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Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao, the ABC Islands, are the westernmost isles of the Leeward Antilles, basking in year-round sunshine in the far south of the Caribbean. All three have beautiful sandy beaches, colorful architecture, and dazzling coral reefs to explore.

You’ll also find plenty to enjoy beyond the beaches. Cycling tours, off-road ATV adventures, caves, historic houses, vibrant markets, and street art await.

Each island shares historic ties with The Netherlands, so you’ll find Dutch influences in the cuisine, place names, and language. But their individual cultures are different.

Multicultural Aruba is a playground for sun-seekers, while sleepy Bonaire is more about nature, with divers flocking to explore its coral reefs. Curaçao blends Dutch, Latin, and Asian influences. All three enjoy a high standard of living and exude a laid-back Caribbean charm.

Why Visit the ABC Islands

Aerial view of Knip beach, Curacao

Knip Beach, Curaçao

The ABC Islands are quite different from the greener, more mountainous islands further north and east in the Caribbean. These islands are more arid, with almost desert-like interiors and beautiful sandy beaches—some would say the finest in the Caribbean, thanks to the astonishing turquoise hue of the water.

They also have a climate that is rarely affected by hurricanes, making these great destinations to visit in what’s low season elsewhere in the region. Meanwhil, constant trade winds mean that this is a top destination among wind- and kite-surfers.

Colorful waterfront of Willemstad, Curacao

Willemstad, Curaçao

What’s more, the Dutch influence in the architecture and the food is fascinating. You’ll find markets selling wheels of Dutch cheese and Asian restaurants (the legacy of the Dutch colonization of Indonesia) where you can try rijsttafel, a spectacular array of spicy dishes.

There’s plenty to see and do on each island, from off-road driving adventures to wildlife encounters and spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving. The ABC Islands are tiny, so it’s easy to fit different activities into a single day if you want to mix cultural activities with beach time.

History & Culture

Street view of Kralendijk, Bonaire in the ABC Islands

Kralendijk, Bonaire

The islands were originally inhabited by the Arawak, an indigenous tribe. The first European to arrive was Alonso de Ojeda, a Spanish explorer who sailed to the islands in 1499. The Spanish colonized the islands and quickly established them as a base for their Caribbean operations, importing slaves from Africa to work on the sugar plantations.

The Spaniards were ousted in 1634 by the Dutch, and the islands fell under the control of the Dutch West India Company, which continued to exploit slaves. The Netherlands became wealthy from its Caribbean slave and sugar trade operations.

When slavery was abolished in 1863, a new source of income had to be found. This eventually came in the early 20th century, when oil was discovered in Venezuela, and refineries were developed in Aruba and Curaçao.

White sand beach in Aruba


Aruba and Curaçao, although now independent, are still part of the Kingdom of The Netherlands, while Bonaire is what’s called a “public body”, similar to a municipality of The Netherlands.

Dutch is spoken in all three islands, as well as English and Papiamentu, a form of Creole that incorporates elements of Portuguese, Dutch, English, and Spanish.

Wildlife & Nature

Pink flamingos in Bonaire

Pink flamingos

You’ll spot an array of Caribbean wildlife as you explore the islands. Lizards, goats, snakes, bats, colorful butterflies, and brilliant pink flamingos inhabit all three islands.

Donkeys in Santa Cruz Donkey Sanctuary, Aruba

Santa Cruz Donkey Sanctuary, Aruba

One of the best things to do in Aruba is to visit the Butterfly Farm for a closer encounter, or the Ostrich Farm, where you can hand-feed the residents. Another option is the Santa Cruz Donkey Sanctuary, where injured wild donkeys are rehabilitated. In Curaçao, meanwhile, you can spot endangered white-tailed deer in Christoffel Park.

Birdwatchers will be in heaven in the ABC Islands, as there are so many colorful species. Look out for tiny, shimmering hummingbirds, the vivid, orange and black Venezuelan troupial, and yellow-headed parakeets. On the coast, you’ll see brown pelicans, frigatebirds, and ospreys.

Marine life in Bonaire National Marine Park

Bonaire National Marine Park

In the water, with luck, you’ll see graceful sea turtles, dolphins, and stingrays, as well as dozens of species of vibrant tropical fish. Bonaire in particular has spectacular underwater life, its coral reefs protected as the Bonaire National Marine Park.

Bari Reef is another one of the best diving spots in the world, where you could see barracuda, octopus, and tarpon.

Tips for Visiting the ABC Islands

Couple enjoying a tasting at the Curaçao Liqueur Distillery, Bonaire

Curaçao Liqueur Distillery

Make a point of sampling the local cuisine, which has Dutch roots as well as African, Asian, and Portuguese.

If you want to buy Dutch products like Gouda or Edam cheese and are not planning a trip to The Netherlands, this is the place to stock up on gift boxes. That, or a bottle of Blue Curaçao, the brightly colored liqueur for which Curaçao is famous.

Be aware of the local currency. Dealing with the different currencies in the ABC Islands can be confusing. Aruba uses the Aruban guilder (AWG) and Curaçao, the Antillean guilder (NAF), both of which are fixed to the US dollar at approximately 1.80 to $1.

However, neither is interchangeable when you travel between the islands. Bonaire uses the US dollar. Luckily, US dollars are widely accepted on all three islands, and you will even find ATMs dispensing dollars.

Couple snorkeling in Bonaire

Snorkeling in Bonaire

Make time to explore the underwater world as the ABC Islands have some of the finest snorkeling and scuba diving in the world. If you don’t want to dive, there are glass-bottomed boat tours, glass-bottomed kayaks, and helmet diving, where you walk on the sea floor in a special helmet that doesn’t require you to wear a mask or use a regulator.

Read: Curaçao vs. Aruba: Which Should You Visit?

Things to Do & Attractions in the ABC Islands

See the Fofoti Trees on Eagle Beach

Fofoti trees in Eagle Beach

Eagle Beach, Aruba

Arguably the most famous and most photographed beach in the ABC Islands, Eagle Beach is a wide expanse of soft, white sand and sea that’s the most intense shade of turquoise imaginable. The iconic feature of Eagle Beach is the two fofoti trees here, their gnarled trunks twisted to point the foliage to the south west, the direction in which the wind blows.

After photographing the trees, there’s plenty to do on this Aruban beach, from watersports to relaxing on a sun lounger or snacking at some of the restaurants and food trucks along the sand.

Dive Over Wrecks

View of the Antilla Shipwreck, Aruba

Antilla Shipwreck, Aruba

Certified scuba divers will love Aruba, where there are 11 wrecks and over 20 dive sites. The underwater life is exceptional, and you should spot everything from lobsters to stingrays, moray eels, octopuses, and even tiny seahorses.

One of the best places to visit in Aruba is the Antilla Shipwreck, a vast German ship that was scuttled by the Dutch in 1940 and now lies in 60 feet of clear water. It’s populated by sponges, corals, and dozens of species of marine creatures.

Wreck of SS Pedernales, Aruba

SS Pedernales, Aruba

Others include the Harbor Tugboat, which lies at 80 feet and is now encrusted with sponges and coral. Beginners can tackle the SS Pedernales, an oil tanker that was sunk by a U-boat in 1942 and today lies in just 24 feet of water, broken into several sections and teeming with life.

Read: Best Scuba Diving Spots in Aruba

Learn About the Healing Properties of Aloe Vera

Aloe vera farm in Aruba

Royal Aruba Aloe Factory, Aruba

Learn about the healing powers of aloe vera gel, harvested from the aloe which grows all over the islands. The plant is farmed and processed at the Royal Aruba Aloe Factory and turned into a fragrant range of skin, hair, and after-sun products.

The factory has been here since 1890, and a tour will tell you all about the history of aloe on the island. You’ll have a chance to sample and buy products from the source, too; aloe vera is especially helpful and soothing if you’ve overdone the sun tanning.

Dip Into Bonaire’s Past

Yellow church in Rincon, Bonaire

Rincon, Bonaire

One of the best things to do in Bonaire to explore its history is to visit Rincon, the oldest village in the Dutch Caribbean to have been continually inhabited.

Rincon has stood here since the early 16th century when it was settled by the Spanish. Later, it was home to slaves who lived here with their families and worked the salt pans, a particularly punishing task.

You can visit an old plantation house which is home to a small museum containing household items, furniture, and tools from that dark time in the island’s history.

Cycle Bonaire’s Coastline

White sands of Te Amo Beach, Bonaire

Te Amo Beach, Bonaire

Bonaire’s tranquil coastline lends itself to exploration on two wheels. You can pedal for around 12 miles along a paved ocean road, taking in dramatic views of the historic lighthouse and the stark salt flats, where old slave huts still stand.

You’ll end the trip at the beautiful Te Amo Beach, one of Bonaire’s best beaches. Here, you can relax on the soft sand, cool off in the aquamarine shallows, or snorkel over coral reefs.

Sail to Klein Bonaire

ABC Islands - Klein Bonaire

Klein Bonaire

Sail to serene Klein Bonaire, an uninhabited, 1,500-acre island surrounded by reefs, on a Samur, a traditional Siamese junk.

The thrill of the sailing expedition is combined with snorkeling over magnificent Caribbean reefs, where you could see five different species of sea turtles as well as dazzling shoals of reef fish.

Wander Around Willemstad

Colorful waterfront of Willemstad, Curaçao

Willemstad, Curaçao

Curaçao’s buzzing little capital is a slice of the Netherlands in the Caribbean—with colors to match. The gabled houses along the Handelskade, the waterfront quay, are a sight to behold, in jazzy shades of orange, turquoise, sky-blue, and pale pink.

The city center is divided by Sint Anna Bay, spanned by the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, also known as the “Swinging Old Lady”.

Colorful floating Market in Willemstad, Curaçao

Floating Market in Willemstad, Curaçao

Once you’ve admired the bridge, explore some of the markets. The Floating Market to the north of Handelskade is vibrant with fresh fruit and fishermen selling their day’s catch.

Punda, a district dating back to the 17th century,  is a great place to head for traditional Dutch cheese and Delft figurines. The striking 17th-century Fort Amsterdam is in the same area. Built to defend the island from pirates, the fort today houses the local government.

Bask on Knip Beach

Aerial view of Knip Beach

Knip Beach, Curaçao

Grote Knip, the wider of the two Knip beaches, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Curaçao. This sweep of sugary sand is backed by low-lying green hills, the water a mesmerizing shade of aquamarine.

This is a public beach, and as such, is relatively free of facilities, which is part of its rustic charm. You’ll find umbrellas to rent, though, and a food truck selling cold smoothies.

Food & Drink

Mahi-mahi on a plate


The food and drink in the ABC Islands has been influenced by the Netherlands, certainly, but you’ll find everything from Portuguese to Asian flavors in the local dishes you try.

Seafood is abundant in all the islands, found on its own, served with a spicy Creole sauce, or in a hearty stew. Mahi-mahi, grouper, and lionfish are all popular—and by eating lionfish, you’re doing the ecosystem a favor as it’s an invasive and unwelcome (if tasty) species.

Pastechi on a plate


A popular dish in Aruba is keshi yena, a combination of meat, vegetables, and dried fruit baked inside a large ball of cheese. For snacks, you can’t go wrong with pastechi, the island’s answer to empanadas.

Pan bati is a sweet flatbread that locals eat with soups and stews, or with sugar, like a pancake. If you like Asian food, head for an Indonesian restaurant for rijsttafel, a banquet of dishes based on rice, noodles, meats, fish, spring rolls, sambal (a chili sauce), and peanuts.

Stroopwafels on a plate


On Curaçao, you’ll find similar Dutch dishes, including raw herring with pickles and waffles with cream and sweet toppings. Stroopwafels, which you can buy in packs to take home, are thin wafers with caramel in between and are absolutely delicious with coffee.

For Caribbean flavors, try karni stoba, a spicy goat meat stew. Or arepas, which originate in Venezuela and are stuffed with anything from meat to cheese, avocado, or corn.

ABC Islands - Blue Curaçao

Blue Curaçao

An unmissable thing to do in Curaçao is to visit the Curaçao Liqueur Distillery at Landhuis Chobolobo, home of the famous Blue Curaçao. This bright blue liqueur has been made from Curaçao’s oranges, descendants of the bitter Valencia oranges imported by the Spanish, since 1896.

The blue color is added for visual effect, not flavor, and will form the basis of cocktails that will be the talking point of any party.

Bonaire’s cuisine is similar to that of its neighbors in that it features a lot of seafood and goat meat. Guiambo, like gumbo, is a rich seafood stew, in Bonaire’s case, featuring okra.

Many savory dishes are accompanied by pika siboyo, a condiment of onions marinated with spicy peppers and vinegar.

Read: The Ultimate Curaçao Food Guide

Best Time to Visit the ABC Islands

ABC Islands - Bonaire


The best time to visit the ABC Islands is from mid-January through May. Unlike the rest of the Caribbean, which tends to be wetter in May, these are the dry months, with warm, sunny days.

Essentially, though, the ABC Islands lie outside the hurricane belt so are much less affected by seasonal storms from June to November. Although November does receive rainfall, this usually comes in the form of short, sharp showers that clear the air. In effect, you can enjoy your experience in the ABC Islands at any time of year.

Aerial view of Aruba


Discover these beautiful islands on a cruise to the ABC Islands with Celebrity Cruises. Browse itineraries on our website and book your next tropical getaway.

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