If you’re reading this post, it’s most likely because you’re on the verge of making a tough decision: should you visit Aruba or Curaçao? Let me start by clarifying that both of these destinations are 100% worth a visit. In fact, these two islands are situated quite close to one another as part of the ABC islands (Aruba Bonaire Curaçao) in the Dutch Caribbean.
With this in mind, you could easily see Aruba and Curaçao in one trip. However, most people are limited on time and/or budget! Overall, both islands have similar, agreeable climates due to their locations outside the Hurricane Belt. Moreover, Aruba and Curaçao each feature beautiful white sand beaches and various water activities.
Therefore, we’ll aim to help you choose between these two exciting places by comparing Aruba vs. Curacao based on geography, popularity, hotels, beaches, diving, culture, and more. Is Aruba or Curaçao better for your vacation? You’ll have to read this article to find out!
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Beaches in Aruba are public, while many of Curaçao’s beaches are private.
In Aruba, almost all beaches are public, free to visit, and easily accessible. Some of the most popular include Eagle Beach, Palm Beach, Arashi Beach, and Baby Beach. While public beaches are often a big plus, you will need to pack your own snacks, drinks, and gear if you venture far from your resort.
In Curaçao, many beaches are private and affiliated with beach resorts, meaning you have to pay for beach entry unless you stay at the property. However, this extra fee comes with all sorts of perks. For example, guests can access amenities like beach chairs, dive and snorkel shops, bars and restaurants, and clean bathrooms with showers.
The most beautiful beaches in Curaçao to visit include Cas Abao, Playa Kenepa Grandi (also called Grote Knip), Playa PortoMari, Playa Grandi (also called Playa Piscado), Blue Bay, and Mambo Beach.
Aruba has long stretches of beach, while Curaçao’s beaches are generally smaller.
Both Aruba and Curacao offer a fantastic variety of beaches. Therefore, it’s up to you to decide which experience you prefer. On Aruba, you can expect soft powder white sand beaches. For instance, Eagle Beach is ranked as one of the best beaches in the world.
Beaches on One Happy Island tend to feel more open and are usually in the shape of long and thin strips. Additionally, you can often access Aruba’s beaches from public parking lots. You can also expect to spot some of the island’s famous Divi Divi trees on the beach!
Although Curaçao has more miles of coastline than the island of Aruba (226 vs. 43), its beaches tend to be more secluded. Most beaches here have a cove-like appearance; nonetheless, you can also find long sandy beaches like Cas Abao.
Another unique option for those visiting Curaçao is a day trip via boat to the isolated Klein Curaçao. This small island sits just over six miles from Curaçao and features a pristine beach with crystal-clear water!
Read More: What to Pack for an Aruba Vacation
Curaçao is more of a hidden gem than Aruba.
Unfortunately, due to Aruba’s popularity among U.S. visitors, the island often bustles with fellow American tourists. According to the U.S. Department of State, 80% of the 2 million people who visit Aruba each year are from the United States.
Interestingly enough, even though Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands, it only receives about half of the total number of visitors per year as Aruba. Most tourists vacationing in Curaçao are from the Netherlands, followed by North America (primarily the Eastern United States), South America, and other Caribbean islands.
Thus, if you’d prefer to avoid crowds, you may rather travel to Curaçao. Especially if you’re looking to take a trip during peak tourism season in the U.S. (spring break, Easter, winter break), you might feel less overwhelmed in Curaçao. Remember that most visitors in Curaçao are Dutch, so you’ll encounter fewer tourists outside European holidays.
Aruba feels much more “touristy” than Curaçao.
As mentioned previously, Americans form Aruba’s leading targeted tourism group, followed by Latin Americans (mainly Venezuelans) and Europeans. In turn, you’ll find that the island feels more developed due to its heavy investment in tourism. You can tell that the restaurants, hotels, bars, and even grocery stores hope to appeal to the majority American audience.
Aruba also sees more cruise ship traffic and visitors than Curaçao: the first receives over 800,000 cruise tourists annually, while the second sees about 600,000. Nonetheless, it is possible to escape the high-rise, crowded section of Aruba island and interact with the friendly locals. All you need to do is rent a car!
On the other hand, Aruba’s more developed and touristy feeling does have its advantages for American visitors. For example, a trip to Aruba feels easy–and it may even take less planning– making it an excellent destination for honeymoons, family vacations, or a first trip abroad.
We think it all comes down to your primary purpose for travel. If you’d like a relaxing beach vacation, you’ll love Aruba. However, if your main focus is learning about a new culture and history, Curaçao might be ideal. Between the two islands, Curaçao has more of a Dutch Caribbean feel to it than Aruba.
Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Flamingo Beach Aruba
Curaçao is more budget-friendly than Aruba.
When it comes to planning a trip to the Dutch Caribbean, it’s important to factor in affordability. Aruba is considered by many to be one of the most expensive islands to visit in the Caribbean. A vacation here tends to be more costly overall, with higher prices for accommodations, dining, groceries, taxis, and activities.
Curacao, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a more affordable destination with a diverse range of options for all budgets. From beachside bungalows to luxurious resorts and everything in between, there’s something for everyone in Curacao. Overall, for those looking to stretch their vacation budget further, Curacao may be the more affordable choice in the Dutch Caribbean.
High-rise hotels and all-inclusive resorts are more common in Aruba, and low-rise and boutique hotels are popular in Curaçao.
Aruba offers a higher number of high-rise hotel chains like Hilton, Marriott, Renaissance, and Hyatt, as well as all-inclusive resorts. On the other hand, Curaçao tends to favor low-rise properties, which are often boutique or family-owned hotels. Nonetheless, there are popular boutique hotels in Aruba and all inclusive resorts in Curaçao.
In Aruba, some of the top hotels include Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort (adults-only), Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, The Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, and Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort. Most visitors stay near Oranjestad, either at Palm Beach or Eagle Beach. One big draw to Renaissance Aruba is its private island, which features the Instagram-famous Flamingo Beach.
In Curaçao, most people stay in Willemstad, allowing them to reach the beaches easily and explore the charming capital city. Most resorts and hotels on the island are along the west coast, with the more prominent beach resorts located in Willemstad.
You’ll find more remote and quieter properties as you go north up the west coast. Some of the top hotels in Curaçao include Baoase Luxury Resort, Renaissance Wind Creek Curacao Resort, Avila Beach Hotel, Papagayo Beach Resort, and LionsDive Beach Resort.
Curaçao has the more impressive capital city: Willemstad.
While Oranjestad is filled with strip malls, shopping centers, and high-rise hotels, Willemstad is brimming with history. Curaçao has done a fantastic job preserving its capital’s Dutch colonial architecture. For example, walking across the Queen Emma Bridge will give you a great view of some of Willemstad’s vibrant buildings at the Handelskade waterfront.
You can also visit the fascinating Kura Hulanda Museum or explore the local markets and boutique shops. To put this into perspective, Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Oranjestad is not.
So, although Aruba and Curaçao both have fantastic beaches, Curaçao wins in this category thanks to its charming historical center. Generally speaking, we felt more like we were in a foreign country in Curaçao than Aruba.
Scuba diving and snorkeling are better in Curaçao.
Overall, Curaçao has better options for snorkeling and shore diving, where you can walk in from the beach–just make sure to bring water shoes! Virtually all the best snorkeling and diving spots on the island are located along the West Coast.
Some of the top locations for snorkeling are Playa Lagun, Grote Knip, Klein Knip, Tugboat Beach, and Klein Curaçao. Regarding diving in Curaçao, some of the most popular dive sites are Watamula, Mushroom Forest, Booby Trap, Paradise, Superior Producer, Tugboat, Klein Curaçao, and Snake Bay.
Some of the best locations for snorkeling in Aruba are Arashi Beach, Mangel Halto, Catalina Cove, Tres Trapi, Malmok Beach, and Baby Beach. One of the reasons that Aruba has more limited snorkeling options than Curaçao is that it experiences constant trade winds, leading to more currents.
Nonetheless, this characteristic means Aruba is great for windsurfing, parasailing, and kitesurfing. Check out the Antilla Wreck, the Pedernales Wreck, the Jane Sea Wreck, the Debbie II Wreck, and Airplane Wrecks for the best diving sites in Aruba. Are you sensing a theme here? Note that you can also snorkel at the Antilla Wreck.
Interestingly, if you compare all three islands in the ABC group, Bonaire would be the overall winner for best snorkeling and diving. In fact, Bonaire National Marine Park is considered one of the top shore diving locations in the world.
Aruba and Curaçao both have fantastic national parks.
Outdoor lovers will be excited to know that both of these Dutch Caribbean islands are home to beautiful national parks. In fact, in the case of Aruba, Arikok National Park actually takes up about 20% of the entire island. Here, you can venture into a cave with Arawak drawings, hike through desert landscapes, and see the Conchi Natural Pool.
Meanwhile, Curaçao’s largest national park is Christoffel National Park, where top activities include hiking Christoffel Mountain, going on a jeep safari tour, and visiting the Savonet Museum. Roi Rincon Park in Willemstad is another great option for shorter hikes!
Click here to check prices for guided tours and activities through Arikok National Park or here for options for Christoffel National Park.
There are more daily flights from the U.S. to Aruba.
Traveling to Aruba is slightly more convenient for travelers based in the United States than to Curaçao. Essentially, there are more direct flights from major cities in the U.S. to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba (AUA) than to Curaçao International Airport (CUR). However, this statistic doesn’t mean that flying to Curaçao is in any way complicated.
For example, if you live in Miami or Charlotte, you can fly directly to Curaçao through American Airlines. Also, you can fly out of New York with JetBlue (JFK) or United (EWR). Nonetheless, even if you’re not based in any of these cities, you can still fly into Willemstad with a quick layover at one of these airports.
Depending on where you live in the U.S., flying to Aruba may be more straightforward than to Curaçao. For example, in my particular case (from Atlanta), no direct flights are available to Curaçao International Airport.
However, daily direct flight options are available to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba out of Atlanta, Boston, New York, Miami, Washington D.C., and more. You can find flight routes with American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines, and other providers.
The Aruba Airport has pre-clearance for passengers traveling to the U.S.
Apart from a higher number of direct flights, Aruba offers another huge advantage to U.S. visitors regarding air travel. When flying back home from Aruba, this airport has its own section for U.S. flights. Therefore, you actually pass through U.S. Customs & Border Protection before boarding your flight home.
Getting re-entry out of the way before actually taking off on your flight saves a ton of time. Once you land in the U.S., you proceed directly to the baggage claim instead of going through customs again.
Read More: 10 Things to Know Before Visiting Aruba
Is Aruba or Curacao better?
Choosing the best Dutch Caribbean island will probably vary from person to person. Nonetheless, you may want to keep the following factors into account when making your decision:
- Almost all of the beaches in Aruba are public, while most beaches in Curaçao are private.
- The beaches in Aruba and Curaçao look slightly different: Aruba’s beaches tend to be long, thin stretches of white sand, while Curaçao’s are more secluded and cove-like.
- It might be easier to book a direct flight to Aruba from the U.S. (depending on where you live).
- Curaçao is the larger of the two islands; however, it receives fewer visitors.
- Most tourists in Aruba are American, while most tourists in Curaçao are from the Netherlands.
- Aruba favors high-rise resorts, while Curaçao prefers low-rise, boutique properties.
- As far as capital cities, tourists tend to prefer Willemstad over Oranjestad.
- There are more and better opportunities to dive and snorkel in Curaçao.
- For outdoor lovers, both islands have great national parks to explore.
- There are more direct flights from U.S. cities to Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba (AUA) than to Curaçao International Airport (CUR).
- The Aruba Airport has pre-clearance for passengers traveling to the United States.
- Rent a car in both destinations so that you have full flexibility to explore the islands.
- Both destinations accept U.S. dollars in most establishments.
- Most people in Aruba and Curaçao will be able to communicate with you in English.
- When it comes to Curacao vs Aruba for safety, both have low crime rates. However, we felt more at ease in Aruba than in Willemstad, for example.
No matter which island you choose, we’re sure you’ll have a fantastic vacation. Remember that if you’re still having trouble deciding, it is possible to visit Aruba, Curaçao, and even Bonaire on a Dutch Caribbean cruise.
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This article was initially published in April 2019 and has since been updated.
Saturday 3rd of December 2022
Great article. Do you have an opinion on traveling from Curacao to Aruba to catch a direct flight to the USA for a return trip? How much extra immigration time might this take? Have you ever heard of anyone doing this? We have visited Aruba twice before and had a wonderful time so we don’t feel the need to stay there but would like to take advantage of this direct flight. Thanks
Martina from Travel Done Clever
Wednesday 18th of May 2022
Thank you very much for a detailed article - now we finally know, which island is more suitable for us! Even though Aruba has stunning beaches, Curacao seems to be a hidden gem with no crowds, smaller beaches and excellent snorkeling sites. But we might split our 2 weeks between both island to explore Aruba for a few days too!
Friday 29th of January 2021
Thank you SO much for this article that I desperately needed! Two follow up questions- besides a possible extra flight is there a large price difference in the two islands? Also- if you had five days at each island would you do that or spend all 10 days at one island? Thank you!
Friday 29th of January 2021
Hi Cara! So glad my article could help. I would say prices are pretty similar. As far as the second question, I would spend 5 days on each island and see both :)
Friday 19th of June 2020
We have been to Curaçao and love the European feel. Much less of a party atmosphere.