In Curacao They Call Her Queen Emma, But She’s Really a Swinging Old Lady

A steady stream of pedestrians crossing the Queen Emma Bridge in Willemstad, capital of the tiny Caribbean island of Curaçao, seemed unfazed by the shrill bell signaling that the floating pontoon bridge was about to open.

“Why aren’t they hurrying?” I asked my tour guide, Howard.

“The orange flag hoisted over the harbor master’s shack means the bridge will open soon…perhaps 20 minutes from now. But when the blue flag goes up – then you will see people running!” he explained.

Walking across the Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge

Unhurriedly, we strolled across the bridge from the newer neighborhood of Otrabanda to Punda, the oldest district of the city. Returning, we stepped back onto solid concrete just as the blue flag was hoisted and two powerful ship motors winched the bridge toward shore, allowing an enormous cruise ship to sail into to Schottegat Bay, the seventh busiest harbor in the world.

A cruise ship awaits the bridge opening



When fully open, the bridge parallels the shore on the Otrabanda side of Santa Anna Bay

Affectionately nicknamed the “Swinging Old Lady,” Queen Emma Bridge is one of the oldest and longest non-military pontoon bridges in the world. Its unique design was a necessity; by the time a bridge was contemplated, buildings covered every inch of shoreline on the Punda side of the channel and a traditional bridge would have required destruction of many structures. When the original 20-foot wide steam-powered pontoon bridge was completed in 1888, tolls were charged: two cents for pedestrians wearing shoes, ten cents for horses and, later, 25 cents for each car, but so many pedestrians removed their shoes and crossed barefoot that the toll was finally eliminated.

Looking down on St. Anna Bay from Fort Nassau; Queen Juliana Bridge soars in the foreground, while the “Swinging Old Lady” is closing behind the cruise ship

In 1938, in order to accommodate increased shipping, the original bridge was replaced by a wider span, but increased harbor traffic resulted in long waits for cars wishing to cross. To remedy congestion, construction was begun on the Queen Juliana Bridge, which would ultimately soar 185 feet above the sea level, earning it the designation of highest bridge in the Caribbean and one of the highest in the world. When the Queen Juliana Bridge officially opened in 1974, Queen Emma was forever closed to vehicular traffic.

Tourists watch the Queen Emma Bridge open for ocean-going vessels

Today the “Swinging Old Lady” is one of Curaçao’s most prominent historical landmarks and a favorite with tourists who sip tropical drinks at waterfront sidewalk cafes and watch the bridge open and close to accommodate ocean-going cruise ships, cargo containers, and tankers.

Disclosure: Author Barbara Weibel visited Curaçao as part of a press trip, provided by the fabulous Marriott Resort and Emerald Casino, which is ideally located within walking distance of Willemstad.

21 thoughts on “In Curacao They Call Her Queen Emma, But She’s Really a Swinging Old Lady”

  1. I love old bridges as they hearken back to another time. My daughter could not believe how long
    Queen Emma floating pontoon bridge is, this surely was a highlight of her Curacao visit.

  2. Will be visiting Curacao for a day as a stop on a cruise. Someone has suggested to me to be ON the bridge when it opens, essentially to “ride” it. I can’t really tell from the videos I’ve watched…is it even possible to do that??? Thanks!

    • Hi Allison: It’s been a few years since I was there, but at that time, no one was allowed on the bridge when it swung open.

    • Hi Shirley:There is no schedule. The bridge is opened whenever there is ship traffic waiting to get to the inner harbour. You’ll know when it is about to open because they start blowing a horn about 15 minutes before hand.

  3. Who would have thought that the seventh busiest harbor in the world is in Curacao! Or that the “old swinging Lady” is one of the oldest and longest. I love the vibrant colours of the houses!

  4. What a wonderful sounding bridge. I love the idea of shoe wearers attracting tolls but bare footers not. Sometimes you wonder who thinks of these guidelines and what makes them occur like that.

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  6. We also have a swing bridge in Bristol that lets ships in and out of the harbour, but not as big as this one although there is a pub nearby where you can sit outside with a drink & watch the comings & goings. There’s something about being beside the water that’s rather relaxing.

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    • Hi Sherry: It took less than five minutes to close – really pretty amazing considering its length and weight. And when it’s open, a passenger ferry continually carries passengers across the harbor.

    • Happy New Year Ruth! I totally agree with you about flying these days, but if you can bring yourself to do it, Curacao is a wonderful destination. Every person I met was gracious and welcoming and seemed truly happy that I had chosen to visit their island, unlike other Caribbean destinations I have visited. And the Marriott Curacao Resort was a perfect place to stay. Had it’s own gorgeous beach, great restaurants, a staff that bends over backwards to make sure your every need is met, and as a bonus, it’s within walking distance of Willemstad.


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