If you’re reading this post, it’s most likely because you have a tough decision to make: Aruba or Curaçao? Let me start by clarifying that both of these islands are 100% worth a visit. In fact, due to their proximity, it’s easy to see both Aruba and Curaçao in one trip. However, if you’re limited on time or budget, hopefully, this article will help you choose which island to visit first.
Aruba might be easier to reach
For travelers based in the United States, it’s slightly easier to travel to Aruba than to Curaçao. Essentially, there is a higher number of direct flights from major cities in the U.S. to Oranjestad than to Willemstad. This fact does not mean that flying to Curaçao is in any way complicated. For example, if you live in New York, Miami, or Charlotte, you’re able to fly directly to Curaçao. Even if you’re not based in any of these cities, you can still fly to Willemstad with a quick layover. In my particular case (being from Atlanta), there are no direct flights available to Curaçao. In comparison, there are many direct flight options available to Aruba out of Atlanta, Boston, New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, etc.
Furthermore, when flying back to the U.S. from Aruba, the Aruba airport has its own section for U.S. flights. Since visitors can go through U.S. security and customs at the Aruba airport, this saves a lot of time. I ended up being able to go directly to the baggage claim once I entered the U.S. instead of going through customs again.
Curaçao is more of a hidden gem
Due to Aruba’s popularity among U.S. visitors, this, unfortunately, means that the island is often bustling with fellow tourists. For example, when I arrived at the Aruba airport to fly home on a Saturday morning, I had to wait for about an hour in line to check my bag. According to the U.S. Department of State, 80% of the 2 million people who visit Aruba each year are from the United States. On the other hand, Curaçao receives mainly Dutch tourists and has about half of the total number of visitors per year as Aruba. Thus, if you’re like me and prefer to avoid the crowds, you may rather travel to Curaçao. Especially if you’re looking to take a vacation during U.S. high season (spring break, Easter, winter break), you might feel less overwhelmed in Curaçao.
Aruba feels much more “Americanized” than Curaçao
Depending on what kind of vacation you’re looking to have, Aruba’s feeling “Americanized” could be positive or negative for you. As mentioned previously, Americans form the leading targeted tourism group for Aruba. In turn, due to the influx of American tourism, you’ll find that the island feels more “touristy”. You can tell that the restaurants, hotels, bars, and even grocery stores are hoping to appeal to the American audience at large. For me, sometimes, Aruba felt like I hadn’t left the United States at all. However, it’s possible to escape the high-rise, touristy section of Aruba and explore the local culture too.
On the other hand, the “Americanized” feeling of Aruba does have its advantages for American tourists. For example, a trip to Aruba feels easy and would be an excellent option for a honeymoon or a family vacation. I 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 to learn about a new culture and history, Curaçao might be ideal for you.
Curaçao has historic Willemstad
While Oranjestad, Aruba, is filled with strip malls, shopping, and hotels, Willemstad is brimming with history. Curaçao has done a fantastic job of keeping the rainbow-colored Dutch architecture in Willemstad preserved. Walking across the Queen Emma Bridge, you’re greeted with a stunning panorama of vibrant buildings. To put this more into perspective, Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage City, while Oranjestad is not. Aruba and Curaçao both have amazing beaches, but Curaçao has its historical center too. I enjoyed being able to both relax and learn about my destination when visiting Willemstad. Plus, Curaçao felt much more “foreign” than Aruba did.
Let’s break it down
Since Aruba and Curaçao are both such amazing places to visit, it’s tough to choose just one. With this in mind, the choice of which Dutch Caribbean island to visit will probably vary from person to person. Nonetheless, you may want to keep the following factors into account:
- If you’re traveling from the U.S., it might be easier to book a direct flight to Aruba.
- Curaçao is the larger of the two islands but receives fewer visitors.
- The majority of tourists in Aruba are American, while the majority of tourists in Curaçao are from the Netherlands.
- Both destinations accept U.S. dollars in most establishments.
- Most people in both Aruba and Curaçao will be able to communicate with you in English.
- Aruba has more of an American influence than Curaçao.
- Willemstad, Curaçao is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
No matter which island you choose, I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic vacation. Remember to let me know in the comments if this article helped you to decide between the two.