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Aruba vs Curacao: Which Dutch Caribbean Island Is Better?

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.

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission when you purchase a product or book a stay through these links at no extra cost to you.

Beaches in Aruba are public, while many of Curaçao’s beaches are private.

Photo of Playa PortoMari in Curaçao, showing beach with beach chairs and umbrellas and clear ocean waterIn 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.

View of white sand Eagle Beach in ArubaAruba’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.

Read More: What to Pack for an Aruba Vacation

Aruba attracts American visitors, while Curaçao welcomes mainly Dutch tourists.

Woman floating in ocean in Willemstad, Curaçao

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.

Woman in front of pink historical building in Pietermaai District of Willemstad

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.

Photo of popular shopping streets in Oranjestad, Aruba, showing colorful, Dutch-inspired architectureAruba 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.

Read More: The Ultimate Guide to Flamingo Beach

Aruba is home to the famous Flamingo Beach.

Pink flamingo on Flamingo Beach at Renaissance Private Island in Aruba.

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.

Colorful buildings lining the Pietermaai District in Willemstad, CuracaoWhen 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.

Aerial view of Palm Beach in Aruba, showing high-rise hotelsIn 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.

Woman in front of pink and yellow houses in Willemstad, Curaçao

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.

Woman standing along Queen Emma floating bridge in Willemstad, Curacao, with a view of colorful historic homes in the distance

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.

Overhead view of Tugboat Beach in Aruba, showing two people snorkeling in the waterCuraçao 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.

Photo of Arikok National Park in Aruba, showing rocky landscape and hillsBoth 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!

Read More: Best Caribbean Islands in December

There are more daily flights from the U.S. to Aruba.

View from the plane window of plane landing in 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.

Woman with suitcase in front of beautiful water backdrop in Aruba

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.

Read More: Travel Tips for Visiting Aruba

Is Aruba or Curacao better?

Woman walking in front of yellow building in Willemstad, Curaçao

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: 

Island Features Aruba Curaçao
Popularity Mainly American visitors Mainly Dutch tourists
Beaches Public beaches, long stretches Private beaches, cove-like
Language English, Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish English, Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish
Touristy Feel More touristy, developed Less touristy, lighter crowds
Unique Attraction Flamingo Beach Klein Curaçao
Prices Expensive destination More budget-friendly
Hotels High-rise hotels & resorts Low-rise & boutique hotels
Capital Oranjestad, more touristy Willemstad, UNESCO Heritage Site
Diving and Snorkeling Sites Limited, better for water sports Better shore diving
National Parks Arikok National Park Christoffel National Park
Flights More direct flights Fewer direct flights
Airport Pre-clearance for U.S. Standard customs process
Overall 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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Aruba and Curacao are two of the most popular tourist destinations in the Dutch Caribbean. Both islands offer beautiful beaches, crystal clear water, and plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy. So which island is the best choice for a vacation? In this blog post, we will compare Aruba and Curacao and help you decide which one is right for you.

This article was initially published in April 2019 and has since been updated.

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Michelle

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!

Cara

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!

Leah Shoup

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 :)

Mary

Friday 19th of June 2020

We have been to Curaçao and love the European feel. Much less of a party atmosphere.

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