Caribbean Vacation Travel Choices…
In exploring a trip to the Caribbean, a delightful trifecta of islands offers three distinct experiences: The “ABC Islands,” which refer to Aruba (“A”), Bonaire (“B”), and Curaçao (“C”).
Since we working humans usually have limited time and budgets for vacation travel, this begs the question: Which of these three islands is best?
Given that “best” is, of course, wildly subjective, I will use this article to give an overview of what each of the ABC Islands has to offer, then will conclude with which destination I liked the most, myself! But first, some background.
What and Where are the ABC Islands?
Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are three southern Caribbean islands in the “Lesser Antilles,” north of Venezuela. How far off the coast of South America are they? 15 miles for Aruba, 50 miles for Bonaire, and 40 miles for Curaçao. That said, they differ greatly from Venezuela because of their history and governmental structure.
Each of the ABC islands is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (though they are not in the European Union, themselves). Bonaire is a “special municipality” of the Netherlands, while Aruba and Curaçao are autonomous. Culturally, all three islands are a mix of Dutch, Caribbean, and South American influences. Yum!
Important note: All three ABC Islands lie outside of Hurricane Alley, meaning they are more protected from the storms that have devastated much of the Caribbean. This is a huge benefit for their economies, as well as travel planning. Let’s examine each island.
Aruba: Popular American Destination
The island of Aruba enjoys a thriving partnership with the American tourist infrastructure, offering affordable and direct flights from major U.S. cities, and well-developed resort complexes and tourist activities.
This makes Aruba the easiest, and sometimes the most inexpensive, choice for many U.S. citizens… but that does come with a caveat: Such bustling tourism development makes it harder to feel the local culture of Aruba itself, and exploring behind the resort trail can be difficult.
Bonaire: Tiny, Quiet Diving Escape
The tiniest of the ABC islands is Bonaire: a destination best known for its exceptional coral reef diving opportunities. Though the island itself is quite quiet (and full of cacti!) I loved a certain Bonaire resort and its beach (which I ended up stay at alone, despite it being a classic romantic destination)!
Curaçao: Colorful Culture and Beaches
With a diverse and vibrant cultural, architectural and beach scene, Curaçao is increasingly being embraced by people seeking a relaxed but exciting vacation with options beyond resort activities.
Let us now get into some photos and details from my exploration of all three islands, starting in reverse order with the “C!” Simply click the “Continue Reading” button for further details on each topic, and do keep scrolling for the big reveal of which island I liked best, myself…
Tips on the ABC Islands
Details about things to do and see in Aruba, Bonaire, or Curaçao so you can pick which of the ABC Islands is the best fit for YOU!
10 Things to Do in Curaçao for Caribbean Fun
Curaçao is chock full of fun activities, from its colorful city of Willemstad, to its numerous beaches. Speaking of swimming...
The Best Beaches in Curaçao
The "C" in the ABC islands had some of the most beautiful beaches I've seen in my entire life. Find out which one made me sob with emotion!
Curaçao's Colorful Architecture
Another thing I adored about Curacao was its colorful and innovative architecture. This article explains how old buildings are being remade for this century, while still honoring the past.
Where to Stay in Willemstad, Curaçao
I relished the days I spent at this convenient Willemstad resort, and particularly enjoyed its shocking "infinity beach" pool, pictured above. (That is not the ocean you see...)
Bonaire: Diving, Flamingos, Quiet, and Cacti?!
The island of Bonaire was unlike any other place I've been. It is tiny, quiet, in love with underwater diving, and has an arid landscape replete with cacti!
What Does "Dushi" Mean in the ABC Islands?
No discussion of this region is complete without mention of the word "dushi" -- an utterance which you will hear frequently on the island that means "sweet."
One of the Best Bonaire Resorts and Beaches
There are far fewer resorts in Bonaire than Aruba or Curaçao because of its teensy size, but Harbour Village was an absolute gem. It also has one of the best beaches on the island.
Aruba: My Bizarre and Expensive Visit
Because Aruba has the most direct and inexpensive flights from the U.S., it has a more resort-heavy and American feel. In some ways that creates an easier vacation, but in others ways, it means it can be harder to taste the island's own flavor. My visit was particularly weird, but that was because of a foolish mistake there in my youth that you would never do...
The Best of ABC Island for Me Was Curaçao!
Drumroll please... My favorite of the ABC Islands was Curacao! I found it fun, diverse, culturally rich, and colorful. Its "dushi" spirit made me happy!
Can You See Why “C” was My Favorite?
Despite the fact that Aruba is the most known and popular among American vacation travelers, I HIGHLY recommend considering Curaçao if culture and variety are of interest. As always, make sure to check for accurate travel updates from the official tourist board to ensure up-to-date information.
Here’s the problem with Curaçao, though: Because it is lesser-known and lesser-traveled by Americans, there are fewer direct flights, and thus transportation costs and times can be prohibitive. But wait — there is an affordable option!
Cheap Flights Between the ABC Islands
There are inexpensive flights between the ABC islands at all hours of the day on the small airplanes (you know I love tiny planes!) of Divi Divi, Aruba Airlines, and others… and these airlines are usually not listed in the major flight search tools online, meaning you may never find them unless you look separately! (2019 update: One of the airlines I used, Insel Airlines, has since gone out of business.)
Thus, here is the trick for a cheap flight to Curaçao if you can’t find an affordable flight from your city: Look for a flight deal from your city to Aruba on a major airline and buy that. Then, search the smaller airlines mentioned above and purchase the inexpensive inter-island flight separately. (Note: While it may be tempting to look for boat options between the islands, flights are far easier.)
This trick can save you a huge amount of money — just remember to leave enough cushion time between the flights to allow for delays. Enjoy!
What are Your ABC Islands Thoughts?
I’m curious to hear from you. Which of the ABC islands have you visited, which most intrigues you, and why? Do share!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!
Monday 25th of October 2021
I want to hear more about Curacao
Tuesday 26th of October 2021
It's such a great place! Click through to the many detailed articles I've written about it, linked above. Enjoy!
Monday 17th of June 2019
My wife and I have visited Bonaire and Curacao and loved them! You're descriptions are perfect, your photos are engaging, and I agree with your assessments.
Bonaire is special because it is so easy to drive, neat B&Bs, and vacation rentals. Curacao has the culture, museum, and beaches.
A few points: 1) Insel air is out of business. Concerning Curacao...American offers flights from Miami and Newark (seasonal ?) and Jet Blue from JFK. You'll have to look for deals there, or get one to Aruba and hop a commuter over. 2) I would not use the phrase "protected from hurricanes". The ABC's taken direct hits only three times since 1600, though every 30 years they do get 60 mph gusts from a storm that brushes by to their north. (Pardon me for splitting hairs, I'm a retired National Weather Service meteorologist). Still, the risk is extremely low compared to anywhere else.
Monday 26th of August 2019
Updated! Thanks again for your help in increasing accuracy. As an English teacher, I take truth very seriously!
Tuesday 20th of August 2019
Thanks for these very important updates and details! I'll revise the article ASAP to reflect the wisdom!
Friday 5th of April 2019
Those places look lively and colorful! I love it :) Thanks for the tips!
Wednesday 17th of April 2019