If you’re reading this post, it’s most likely because you’re on the verge of making a tough decision: 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. Curaçao 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.
Aruba has long stretches of beach, while Curaçao’s beaches are generally smaller.
Both Aruba and Curaçao 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!
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 of 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 explore the local culture. 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.
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, giving them the option to reach the beaches easily and also 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 make your way 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, if you walk across the Queen Emma Bridge, you’ll have a great view of some of Willemstad’s vibrant buildings.
You can also visit the fascinating Kura Hulanda Museum or explore the local markets and boutique shops. To put this better 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 in Aruba.
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 of 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 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. For the best diving sites in Aruba, check out the Antilla Wreck, the Pedernales Wreck, the Jane Sea Wreck, the Debbie II Wreck, and Airplane Wrecks. 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 awesome 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. 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.
For travelers based in the United States, it’s slightly more convenient to travel to Aruba 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 New York, Miami, or Charlotte, you can fly directly to Curaçao with American Airlines. 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., it may be more straightforward for you to fly to Aruba instead of 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 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 when it comes to 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.
Is Aruba or Curaçao better?
Since Aruba and Curaçao are both such unique places to visit, it’s tough to choose just one. With this in mind, 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.
- Hotels and resorts on these two islands also differ: 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 all passengers traveling to the United States.
- Both destinations accept U.S. dollars in most establishments.
- Most people in Aruba and Curaçao will be able to communicate with you in English.
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 cruise through the Dutch Caribbean.
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This article was initially published in April 2019 and has since been updated.