As a group, the ABC islands offer an incredibly distinctive Caribbean vacation. Consisting of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, the ABC Islands were under the control of the Netherlands as the Netherlands Antilles until 1986. In that year, Aruba gained independence, though the island is still aligned with the Dutch Kingdom. Today, the Willemstad, Curacao serves as the capital of the Netherlands Antilles, a colonial grouping which also governs Bonaire and the smaller islands of St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. As a result of Dutch rule, each of the islands is dominated by Dutch colonial architecture and custom, though in most cases infused with colorful local flourishes. Yet, despite this European influence, the ABC islands are as exotically Caribbean as you can imagine. From the diverse sporting opportunities to the wonderfully rich history, these Caribbean resort islands definitely have much to offer any type of traveler.
Aruba, the most southwestern of the ABC Islands, is located 42 miles from Curacao and a mere 15 miles from the coast of Venezuela. The premier Caribbean resorts are located in Aruba, the most developed and glamorous of the ABC Islands. As a result, over one million visitors are attracted to the island each year. But Aruba has far more to offer than glitzy Caribbean resorts, casinos and restaurants. Nearly 20% of the island is devoted to Arikok National Park, home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the entire Caribbean. The island is also a popular destination for water sports, hosting an internationally recognized windsurfing competition each year. For many travelers, Aruba represents the ideal, picture book Caribbean vacation.
Bonaire, on the other hand, is the least developed of the ABC islands. The primary attractions here are the coral-filled waters off the coast and the laidback ambiance of the island. About 25 years ago, the local government designated much of the sea surrounding the island a marine park, preserving the reefs and beaches for the enjoyment of scuba divers and snorkelers. Expectantly, over half of the island’s annual visitors come to explore these waters. Beyond the 60 official dive sites, Bonaire is also known as a top bird watching destination. Inside the sprawling Washington-Slagbaai National Park and throughout the island, over 200 species of exotic birds can regularly be spotted. For a relaxing Caribbean vacation away from the crowds, Bonaire may be the perfect island.
Curacao, the largest island in the Netherlands Antilles, lies between Aruba and Bonaire in the Caribbean Sea. The island boasts an interesting history, visible in the museums and vibrantly painted buildings of the island’s capital, Willemstad. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is also home to the oldest operating Hebrew synagogue in the Western Hemisphere and several other historic sites. Walking the streets of this colonial treasure, you will hear residents speaking four distinct languages: Dutch, English, Spanish and the indigenous Papiamentu. This cultural diversity is also present in the island’s cuisine, some of the most unique fare in the Caribbean. Like the other ABC islands, the opportunities for fun in the water are limitless. There are also plenty of great options for families including the Curacao Seaquarium and plenty of quiet, unspoiled beaches. While Aruba is the most luxurious of the islands and Bonaire the most pristine, it could be said that Curacao rests somewhere in between.
As you can see, each of the ABC Islands has a unique flavor and distinctive tourist opportunities. Whether you are looking for a culturally informative and historical trip, an exotic getaway or an active Caribbean vacation, you can definitely find what you are looking for on one of the ABC Islands. Best yet, why not tour all three of the islands? The result would certainly be an amazing, well-balanced Caribbean vacation.
This article was written by Justin Burch. Justin writes select pieces about travel in the Caribbean for the Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort & Emerald Casino.
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