The center plaza in Rif Fort offers a family-owned cheese shop and this decorative cow, which doubles as a bench. // © 2014 Jessica Skropanic
Feature image (above): Built in 1828 to defend Willemstad and the entrance of St. Anna Bay, Rif Fort is now home to shops, restaurants, pubs and a casino. // © 2014 Jessica Skropanic
If you have visited Curacao, you likely experienced the island’s hospitality and the colorful buildings in Willemstad’s historic district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And if you visited recently, chances are you also experienced one of the island’s newest “old” attractions — Rif Fort and Renaissance Mall.
Built in 1828 to defend Willemstad’s 18th century Otrobanda district, the fort now guards posh shops, pubs and restaurants. The pace is slow and the location beautiful.
“I worked in a hotel in Curacao in the ‘80s, when the fort and the Otrobanda area weren’t the best places to visit,” says Rob Clabbers, president of Cruise Holidays Chicago. “When I was in Curacao again about a year ago, I saw how the island has done a great job in redeveloping the fort and its surrounding areas.”
Additions are as recent as January 2014, when the fort’s museum opened its doors. Travelers staying on the island as well as cruise passengers enjoying a day in port have discovered the fort and adjacent mall.
“With the Mega Pier, which is next to Rif Fort, cruise passengers can now stroll into the fort and mall for some shopping and sightseeing,” Clabbers says.
Here are five ways to relax and play at Rif Fort and the Renaissance Mall in Willemstad, Curacao:
Chill at Don's Ice Cream Shop
Don’s Ice Cream Shop features a variety of flavors and types of ice cream (there’s even kosher ice cream) and beverages, including coffee. Eat your ice cream before it melts while you sit on the rainbow-colored cow — you’ll know it when you see it.
Dine or Do Dessert
The days of soldiers’ rations at Rif Fort are gone. Today, the fort houses 15 eateries. Favorties include Kasbanini Grill, Steak & Seafood and Curacao Burger Bar.
Learn the History
Rif Fort Museum traces the history of the fort’s construction, inhabitants and many uses that included serving as a brothel, police headquarters, a prison and a radiotelegraphy station. After the museum, visit the Otrobanda pontoon bridge next to the fort for views of the historic Willemstad across the water. Climb the fort’s stairs for a commodore’s eye-view.
Pass through the Pubs
Regardless if it’s a cold beer and a game on television, an evening aperitif or a glass of wine under the stars, the fort’s pubs are ready for you. Check out Anchor Waterfront Bar’ Rif Fort Bar and Terrace; or Sopranos Sports Bar Curacao. Try Caribe Ponche, a liqueur made with rum, vanilla, eggs, milk and spices. If you prefer a dry party or a taste of home, there’s also a Starbucks.
The fort and the Renaissance Mall just outside the fort’s gate house dozens of shops including European and American designers, artisan boutiques and jewelers. Big names include Furla, Montblanc and Tiffany.
Visit Mon Art Gift Shop for local art or Harbour View Art Gallery for crafts and shell jewelry. There are lots of local goods, including some of the edible variety. Dutch family Reypenaer uses a century-old ripening house to produce cheeses sold at The Royal Dutch Cheesery. Ask staff for beverage and food pairings to bring out a particular cheese’s best flavors.
Visit a Casino
Day visitors and hotel guests at Renaissance Curacao Resort and Casino, located at the end of the mall, are welcome indoors at the resort’s Vegas-style Carnaval Casino. The casino houses 25 gaming tables and 400 slot machines. Registered hotel guests can also enjoy the resort’s private beach, Infinity Beach Club, fitness center and jogging trail.