sculptures ubiquitously sprinkled about the island called Chichi (“Big Sister” in Papiamentu) and Mama at Serena Janet Israel’s Chichi Punda Shop tucked in the Art Alley of Windstraat. Don’t miss the oldest synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, circa 1732, and Fort Amsterdam, the old headquarters of the Dutch West India Company, strategically positioned where ocean and harbor meet.
Slow down to take in the stunning scenes while crossing the iconic pedestrian-only Queen Emma Floating Bridge, afloat on 16 pontoons. Pro-tip: On the other side in Otrobanda at the Restaurant & Café Gouveneur de Rouville, ask to be seated on the balcony so you can enjoy excellent views of Handelskade across the bay to match the excellent cuisine. Exploring the Otrobanda district, a culturally rich area with evocative street art, only deepened my appreciation for the way islanders use art as a powerful storytelling tool.
Showcasing a well-rounded personality, Curaçao skillfully weaves rich historic sights with supreme beach vibes, a country renowned for its translucent cerulean waters, so like the color of the island’s signature liqueur Blue Curaçao. Drive north to meet Andy of Bearded Butlers at Playa Kalki, heralded for its beaches, excellent diving, and snorkeling, to hop on a Seabob and enjoy sealife. The beach bum’s paradise of Mambo Beach on the other hand, is just a 5-minute drive from the hotel; and for a quick casual ocean-fix just steps away, beach bar Los Caballeros offers a vibrant setting where I was able to sit, toes-in-the-sand, and nurse a mojito as the sun set.
Even better is getting out on the water with Irie Tours to witness day turn to night. The 2.5-hour sunset tour was one big dance party—with no one dancing harder into the night than Captain Armon. Dancing really stirs up the appetite and after we headed to the waterfront restaurant Tabooshh! with a menu representing old family recipes where I tucked into spicy coconut shrimp. Owner Martin den Dulk explained his restaurant name channels a childhood experience, in which his grandmother shooed the grandkids out of the kitchen except for him, whom she permitted so long as he’d keep it quiet—shhh! We later learned a fun-fact about Martin: he’s responsible for the design of Curaçao’s national flag.
Many cultural points of interest lie inland, such as the farm-and-table fusion Hofi Cas Cora with its excellent restaurant, The Eatery. Brunch fare included pumpkin waffles, which our table had to try. My fresh goat cheese salad and juicy beef wrap with papaya and cilantro were exceptional. Afterwards, we walked around the farm, where peacocks paraded freely—feathers on full display—and a worker rescued a struggling newborn pig needing care.
We learned the Curaçaoan secret to baking bread from our affable guide Mishi at Kas di Pal’i Maishi, a museum with exhibits and workshops aimed at showcasing past rural Afro-Curaçaoan life. The key to making great bread, she divulged, is singing. Rocking back and forth she chanted, “One for Peter, one for John,” as she rhythmically kneaded the dough. Of course, she made it look easy, but I can’t say that our bread turned out just as well. The singing continued at Den Paradera Herb Garden, a historic garden of natural healing, where our guide Shastri Moesker, son of founder Dinah Veeris, directed his sweet lullaby to the sick plant in front of him, gently swinging in a hammock to aid healing, an old traditional practice.
After a presentation at the Aloe Vera Plantation—which included nibbling some fresh aloe—and hearing of the plant’s wide-ranging health benefits, you may find yourself at the checkout counter like we did, purchasing aloe skincare products to take home.
Within a stone’s throw of the hotel in the district dubbed the SoHo of Curaçao, the happy contagious night life along Nieuwestraat starts poppin’ around dusk. Live music streams from bars and people pour out of establishments like Mundo Bizarro, socializing with drinks on the sidewalks—an inviting party scene. Dinner at the gastrobar BKLYN promises more than great food: it’s an unforgettable culinary experience, brimming with Brooklyn-vibe as expressed in their “Spread love” ethos. To further tap into a different side of island life, move over to Mosa/Caña for late night drinks or to the new upscale craft cocktail bar Ochenta, just steps from Pietermaai Boutique Hotel—your home-away-from-home.
You’ll quickly appreciate that having a dushi time in Curaçao is easy. It’s leaving that’s hard.