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Willemstad, Curaçao

Caribbean: Colorful dutch houses in St. Anna's Bay on Willemstad, Curacao.'s insider take:

The charming, pastel-colored Dutch shophouses lining waterfront Handelskade are Willemstad's signature image, but the beauty of Curaçao's scenic capital goes well beyond those facades. A commercial crossroads for five centuries, the compact city is a working port with neighborhoods of well-preserved colonial buildings and a fascinating, multicultural history—an enviable mix that justifiably earned it recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997. After the Spanish gave up on arid Curaçao, the seafaring Dutch developed it into one of the world's finest deepwater ports. The oldest section of town, Punda, was founded in 1634 and lies east of St. Anna Bay, the channel connecting the Caribbean to the harbor. Behind seafront Fort Amsterdam, now the hub of government, a grid of narrow streets holds shops that cater mostly to cruise-ship passengers. Fleeing persecution in Europe, Sephardic Jews arrived in Curaçao in 1651 and established Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the oldest continuously operating Jewish congregation in the Western Hemisphere. A small museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 am to 4:30 pm; visitors are also welcome to attend Shabbat services on Friday evenings or Saturday mornings (29 Hanchi di Snoa; 599-9-461-1067; A few short blocks to the north, colorful Venezuelan boats tie up at the Floating Market along Sha Caprileskade to sell fresh fish and produce. Built in 1888, the floating Queen Emma Bridge is a unique design that swings open for ships entering or exiting the harbor; it links Punda to Otrabanda, a residential, gentrifying neighborhood of winding streets anchored by the Kura Hulanda hotel and museum complex. Willemstad is ideal for walking and wandering, and if the bridge has swung open, don't worry: A free ferry will take you across.

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