Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: which of the ABC Islands should you visit? That’s a trick question – any travel advisor will say all three islands are unique enough to warrant a trip. This trio represents the westernmost islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. Let’s find out which is the best for culture, beaches, diving, and more.
Aruba is the typical destination of the three for US travelers. The sandy, sheltered northern resorts of Palm Beach and Eagle Beach are lined with oceanfront hotels and clubs and the island has a wide variety of accommodations catering to families and couples.
As it sits out of the route of the hurricanes of the Caribbean, Aruba is the best of the ABC Islands for weather. The island is the recipient of trade winds that maintain warm temperatures cooled by the sea breeze. Beyond the beach, Aruba has several attractions such as the Butterfly Farm, Philip’s Animal Garden, and Arikok National Park to explore. The capital, Oranjestad, has a marina and several historic points of interest such as the 18th-century Fort Zoutman. Oranjestad has a lively nightlife and an upscale dining scene that revolves around seafood and Aruban-Dutch gastronomy.
As a developed and easily accessible via non-stop flights from East Coast cities, Aruba is the most convenient island to visit.
Bonaire, the smallest and quietest island, is the choice destination for diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea. It is ringed by a healthy reef system encompassing over 50 different types of coral. The Bonaire National Park covers 6,700 hectares of protected marine sanctuary for wildlife to thrive. Many dive sites are accessible without the requirement of a boat although it’s best to plan a mix of boat and shore diving.This is the best of the ABC Islands for a laid-back vacation with exquisite natural scenery onland as well as underwater. Beaches tend to be pebbly and are better for photography and sunsets rather than sunbathing. Accommodation is more primitive while amenities and dining options are limited but it’s hard to find such a calming vibe in the Caribbean Netherlands.
Of the three Dutch Caribbean islands, Curaçao comes top of the list for culture. The Pietermaai and Punda neighborhoods of Willemstad feature pastel-colored buildings in the Dutch style as well as contemporary street art. The Landhuis Bloemhof Cultural Center showcases contemporary sculptures and installations plus an entire building made out of thorns in the landscaped garden.The capital – also a designated Unesco World Heritage Site – is where you’ll find the Kura Hulanda Museum which tells the tragic history of enslaved people in Curaçao and the Caribbean. On the other side of Saint Anna Bay, the Curacao Maritime History Museum is devoted to local seafaring endeavors. Curaçao also has lovely beaches and swimming lagoons such as Grote Knip, Klein Knip, and Playa Lagun. Restaurants in Willemstad offer Dutch and Afro-Caribbean fusion cuisine.