Exploring the Historic Rif Fort
The entrance, an arching gate of coral stone ushers you from the streets of Willemstad into a shaded, relaxing, modern market merged with close to 200 years of military history.
In 1829, under the direction of King William I, the Rif Fort (translated - Reef Fort) was completed, to provide increased protection against pirates and enemies. Built on the Otrobanda side of St. Anna Bay, the Rif Fort was armed with 56 cannons protecting the entrance to St. Anna Bay and Willemstad. The Fort is made of 1.5 meter (five feet) thick walls of coral stone, reaching four stories high. At the time of its construction, it was considered bombproof.
In 1942, the Fort was armed with two 37 mm machine guns as part of the security for the Shell Oil Refinery during World War Two.
Having long lost its military purpose, the Rif Fort has housed government offices, a police station and is now a unique sightseeing, shopping and dining destination.
Whether arriving by cruise ship, or vacationing on Curaçao, the Rif Fort is an ideal location to begin a visit to historic Willemstad. When arriving by cruise ship, you will walk from the Mega Pier, through part of the Renaissance Mall, and into the Rif Fort on your way to explore the shops of Willemstad.
For those with rental cars, the adjacent Renaissance Mall offers complimentary parking. (Read our post on “Willemstad Parking” for further details).
As you pass through the coral arch, the shaded courtyard opens before you with 28 colorful restaurants, bars, and stores. Rustling palm trees shade benches and tables, providing a relaxed setting with live entertainment offered nightly, Thursday through Sunday.
Dining at the Rif Fort includes flavorful settings such as: the Royal Dutch Cheesery with outdoor seating, or a cool indoor room of arched coral stone; the Steak and Ribs Grill, offering spectacular sunset views; Douwe Egbert’s Coffee Bar, presenting perfectly brewed coffee; or Don’s Ice Cream Shop, offering 21 flavors of cool temptation; to name a few.
Shopping includes: various souvenir shops, boutique art and jewelry galleries, and local specialty shops such as CurAloe and Delft Blue Curaçao.
Most people walk the length of the Rif Fort, visit several shops, go through the arch at the far end and walk towards the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, without exploring the fort. We encourage you to take the elevator or stairs to the second, third and fourth levels to explore where cannons once guarded the entrance to the Bay and to take pictures across St. Anna Bay towards historic Fort Amsterdam and the historic Willemstad waterfront.
And just a note…public washrooms are available on the main level of the Fort (beside Sopranos Bar), but the cleanest and least used, are on the fourth floor beside Anchor’s Restaurant and Bar.
Enjoy your visit to historic Rif Fort and its many alluring qualities.