Willemstad, the capital of Curacao, is a colorful city full of surprises with plenty to do. During one of my visits to Willemstad, I did an audio tour of Otrobanda. An interesting walk, during which I learned a lot about the history, saw a totally different Willemstad compared to the popular Pietermaai and marveled at beautiful street art. The extraordinary murals alone are worth this walk. Read all about this tour through Otrobanda, a neighborhood still clearly in development, and get carried away by the cozy Willemstad.
Otrobanda Willemstad: a bit of history
Otrobanda means “the other side”. In fact, this neighborhood, as seen from Punda, is located across the St. Anna Bay. Together, these two neighborhoods form the historic center of Willemstad.
Since 1886, Punda and Otrobanda have been connected by the Queen Emma Bridge (the famous pontoon bridge). During my entire vacation in Curacao, it was closed (or open, depending on how you look at it) due to a technical malfunction. So I don’t have a picture of it, but since the pontoon bridge is such a familiar sight of Willemstad, you probably know what I’m talking about.
In 1974, another bridge connected Punda and Otrobanda: the Queen Juliana Bridge. That’s that huge high bridge you have to cross by car to go from the east of Willemstad to the west. Terrifying if you’re afraid of heights I can tell you, especially if you’re driving it for the first time and hadn’t realized how enormous high this bridge actually is. By the way, during the street art tour, you have a great view of this bridge.
From poor working-class neighborhood to cultural center of Willemstad
The Otrobanda neighborhood was built up from the year 1707, because there was no more space on the other side at Punda. In the 18th and 19th centuries many black workers settled there, and later in the 20th century Otrobanda was a poor working-class neighborhood. Which at the time was too dangerous to visit as a tourist.
In the 1990s, the neighborhood was refurbished during a major urban renewal project in which Holland played a major role. For example, a hundred refurbished authentic working-class houses have been transformed into a luxury hotel. Where you will also find the Kura Hulanda museum. An absolute must-see during your vacation in Curacao.
Since 1997, the districts of Otrobanda and Punda have been on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Around the year 2010, street art became popular in Willemstad. In Otrobanda, more and more murals turned the streetscape into a spectacle. New murals are added every year during the Kaya Kaya Festival. An organization focused not only on street art, but more importantly on further developing Otrobanda and making it safer. Follow the organization on Instagram for the latest news about the street festival.
Things to do in Willemstad: History and street art audio tour in Otrobanda
There are several ways to explore the Otrobanda neighborhood. You can go out on your own, there are group walks in Willemstad or you can take an audio tour. The latter was recommended to me in the apartment in Curacao where I was staying. Through Pocket Guide, they offer audio tours in several cities, including Willemstad. Together with Yvonne, the owner of the apartment, I did this audio tour of Otrobanda.
A good choice, strolling at my leisure through the beautiful old streets. With my headphones in, I listen all about the history of this side of Willemstad, and see the most beautiful street art passing by.
The district is clearly still developing. Dilapidated buildings are interchanged with beautifully colored houses. In recent years, more and more of the dilapidated properties have been refurbished, and this process continues. Murals have been painted on some properties to make it look better until these houses are actually refurbished. Something that makes the neighborhood even more colorful.
During the audio tour, you will learn all about the typical Curacao architectural styles and lifestyles in this old neighborhood. About the history of the Caribbean island, the restored buildings in the narrow alleys and about the typical kuras (courtyards).
I really enjoyed the tour, incredibly interesting. Not only street art, but architecture, art and culture come together. A beautiful neighborhood in development, where you can discover historical Curacao.
Practical information about the audio tour
You follow the audio tour route via an app on your phone. The tour is about 2.4 kilometers long has 22 stops and lasts about 70 minutes. At the end you arrive at the must-see museum Kura Hulanda, where you need also about an hour to see everything. Opposite the museum you will find Rustiq, a restaurant where you can sit back and relax with a refreshing drink.
To download the audio tour go to the Pocket Guide website. This tour costs 7.99 euros. Download the app, on which the tour can be seen immediately after purchase. The app also lets you see the route and read all the information about what you will encounter along the way.
The audio tour is available in English.
I thought it was a great walk, in which I learned a lot about the history of Willemstad, and enjoyed the beautiful typical houses, colors and murals.
Discover the Otrobanda district: a must-see in Willemstad