Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Curacao Vacation Review: An Alternative to Aruba

Pietermaii colored houses
Pietermaai colored houses splash color across Curacao. © Curaçao Tourist Board
A Curaçao vacation is a nice way to explore one of the ABC islands that lie off the coast of Venezuela.

The ABC islands consist of Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao.

Aruba is one of the 10 best Caribbean islands, especially for people who want to stay there for a week or more. It has great beaches, dining and nightlife, especially along Palm Beach.

Bonaire is the smallest and least developed of the three. It has a strong reputation among scuba divers.

Curaçao sits somewhere between the two of them -- a good reputation for snorkeling and scuba diving, and in the middle of the pack of Caribbean islands for popularity among tourists.

But what if you aren't a scuba diver? No worries, the island has other ways of keeping tourists busy.

We spent a week exploring Curaçao and came away with mostly favorable impressions.

The trip took place during the summer, when average high temperatures reach 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Almost no rain fell during the entire week, which was not a surprise because Curaçao is known for being one of the most arid islands in the Caribbean.

The people were friendly and helpful, and English was widely spoken. Europe provides the largest number of stayover tourists followed by South America and then North America.


Curacao waterfront
Handelskade lies in the foreground by the Queen Emma pontoon bridge; Juliana Bridge arches high in the background. © Curaçao Tourism Board
Curaçao has two main attractions. One is that it tries to maintain its Dutch heritage as part of the Netherlands Antilles cluster of islands -- the ABCs plus St. Maarten, Saba and St. Barthelemy. The number of Dutch-speaking tourists at the local hotels and resorts is noteworthy.

The other attraction -- and the biggest -- is the city of Willemstad.

Willemstad was chosen by UNESCO as a world cultural heritage. The most noteworthy part of it is the Handelskade waterfront, which includes a large shopping district, restaurants and a remarkably relaxed atmosphere.

It is here that the Dutch influence is most apparent with the colorful buildings and architectural style.

Visitors should plan on spending most of the day in Willemstad because there is much to see and do. Plan on eating lunch, dinner or both by the harbor entrance to take advantage of the views.

Anyone who may not want to spend most of the day there should confine their visit to the harbor entrance and the first few streets lining the Handelskade waterfront across the Queen Emma swinging pontoon bridge.

Other attractions include the Curaçao Sea Aquarium, Dolphin Academy, ostrich farm, Hato Caves and Christoffel Park.

Our beach was nice but did not compare to the beaches in Aruba. We didn't have a chance to visit one of the most popular beaches on the island at Kenepa.

Getting There

The ABC islands lie near the coast of Venezuela, and they are among the farthest Caribbean destinations to reach for U.S. and Canadian visitors.

Because of their distance, flight times are longer than most destinations and airline ticket prices are higher because of the extra fuel costs. Expect to pay $600 or more for a ticket depending on the day of the week and the time of the year.

Aruba has more airline flights available because it is much more popular as a tourist destination than Curaçao.

Normally that would mean ticket prices to Aruba would be lower, but we didn't find that to be the case. Flights to both destinations cost about the same.

All of the major airlines offer flights to Curacao from major U.S. airports, and some lesser known ones offer them at deep discounts. At the time of this writing, they include Avianca based in Bogota, Columbia, and Copa Airlines out of Panama City, Panama.


Curaçao is not among the 10 most popular Caribbean islands. But it is a good choice for U.S. and Canadian visitors who plan to travel during rainier months in the Caribbean but who also have been to Aruba and want to try something different.

It offers some of the same advantages of Aruba -- hotter temperatures, low risk of rain, similar travel distances and similar airline ticket prices.

Outside of the main tourist areas, both islands have similar living conditions among the locals and similar barren, almost desert-like landscapes.

We found that Willemstad was more appealing than Oranjestad in Aruba but about equal to Aruba's Palm Beach in appeal, even though they are quite different in their atmosphere and amenities.
Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.

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February 17, 2020