Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Curaçao Cruise Port: Attractions, Beaches, Weather

Handelskade Willemstad
Handelskade waterfront; © Curaçao Tourism Board

The Curaçao cruise port of Willemstad offers something special in the way of shopping and dining—the colorful harborfront strip of Handelskade.

This UNESCO World Heritage Site in the southern Caribbean is a favorite subject for photographers both in the daytime and at night when the street is brightly lit. It also fronts Punda, the city of Willemstad’s main commercial district.

Besides shopping, cruise visitors will find many nearby beaches, most of which are accessible via taxi. Other attractions include the Hato Caves, Curaçao Sea Aquarium and Curaçao’s well-known diving and snorkeling spots.

Quick Travel Tips

  • Handelskade is famous for its picturesque waterfront, shopping and dining.
  • The harbor duty-free zone is the largest in the Caribbean.
  • Most of the 17 beaches are along the same coastline as Willemstad

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Walking Around Attractions

Colorful Willemstad is the dominant attraction at Curaçao’s cruise port. It has interesting historical places, monuments and architecture. For good reason, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The waterfront is the focal point of the visit. It includes more than 750 historical buildings, a swinging pontoon bridge and Fort Amsterdam, which the Dutch built after they captured the island from Spain in 1634.

A photographic canal and inner harbor divide Willemstad into the Otrobanda district and the Punda district. Cruise ships dock at Otrobanda, and cruise visitors can easily walk into the tourist areas including Punda.

Otrobanda has Rif Fort, a fortress built in 1828 to protect the city. It is now Riffort Village with shops and restaurants. More shops and restaurants are available at nearby Renaissance Mall.

Visitors cross over Queen Emma Bridge, also known as the Swinging Old Lady, to reach Handelskade and the Punda district. It is a pontoon bridge that swings open to let boats pass through the canal. It opens sideways rather than up and down, making it the only bridge of its kind in the world.

Visitors who cross the bridge into the Punda district will find Fort Amsterdam, the majority of colorful buildings and much more shopping and restaurants.

On a good weather day, visitors enjoy sitting along the canal in open-air restaurants.

Shore Excursions

Willemstad Curacao shopping
Willemstad floating market; © Curaçao Tourism Board

Anyone who wants to tour the city with the help of an informative guide can do so for about $30 per person with discounts for children. Although a guide can offer some useful historical information, we enjoyed touring the area on our own.

Curaçao Sea Aquarium is three and a half miles south of the cruise terminal on the oceanfront at Bapor Kibra. Visitors can snorkel or dive with stingrays, turtles, fish and sharks among the 400 species at the facility. Admission is $20 per person, although swimming with sea creatures will cost extra. Cruise visitors should plan on taking a taxi to get there.

Visitors can also interact in the water with dolphins at the Dolphin Academy in Willemstad. Visitors experience dolphins in six different programs. Prices start at about $100 per person with discounts for children.

The Hato cave covers 4,900 square meters and has limestone formations, pools, waterfalls and a Madonna statue. It is included by some cruise lines and tour operators as part of an excursion that includes a beach visit. The cost is about $65 per person with discounts for children. The cave is eight miles or 20 minutes from Willemstad.

Beaches Near the Cruise Port

Outside of Handelskade and Willemstad, the island has its fair share of beaches. But most of them aren’t within walking distance of the cruise terminal. Instead, plan to get to them by taxi or excursion bus.

One common shore excursion goes to Mambo Beach and includes some stops along the way to view highlights of the island. The cost is about $60 per person for a four-hour trip including two hours at the beach.

Another example is Cabana Beach, a cruise line excursion favorite about four miles southeast of the terminal. It’s right next to the Curaçao Sea Aquarium for anyone who wants to combine both activities in one visit.  The cost again is about $60 including transportation, chair, umbrella and usually one beverage, depending on who is offering the excursion.

More adventurous visitors might try Curaçao’s longest and whitest beach on Klein Curaçao, an uninhabited island eight miles off the southeast coast.

Kenepa is one of the most popular beaches because of its two coves.

A popular choice for families is Porto Marie, which is about 18 miles or 30 kilometers from the cruise port. It’s available as a four-hour excursion from some tour operators.

Many of the beaches have excellent snorkeling opportunities, especially along the Curaçao Underwater Marine Park, which lies 12 miles along the southern coast. Views include shipwrecks, expanses of hard and soft coral, and massive numbers of fish.


Curaçao waterfront
Shopping is popular along the Curaçao waterfront. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

The harbor duty free zone is a fenced area of 57 acres and the largest in the Caribbean. It is patronized by retailers from throughout the region, who come to stock up on goods from all over the world.

It’s a distribution center for clothing textile, shoes, perfumes, pharmaceutical products, and many other wholesale or retail sale goods with attractive duty free prices.

Most of the companies in the zone distribute products from the United States, Europe, and Asia to the Caribbean and Latin America. There is also tax-free shopping at the free zone.

Goods purchased in the zone must be shipped directly to your home or transferred to your ship or flight. You can pick them up when you arrive home.

The city’s commercial center, Punda, has numerous shops offering everything from clothing to jewelry and souvenirs. Many little shops sell electronics, souvenirs and cheaper clothing.

Opening hours may vary, but most shops are open from Monday till Saturday from 8.30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. All shops and banks are closed on official holidays.

Many shops in the center of Willemstad are open on Sundays if a big cruise ship has docked at the harbor.

Most shops accept U.S. dollars and international credit cards. In some shops visitors can also pay with regular bank cards.

Prices are fixed and most of the time it’s not possible to return or change purchased goods.

Renaissance Mall and Rif Fort has 50 stores with world and local brands. Goods include fashion, accessories, fragrances, jewelry and souvenirs. The mall also has 15 restaurants and bars.

It is downtown in the Renaissance Curaçao Resort next to the pontoon bridge in Otrobanda. Free parking is on site.

Getting Around

The island has two kinds of public transportation—large yellow or blue buses, which are called Konvooi and go for a longer distance. On most urban routes there are collective cars or vans, similar to taxis. They have BUS on their registration plates.

The major bus terminals are outside the postal office at the Waaigat in Punda and next to the underpass in Otrobanda.

The large buses cover 12 routes departing from the Punda terminal and nine routes departing from Otrobanda. The routes reach most areas of the island.

Most city buses go once every hour. Every two hours a bus goes westward, less frequent on Sundays. They are the least expensive way for cruise visitors to get around the island.

Nearly a dozen car rental agencies are available on the island. Most are concentrated at the airport, but Budget has four locations in resorts near Willemstad. Most agencies offer pick up and drop off at the cruise port.

Cruise Port Weather

Curaçao average monthly rainfall
© 2021 Scott S. Bateman

Curaçao cruise port weather is much like the weather of nearby Aruba: dry and hot most of the year.

Rainfall averages about one inch a month from January through September and more than three inches a month from October through December. It reaches the lowest point of the year of less than one inch from March through June.

The average high temperature reaches about 90 degrees Fahrenheit in June and stays there until October. Winter high temperatures stay in the mid 80s Fahrenheit.

The best months to visit are March through June for a combination of warm temperatures and low risk of rain.

Other Tips

  • Taxi drivers are usually tipped with 10 percent of the fare.
  • Restaurants usually add 10 percent.
  • Dutch is the official language, but English and Spanish are widely spoken.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
January 05, 2024

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