Contemplating a choice between Aruba and Curaçao? Let me assure you that both are must-visit destinations. Sitting just 75 miles (120 km) apart, these islands offer a unique blend of agreeable climates, beautiful white sand beaches, and various water activities–all below the hurricane belt.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll delve into the nuances of Aruba vs. Curaçao, examining factors such as geography, popularity, hotels, beaches, diving, and more. Having experienced both Dutch Caribbean islands, I’m excited to assist you in choosing your next vacation spot.
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Beaches in Aruba are public, while many of Curaçao’s beaches are private.
In Aruba, the majority of beaches, such as Eagle Beach, Palm Beach, Arashi Beach, and Baby Beach, are public, free, and easily accessible. However, visitors need to bring their own snacks, drinks, and gear if they venture away from their resort.
In contrast, many Curaçao beaches are private and associated with resorts. For a small fee, guests enjoy perks like beach chairs, snorkel shops, and restaurants. Popular beaches here include Cas Abao, Playa Kenepa Grandi, Playa PortoMari, Playa Grandi, and Mambo Beach.
Aruba has long stretches of beach, while Curaçao’s beaches are generally smaller.
Aruba’s beaches feature soft, powdery white sand, exemplified by the highly acclaimed Eagle Beach. These beaches typically offer expansive, open spaces and are easily accessible from public parking lots, often adorned with the iconic Divi Divi trees.
While Curaçao has more coastline than Aruba, its beaches often have a secluded, cove-like appearance. Notably, Cas Abao offers a long sandy stretch. Additionally, visitors can opt for a unique day trip to Klein Curaçao, just over six miles away, featuring a pristine beach with crystal-clear water.
Aruba attracts American visitors, while Curaçao welcomes mainly Dutch tourists.
Aruba draws 80% of its 2 million annual visitors from the U.S. Despite being the largest ABC island, Curaçao welcomes only half the visitors, with a tourist mix mainly from the Netherlands, North America (primarily the Eastern U.S.), South America, and other Caribbean islands.
For a less crowded experience, consider traveling to Curaçao, especially during peak U.S. tourism seasons like spring break, Easter, or winter break. Given that most visitors in Curaçao are Dutch, the crowds are generally lighter outside European holidays.
In both Aruba and Curaçao, you should have no trouble communicating in English. In fact, many people on these islands speak four languages: Papiamento, Dutch, English, and Spanish.
Aruba feels much more “touristy” than Curaçao.
Aruba attracts Americans, followed by Latin Americans and Europeans, contributing to its well-developed tourist infrastructure. Plus, it receives over 800,000 cruise tourists annually, creating a bustling atmosphere! To escape the bustling high-rise areas, we suggest renting a car.
Despite its touristy feel, Aruba’s convenience makes it an excellent choice for honeymoons, family vacations, or first-time travelers. Your travel purpose is key–Aruba offers a relaxing beach getaway, while Curaçao is ideal for those seeking culture and history.
Aruba is home to the famous Flamingo Beach.
Aruba’s unique attraction, Flamingo Beach, is exclusive to guests of the Renaissance Wind Creek Aruba Resort. Known for vibrant pink flamingos freely roaming the shoreline, it offers a must-see experience for tourists and honeymooners seeking a one-of-a-kind beach encounter.
While Curaçao lacks a similar attraction, it offers the unique experience of boat trips to Klein Curaçao. This small, uninhabited tropical island features a white beach, azure sea, a spectacular reef, and a beautiful underwater world and is only accessible only by boat!
Curaçao is more budget-friendly than Aruba.
When planning a trip to the Dutch Caribbean, it’s important to consider affordability. For example, Aruba is one of the most expensive Caribbean islands. So, vacationing here tends to be costly, including higher costs for accommodations, dining, groceries, taxis, and activities.
Curacao, on the other hand, has a reputation for being a more affordable destination, with everything from beachside bungalows to luxury resorts. 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.
In Aruba, some of the top hotels include Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort, and Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino. Most visitors stay near Oranjestad, either at Palm Beach or Eagle 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 Renaissance Wind Creek Curacao Resort, Avila Beach Hotel, 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. 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 more accessible in Curaçao.
Curaçao offers superior options for shore diving and snorkeling, primarily along its West Coast. You can often walk in from the beach to dive or snorkel here, while both activities in Aruba are more likely to require a boat.
Top snorkeling spots here include Playa Lagun, Grote Knip, Klein Knip, Tugboat Beach, and Klein Curaçao, while popular dive sites are Watamula, Mushroom Forest, Booby Trap, Paradise, and Tugboat.
Aruba’s snorkeling locations, including Arashi Beach, Mangel Halto, and Catalina Cove, are limited due to constant trade winds. However, Aruba is ideal for windsurfing, parasailing, and kitesurfing. Key dive sites here are mainly shipwrecks, like the Antilla Wreck and Pedernales Wreck.
Interestingly, if you compare all three ABC islands, Bonaire would be the overall winner for best snorkeling, diving, and marine life. 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.
Both of these Dutch Caribbean islands boast beautiful national parks. In Aruba, Arikok National Park covers approximately 20% of the island, offering opportunities to explore caves with Arawak drawings, hike through desert landscapes, and visit 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!
There are more daily flights from the U.S. to Aruba.
Aruba is more accessible for U.S. travelers than Curaçao, with more direct flights to Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA). Curaçao International Airport (CUR) has fewer direct flights–mainly from major cities like Miami, Charlotte, and New York (JFK) or United (EWR).
Depending on your location, flying to Aruba may be more straightforward. For instance, daily direct options are available to Aruba from various U.S. cities, including Atlanta, Boston, New York, Miami, and Washington D.C., with airlines like American, Delta, and United.
The Aruba Airport has pre-clearance for passengers traveling to the U.S.
When flying back home from Aruba, this airport offers a major advantage for American travelers: it 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 United States, you proceed directly to the baggage claim instead of going through customs again.
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:
|Mainly American visitors
|Mainly Dutch tourists
|Public beaches, long stretches
|Private beaches, cove-like
|English, Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish
|English, Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish
|More touristy, developed
|Less touristy, lighter crowds
|High-rise hotels & resorts
|Low-rise & boutique hotels
|Oranjestad, more touristy
|Willemstad, UNESCO Heritage Site
|Diving and Snorkeling Sites
|Limited, better for water sports
|Better shore diving
|Arikok National Park
|Christoffel National Park
|More direct flights
|Fewer direct flights
|Pre-clearance for U.S.
|Standard customs process
|Relaxing beach getaway
|Culture and history
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.