Many cruise ships on Southern Caribbean itineraries port at the ABC Islands, located in the Leeward Antilles. Here, Lauren Yakiwchuk of JustinPlusLauren gives us the lowdown on everything that the beautiful isles of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao have to offer Caribbean cruisers.
The Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao (affectionately known as the ‘ABC Islands’) are dreamy tropical destinations. They’re located far below the hurricane belt, making them nearly immune to tropical storms, so you’ll enjoy nearly perfect weather all year long, with warm temperatures and bright sunshine.
These three islands are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, though they remain outside of the European Union. They don’t exhibit the typical lush and mountainous features of other Caribbean islands, and Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are very flat and arid – rife with cacti and intriguing rock formations.
With each holding its own interesting history and culture to discover, here’s what sets the ABC Islands apart from other Caribbean destinations, and why you need to make sure they’re on your next cruise travel plans.
In Aruba, cruise ships dock at the port of Oranjestad, the island’s capital. Immediately, I’m sure you’ll notice the upscale and glitzy shopping opportunities. However, I suggest that you get out of the port and explore the rest of the island.
Outdoor enthusiasts should head to Arikok National Park for a hike. Here you’ll see captivating lava, a limestone formation, and a quartz diorite formation on your journey. Speaking of rock formations, the two most famous sites in Aruba are Casibari Rock and Ayo Rock; climb around and explore these incredible sights that are entirely unique to the island.
There are snorkeling and scuba opportunities in the waters surrounding Aruba where you’ll see a variety of fish, coral, and sea life. One of the best snorkel and dive sites is around the the Antilla Shipwreck. The remains of this German cargo ship comprise the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean. It’s also possible to book an excursion to explore the Antilla Shipwreck from inside a submarine.
Aruba is most famous for its beautiful beaches. If you’re looking for white sand and twinkling turquoise waters, head to one of Aruba’s many gorgeous shorelines. Eagle Beach regularly appears on lists naming the top 10 beaches in the world, with its crystal clear, calm waters and powdery, soft sand. Water sports like tubing and jet skiing are also offered.
On the other end of the Island, Baby Beach’s water stays shallow – making it a great snorkeling location. For family-friendly adventures, check out De Palm Island, featuring a water park and other activities for the whole family.
Bonaire is technically considered to be a ‘special municipality’ of the Netherlands. It’s a dry island with very little rainfall, typically staying at temperatures of around 27 degrees Celsius all year long.
The island of Bonaire attracts scuba enthusiasts from around the world as the entire coastline is surrounded by a coral reef. This area was designated as a marine sanctuary in 1979 – the Bonaire National Marine Park – to protect its fragile reef and the marine life. Over 350 species of fish and 60 species of coral thrive there.
Divers can explore any number of dive sites at the Bonaire National Marine Park. If you love snorkelling, be sure to take a tour to Klein Bonaire, the small uninhabited isle just off the main island – there’s a great possibility that you’ll be able to swim alongside sea turtles!
Nature lovers should check out the Washington Slagbaai National Park. It’s a nature reserve that’s home to over 200 different types of birds, and includes many hiking trails throughout its desert environment, such as the Kasikunda Climbing Trail. Climb to the top of this volcanic hill for some spectacular view of the surrounding scenery.
Bonaire is home to a donkey sanctuary that tourists and encouraged to visit and support. There’s also an abundance of flamingos and iguanas that live on the island.
Cruise ships dock at the port in Kralendijk, the capital city of Bonaire. There’s a small craft market near the port with original, handmade gifts and art made by locals.
As your cruise ship sails towards the port of Willemstad in Curacao, you’ll be greeted by rows of inviting pastel houses. The buildings here are painted in vibrant shades of yellow, pink, orange, blue, and just about any colour other than white. From the ship, walk across the Queen Emma Bridge, also known as “The Swinging Old Lady”, which connects two sides of Willemstad, and often opens and closes to allow marine traffic to pass through.
Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage City, being a historic trading settlement with architecture influenced by Dutch, Spanish, and Portuguese colonial towns. Take a stroll around and discover the Floating Market; small boats from nearby Venezuela line the stalls, selling fresh fruit and fish at low prices.
Take an excursion outside of Willemstad to explore the Hato Caves. These coral and limestone caverns developed over the span of 200,000 years beneath the sea. Discover elaborate stalactites and stalagmites, as well as ancient cave paintings by the native Arawak Indians. These drawings are some of the oldest remaining relics by natives throughout the entire Caribbean.
Much like Aruba and Bonaire, Curacao is ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as for admiring the long stretches of white, sandy beaches.
Of course, it’s customary to try a beverage created from the island’s famous liqueur, Blue Curacao. A lesser known yellow variety of the Curacao drink is also available on the island, made from the bitter oranges that grow there. If you’re not tempted by liqueur, Amstel Bright Beer is brewed locally in Curacao. It’s a pale lager served with a wedge of lime, perfect for enjoying on the patio or beach.
Whether you adore exploring nature, quaint towns, underwater environments, or simply relaxing on stunning beaches, the ABC Islands are truly unique destinations that are easily accessible by cruise ship. Rarely disrupted by tropical storms and excellent to visit all year long, be sure to add these Caribbean islands to your cruising bucket list.
Fancy exploring the ABC islands for yourself? Check out our full range of Caribbean cruises, many of which visit Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao as part of their itineraries.