Going to Aruba, Bonaire or Curacao and can’t choose which ABC island is best for you? Then this post got you covered!
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 big differences between the three islands, all within 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.
Let’s get to it!
Table of Contents
- Which ABC-Island is Best? My Personal Take On It Summarized
- About the ABC-Island Chain
- Aruba – One Happy Island
- Bonaire – Diver’s Paradise
- How to Decide between Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire
- ABC-Island Comparison Table
- Overall: Deciding Between Aruba Curacao and Bonaire
- FAQ: Aruba vs Bonaire vs Curacao
- About the Author
Which ABC-Island is Best? My Personal Take On It Summarized
If you don’t want to read about all the pro’s and con’s of each ABC-island, and are just interested in my personal experience, look no further.
If money is no object, I would rate Aruba as the best ABC-island. Aruba combines stunning beauty, friendly locals, great nature and safety.
Sadly, Aruba is super expensive. That being said, I loved visiting Aruba the most. But I would not do it again, because things were so expensive, compared to Curacao and Bonaire.
Because money is in fact a bit of a consideration, I would pick Curacao as my first choice in the ABC-islands.
Bonaire is my least favorite (doesn’t mean much, because I love them all so much) because it is very Dutch and relatively small. There are less restaurants, beaches are not as impressive and you can’t keep busy forever there. My husband would pick Bonaire as his personal favorite, because it was very quiet.
About the ABC-Island Chain
The term ABC-Islands refers to the three islands of the Dutch Caribbean: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao.
They are located in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Venezuela.
All three islands have a tropical climate with warm temperatures throughout the year. They are conveniently located outside the hurricane belt, so you can travel to the ABC-islands year round.
The official languages are Dutch and Papiamento, but English and Spanish are also widely spoken. They all have their own local currency, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted.
These three islands collectively offer a big range of attractions, including stunning beaches, rich marine life, vibrant cultures, and warm hospitality. They are all doing well in terms of safety as well, especially compared to other Caribbean destinations.
The ABC-island are popular destinations for travelers seeking a Caribbean experience with a Dutch twist. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao share a history of being Dutch colonies in the past, and that can still be seen all over the islands.
Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao are pretty close to each other in the Caribbean. Aruba to Bonaire is about 130 miles. Bonaire to Curaçao is even closer, around 50 miles. So you could say they’re like island neighbors!
Aruba – One Happy Island
Basic Facts About Aruba
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 of course 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 stunning 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. Aruba’s residents are nothing short of miraculous when it comes to languages: most of them are fluent in Dutch, Spanish, Papiamentu and English.
The island of Aruba has, in comparison to Curacao and Bonaire, many more beautiful vacation resorts to choose from. This is mainly because 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.
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
👍🏻 Amazing offer of excursions and day-trips, like Aruba Sunset Cruises
👍🏻 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
👍🏻 Flamingo Beach – amazing and unique attraction! Flamingo Beach on Renaissance island is the only place in the world where you can come this close to flamingos.
👍🏻 Locals are extremely friendly and appreciative of the tourists. They will not give you the feeling of being unwanted or intruding
👍🏻 Aruba has an amazing cruise port for cruise ship guests
👍🏻 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.
👍🏻 Many amazing beachfront restaurants available offering delicious and diverse cuisine
👍🏻 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 a 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. I thought it was noisy and the atmosphere was not relaxing at all. Luckily, plenty of beaches are a lot more quiet
👎🏻 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 clouded
👎🏻 There can be quite a lot of seaweed in the water at times. Most resorts clean their beaches regularly though
Bonaire – Diver’s Paradise
Basic Facts About Bonaire
Bonaire is the smallest one of the ABC islands, but that does not mean at all that it has nothing great to offer for vacationers.
The beautiful island is officially part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as a special municipality. Of all the ABC islands, Bonaire has the most intense connection to the Netherlands.
It 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.
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.
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 and plantations. That is super interesting and makes for a great history lesson
👍🏻 Lots of cute luxury boutique hotels instead of big, impersonal resorts
👍🏻 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 – make sure to take a Snorkel Boat Trip in Bonaire
👍🏻 Huge variety of water-sports are possible, but there are also many things to do for non-divers in Boanire
👍🏻 Bonaire is easy to explore by car, no special car needed for Nature Parks
👍🏻 Infrastructure and Roads are in an alright shape, better than in Curacao, worse than in Aruba
👍🏻 Loads of colorful buildings – great happy vibes on the island
👍🏻 Locals are friendly and helpful
👍🏻Modern cruise port in Bonaire
👍🏻 Exploring Bonaire with the car is fairly easy. The roads are in 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.
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.
👎🏻 Bonaire is a small island – there are not too many things to do on a longer vacation.
👎🏻 Most beaches are rocky or pebble beaches, so not great for relaxation. Most sandy beaches belong to resorts or are on Klein Bonaire
Basic Facts About Curacao
Curacao is the last and also the biggest one of the ABC islands, next to Bonaire and Aruba.
Unlike the other two islands, which are known for their 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 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.
Pros of Visiting Curacao
👍🏻 Beautiful white sandy beaches! Curacao has a very diverse offer in beaches, from natural to fancy to sporty – there is an ideal beach for everyone on Curacao. They are super beautiful and the water quality is great
👍🏻 Incredibly big choice in different restaurants for all price ranges. The diverse culture makes for an interesting mix of food choices.
👍🏻 Huge selection of cultural activities, museums, festivals, workshops, street-art 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. Lots of free things to do in Curacao
👍🏻 Mostly getting Dutch tourists, therefore menus etc are always in Dutch. That can be a pro or a con, depends on where you come from.
👍🏻 Lots of activities and day trips available
👍🏻 Amazing wildlife! The nature is much more untouched, so you will see iguanas, sea turtles, flamingos and many more super cute animals.
👍🏻 Super instagrammable, with lots of picturesque photo spots.
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 the daytime, I have not ever felt unsafe on the island. Make sure to pick a safe area to stay in Curacao.
👎🏻 Huge difference between the local population and touristic areas regarding 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 and made me feel bad at times that locals do not profit from tourism as much as they should
👎🏻 Infrastructure is quite alright, roads are slightly shabby in certain places. You have hospitals, pharmacies up to Dutch standards mostly, but it is expensive if you don’t have travel insurance.
👎🏻 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 on the island.
How to Decide between Aruba, Curacao and 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.
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.
3. 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. But the choice is also a bit smaller.
In Bonaire, it was much harder to find good shopping or a very nice restaurant in comparison.
Curacao has the best supermarkets. Aruba only has one good (international) supermarket. If you want to cook yourself, Curacao is the best choice.
Aruba: Aruba is generally considered to have a lower crime rate compared to many other Caribbean destinations. It is the safest destination of the three. Aruba has a strong focus on tourism safety and security. They really try hard to ensure a safe environment for visitors. I never felt bad walking around at night by myself, outside the resort.
Bonaire: Bonaire is known for being relatively safe, with a lower crime rate compared to some other Caribbean islands. It has a reputation for being a peaceful and tranquil destination. I also never felt unsafe in Bonaire.
Curaçao: Curaçao generally has a higher crime rate compared to Aruba and Bonaire. Drug criminality is a big problem on the island. If you stick to touristic spots, Curacao is pretty safe. However, I have had a couple of less pleasant encounters on the island.
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. They have the best marine life and lots of hotels the specialize in water sport enthusiasts.
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 focuses a lot more on luxury travelers, family vacations and beach-goers.
Curacao does not have a special focus per se, it is a bit of an all-rounder. Curacao is great for scuba diving, but the best diving can be found in Bonaire.
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, shallow and sometimes a bit cloudy.
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. Water quality is better than in Aruba.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 are.
7. 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.
Do you need travel insurance in the Caribbean? Yes, travel insurance in the Caribbean is highly recommended. Unsafe roads, water sports accidents, and food poisoning are only a few examples of when travel insurance could come in handy. EKTA offers worldwide travel insurance with 24/7 service and no hidden fees or restrictions.
ABC-Island Comparison Table
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
If you have a lot of time on your hands, I suggest taking an island-hopping trip to Aruba Bonaire and Curacao. All of the islands have a lot to offer and are worth a visit.
Wondering if Aruba is part of South America? Check out my geographical Aruba info.
FAQ: Aruba vs Bonaire vs Curacao
Overall, I would rate Aruba as the best of the ABC-Islands. However, it is also the most expensive, so you need to pay extra for this perk. If you want the best price-money value, I suggest to go to Curacao instead.
The biggest difference between Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao lies in the landscape. Aruba is famous for flat, endless white-sandy beaches. Curacao has dramatic cliffs and stunning little bays. Bonaire has rocky shores that are great for diving.
Bonaire is the cheapest ABC island. Aruba is the most expensive island in the ABC-chain. Curacao is somewhere in the middle.
Yes, Curacao is bigger than Aruba. It is the biggest of the three ABC-islands. Bonaire is the smallest island of the ABC island chain.
About the Author
Sabrina is a passionate travel blogger and content creator, based in the Netherlands. She spends about half of the year traveling to various destinations together with her husband.
She provides slow-paced itineraries that focus on quality over quantity. Sabrina wants to help her readers to get more out of their travel experiences – while doing less. Read more.