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 destinations are 100% worth a visit. In fact, these two islands are part of the ABC islands (Aruba Bonaire Curaçao), and due to their proximity, you could easily see Aruba and Curaçao in one trip. However, most people are limited on time and/or budget!
Overall, both Aruba and Curaçao have similar, agreeable climates due to their location outside the Hurricane Belt. Additionally, they make great vacation spots thanks to their stunning beaches and various water activities. Therefore, we’ll aim to help you choose between these two exciting places by highlighting the main differences. We’ll compare Aruba vs. Curaçao based on geography, popularity, hotels, beaches, diving, culture, and more. Is Aruba or Curaçao better? 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. The country’s only two private beaches are De Palm Island, a small private island with a water park, and Renaissance Island, where you can find the famous Flamingo Beach. Some of the most popular beaches to visit in Aruba include Eagle Beach, Palm Beach, Arashi Beach, and Baby Beach. Public beaches are often a big plus. However, the only downside is that you’ll need to pack snacks, drinks, and gear if you venture far from your resort.
While Curaçao does have public beaches, many are private and affiliated with beach resorts. So, you’ll have to pay for beach entry unless you’re staying at the property. Although this extra fee may seem like a bad thing, private beaches actually come with many perks. For example, you’ll have easy access to all sorts of amenities like beach chairs, dive and snorkel shops, bars and restaurants, and clean bathrooms with showers. Additionally, parking is free in most cases. 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 Curaçao offer an amazing variety of beaches. Therefore, it’s up to you to decide which experience you prefer. In Aruba, you can expect soft powder white sand at Eagle Beach, which is ranked as one of the best beaches in the world. Beaches on this island tend to feel more open, and the resorts are more separated from them. Additionally, you can directly access Aruba’s beaches from public parking lots, and they tend to look like long and thin strips.
Although Curaçao has more miles of coastline than Aruba (226 vs. 43), its beaches actually tend to be more secluded. Most beaches here have a cove-like appearance; nonetheless, you can find long sandy beaches as well, such as Cas Abou. Another unique option in Curaçao is to take 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 is often bustling 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 visiting Curaçao are from the Netherlands, followed by North America (primarily the Eastern United States), South America, and other islands in the Caribbean.
Thus, if you’d prefer to avoid crowds, you may rather travel to Curaçao. Especially if you’re looking to take a vacation during peak vacation 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.
Depending on what kind of vacation you’re looking to have, Aruba’s feeling “touristy” could be positive or negative for you. As mentioned previously, Americans form the leading targeted tourism group for Aruba, followed by Latin Americans (mainly Venezuelans) and Europeans. In turn, you’ll find that the island feels more developed due to the island’s heavy investment in tourism. You can tell that the restaurants, hotels, bars, and even grocery stores hope to appeal to the majority American audience.
Nonetheless, it is possible to escape the high-rise, crowded section of Aruba and explore the local culture, too. All you need to do is rent a car! Note that Aruba also tends to see more cruise ship traffic and visitors than Curaçao: the first receives over 800,000 cruise tourists per year, while the second sees about 600,000.
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 a great destination for honeymoons, family vacations, or a first trip abroad. 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 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, low-rise and boutique hotels are popular in Curaçao.
You may have a preference for Aruba or Curaçao depending on the type of property you normally like to book. 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. However, you’ll find that there is no general rule, and in fact, each island offers a solid variety. For example, there are popular boutique hotels in Aruba and all-inclusive resorts in Curaçao.
To better understand, let’s walk through some of the most sought-after hotels and resorts on both of these Dutch Caribbean islands. 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 tend to 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, where you can hit the beach as well as explore this charming capital city. Most resorts and hotels on the island are along the west coast, with the bigger beach resorts located in Willemstad. As you make your way north up the west coast, you’ll find more remote and quieter properties. 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 cooler 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 of preserving its capital’s Dutch architecture. For example, if you take a walk across the Queen Emma Bridge, you’ll have a great view of some of Willemstad’s vibrant buildings. To put this better into perspective, Willemstad is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while Oranjestad is not. So, although Aruba and Curaçao both have amazing beaches, Curaçao has a leg up due to its charming historical center. Generally speaking, I felt more like I was in a foreign country in Curaçao than I did 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 great 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. As far as diving, some of the most popular sites are Watamula, Mushroom Forest, Booby Trap, Paradise, Superior Producer, Tugboat, Klein Curaçao, and Snake Bay.
Regarding snorkeling in Aruba, some of the best locations 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 rougher trade winds, leading to more currents. Nonetheless, this 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 of the ABC islands, Bonaire would be the overall winner for best snorkeling and diving. In fact, this smaller island is often named the top shore diving location in the world. If you choose to visit Bonaire, we recommend staying near Kralendijk to drive to snorkeling and diving sites easily. For example, Divi Flamingo Beach Resort or Harbour Village Beach Club are great options. Ranking all three in order of the best snorkeling and diving sites, you would get Bonaire, Curaçao, and lastly, Aruba.
Aruba and Curaçao both have awesome national parks.
In fact, Arikok National Park in Aruba 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 you can hike Christoffel Mountain, go on a jeep safari tour, and visit 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 easier 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.
Furthermore, 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, where you can go ahead and pass through U.S. Customs & Border Protection. Being able to get re-entry out of the way before actually taking off on your flight saves a ton of time. After you land back in the U.S., you can proceed directly to the baggage claim instead of having to go through customs again.
Is Aruba or Curaçao better?
Since Aruba and Curaçao are both such amazing places to visit, it’s tough to choose just one. With this in mind, which Dutch Caribbean island to choose 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 tend to look a little 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.
- The majority of 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, I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic vacation. Remember that if you’re still having trouble making a decision, it is possible to visit Aruba, Curaçao, and even Bonaire on a cruise through the Dutch Caribbean.
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This article was originally published in April 2019 and has since been updated.