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Overview

LAY OF THE LAND
The islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao make up the Leeward Antilles and lie just off the coast of South America. On a clear day you can see Venezuela from Aruba, just 15 miles away. First visited by Europeans in 1499 by explorer Amerigo Vespucci, the ABCs have rugged limestone coastlines, jagged fringing reefs, rolling hills of scrub forest, and limited rainfall, which prompted the Spanish to label them islas inutiles (useless islands). Curaçao was claimed in 1636 by the Dutch, who developed Willemstad into one of the world's finest deepwater harbors. Curaçao, nearly equidistant between Aruba and Bonaire, is, at 171 square miles, the largest of the three islands as well as the most populated and least dependent on tourism. To the west lies Aruba, the smallest of the trio (about 74 square miles). With few natural resources, it relies on an oil refinery in San Nicolas, near its eastern tip, and a string of high-rise resorts along white-sand Palm Beach near the west end. Over Aruba's eastern horizon lies boomerang-shaped, 113-square-mile Bonaire. It depended on saltworks and aloe plantations until the mid-1970s, when the lightly populated island caught on as a world-renowned diving destination.

WHEN TO GO


The ABCs are rarely visited by the hurricanes that haunt most of the Caribbean in late summer and early fall. Indeed, other than a brief October–November rainy season, they receive little rainfall, averaging only 22 inches a year. Despite the near-constant sunshine, the average year-round temperature is only 82 degrees, thanks to brisk trade winds that keep the islands cool. Water temperatures average a very comfortable 80 degrees. Aruba swells with American visitors during the holidays, school vacations, and college spring breaks. Curaçao gets a bump in tourism in August, the vacation time for Europeans, and during the Caribbean's December–April cruise-ship season, when Willemstad is a popular port of call. Drowsy Bonaire never seems overrun.

HOW TO GET THERE


The easiest island to get to is Aruba, which is served by a number of daily nonstop flights on American, Continental, Delta, JetBlue, and United. American also flies nonstop daily from Miami to Curaçao's large, underused Hato International Airport. The island's carrier, Insel Air, also offers four flights per week from Miami in the winter season. There are a limited number of direct flights weekly to Bonaire's Flamingo International Airport aboard American Eagle, Continental, and Delta.

Numerous cruise ships, particularly those of the Holland-America Line, include Curaçao on their itineraries. Passenger liners are also a common sight at the Oranjestad port on Aruba, but the pier in tiny Kralendijk, Bonaire, can only accommodate smaller cruise ships.

When departing Aruba, American travelers clear U.S. Customs while still on-island. The lengthy process requires going through two sets of passport control (Aruban then American) as well as two security-screening procedures. During the tourist season, be sure to arrive at Queen Beatrix International Airport a good three hours before your departure time.

GETTING AROUND


Several local airlines link the ABCs with scheduled interisland service, but Dutch Antilles Express has the most frequent flights aboard the largest turboprop aircraft (599-717-0808; flydae.com). Curaçao's Hato International Airport is on the north side of the island, approximately six miles from Willemstad. Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport, just east of Oranjestad, is a five-mile drive from the Palm Beach resort enclave, and Bonaire's pastel-pink Flamingo International Airport is just two miles south of Kralendijk.

Taxis are plentiful on all three islands. Drivers charge set fees for point-to-point trips, including airport pickups and drop-offs. On Aruba, good buses link Palm Beach with Oranjestad, but elsewhere in the ABCs, buses are almost exclusively used by locals.

There are plenty of car-rental companies on Aruba, including Avis, Dollar, Economy, Hertz, and Thrifty. Hertz, National, and Thrifty all have branches on Curaçao, and Budget Rent a Car serves Bonaire. Major roads are well-maintained, and towns and attractions are well-signed. If you're planning to explore secondary roads, though, particularly inside Bonaire's Washington Slagbaai National Park, a 4WD vehicle may be required. Pick up the Bonaire Tourism Board's detailed island map, which is free and widely available. For Curaçao, invest in a comprehensive Kris Kras road map if you plan to do any driving.

Papiamento—a patois of Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and African dialects—is the lingua franca of the ABCs, but practically every citizen also speaks English as well as Dutch. Spanish is commonly spoken, too.

TOURIST INFO


Each of the ABCs has its own tourism board.

Aruba
Tel: 800 862 7822
www.aruba.com

Bonaire
Tel: 800 266 2473
www.tourismbonaire.com

Curaçao
Tel: 800 328 7222
www.curacao.com

On-island, the handiest wrap-ups are the Nights booklets published for each island. The best island map for Aruba is in the free Aruba Experience guide.

NEED TO KNOW


Language: Dutch, Papiamento
Capital City: Oranjestad (Aruba), Kralendijk (Bonaire), Willemstad (Curaçao)
Population: 104,000 (Aruba), 14,000 (Bonaire), 138,000 (Curaçao)
Area: 74.5 sq miles (Aruba), 113 sq miles (Bonaire), 171.4 sq miles (Curaçao)
Telephone Calling Code(s): 297 (Aruba), 599 (Bonaire), 5999 (Curaçao)
Electricity: 127V, 60 Hz (Aruba), 127V, 50 Hz (Bonaire and Curaçao)
Currency: As of Nov 22, 2011:
1 Netherlands Antilles Guilders = $0.57 US Calculate Other Amounts
Entry Requirements:

U.S. citizens need a passport to re-enter the United States after travel to the Caribbean. There is a departure tax for each of the ABCs: $36.75 for Aruba, $35 for Bonaire, and $22 for Curaçao.



NATIONAL HOLIDAYS


Aruba
January: 1, New Year's Day; 25, GF Croe's Day
March: 18, National Anthem and Flag Day
April: 30, Queen's Birthday
May: 1, Labour Day; 21, Ascension Day
December: 25-26 Christmas
Spring: Friday before Easter, Good Friday; Easter

Bonaire
January: 1, New Year's Day
April: 30, Queen's Birthday Celebrations and Rincón's Day
May: 1, Labour Day; 21, Ascension Day
September: 6, Bonaire Flag Day
October: 21, Antilles Day
December: 25-26, Christmas
Winter: Week leading up to Ash Wednesday, Carnival
Spring: Friday before Easter, Good Friday; Easter

Curaçao
January: 1, New Year's Day
April: 30, Queen's Birthday
May: 1, Labour Day; 21, Ascension Day
July: 2, Curaçao Flag Day
October: 21, Antilles Day
December: 25-26, Christmas
Winter: Early January to late February, Carnival
Spring: Friday before Easter, Good Friday; Easter

Information may have changed since date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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