The Dutch Islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curagao represent the Netherlands in miniature, with gabled, pastel-colored buildings along picturesque streets. Dutch is the official language, although employees in the shops, hotels, and restaurants all speak English. The climate is sunny and dry, cooled by pleasant trade winds with temperatures ranging from a mean of 80 degrees in the winter to 84 degrees in the summer.
In Curasao, you will find a fair selection of merchandise in a number of shops offering bargains in jewelry, watches, china, perfumes, and antiques. Tee shirts and souvenir items are particularly attractive and inexpensive. Willemstad is no longer the shopping haven it used to be. You can see the world-famous floating pontoon bridge in Willemstad swing open to allow ships into the harbor, or from atop the 33-foot-thick fortress walls you can watch the ships sail into the harbor. However, most cruise ships now dock at the new terminal and no longer pass through the bridge. One of the oldest synagogues in the Western world still in use, the Mikve Israel Emanuel Synagogue, is right in town, and on the outskirts of town you can visit the Jewish cemetery, which is one of the oldest Caucasian burial places in the New World. You can sample Curacao liqueur at the distillery where it is made in Chobolobo, or eat rijsttafel(rice with 40 or more exotic complements) at Doeloe or the Rijsttafel Indonesia Restaurant (located outside of town), or you can try kapucijners (meat, chick peas, beans, bacon, onions, and sauces) at the historic Fort Nassau Restaurant, a renovated military fort on a hill overlooking the city. Try the French and Swiss cuisine at Bistro le Clochard, a quaint indoor/outdoor restaurant located in the small shopping center between the pier terminal and the pontoon bridge. Astrolab at the Kura Hulanda Hotel is the place for seafood, For tennis or swimming, your best bets are Marriott Beach Hotel and Casino, Hilton Beach Hotel and Casino, or Avila Beach Hotel. The Hyatt Regency Curacao opened in 2008 and a giant Renaissance Complex is under construction in town. Baoase is a hip resort with Balinese-style rooms and a zen spa. Other attractions include Christoffel National Park, Curacao Seaquarium, Curacao’s Ostrich farm, Curacao Underwater Marine Park, and Hato Caves. The best public beaches are Kon Tiki (near the Seaquarium), Blue Bay, and Barbara Beach.
Bonaire boasts 18 miles of reef that surround the island, offering some of the most spectacular scuba diving, spear-fishing, and underwater photography in the Caribbean. At many of the larger hotels, arrangements can be made for these activities, as well as for swimming, water-skiing, sailing, and glass-bottom boat rides. Harbour Village Beach club has a nice beach. The beaches here are not particularly attractive, and cruise passengers may be better off opting for one of the snorkeling, diving, or sailing excursions offered by the cruise lines. This is also the island of the flamingos, and in the late afternoon bird watchers can see these graceful birds as well as thousands of herons, snipe, pelicans, parrots, parakeets, and others making their way across the blue Caribbean skies. Mona Lisa Bar and Restaurant offers French and local cuisine.
Aruba’s capital is Oranjestad, where you can see many traditional Dutch multicolored houses with red-tile roofs, as well as a charming deep-water harbor. Don’t miss the strange Divi-Divi tree and the huge monolithic boulder formations at Casibari. Swim at the beautiful, wide Palm Beach, which services the Aruba Marriott, Hyatt, Radisson, Westin, Holiday Inn, Bucuti Beach Resort, and numerous other large, full-facility hotels, all of which contain casinos and restaurants. For dining, Madame Janette (French and international) is considered the best on the island. Other popular restaurants include: Chez Mathilde near the Renaissance Hotel (Continental), Papiamento (Caribbean and seafood), La Dome (French), Flying Fishbone (seafood on the beach), and Chalet Suisse (international, seafood, and steaks). The town is near the harbor and contains numerous shops offering international bargains.
Across from the dock area in the heart of downtown is the Renaissance Hotel with several restaurants, a large casino, a well-equipped gym, a pool, a shopping arcade, and a picturesque, white-sand beach located on a private island with tropical foliage, a bird sanctuary, and a restaurant, accessible by private launch from the hotel lobby.
There are golf courses at the Tierra del Sol Resort and Country Club and at the Aruba Golf Club.