Curacao and Bonaire are two Caribbean islands located in the southern Caribbean, in the Lesser Antilles near the north eastern coast of Venezuela. They are sometimes categorized as part of the “ABC Islands,” which includes Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
All three islands were part of the autonomous country called Dutch Antilles (or Netherlands Antilles), until the official dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles in 2010. The three islands maintain ties to the Netherlands; Aruba and Curacao are autonomous and self-governed, while Bonaire is a municipality of the Netherlands.
In Globe Trekker Isolated Islands Zay Harding visits two islands of the former Dutch Antilles – Curacao and Bonaire. Both islands are rich in wildlife, and home to an interesting mix of cultural and natural diversity.
Bonaire and Curacao are famous for their incredible reefs and thriving marine life, offering some of the best underwater exploring in the Caribbean. Bonaire is just 24 miles long and 5 miles wide, yet it encompasses two important nature reserves – the Bonaire Marine Park, and the Washington-Slagbaai National Park in the north west of the island. The Washington-Slagbaai Park is home to coral colored flamingos, brightly hued parakeets, iguanas, and many more species. It is also an important site for the nesting of Caribbean sea turtles.
Curacao, known as Kursow in the local Papiamento language, is just 30 miles west of Bonaire, nearer to the Venezuelan coast, and is considerably larger than Bonaire. It is more frequently visited by tourists, and has an international airport. Curacao is also home to a great deal of wildlife and cultural diversity.
Its beautiful reefs and clear waters make for excellent diving and snorkeling. Christoffel National Park in northern Curacao allows travelers to get lost in the unspoiled nature of the island, and for those adventurous enough to climb the island’s tallest mountain, Mt. Christoffel offers a possible glance at Venezuela’s mountains in the distance.
- When To Go
- Top 5 Sites
- Top 5 Things To Do
The people of Bonaire and Curacao represent a diverse mix of cultures including African, Caribbean, South American, and European. African culture is strong in the islands, and both African and Afro-Caribbean traditions, music, and dance are celebrated in various festivals throughout the year.
Music and dance are important aspects of life in Bonaire and Curacao. Many dances and musical styles are African in origin. Other dances have come from Europe, America, South America, and the Caribbean. Combined with homemade instruments and an ethnically diverse population, the music scene in Curacao and Bonaire is a vibrant one.
Many languages are spoken on the islands. In addition to the predominant languages of Dutch and Papiamento (local Creole dialect that developed in the islands of the region) Spanish and English are also widely spoken.
An interesting feature of the Curacao market scene is its long established ‘floating’ market, located in Willemstad. The market is not really floating, though vendors who come from Venezuela to sell their Venezuelan grown produce arrive on wooden boats and live on them dockside sometimes for months while they sell stocks that replenished daily from the South American mainland. The market is a fascinating place, and representative of the blend of cultures that makes Curacao especially unique. Spanish is widely spoken in the market, by both vendors and buyers.
The terrain of both Bonaire and Curacao makes cultivation of produce a challenge, and much of the food eaten today is imported. Fish and seafood is an exception. Some fruits and vegetables are grown locally, including okra, potatoes, tropical fruits, and cactus (used to make Kadushi soup). The local food is called ‘Kuminda Kriyoyo,’ and features soups and hearty stews, as well as Creole inspired dishes. Typical accompaniments include rice, funchi (similar to polenta), and fried plantains.
Some typical dishes include Kadushi (soup made from Kadushi cactus) and Guiambo (soup with okra and seafood or meat). Creole style dishes are prepared with chicken, goat, vegetables, and savory (sometimes very hot) sauces. The cuisine of Bonaire features goat stew, gumbo, and fresh seafood.
Interestingly, there is one very newly established winery in Curacao, soon to be producing its own estate grown Curacao wines. Today many influences are represented in the food of Bonaire and Curacao, including South American, West African, Dutch, European, and Caribbean. There are many international restaurants on both islands.
Bonaire – 16,500
Curacao – 153,500
Bonaire – US dollar ($)
Curacao – Netherlands Antillean guilder (ANG)
Bonaire – Dutch (official); Papiamento (a Creole language unique to the islands, it is the native language and spoken by most)
Curacao – Dutch, Papiamento (official)
Note: Dutch and Papiamento are the official languages of Curacao. Dutch is the official language of Bonaire, though Papiamento is also spoken by most islanders. English and Spanish are also widely spoken in both places.
When To Go
Bonaire and Curacao receive the most visitors from approximately December to April. Rates outside of this high season are usually cheaper.
Rainy season is approximately October – February, though even during this time it can be sunny and hot during the day with evening or sporadic showers.
The islands are outside of the hurricane belt, though hurricanes or tropical storms are a possibility (though not common).
Average temperatures year round are in the mid 80’s (Fahrenheit). The weather is typically warm and sunny throughout the year with some breezes.
Dress is casual on the islands. Due to the warm weather shorts and a t-shirt or tank top are suitable for most days. Some breezes or winds from the east may call for a light extra layer, particularly in the spring. Rainy season is October – February, during which time a light jacket may be a good idea. Bring plenty of sun protection, a hat, and sunglasses.
Both Curacao and Bonaire are accessible from North America and Europe by plane, as well as from elsewhere in the Caribbean. Curacao has an international airport. Flights to Bonaire from the Caribbean will normally take you through Aruba or Curacao. Bonaire and Curacao are also both reachable by boat and cruise ship.
Getting around – Curacao is the larger of the two islands, with a more substantial public transportation system. Still, public transportation in both places is fairly limited. In Curacao there is a long distance bus system which uses buses called ‘Konvooi’ (for getting around the island, to major beaches, sites, etc.). There is also a system of smaller ‘buses’, which are actually usually minivans that can seat approximately 9-10 people (these are usually marked ‘bus’ on the vehicle), and are used for transport within and around the cities. Scooters and bikes can also be rented.
Car rental is available on both islands.
Popular modes of transport in Bonaire are walking, car rental, and scooter, quad, or bike rental. Water taxis are also available, particularly for getting from Kralendijk to the small island of Klein Bonaire.
Both Bonaire and Curacao have adequate health facilities. The most modern hospital is located on Curacao. Mosquitoes can sometimes be a bother in the rainy season and in the evening. There are some pharmacies and small clinics on both islands. Be sure to protect yourself from the heat of the sun with sun screen, a hat, sunglasses, and a light cover up. Drink plenty of water.
All visitors to Bonaire and Curacao are required to present a valid passport as well as an onward ticket or proof of sufficient funds for departure. Visa requirements depend on your country of origin, and it is recommended that you check with your local embassy to see if a visa is required for travel to Bonaire and Curacao.
Top 5 Sites
1. Donkey sanctuary (Bonaire)
2. Bonaire Marine Park (Bonaire)
3. Hato Caves (Curaçao)
4. Curaçao Museum (Willemstad, Curaçao)
5. Kura Hulanda Museum (Willemstad, Curaçao)
Top 5 Things To Do
1. Go snorkeling in Bonaire – world famous for its majestic reefs and offshore diving (Bonaire Marine Park)
2. Take the water taxi from Kralendijk to the deserted white sand beaches of Klein Bonaire (Bonaire)
3. Sample the famous Curaçao liqueur, made from the peel of bitter oranges (Curaçao)
4. Explore Washington-Slagbaai National Park (northwest Bonaire)
5. Hike to the summit of Mt. Christoffel for far-reaching views and a potential glimpse of Venezuela (Christoffel National Park, Curacao)
Great Explorers: The Americas
What to Buy?