Deep down in the southern part of the Caribbean, just off of Venezuela, lies the ABC islands, which consist of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. These three islands are also apart of the Dutch Caribbean and are island territories of The Netherlands, which is why my Dutch husband wanted to go here.
We spent over a week in Aruba and Curacao (we didn’t get to Bonaire).
At first glance, you would assume Aruba and Curacao would be fairly similar, being that they are both island destinations for diving, have pretty beaches and are Dutch. But in fact, these two islands could not be more different. So, which island is better? My husband and I had the debate for several days. Both islands have their pros and cons, but here’s the winner of the following:
GETTING AROUND: ARUBA WINS
Both islands are a decent size and renting a car is 100% necessary because cabs are expensive (even though they are regulated). Aruba is easy to get around with a map and once you drive around for a bit, you find your way.
Curacao, on the other hand, is an absolute train wreck of a labyrinth of one-way streets. It is essential to have someone on google maps constantly routing you and even then, one-way streets will pop up and you will be thrown on a loop road unable to get back where you need to be because there are so many one-ways. Once you get out of the capital, it’s fine.
AFFORDABILITY: CURACAO WINS
This one is up for debate but we found Aruba to be more expensive. Almost every restaurant we found around the city center was minimum $20 per person, usually more. Any taxi from the airport to a hotel or region was around $28 (again, they are regulated but steep if you aren’t going within the main city and we definitely got ripped off by our first one). The mini markets in Aruba are WAY too expensive. Stop in for a few beers and a bag of chips and you’ll end up spending $25.
We stayed a bit outside Willemstad in Curacao and were able to find places to eat for less. We also found more larger grocery stores with normal prices.
BEACHES: ARUBA WINS
Although Curacao has some pretty beaches too, it’s hard to beat Aruba’s Baby Beach. It is absolutely gorgeous. Eagle Beach in Aruba is also popular and has Divi Divi trees on the beach. Curacao’s front runner is Playa Knip and has an overlook into the turquoise cove.
WEATHER: CURACAO WINS
Curacao is sunny with warm/hot temperatures and is a bit breezy. Aruba is sunny with warm/hot temperatures and is EXTREMELY WINDY. Like, wind all the time. Aruba has trade winds going across the mostly-flat island constantly. My long hair was in a constant knot and I often felt grimy from dirt being blown around. Though it does give a nice reprieve from the heat.
CULTURE: CURACAO WINS
While we expected to find a heavy Dutch influence on Aruba, that just wasn’t the case. Yes, there are Dutch people living there and some people do speak Dutch but Spanish was heard way more. The mini marts/food stores were all named something Asian and there were too many American restaurant chains.
Curacao has the Dutch charm. The bright colored colonial Dutch buildings are found in Willemstad. Dutch was more prevalent here, as was Dutch food. Curacao had the Dutch caribbean feel we were hoping for.
CAPITALS: CURACAO WINS
This one is an easy win for Willemstad, Curacao. Like I said before, this is where you will find the colorful buildings that look like Amsterdam (though Amsterdam’s building are mostly monochromatic). The town is lively and fun to walk around. There are shops, restaurants, history, the Queen Emma bridge, markets, etc. It’s touristy without feeling too touristy.
Oranjestad, Aruba was a disappointment. The main part of the city seemed built for cruise ship traffic. The expensive shops and expensive restaurants just screamed cruise traffic or “tourist trap” to me. The pedestrian street that they do have is completely empty. Other than that, we didn’t really know where to go or what to do.
LANDSCAPE: ARUBA WINS
Aruba has a very desert-like landscape. It’s very dry with lots of dirt and lots of cacti. There’s not much vegetation besides cacti and divi divi trees. Curacao did not have as many cacti and a lot of the plants and trees were dried up and dying. To me, Aruba was a little more interesting to see as there were fields of cacti all across the island.
SAFETY: ARUBA WINS
It’s a little strange to say that Aruba is safe when the Natalie Holloway case was what made me aware of the island in the first place. But in general, Aruba has nice people living there, everyone seems very laid back and you don’t feel the need to lock up your belongings in safes. People reassured us that our things would be fine and left alone.
For Curacao, we felt like we needed to be more watchful. Though we didn’t have any problems, the vibe was a bit different here. The first thing people told us when we arrived was to NEVER leave anything in our car. Then they told us to keep it unlocked with the windows down because apparently break-ins are common. This was a common topic on forums as well.
Who wins? If you’ve kept track, you’ll notice that it’s a tie, which is why my husband and I debated this for so long. There are a few more topics I could add but they are a little more specific or hard for me to answer. Such as:
I had good seafood on both islands. You can also find traditional Dutch food on both islands. However, we didn’t eat at too many hot spots for me to be able to get a clear winner.
Curacao seems to have more spots for snorkeling and definitely more shore diving/snorkeling. Aruba was where I originally wanted to dive as they have a 400 ft wreck (The Antilla) and a few plane wreck dives, but it didn’t work out. Instead we dove in Curacao and did the tugboat wreck and some reefs. I’ve read on numerous blogs that most people prefer Curacao over Aruba for diving, which I was a bit surprised by (and if the option is there–Bonaire wins overall).
If we’re adding Carnaval to the debate, I think Curacao would win this one as well. We only attended Carnaval in Aruba (so I can’t accurately judge) but apparently the parade and celebration in Curacao is much, much bigger than Aruba.
SO WHO WINS???
This is the debate people! Even after I’ve weighed out both sides, I keep going back and forth. Frankly, it depends on what is most important to you. But the truth is, I would return to both of these islands. Curacao-for the culture, beautiful buildings and beaches. Aruba-for the beaches, landscape and laid-back vibe of the island (and to finally dive here!).
PIN IT FOR LATER!
Have you been to Aruba and/or Curacao? What did you think?