Curaçao can be a busy destination. In non-covid times, it is a popular cruise port that can get extremely crowded. Especially the areas of Punda and Otrobanda in the city center are tourist hotspots. Although you can’t leave Curacao without wandering through the streets and alleys of Punda and Otrobanda, we want to also point out the best places to get away from the crowds and enjoy your warm afternoons or relaxed mornings in peace.
If you are spending time in Willemstad, you need to make sure that you don’t miss out on the Pietermaai district.
The streets of this unique neighborhood are filled with the most colorful buildings that house some of the city’s best restaurants, coffee bars, art galleries, and pop-up stores of the Caribbean. Despite the abandoned state that some of the buildings are still in, the Pietermaai district underwent a great transformation in the past years evolving from a tough neighborhood into the laid-back, hip, and up-and-coming hotspot that it is now.
The Pietermaai district is a unique neighborhood that was founded after Willemstad grew beyond its city walls back in the late 17th century. The entire district is built with materials available at the time: mostly coral. These coral houses have been restored and painted in a candy store-like colors. Many of the houses found new destinations like hotels, apartments, restaurants, or art galleries, but plenty remain abandoned. Torn apart by the rough ocean and salty sea winds, these houses are in desperate need of repair but still breathe the grandeur of old times. It is precisely this mix of beauty and roughness that’s unique to Pietermaai and that makes it a must-see on your list. UNESCO explicitly mentions the district as it explains why Willemstad is inscribed in its World Heritage list.
We recommend spending at least half a day (two meals) in the area. Stroll over from Punda around noon and secure yourself an oceanside table for lunch at bijBlauw or NulTwintig or treat yourself to a fancy cocktail at the Saint Tropez Ocean Club. There’s no way of telling from the street, but most of the restaurants and bars on Penstraat have amazing backside terraces at the oceanside, wrapped in shade from the surrounding buildings, they are the perfect escape from the hot streets. Although you won’t find big tourist groups in the area, making your reservations is a good idea here.
How to get to Pietermaai
In about 15-20 minutes by foot from Punda, you’ll reach Pietermaai. Just keep walking east from the famous Queen Emma Bridge (Pontjesbrug), parallel to the coastline. It takes a while before you enter the Pietermaai district, although the sign would like to make you believe otherwise.
The area isn’t directly connected to Punda because of the hostile history of the Caribbean. Back in the late 17th century, when Pietermaai was founded, it couldn’t be directly connected to the Willemstad as the buildings would be in arms way of the canons of Fort Amsterdam. To avoid collateral damage, if the canons needed to be deployed, the area between the fort and the new district of Pietermaai remained empty land.
This is also why, still to this day, the first part of your walk from Punda to Pietermaai isn’t as exciting or inviting as you would think. The buildings you can find in this former no man’s land are more modern and might make you wonder what that charm is that we’re talking about here. You will probably stumble upon the major, Instagram-worthy, Curaçao, and Dushi signs and pass by a major abandoned movie theatre. When you see the ‘Welcome to Pietermaai’ district sign, just keep walking straight on.
The Curaçao sun can be pretty intense so if you prefer not to walk, you can also take a taxi. We recommend jumping in one of the taxis parked at the Punda side of the Queen Emma Bridge. This way you will have the unique experience of walking over the pontoon bridge, and you’ll save yourself an expensive detour if the taxi needs to drive around the bay to cross the water. A taxi will cost you around 10 USD.
What to do in Pietermaai
Pietermaai offers lots of things to do and experience. This is our overview of best things to do away from the crowds.
Eat & Drink
Pietermaai is full of fancy restaurants with exciting menus. We enjoyed dinner at bijBlauw and Fish & Joy Bistro & Wine Bar. Other restaurants include Saint Tropez Ocean Club, Ginger, and Restaurant Nultwintig. As stated before, we highly recommend making reservations through the websites of these restaurants.
You can find art and souvenir shops throughout Willemstad. On your walk from Punda to Pietermaai, you will pass by small artists selling their art directly in their shops. A more serious art gallery can be found in one of the most beautiful buildings of Pietermaai.
Situated in a sea blue historic building that has been fully restored, you can find the Zanolino Art Gallery & Atelier. Here you can find art created by a highly skilled local artist that has creativity running through his veins. At the gallery, you can find works from mixed techniques by Giovanni as well as more classic pieces created by his father. You can find more information on Linktr.ee as well as some links to NFTs, the modern way of owning art.
You can also find art in some of the boutique hotels and restaurants.
Pietermaai also offers direct access to the beach. You can enjoy the warm sea at the Saint Tropez Ocean Club or spend a day at the Avila Beach Hotel. The hotel’s beach is open for non-guests who can buy a day pass. The beach is fully serviced meaning you can enjoy a drink with your feet in the sand. You can even rent a towel if you don’t want to bring your own and lay on one of the plenty beach beds. If you want to have a place in the shade, we recommend arriving early. Shaded spots are prime real estate with many tourists marking them as their territory with towels or bags. Unlike many luxury hotels, the Avila has no policy to avoid such behavior.