The Netherlands’ ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao

I did not expect The Netherland’s “ABC Islands” (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao) in the Caribbean to be so different from one another. Although they are often considered together, each island is distinctly unique –with a personality and story of its own. Each is beautiful in its own way, each has its own destination groupies who swear by it, and each has its detractors.

The ABC Islands are affiliated with The Netherlands — although none of them are members of the European Community. They each speak Dutch and Papiamentu, and English is very common there. U.S Dollars are generally accepted, the residents are generally very friendly and tourist-oriented, and each island is blessed with a warm, sunny climate outside the path of most hurricanes.

10952138_10153027959263695_8610507441296923831_oAruba Countryside during “Carnival”

Aruba most resembles the U.S. and is the most affluent of the three islands. Its tourist corridors are the most affluent among the ABC islands. Aruba is well-known for its sunny beaches, casinos, resort areas, and its exclusive vibe. Upscale tourist areas in Aruba are somewhat similar to an upscale suburb or country club in the southwestern United States. A primary difference, besides being surrounded by sea, is that Aruba is persistently windy. Once travelers leave the resort areas, Aruba surprises with an arid, cactus-studded, local flavor of its own.

Aruba is close to the Venezuelan coastline — at its closest, Aruba is about 18 miles off the Paraguaná Peninsula of Venezuela and it can be seen on a clear day. Investment in Aruban real estate by wealthy Venezuelans is common, and many of Aruba’s residents are descended from Venezuelan immigrants. For this reason, many Aruban residents have an appearance that is reminiscent of South America (as distinguished from African descent, which is more typical on Curaçao and Bonaire). Despite its proximity to Venezuela, travel to Venezuela by non-Venezuelans is dangerous and it is not currently recommended.

10974206_10153027998543695_2705597424404666804_o-1 Chobolobo Distillery Courtyard, Curaçao 

Curaçao has more of a historical, urban and international feel to it than the other two islands –- a cross between African, South American, and Dutch with a Caribbean vibe. It also shares a rich musical scene with its visitors, including “tumba” – an African-derived rhythm that is deeply embedded in Curaçao’s culture. Although it too is a beautiful island, it has an industrial feel to it in places, it’s occasionally gritty, and it seems the busiest overall. It’s a favorite port of seamen for a reason, but to be fair Aruba also is known for legalized prostitution.

Curaçao possesses some beautiful beaches and upscale resorts, but not nearly as many as Aruba and they are not as well known outside of Curaçao. Like the other ABC Islands, it has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean, but it appears overall much less exclusive than Aruba and much more developed than Bonaire.

And then there’s beautiful, environmentally-conscious, flamingo-obsessed Bonaire –- that offbeat, laid-back island that caters to pink airports, donkey sanctuaries, diving enthusiasts, snorkelers, wind surfers, and people who seem most comfortable with living life as it might have been in Key West decades ago… think empty, crushed coral beaches, diamond-clear water, dilapidated roadways, salt pans, bicycle trails, island time, and off-the-beaten-track. People either love it or hate it. Bonaire’s typical tourist spends a few hours here in its main city during a cruise ship’s port of call or comes here independently to dive, snorkel, wind surf, or otherwise enjoy the outdoors. Sometimes visitors are here with their boats simply to ride out a hurricane in a neighboring corridor. Sometimes they’re here simply to enjoy more affordable prices.

In contrast to Aruba and Curaçao, Bonaire’s tourism economy is not as well-developed. Bonaire’s tourists seem to prefer it that way. The most exclusive resorts on Bonaire appear to be in foreclosure or forever under construction. There are many other accommodations to choose from — most of which cater to diving – if you’re not seeking luxury accommodations.

10960344_10153042433688695_3196880620851910516_oHistorical Slave Hut, Bonaire

Like the other islands, there is a dark history to Bonaire and a quirky side to Bonaire’s politics. Bonaire is treated as a special municipality of the Netherlands – even though it’s located thousands of miles from it. Most of the people who relocate to Bonaire from Aruba or Curaçao prefer it to the faster pace associated with the other two ABC Islands. I agree with those residents in that regard.

Feature photo of Oranjestad, Aruba

Photos taken by Jazzdat

Originally Posted April 22, 2015

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