Aruba + Bonaire + Curaçao Hotels
101 L.G. Smith Boulevard
Tel: 800 223 6388 (toll-free)
Tel: 297 586 9000
Not your typical business-trip Marriott. A $50-million face-lift in 2008 kitted out all 411 rooms with new flat-screen TVs, Jackpack technology, and bedding. The spacious bathrooms have twin sinks, rain-showerhead fixtures, and large walk-in closets, while equally roomy balconies hold a table and pair of chairs. The ground-floor lobby was transformed into a loungelike space with a sushi bar, gelateria, and a cocktail bar serving aloe martinis, while the top floor was remade into the concierge-level Tradewinds Club. Those rooms raise the ante on amenities with a pillow menu, luxe linens and robes, crackerjack concierges, and a lounge that lays out a smorgasbord of complimentary meals and snacks stretching from breakfast until the dessert hour. Rooms 826 through 829 have the best water views. Outside, the free-form pool has a swim-up bar (natch), while ranks of palms and thatch-roof palapas throw a modicum of shade on the pale, medium-packed sand. Or grab a beach chair and park in the gentle surf, though the shallows here are a bit mucky. The Palm Beach location is handy for water sports; windsurf and kiteboard operators can be found just north of the hotel, while Red Sail Sports books diving, sailing, and snorkeling trips (297-583-1603; redsailaruba.com). The complex also has a round-the-clock fitness center, a Balinese-themed spa with 12 treatment rooms, and Stellaris, the island's largest casino, with 32 tables and 500-plus slot machines.
Tel: 599 9 461 4377
This is the perfect compromise if you want a beach hotel that's also near town. Set on a private beach a mile and a half east of Punda, the family-owned Avilathe oldest continually operating hotel on Curaçaogrew out of a restored 18th-century mansion that was once the governor's residence. The estate now serves as the Avila's lobby and reception area, while the 140 rooms are located in two separate wings. Rooms in the Blues Wing have the best water views and a neutral color palette with stone floors. The thoroughly modern Octagon Wing, which opened in 2007, has more design-forward rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, walk-in showers, and South Beach-style decor. Ask for a room overlooking the Octagon House, an unusual eight-sided building where Simón Bolivar and his two sisters stayed after fleeing Spanish forces in nearby Venezuela in 1812. The restored two-story structure is topped by a parasol-shaped roof and holds a small museum recounting the revolutionary's exile. In addition to a sheltered beach, Avila has a freshwater swimming pool, several airy outdoor bars and restaurants, and Blues, the island's leading venue for live music and jazz.
Tel: 888 409 3506 (toll-free)
Tucked away in a quiet residential neighborhood, this intimate beachfront property (whose name mixes the owners' first initials with the Dutch word for oasis) uses dense, vibrant landscaping and high stone walls between guest rooms to create a cocooning feeling of privacy. Baoase is also transporting, as any memorable hotel should be, with a strong Asian-esque design that includes ubiquitous Balinese Hindu statues, idols, and sculptures, and a reliance on simplicity over dazzle. The eight villas and three suites are arranged in a loose horseshoe around a private beach; a giant Buddha stands sentry at the resort's man-made private islet 100 feet offshore. High-ceilinged suites mix dark-wood furnishings with whimsical touches like silver crocodile-print wallpaper and knobby chenille rugs that look like mats of pebbles; villas come with full stainless steel kitchens. The sole bar and restaurant produces fine Continental cuisine considering its limited beachfront facilitiestwo cooker burners, an induction heater, and a convection oven (a kitchen was being built at the time of our visit). Although service is not quite polished, the happy-go-lucky Dutch staff are refreshingly devoid of attitude.
55B L.G. Smith Boulevard
Tel: 297 583 1100
If Palm Beach's high-rise, high-energy scene seems overwhelming, this small, low-slung resort on Eagle Beach is a great escape—even though it's just a five-minute drive from Oranjestad. Backing a wide, blindingly white swatch of sand, the 104-room hotel is also the "greenest" property on Aruba, with a solar-heated water system, sensor-activated cooling system, and shower dispensers for soap, shampoo, and conditioner to eliminate tiny plastic bottles. The original building was renovated in 2007, but if you're after quiet and romance, request the earth-toned, two-year-old Tara Wing, where all rooms have water views and flat-screen TVs, and guests under 18 aren't allowed. Bucuti attracts a substantial number of honeymooners, particularly Europeans. Consequently, a large, family-friendly swimming pool, which is standard issue on Palm Beach, isn't in the cards, although the hotel has a small freshwater pool, a day spa, and an open-air fitness center. A mock galleon leans surreally over the seaview Pirates' Nest restaurant and bar, and every Thursday and Sunday evening free movies are screened on the beach. During daylight hours, three Webcams allow you to send gloating greetings to stay-at-home friends. Also be aware that the resort requires a minimum five-night stay.
103 Kaya Gobernador N. Debrot
Tel: 599 717 8290
The hissing of air tanks and a wetsuit-clad clientele make it very apparent that this property is obsessed with all things underwater. Owner Don Stewart sailed his schooner Valerie Queen into Kralendijk in 1962 and pioneered the island's eco-conscious diving industryan accomplishment that led to his 2005 induction into the Scuba Hall of Fame. The 85-room property, two miles north of the town center (and an easy 30-yard swim from La Machaca wreck dive), caters primarily to Americans who want to dive all day and half the night, then grab a quick meal on the patio or balcony of their apartment-style, kitchen-equipped villa. If that's too much effort, in-house dining options include Pizza Temple and Rum Runners, a waterside grill with local flavors such as chicken satay and a beef stew with coconut-and-black-eyed-pea polenta. The tented Deco Stop Bar can handle beach-cocktail classics or serve up a signature Bonaire Breeze (rum, tequila, pineapple juice, margarita mix, and blue Curaçao). Now in his 80s, colorful Cap'n Don still holds court every Monday evening with the accompaniment of free rum punch and Moogie, a popular Bonaire musician.
71 Kaya Gobernador N. Debrot
Tel: 800 424 0004 (toll-free)
Tel: 599 717 7500
Most Bonaire hotels are truly, madly dive-oriented, and this 30-room enclave is no exception. And you don't have to go far for great diving. The wooden-hulled island freighter Our Confidence, which sank in 2003, is clearly visible just 50 yards off the beach in 55 feet of water. The hotel's onsite outfitter, PADI-certified Great Adventures, also offers one- and two-tank boat-dive trips that accommodate snorkelers, and can also arrange night dives at Town Pier. The hotel itself is tucked into a larger condo and marina complex and has lots of amenities for more land-based travelers (a golden beach, spa, and fitness center). The well-tended coconut and sea grape trees shade two wings of Dutch-colonial-style rooms with ceiling fans, plantation-style furniture, and private porches or balconies. The second-story corner unit in Kasa Amapola (Room 225) combines privacy with the best beach and water views. Ship-shaped La Balandra restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner along with wide-angle views of uninhabited Klein Bonaire island.
Tel: 877-264-3106 (toll-free)
Tel: 599 9 434 7700
Set within Willemstad's UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kura Hulanda comprises eight blocks of lovingly restored 18th- and 19th-century Dutch homes in the vibrant Otrabanda quarter. The villagelike complex includes 80 one-of-a-kind rooms, the Museum Kura Hulanda, a casino, spa, several restaurants, and a free-form swimming pool fed by a man-made waterfall. The owner, Dutch entrepreneur-philanthropist Jacob Gelt Dekker, has spared no expense, paving the narrow lanes with granite cobblestones from Rajasthan and installing vintage Dutch-colonial lanterns salvaged from Java. The 80 rooms have hand-carved furniture, custom-woven fabrics, and marble-tiled bathrooms. The buildings' two-foot-thick walls, which are decorated with hand-stenciled patterns, buffer any outside noise. If you do venture off-property, the Queen Emma Bridge connecting to Punda, the old section of town, is just a five-minute walk away. And beach lovers can relax: A free shuttle connects twice a day to Dekker's other holding, the Lodge Kura Hulanda & Beach Club in Westpunt.
85 J.E. Irausquin Boulevard
Tel: 297 586 1234
Though located on bustling Palm Beach, the Hyatt can lay claim to Aruba's most relaxed vibe. It starts with the enormous open-air lobby, where a coffered ceiling and giant urns impart an Asian atmosphere, and spills out onto meticulously manicured grounds and ornamental ponds stocked with koi and black swans. Upstairs the 360 rooms received a $20-million reboot in 2008 that added 32-inch flat-screen TVs, complimentary wireless Internet access, and ceiling fans. The rooms also have "step-out" balconies, but the ledgelike two-foot depth will attract only furtive smokers. Rooms in the north wing go bigger and higher (those that end in 44 and 45 have the finest water views). The Casino Copacabana is overshadowed by the Marriott's Stellaris gambling parlor, but every other facility is first-rate, including the multitiered swimming pool with waterslide and swim-up bar, spa and fitness center, business center, lighted tennis courts, and a small shopping arcade stocking boldface Italian designers such as Armani, Versace, and Zegna. The Ruinas del Mar restaurant serves Continental fare beside a man-made lagoon, and the Piet's Pier Bar juts out over the water.
1 Playa Kalki
Tel: 877-264-3106 (toll-free)
Tel: 599 9 839 3600
This getaway property in Westpunt, on the extreme end of Curaçao, is an hour's drive from the commercial bustle of Willemstad and feels even more removed. Situated on the edge of a limestone bluff, its 32 villa suites have stunning sunset views and quick access to bone-white Playa Kalki beach. Just inland, the wooded grounds camouflage 42 bungalow rooms, including a rustic tree house. All rooms come equipped with kitchenettes and complimentary broadband Internet. Ground-floor villas have more room, while those on the second floor enjoy the best sunset views (especially Villa 216). And if owner Jacob Gelt Dekker is off-island on another adventure (he's circumnavigated the globe 50 times), his amazing private residencean enormous tree house fitted with canopy beds, zebra-skin rugs, and African and Asian antiques acquired on his travelscan also be rented. Sea-view Christoffel Sunset Lounge and Watamula Restaurant cover, respectively, the casual-fare or fine-dining cravings of a clientele made up mostly of couples, both straight and gay. On-site dive shop Ocean Encounters West offers quick access to some of the best sites on Curaçao's protected leeward coast, and also rents paddle boats, sea kayaks, and snorkel gear. Take a free Friday scuba lesson in the swimming pool, and then tackle Alice in Wonderland, a dive site known for its star corals and spotted eagle rays that starts just 100 yards off the beach. A free shuttle runs twice daily to Dekker's other holding, Hotel Kura Hulanda Spa & Casino in Willemstad.
81 J.E. Irausquin Boulevard
Tel: 888 201 1718 (toll-free)
Tel: 297 586 6555
More than any other Palm Beach high-rise, this 354-room hotel has a casual, lived-in quality. Perhaps it's because one of the wings incorporates the area's first hotel or the fact that mature coconut, sea grape, and frangipani trees have been allowed to go slightly feral. The fine-sand beach, which is studded with 150 palapas, seems to come all the way up to a pair of free-form swimming pools rimmed by cabanas and sea oats. Many rooms have plantation-style four-poster mahogany beds, and all have Italian marble bathrooms and free Internet access. The seventh- and eighth-floor Plaza Club rooms have 42-inch flat-screen TVs, Egyptian cotton sheets, and angled water-view balconies. The family-conscious operation also has a kid's camp, PADI-certified dive center, fitness center, and Avis car-rental desk. Grown-ups will appreciate the four-diamond Sunset Grille, a steakhouse with superb service and wine cellar, and the award-winning Larimar Spa, an Asian-Caribbean space where you can soothe sun-baked skin with an aloe vera and rum massage.