If you’re looking for a safe Caribbean destination with breathtaking beaches and a sunny clime, no doubt the islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are all worthy contenders. This delightful south Caribbean trio, lying off the north coast of Venezuela, is often referred to collectively as the “ABC” islands because of their close proximity and their shared Dutch colonial history. Each island offers welcoming warm weather (thank you trade winds), gorgeous beaches, and a friendly vibe. Each island also has its own unique personality, so read on to find out which one of the ABC idyllic escapes is best for your vacation needs.
Check out our guide to the safest islands in the Caribbean.
Getting to Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao
Lying just 15 miles off the coast of South America, Aruba is the closest island to Venezuela, Curacao is approximately 40 miles from Venezuela, and Bonaire is the farthest, at 50 miles away from the coast. American, Canadian, Caribbean and most EU and South American citizens will need a passport (but not a visa to visit) the islands as long as the stay is 30 days or less. If you decide to stay longer, you can apply for an extension of up to 180 days.
Aruba: Out of the trifecta, Aruba is the most developed and touristed island, which also makes it the easiest to get to thanks to an abundance of flights. Airlines like Jet Blue, Delta, and American Airlines fly frequently to Aruba and you can easily get non-stop flights from cities like New York, Toronto, Boston, and Chicago, as well as some European and South American destinations. If you fancy going on a cruise, Aruba is an incredibly popular port of call for cruise ships so you’ll have lots of options if you want to arrive by sea. To get around locally, you can take buses, taxies (which offer fixed pricing) and might even consider renting a car, though the bus service is reliable. You can pick from several daily, 30-minute flights if you want to add a couple days in Bonaire or Curacao to your itinerary.
Bonaire: Perhaps surprisingly, given that the destination is off most tourists’ radars, there are some direct flights several times a week to Bonaire with carriers like American Airlines, Delta and Air Canada from cities like Newark, Houston, Atlanta and Toronto. KLM offers some direct flights from Europe to Bonaire. At just over 100 square miles, the diminutive island is easy to get around by rental car or even by bike. Fixed rate taxis are also available.
Curacao: Being less touristed, there are fewer flights to Curacao than to Aruba, though you can still get some direct or one-stopover-only flights from carriers like Air Canada, KLM, and American Airlines from Miami, Toronto, Newark, Caracas and Amsterdam. In a testament to the destination’s growing popularity, United Airlines just started direct flights to the island in December of 2019. Local bus service is less reliable in Curacao, so if you want to explore the island, you should consider renting a car. While most of the island’s taxis are supposed to be metered or have set fares, there have been reports of unmetered taxis with unpredictable pricing.
Weather in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao
One of the most appealing features of all three ABC islands is that they lie outside of the hurricane belt, making them a reliable retreat any time of year with little risk of a tropical storm. The trio also shares the same sun-drenched, uniform weather with hot temperatures that range between 84 and 90 degrees throughout the year. Rainfall is equally as predictable with only intermittent rainfall reaching its highest average of about 3.5 inches in the months of November and December. This lack of rain gives the islands a dry, desert-like climate but steady, pleasantly cooling trade winds from the northeast (most noticeable on Aruba) help cut the heat.
Safety in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao
The ABC Islands are among the safest in the Caribbean. The U.S. Department of State has given them only a Level 1 warning (the lowest possible) to “exercise normal precautions” when visiting. Violent crime is almost unheard of on the islands and there are only minimal reports of petty crime and theft. Unlike many other popular sun-and-surf destinations, the standard of living tends to be quite good with less overall disparity between the have and have-nots, which helps keep crime against tourists at bay.
Hotels in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao
Aruba: Of the trio, Aruba offers the most variety when it comes to hotel choices. There are amenity-rich beachfront resorts, family-friendly properties, charming B&Bs, couples-only properties, and contemporary casino hotels like the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. Most accommodation is centered around the northeast side of the island. The most popular area to stay is known as the high-rise hotel district, located on beautiful Palm Beach — but it can get crowded. Aruba’s low-rise hotel district on Eagle Beach, about midway between Oranjestad and Palm Beach, still offers resorts and casinos but is less tourist heavy and has a slightly more intimate feeling. If you want to have easy access to shopping and a plethora of restaurants, stay in the capital city of Oranjestad.
Bonaire: The island does not have a highly developed tourism infrastructure (though that’s part of its allure) so your accommodation choices will be much more limited, with most located in the capital port city of Kralendijk. You’ll find small budget hotels, larger resorts, a couple of more upscale offerings and even a hotel with a casino (the Divi Flamingo Beach Resort and Casino). Many hotels cater to divers with dive shops and equipment rentals on site. On Bonaire, you won’t find any of the massive, amenity-laden resorts you would on the other two ABC islands, and all-inclusive resorts are rare.
Curacao: Though less touristed than Aruba, Curacao is the largest of the ABC islands and as such also features lots of accommodation options. There are some all-inclusive properties (though definitely not the selection you’ll find on Aruba), boutique and beach hotels, and even some casino hotels like the Sunscape Curacao Resort Spa & Casino. Many visitors elect to stay near the beachfront capital city of Willemstad to immerse themselves in the city’s captivating European-meets-the-Caribbean ambience. Those looking to focus on the best snorkeling or diving generally choose to stay on the west coast of Curacao. To get away from the main tourist area, go to the northwestern tip, which also has beaches and good diving options.
Activities in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao
Though they share the same weather, Dutch colonial history, and West Indies roots, the character of each ABC island is incredibly distinct, with each showcasing a different atmosphere and activities.
Aruba: Cosmopolitan Aruba is southern Caribbean’s biggest tourist mecca. If you’re looking for a vacation that is as much about activities, cuisine, and nightlife as it is about relaxing on breathtaking beaches, Aruba is for you. Thanks to its dominant trade winds, the island’s got bragging rights when it comes to water sports like windsurfing, parasailing, and kitesurfing. Shipwreck diving is another big draw, with the SS Antilla among the most coveted dives in the Caribbean. As to indoor activities, gambling is legal in Aruba so casinos are a popular pastime here. The food scene on Aruba is acclaimed, running the gamut from hole-in-the-wall street food, to high-end restaurants highlighting an inimitable mix of Dutch, South American and Caribbean fare.
Bonaire: Bonaire’s off-the-beaten-path feel attracts independent, adventure-oriented travelers who like to explore under-appreciated destinations. You won’t have access to the same culture, shopping, and nightlife as you would on the other two islands but what you will have is some of the most acclaimed scuba diving in the world. Surrounded on all sides by reef teeming with nearly 500 varieties of fish, Bonaire is often ranked as the Caribbean’s top spot for off-shore diving, as well as boat diving. The island is also ideal for snorkeling enthusiasts. A favorite spot for diving and snorkeling is the Bonaire National Marine Park, the Caribbean’s first official marine park. On the north tip of the island is the surprisingly large ecological reserve, Washington Slagbaai National Park, which is a top choice for hiking and biking.
Curacao: Do a deep-dive into Dutch colonial culture on Curacao. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the vibrant colonial buildings in the capital city of Willemstad are amazingly eye catching. Learn about the island’s slave history at Museum Kurá Hulanda and walk the length of floating pontoon Queen Emma Bridge. Though not as urbane as Aruba, Curacao nonetheless has lots to offer in terms of nightlife and shopping. Check out bustling Mambo Beach Boulevard in Willemstad, which is filled with shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Yes, that iconic blue liqueur does indeed come from Curacao, and you can learn about its auspicious beginnings at Landhuis Chobolobo distillery. Curacao also has a reputation for superb diving and snorkeling, second only to Bonaire.
Beaches in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao
Aruba: All three of the ABC islands have plenty to offer those searching for cerulean seas and sun-soaked beaches but overall, Aruba, with its awe-inspiring and expansive sandy shoreline, has the most inviting beaches. The island’s most beloved is Palm Beach just on the outskirts of Oranjestad. It’s renown for is soft, white sand, smooth waters and seemingly endless shoreline. Nearby is Palm Beach, which also hosts some of Aruba’s largest and most luxe resorts. These two beaches are good if you want a suntanning spot with convenient access to restaurants and watersports. For something more secluded head south to Baby Beach, so named for its shallow, smooth waters. Flamingo beach, home to a handful of the rather ungainly pink birds can be hard to get to because it’s actually on a private island owned by Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino and guests not staying at the property have to pay $125 to purchase a pass.
Bonaire: Though beautiful, Bonaire’s beaches are generally not as easily accessible as Aruba’s and Curacao’s. They tend to have a very narrow shoreline with somewhat rockier terrain than the other two islands though they offer serene, largely uncrowded spots for sun worshipping. Take a water taxi out to Klein Bonaire (meaning Little Bonaire in Dutch), an uninhabited islet just offshore from Kralendijk; it’s No Name Beach is a perfect secluded sanctuary with snorkeling just a few feet from shore. Boka Slagbaai in Slagbaai National Park has a large, powdery white sand beach and calm waters.
Curacao: With nearly 40 beaches, Curacao wins for variety. This island’s swaths of sand are generally much smaller than Aruba’s and frequently don’t feature the same extensive choice of amenities, but you’re much more likely to share the surf with locals. The liveliest is Willemstad’s man-made Mambo Beach, where you can easily indulge in a meal or a water activity in-between tanning sessions. Favourited by families and snorkelers, shallow Playa Lagun is nestled in a protected bay hugged by craggy cliffs.
The upscale and lively Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club is located in the island’s popular high-rise district on sprawling Palm Beach. One of three massive, oceanfront Marriott resorts, the family-friendly property is safe with clean rooms. Comfortable rooms feature kitchenettes and balconies with island-inspired decor. Many of the one-, two- and three-bedrooms villas come with full kitchens. Key amenities include a series of pools with a Lazy River, a waterslide, and a large, modern fitness center. Though the on-site restaurant’s food selection is limited, there are lots of good restaurants nearby.
One of Bonaire’s more high-end offerings, Harbour Village Beach Club’s clean, airy rooms feature welcome touches like Nespresso machines and clawfoot bathtubs. Set on a private beach complete with lounge chairs and hammocks, it also has a full-service dive shop, a contemporary fitness centre and a spa. At night, enjoy the nautically-themed restaurant overlooking the sea, which is lit up at night. During the day, take advantage of the dive shop and enjoy diving or snorkeling just off shore.
The large 350-room luxury Santa Barbara Beach & Golf Resort is as frequented by couples as it is by families thanks to amenities like an indulgent spa, a tennis center, three pools, and a kids’ club. Golf lovers will appreciate the 18-hole golf course with ample ocean views. The serene, sandy beach complete with a protected swimming lagoon is a standout.
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