Island-Hopping Through Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao

How to spend a week soaking up the sun in the ABC islands
 

Palm Beach, Aruba

Bon bini! This means “welcome” in Papiamento, a Creole language unique to the ABCs (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao). Lying just north of Venezuela, these cactus-studded limestone isles have long been part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, resulting in deep-rooted Dutch heritage mixed with spicy Latin flair. Here’s how to spend a week hopping through the ABC islands.

Three nights in Aruba

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Mother Nature endowed Aruba with poster-perfect white beaches and consistent northeast trade winds that make for world-class windsurfing and kiteboarding. One of the most cosmopolitan Caribbean destinations, the island is also tops for spas and nightlife.

Must-dos:

Sink your toes into the sugary sand of busy, full-service Palm Beach on the west coast, where you can spend the day people-watching, swimming and lounging in the Caribbean sun. Enjoy dinner at MooMba Beach Bar & Restaurant, then slip off your flip-flops and dance in the sand to a live band or DJ.

Another day, go deep. Aruba boasts the Caribbean’s top wreck diving, but even non-divers can get up close to the Antilla (a German World War II-era ship which, at 122 metres, is one of the Caribbean’s largest wrecks) on a 90-minute semi-submarine tour in the Seaworld Explorer (tours depart from the De Palm Pier).

Finally, be sure to get to Hadicurari Beach, where you can make the most of the island’s trade winds by filling your sail with wind- or kite-surfing lessons. When you’ve worked up an appetite, grab a taxi to local favourite Zeerover, a simple, open-air eatery on fisherman’s wharf in the sleepy seaside village of Savaneta. Order the catch of the day.

Next stop: Take a morning flight to Bonaire (with a brief layover in Curaçao) on InselAir.

Two nights in Bonaire

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From the air, Bonaire’s claim to fame is as visible as a lighthouse beacon. The island is encompassed by turquoise waters and a stunning coral reef—the Caribbean’s first designated national marine park. Onshore, meanwhile, there’s no need for traffic lights; wild goats and donkeys create the only road jams. Even the downtown area of the island’s capital, Kralendijk, is blissfully quiet.

Must-dos:

Bonaire’s desert terrain attracts hikers and bikers, while its breezy shores beckon wind-sport lovers. But undersea activities are the prime reason to visit. Delight in green and hawksbill turtles and a variety of tropical fish on a shore dive—there are a staggering number of easy-access dive sites to choose from. Or, take a snorkelling excursion to Klein Bonaire (Dutch for Little Bonaire), an uninhabited islet 800 metres offshore. The four- to five-hour tour with Woodwind Cruises includes lunch and departs from the pier outside Divi Flamingo Beach Resort & Casino at 9 a.m.

Later, chill with a Bonaire Blond, the isle’s signature brew, while you watch the freestyle antics of local kite-boarders at Atlantis Beach on the southwest coast, then drive 20 minutes north to Pasa Bon Pizza for a lionfish pie.

Next stop: Fly to Curaçao—25 minutes on Divi Divi Air or InselAir.

Two nights in Curaçao

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The last stop on your ABC adventure, cultural Curaçao is ideal for visitors who want to explore the storied history of the Dutch colonial West Indies.

Must-dos:

Wander the island’s capital, Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage City alive with local colour. The city’s four old quarters straddle both sides of St. Anna Bay and house a downtown that is vibrant with shops, galleries, restaurants and bars.

Download the Historic Willemstad Architectural Walking Guide and take a self-guided tour of the city’s town centre in Punda, the oldest quarter. Stroll the Handelskade, the iconic waterfront row of candy-coloured Dutch colonial buildings, then visit the bustling Floating Market, where Venezuelan vendors sell fresh fish and produce from fishing boats.

Check out the sand-floored Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue, the western hemisphere’s oldest synagogue still in continuous use, then head to the Museum Kurá Hulanda to learn the island’s heartbreaking history of slavery.

On your final night, dine at eclectic Kome in hip Pietermaai, then cap your vacation with live music at Miles Jazz Café.

Getting there: WestJet flies to Aruba once a week from Toronto. Seasonal service to Curaçao resumes Oct. 30, with one weekly flight from Toronto.

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