Aruba, Bonaire and Curaҫao Islands –
Curaҫao was first settled by the Dutch in 1634 and Bonaire and Aruba in 1636 and these three islands, grouped together as the ABC Islands, lie as an arc of tiny islands just off the Venezuelan coastline in the South Caribbean Sea.
There are International Airports on all three of the islands, with Cruise ships entering the Harbours in Bonaire and Curaҫao too.
Aruba - This island is just 19 miles long(30km) and just 15 miles (24km) off the Venezuelan coastline, with Queen Beatrix International Airport having connections to the USA and the Netherlands and Oranjestad being the main city.
Originally the island was settled by Caquetio Arawaks tribes before the first Spaniard, Alonzo de Ojeda set foot here in 1499, but it was the Dutch in 1636 that first established the first small settlement here.
Today there are 10 windmills on the island to supply much of the power for the island, and a 7 mile strip of white sandy beaches on the western side is also lined with hotels, resorts and casinos.
Aruba is very much a holiday island and has all the beachside activities and water sports. There is also a National Park with interesting coastal landforms and vegetation, including a tree they call the Fofoti tree that is shaped largely by the winds.
The island being so far south escapes the hurricanes that can sometimes hit more northern islands, so year round the island makes a great holiday location. You need a passport to visit and the local currency is the Aruban Florin. Dutch and Papiamento are the main languages but most tourist hotels and shop will speak English, Spanish or Portuguese. Just of Aruba there is also the De Palm Island for day trips to go helmet diving and enjoy other activities including shopping.
Bonaire – was also claimed by Spain in 1499 and like Aruba it was first settled by the Dutch in 1636 with the Dutch bringing their first African slaves to the island in the 1600's too, with the small village of Rincon being one of the oldest settlements in the New World.
For a small number of years, between 1799 and 1815 Bonaire was occupied by different forces, but it returned to Dutch hands in 1816 and has remained so since then. The main town in Kralendijk with a population of about 3000 people and the island is best known for its beaches and dive sites off-shore, which are easily accessible and have great colourful fish, corals, turtles and other wildlife to see. Just offshore is the island of Klein Bonaire which is a renowned dive site.
There are lots of beach activities and water sports. In Kralendijk there are a number of historic buildings, a museum and also a war memorial too from the time in World War II when a number of troops were stationed here keeping watch over the waterways where German submarines were located.
The island Airport is named Flamingo International Airport, and on the island you should be able to see Flamingo birds in the wild. If you like mountain hiking, the highest mountain is Subi Brandaris which rises to 784 feet. At the top there are great views and a white monument marker with one of the distinctive trees here being the Divi Divi Trees that look like they have been blown sideways by the winds that blow over the island.
In Rincon and Kralendijk you should be able to see the orange painted houses with their red roof tiles, a very Dutch style of housing.
The island is also known for its food, music and dance with the Simadan Dance and other dance movements and a unique mix of island instruments creating a great sound rhythm which you will hopefully see and hear when you come here.
Curaҫao Island is located between Aruba and Bonaire and is the most populated and developed of the three islands. If you have been in a bar and seen the Blue Liqueur they call Curaҫao, this is named after the island of Curaҫao where the Laraha fruit is grown.
In 1527 the Spanish brought oranges from Valencia in Spain and planted some seeds here that over centuries have taken on a different bitter orange taste and have been renamed as Laraha. It is the peel of this bitter fruit that is used in the making of Curaҫao Liqueur.
Curaҫao has lots of history with the main port city, Wilemstad and Otrobanda on the other side of St Anna Bay having that very distinctive Dutch style and bright orange and blue colour schemes. The architecture is significant enough that it has been given UNESCO World Heritage Status too.
Here on the island you will find a number of museums including the Curaҫao Museum and Maritime Museum, an old synagogue, warehouses and grand merchant houses alongside hotels, guest houses and other places to stay. Casinos are here on the island with a mix of Dutch, African and Latin foods, music, crafts, art galleries and activities creating a rich cultural mix. There are also good golf courses here on the island, good shopping at a number of locations, markets and of course all the water sports, reef diving, snorkelling and beachside activities. You can also see a Dolphin Academy , Seaquarium and Curaҫao Underwater Park with a great coastline that has both beaches and also rocky coastlines. For caves – look for Hato Caves with its guided tours of the caves and stories of its past. There is also an Ostrich Farm to see too and an Aloe Vera Plantation on the island – so lots of things to do and see apart from just lying on the beach under a thatch roof umbrella.
Other activities include sailing and water skiing on the inland waterways too, and wreck diving off the coastline. Mt Christoffel National Park has some 8 hiking trails and there is the Plantation Savonet Museum here too where you can discover more about the days of the sugar plantations.
Other plantation houses to see include Santa Marthabay and the Countryhouse Ascencion in Banda Abao. See www.landhuisascension-curacao.com
There is no shortage of places to stay and certainly the architecture near St Anna Bay in Punda, Otrabanda and Scharloo creates a unique ambience in the city of Willemstad.
All three of the islands are geared to tourism and the water surrounding each of the islands is magnificent.
If you are looking for more activities, my pick of the three islands is Curaҫao.