Although Curacao boasts a good variety of shopping options for a small Caribbean island; from the Promenade and the Zuikertuin Malls to Salinja’s Shopping district and the soon to open mega Sambil Mall, my very favourite shopping spot remains the Handskade’s area, with its iconic Dutch colonial architecture as a picture ready waterfront. Indeed, supermodels have got nothing on Curacao’s fabulously photogenic Penha Building.
Located just across the street from the docking point on the Punda side of Willemstad for the famed Queen Emma floating bridge, the Penha is certainly the most photographed building on the island, if not the entire Caribbean altogether.
Once you set your eyes on her, it’s easy to see why.
A choice location anchoring the Handelskade, or waterfront district, helps for sure. The iconic building is simply impossible to miss during any exploration of downtown Willemstad. Literally, upon first glance, her roaring red rood, deep green window trim, and vibrant mustard yellow facade, artfully accented in white, will stop you in your tracks.
It doesn’t look real; more ornately over-sized fantasy doll-house than stately private home.
That’s exactly what the Penha used to be, though, when it was originally built in 1708. The widow of a long-ago Dutch governor was the first resident. Her son-in-law, the ruling governor at the time, lived in the Governor’s Palace right across the street, no doubt keeping things cozy and familial.
The first name in department store shopping all over the Dutch Caribbean with 22 stores spread across the region, Penha & Sons was founded in 1865. If a quality product had anything to do with style, beauty, and fashion, Penha most likely carried it. It’s a tradition the Penha’s still uphold today, representing such notable brands as Chanel, Dior, MAC, Victoria’s Secret, Bobbi Brown, and Estee Lauder.
Also enduring, of course, is the Penha Building itself; their flagship store back then just as it is today, a good 150 years later.