Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao: Discovering the 'Dutch Caribbean'

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao: Discovering the 'Dutch Caribbean'

Looking for a new angle on the Caribbean? The Netherlands-influenced islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao might fit the bill, says Nick Easen

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, known as the ‘ABC ­Islands’, have their fair share of turquoise waters and balmy breezes. But for those customers tired of the French, Hispanic and Anglo-American influenced corners of the Caribbean, the ABC islands provide a refreshing twist.

The locals speak Papiamento, a mix of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French and English; street names are in Dutch and the currency is the florin – although the dollar reigns supreme here. These three islands have close ties to the Netherlands.

In fact the Lesser Antilles, as they are known, are still part of the Dutch kingdom, even though they are only a stone’s throw away from the coastline of Venezuela.

Aruba is popular with North Americans but is seeing growth in UK visitor numbers; Bonaire focuses on diving, while Curacao has a largely European clientele. The most striking aspect is the old colonial and colourful architecture throughout all three islands.


It may be dry and flat but Aruba is outside the hurricane belt – so summer holidays are guaranteed not to be hit by some of the Caribbean’s worst weather. And this year the island is seeing an increase in UK airlift.

Aruba Tourism Authority UK director Joanna Walding said: “In May we will launch a weekly service from Gatwick with First Choice and Thomson, which will complement existing fortnightly flights from Manchester.”

In November 2008, First Choice introduced the first winter charter from the UK with flights from Birmingham, Manchester and Gatwick, which operates until April.

A consumer advertising campaign ran on the London Underground this February and there is now an online training programme for agents, which will include competitions and incentives.

“We are hoping to significantly raise Aruba’s consumer and trade profile this year,” said Walding.

There is a new water park called Morgan’s Island and investments are being made at the Arikok National Park to protect the native flora and fauna, as well as improve facilities with a new visitor centre.

The Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort is more than doubling in size and is adding a new accommodation complex, restaurants, pools, as well as landscaped grounds, giving it the largest room count on the island.

Martinair, which is owned by KLM, will offer a service four times a week to Aruba from March 29, with feeder flights from Aberdeen.

Martinair sales manager for UK and Ireland Esther ter Bruggen said: “The Aruba route out of Amsterdam is popular with the UK market, with connecting services from regional airports.

“Tour operator partners were experiencing a shortage of scheduled seats to the island and we saw an opportunity to fill that gap, at a competitive fare.”


Divers’ paradise Bonaire is the island you head to for nature, especially of the underwater variety. The surrounding seas up to a depth of 65 metres have been made a national park. There are more than 85 dive spots and over 50 shore dive sites.

Bonaire has seen a massive increase in tourism in recent years due to improved airlift. The cruise business has also rocketed by 300% since 2005, from 48,500 visitors to a predicted 250,000.

New property developments on Bonaire include an all-inclusive Divi resort and a Hilton hotel due for completion in 2011.

Last year, Bonaire created the water-oriented Dive into Summer event, which looks set to be held again this year. Most of the resorts are outside the capital Kralendijk, so renting a car can be advisable.

KLM flies to Bonaire most days of the week out of Amsterdam. There’s also a KLM flight to the Ecuadorian capital Quito that touches down in Bonaire, making it possible to combine diving here with diving in the Galapagos. There are also several opportunities to connect through the US.


Home to blue Curaçao liqueur – made from dried orange peel – the island is also famous for being one of the oldest European settlements in the Caribbean.

Send clients to the capital Willemstad for a slice of culture, sherbet-toned colonial architecture and the oldest synagogue in the western hemisphere.

In March the Curaçao Renaissance Hotel and Morena Resort opens, which is an eco-focused property. By the end of this year a new Hyatt will open, complete with an 18-hole golf course.

The Breezes Curaçao Resort, Spa and Casino is the only all-inclusive property on Curaçao and has recently undergone a significant refurbishment.

The resort now has a 12,000sq foot kids’ club, 32-inch LCD TVs in the rooms, refitted bathrooms, renovated swimming pools and an expanded beach grill.

Towards the end of May there is a Dive Festival with educational seminars, interactive workshops “and a relaxing happy hour with world-famous dive experts,” said Curaçao sales representative Aralys Martina. “There’s also a full calendar of events with the carnival parade, parade of Seu and the Curaçao Amstel Race.”

The island also has daily airlift with KLM from Amsterdam. Martinair also has four flights a week to the island.


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