Aruba,  Bonaire,  Caribbean,  Curacao,  Destinations,  Experiences

Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao – how to choose the ideal destination

The three westernmost islands of the Leewards Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, are the physical group of the ABC islands. Despite being so close to each other, each one of the islands has a totally unique history, landscape and population. If I had not seen it myself, I would have not believed that there can be such vast differences between the three islands, all within a half an hour’s plane ride away from each other.

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao have one thing in common. All three of them are amazing tropical paradises, attracting visitors from all over the world. Not having been there before, it can be amazingly hard to choose, which one of the ABC islands to visit first.

I have had the luxury of visiting all three islands, Curacao, Bonaire and Aruba within one year. This gives me the unique position of creating an ultimate guide to the three Caribbean islands, to make the decision for your next vacation easier.

In the following guide, I would like to present each one of the three islands separately before showing the pros and cons of all places. To make a comparison between the ABC islands Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao easier, I will make in-depth comparisons at the end of the post.

Table of Contents

ARUBA – one happy island

The small but beautiful island Aruba is located in the mid-southern Caribbean sea and is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The island is about 32 kilometers long and 10 kilometers wide.

Aruba is famous for its endless, pristine white sandy beaches and the pink flamingos that can be encountered on one of the beaches. But Aruba is also so much more than that. Nearly 20 % of the island is made up of national parks. It is home to dramatic coastlines, natural bridges and even a natural pool protected by volcanic rocks.

Aruba has one of the most ethnically diverse populations in the world. Residents of over 90 different nationalities live in Aruba. Arubas residents are nothing short of miraculous when it comes to languages, most of them are fluent in Dutch, Spanish, Papiamentu and English.

The island Aruba has, in comparison to Curacao and Bonaire, many more beautiful vacation resorts to choose from. This is mainly due to the fact that Aruba is a prime holiday spot for American citizens, which attracted many big American tourism companies to invest in the island.

Aruba is for me the most relaxing of the three islands. The beaches are made for amazingly fun days in the sun, without worries and tasks. Everything is easily accessible, beach chairs and umbrellas can be rented almost everywhere and the offer of beach bars and restaurants is endless.

Girl in front of california Lighthouse in Aruba, with text saying Aruba, Pros and Cons

Pros of visiting Aruba!

  • Many different resorts to choose from! Loads of oceanfront properties with private beaches only for hotel guests make the holiday in Aruba extremely relaxing.
  • Aruba has the most sunny days per year in the Caribbean – good weather is a given!
  • Roads and infrastructure are in great shape
  • Extremely American influenced – you can have your pick from all American fast food chains and restaurants. You can pay in US-Dollar and everyone on the island speaks English perfectly well. The service quality in all of Aruba is outstanding, very much up to American standards
  • Locals are extremely friendly and appreciative of the tourists. They will not give you the feeling of being unwanted or intruding.
  • The beaches are in pristine shape. They are clean, easily accessible, and have all the necessary amenities
  • Aruba is extremely safe! You can walk on the boulevard in the evenings and enjoy the great vibe of the cities. This is definitely not a given for the Caribbean.
  • Aruba is luxury traveler-friendly – there are many luxe hotels, famous designer shops and fancy bars
  • Aruba has many shipwrecks, which makes it a great destination for snorkeling.

Cons of visiting Aruba!

  • Aruba is by far the most expensive of the ABC islands. We have spent almost twice as much money in Aruba in a week than we have on Curacao or Bonaire for similar activities. The prices are very much up to American standards, so it can feel especially expensive for European travelers because of the current USD-EUR exchange rate.
  • Tips are expected in restaurants, despite the steep prices. The tipping culture is, just as everything else on the island, very American. This means, that with good service, a tip of 20 % is expected. Since they also add 15 % service charge in all restaurants, this can get quite expensive over time.
  • Some of the beaches are very touristic and crowded, especially around the insanely huge resorts like the RIU palace.
  • The island is not very easy to explore. Most of the National Parks require a 4×4 car or a buggy. Sadly, we could not explore lots of amazing places because our normal rental car simply could not take the dirt road.
  • Snorkeling is not great at many of the big beaches, because there are simply too many people and the water can be a bit dull
  • There can be quite a lot of seaweed in the water at times. Most resorts clean their beaches regularly though

Beautiful Bonaire

Bonaire is the smallest one of the ABC islands, but that does not mean at all that is has nothing great to offer for vacationers. Bonaire is officially part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as a special municipality. From all the ABC islands, Bonaire has the most intense connection to the Netherlands.

Bonaire is famous for many great natural attractions, such as the pink salt lakes, the beautiful and untouched coral reefs and the flamingos roaming the island. Bonaire attracts divers, snorkelers and kite surfers from all over the world. Between Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire, this island has the biggest offer of different water sports.

Exploring Bonaire with car is fairly easy. The roads are in an alright shape and you can drive almost anywhere with a normal car. The island is small, so it is also pretty hard to get lost.

Bonaire is mainly oriented to accommodate Dutch vacationers. This means, that most of the island does speak Dutch and the menus in most restaurants are in Dutch as well. You can pay with Euros in most places. Because it is the smallest island, it is also the least touristic of the ABC-islands.

For more info check my guide Bonaire – Things to do!

Bonaire Pros and Cons, girl in front of Beach Bonaire

Pros of visiting Bonaire!

  • Bonaire is relatively safe. At least the more touristic places and the capital city of Kralendijk can be explored in the evenings without danger.
  • Bonaire has loads of great historical sites to visit, such as the former slave houses
  • Bonaire is super quiet. It is far less rushed and touristic than Curacao and Aruba
  • It is also relatively cheap. Most things in Bonaire are cheaper than in Curacao or Aruba
  • Amazing marine life for snorkeling and kite surfing
  • Huge variety of watersports are possible
  • Easy to explore by car, no special car needed for Nature Parks
  • Infrastructure and Roads are in an alright shape
  • Loads of colorful buildings – great happy vibes on the island
  • Locals are friendly and helpful

Cons of visiting Bonaire!

  • Bonaires main focus is on the more sporty kind of vacationer. There are not so many great offers for people who just wanna enjoy the beach or do more fancy things
  • Mostly accommodating Dutch tourists – lots of Dutch influences on the island. If you are not Dutch (like me) you might not feel too happy with all the Dutch people, since they are not as approachable as the American tourists and they sadly have a whole different understanding of being mindful of other vacationers (playing loud music on beaches etc.). Of course, this does not apply to everyone (so don’t be mad at me Dutchies), this was just the general impression we got.
  • The service quality is by far not as good as in Aruba, since it’s far from American standards. This also means, you don’t have to tip like in America, so at least it will save some money.
  • Small island – not too many things to do on a longer vacation
  • Most beaches are rocky or pebble beaches, so not great for relaxation

Dushi op Curacao

Curacao is the last and also the biggest one of the ABC-islands, next to Bonaire and Aruba. Unlike the other two islands, that are known for its flat landscape, Curacao is known for its high cliffs that are hiding away stunning little bays. Curacao is also known for its fantastic marine life and amazing water quality.

Curacao is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This means, it is slightly more involved in the Kingdom than Aruba, but much less than Bonaire. People in Curacao speak Dutch, English and Papiamentu. The culture in Curacao is a diverse mixture of Spanish, Dutch and South American.

Curacao has many great white sandy beaches, that are ideal for a relaxing day but also for water sports, snorkeling and diving. Curacao is in my opinion the most diverse of the islands, offering adventure, relaxation, hiking and culture at the same time.

Sadly, Curacao is also the most unsafe of the three islands. Apart from the beaches, the island is less clean and there is quite a lot of drug criminality going on. Regardless, Curacao makes for an amazing holiday spot, just with a little more caution.

For more info about Curacao check my ultimate Curacao Travel Guide.

Curacao Travel Guide Book

Pros of visiting Curacao!

  • Beautiful white sandy beaches! Very diverse offer in beaches, from natural to fancy to sporty – there is an ideal beach for everyone on Curacao.
  • Incredibly big choice in different restaurants for all price ranges. The diverse culture makes for an interesting mix of food choices.
  • Very great for snorkeling and diving, many different places and lots of fish and coral to see
  • Huge selection of cultural activities, museums, festivals, workshops etc.
  • Stunning landscape with all kinds of different natural wonders to explore
  • Can easily be explored by rental car
  • Prices on the island are normal. It is not cheap but also not insanely expensive
  • Mostly getting Dutch tourists, therefore menus etc are always in Dutch.
  • Amazing wildlife! The nature is much more untouched, so you will see iguanas, sea turtles, flamingos and many more super cute animals.

Cons of visiting Curacao!

  • Problems with drug criminality! Now, this does not mean it is not safe on most parts of the island. However, during night times it is recommended to not be out alone in certain areas. Some touristic areas, like Mambo Beach, Willemstad or Jan Thiel Beach, are safe even in the evening. During daytime, I have not ever felt unsafe on the island.
  • Huge difference between local population and touristic areas in regard to wealth. The local population is (partially) very poor and the housing looks extremely unfortunate in many areas. This is not a nice thing to see.
  • Infrastructure is quite alright, roads are slightly shabby in certain places.
  • Locals can be very friendly, but in general they seem to be fed up with especially the Dutch tourists. Service quality is therefore not great in most places of the island.

How to decide: ARUBA – CURACAO – BONAIRE

Not that you know about the ins and outs of all the islands, it is time to draw a comparison. In this chapter I will give you my personal opinion about different things regarding Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire, so hopefully the choice for you will be much easier. Lastly, I will give you some knockout criteria, based on that you can already filter out maybe one or two of the islands without further research.

Curacao - Aruba - Bonaire collage


Aruba is the most expensive of the islands, followed by Curacao. Bonaire is the cheapest ABC island. The differences between Curacao and Bonaire are not too big, so if you are on a budget you can probably make both of them work. However, I do not suggest visiting Aruba on a budget.

Even the simplest things, such as supermarket food, or small excursions will already cost you big time in Aruba. In my opinion, this is not a budget-friendly destination, so I would not visit unless I got some more funds.

For comparison, a dinner in the nicest restaurant in Curacao will cost you around 150 EUR for two. In Aruba, you will pay that amount in most medium-range restaurants, even though you share a starter and dessert.You will pay for main dishes in Aruba roughly 50 – 60 USD p.p and a 15 % service charge plus a mandatory tip.


In my opinion, Curacao has the most diverse and stunning nature of the ABC-islands. While Bonaire has a couple of pretty spots, the huge cliffs and impressive bays in Curacao are next level. Aruba has in my opinion very impressive nature spots, however they are not easily accessible, simply because most of the impressive parts are not reachable without an off-road car.

You can easily explore Curacao’s national parks with any normal car, and the entrance fees are not too bad as well. There are many different beautiful beaches to snorkel in, hidden bays to explore and mountains to climb for you.

Shops and Restaurants

Aruba definitely has the best shop and restaurant selection of all the three islands. All important luxury stores are located on the island and the choice of (expensive) restaurants is endless.

Curacao comes in second when it comes to lifestyle choices. The price range of the shops and restaurants is slightly below than on Aruba. In Bonaire, it was much harder to find good shopping or a very nice restaurant in comparison.


Aruba is by far the safest island. It is without worries possible to walk outside in the evening along the boulevard or stroll around in the cute towns. This is definitely not possible in most parts of Curacao.

Bonaire comes in a close second, you can also freely walk around the capital city Kralendijk at night, and also around the other touristic areas.


If you are super interested in water sports and this is your main focus, you should definitely visit Bonaire. The choice of water sports and other sporty activities was overwhelming. You can also do a lot of water sports in Curacao and Aruba, but it is definitely not the main focus of the islands.


Aruba and Curacao both have a huge selection of pristine, high-quality beaches. Both islands have stunning beaches with great water quality, however they are pretty different to each other. Aruba beaches are wide open and endless, you can nicely walk along the beach forever without reaching the end. The water is light-turquoise.

The beaches in Curacao are much smaller and most of them are hidden bays between two huge sets of cliffs on both sides. This makes them a bit more protected and less crowded. The water ranges from bright turquoise to super dark blue. Bonaire has in my opinion the least stunning beaches and is not as suitable for a full-on beach vacation as Aruba and Curacao.

Tourist population

Mainly Dutch people are visiting Curacao and Bonaire and are therefore the most common vacationers. Therefore restaurants and shops are mainly oriented toward the Dutch people’s wishes and needs. Aruba however, is totally American. This reflects in the service quality choices of meals as well.

If you are looking to make friends on this trip, Aruba is a safe bet for you. Most Americans are very approachable and will happily chat with you.

Overall – deciding between Aruba Curacao and Bonaire

If you can still not decide on Aruba vs Curacao vs Bonaire, I suggest the following:

  • If you are interested in water sports and a quiet vacation – pick Bonaire
  • If you wanna have some adventure combined with some nice beaches and you are not easily afraid – go to Curacao
  • If you wanna have a beach vacation and you wanna be super safe – go to Aruba

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