Curaçao might be a small island, but it is packed with sights and activities to keep you busy. Many visitors come for the beaches and the year-round sunshine, but the island has a lot more to offer. If you want to include some culture in your trip, you have to visit the historic Pietermaai District―here is why.
The Pietermaai District is a neighborhood within Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao. Named after Mayor Pieter de Meij, Pietermaai was established in the late 1700s. As the main areas of Willemstad became overcrowded, people started to relocate to nearby areas. It wasn’t until 1850, when the city walls were torn down, that Pietermaai started to flourish. Pietermaai then quickly became a lively neighborhood, bulging with residential houses, shops, and small businesses. At the time, it was the place that everybody wanted to be. Entrepreneurs, artists, musicians―many people flocked to Pietermaai to work or to settle down.
But that wouldn’t last. In 1915, Royal Dutch Shell established the Isla refinery on the island. Shell would become the biggest employer in Curaçao with a capacity workforce of about 10,000 people during the 1950s and 1960s. The company started building houses for its employees in different parts of the island. This, in combination with the introduction of the first cars on our roads, led to people moving away, local businesses relocating, and the livelihood of the Pietermaai District slowly diminishing. Gradually the once popular neighborhood became an eyesore, inhabited by the homeless and dominated by criminals, prostitutes, and drug users.
Today, the Pietermaai District is once again the safe and popular neighborhood it once was. But that didn’t happen overnight. It took many years and multiple entrepreneurs with big dreams and high hopes to turn Pietermaai into what it is today. Over the last two decades, Pietermaai transformed from an abandoned and vacant neighborhood to a cultural and architectural gem. Rundown buildings were renovated and restored without losing their authentic characteristics. Boutique hotels opened their doors, restaurants, and bars started buzzing with residents and tourists, and even local businesses found their way back to the Pietermaai District. Throughout the day there is lots of activity and everything you could need is within walking distance. The result is an amazing blend of traditional architecture with a fresh feel. Plus, the vibrant character of the old days is back!
Visiting the Pietermaai District during your Curaçao vacation is one thing, but staying here is a whole other experience! When staying in Pietermaai, you have the chance to be a guest in an authentic Curaçao experience. Step inside buildings rich in history, taste our local cuisine, stand in the place where people have walked for centuries, and enjoy the ocean views that so many generations before us have enjoyed. In Pietermaai, you will see, feel, hear, smell, and taste the real Curaçao... you will love it.
Today, the Pietermaai District is filled with important and notable historical landmarks and cultural attractions that all add to Curaçao’s heritage and pride. The renovated buildings located at Pietermaai 96-104 are some of the most photographed on the island, but they were not always as colorful, inviting, and perfectly maintained.
The five colonial-style buildings, painted in tropical pastels, that now house Scuba Lodge, date back to 1848. Over the years, they went through phases of being residential homes, commercial properties, and even a brothel before first becoming a hotel. Scuba Lodge has a colorful past, and if these walls could talk, they'd have plenty of stories to tell…
When the neighborhood “lost its charm”, the buildings became a spot where drug addicts and homeless people found shelter. Without upkeep, the buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair and started to lose their glory. It was going to take someone with a vision, and budget, to renovate the buildings and make them habitable again.
In 1992, the local Dap family opened the hotel Buona Sera Inn at Pietermaai 104. One of the Dap siblings owned the building but did not have any use for it after he moved to The Netherlands. He asked his siblings to sell the building for him; instead, his seven siblings bought the estate to restore the building and open a hotel.
In 2008, Buona Sera Inn changed ownership and names―Scuba Lodge was born. The hotel underwent further renovations and expanded to neighboring buildings. Scuba Lodge is more than a boutique hotel, though it’s a spectacular one at that. The hotel is a piece of Curaçao’s history; a place where heritage and hospitality go hand in hand.