Although there are a range of global travel restrictions currently in place, this doesn’t mean you need to put your travel plans permanently on hold. To the contrary, now is the time to dream and look ahead at fresh opportunities. What better place to offer destination inspiration than the stunning Caribbean ABC Islands?
The three most westerly islands in the Caribbean Sea, found to the north of Venezuela, are the Netherland Antilles ABC islands – namely Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. Offering a completely Caribbean experience packed with unique flora and fauna, this stunning trio are located within 50 miles of each other, making island-hopping on a superyacht charter a breeze.
Blessed with idyllic beaches and an interesting history, Aruba is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the Caribbean. At around 21 miles long and 6 miles wide, Aruba was first colonized around the year 1000 by Venezuelan natives.
In the 17th century Dutch settlers arrived, which is why today most Arubans speak Dutch along with Papiamento Creole. With a small population but vast ethnic diversity, Aruba splits more than 90 nationalities between a population of 100,000 people. Reflected in the island’s culture and cuisine, Haitians, Dominicans and Columbians are all represented. With no major cities per se, the island is made up of six districts, namely Noord, Oranjestad, Paradera, San Nicolas, Santa Cruz and Savaneta.
The unofficial capital of culture is Aruba’s most southerly district, San Nicolas, nicknamed the Sunrise Side. Here the streets are adorned with brightly coloured murals by international street artists and each year the isle welcomes the Aruba Art Fair. Cuisine here is a heady blend of every ethnic cuisine imaginable. Traditional Aruban dishes of cornflour flatbread, beef stew and stuffed cheese are delicious and of course the seafood is fresh every day. Occupying almost one fifth of Aruba, Arikok National Park is 8,000 acres of protected wilderness, filled with naturally occurring pools or ‘conchis’ that pepper the east coast, offering protected swimming. Head north to view the Ayo rock formations, with panoramic views of the island itself -particularly fascinating are the Casibari Boulders that the Caiquetio Indians considered sacred.
As one of the beach capitals of the Caribbean, Aruba boasts numerous world-class sandy stretches lapped by turquoise waters. Calm seas, sweeping coastlines and brilliant white sand makes for some truly spectacular views when approaching by yacht. Whether you seek reef-filled strands for snorkelling and diving or wave-kissed coves for windsurfing thrills, the diverse selection has something for everyone here. Found on the wild eastern coast, Boca Grandi is breath-taking. Popular with kitesurfers, the remote location means you often have it all to yourself – plus the fabulous Tortuga Beach Bar. Family friendly Palm Beach, stunning Baby Beach and eco-rich Arashi Beach are all highly favoured, offering relaxed charm and stunning views.
Unspoiled and breath-taking, Bonaire is the perfect getaway island and one of the Caribbean’s best kept secrets. Measuring just 294 square kilometres and home to approximately 19,000 residents, the island’s sublime weather and fascinating culture are a big draw. With some of the world’s clearest waters for underwater adventures and perfect cruising grounds for superyachts to enjoy, this is an island for water lovers. Nature here is a huge pull for visitors and all coastal areas have been declared a marine park that is now world famous for its conservation efforts.
Aside from the wonderful opportunities on or below the waves, there are also a host of great things to do and see on land in Bonaire. Rincon is Bonaire’s oldest town and also the oldest settlement in the ABC islands. Strategically built in a valley to ward off invaders, this is where you can view the 130 year old, history-filled Museo Chich’i Tan house. Having been the centre of the Caribbean’s salt industry for centuries, the evaporation ponds on Bonaire cultivate stunning pink coloured flats that make a fascinating visit. These are washed and stacked into tall pyramids that are then processed and shipped around the world. Stroll through the main shopping district of Kaya Grandi and enjoy the impressive architecture. The colourful colonial-style buildings here date back to the late 1800’s.
Hosting an abundance of fabulous coral reefs and well-established shipwrecks, diving in Bonaire is sublime with sites that are protected from currents. Suitable for all skill levels, this underwater paradise features more than 350 species of fish and 57 soft and stony coral. Nearby, uninhabited Klein Bonaire is only accessible by water. Surrounded by reefs it is a popular dive and snorkel spot in ultimate seclusion. Take an exhilarating kayak tour of Lac Bay mangrove forests – known as the nursery, you can observe baby rays, seahorses and lobster thriving in the seagrass meadows here.
With an outstanding food scene, locally sourced produce is divine and full of flavour. There is an impressive mix of high-end eateries and waterfront restaurants, offering authentic, traditional fare. Sample the world’s only cactus liqueur, bright green and made from the plentiful, local cadushi cactus – do not miss the chance for a tour of the Cadushy Distillery.
Wildly natural and filled with beautiful seclusion off the beaten track, Curaçao is a slice of paradise. With friendly locals, a year-round temperate climate and endless activities, this colourful island really packs a scenic punch. Take a stroll around the vibrant pedestrianised Punda Willemstad where quaint streets and alleys are full of shops, cafes and picturesque terraces. History lovers will relish the opportunity to visit museums, plantations and colonial mansions.
From a yacht you can explore the rich biodiversity and natural beauty of beautiful limestone formations and the famed Madonna statue inside the Hato Caves, meet turtles at the Shete Boka National Park and watch waves crash against an underground cave at Boka Tabla for an impressive experience. Soak up the sun across 35 spectacular beaches, with golden stretches of sand and sparkling turquoise waters. The small beach at Boka Sami is perfect for snorkelling and diving with a fishing pier, a salt marsh trail behind and some great local restaurants. Diving is a national pastime in Curaçao, with a vast array of sites and wrecks to explore. At Santa Martha there are several sites with the remains of a small plane where the conditions are ideal for taking close-up macro photos. Barracuda Point, also called Punt’I Piku, near Barbara Beach at the mouth of Spanish Water is awash with barracudas and vibrant reef life. Kathy’s Paradise near Newport lives up to its name with a healthy reef covered in coral and sponges, ideally combined with a dive at Smokey’s where experience divers will find overhangs and steep drop-offs.
Sail to Klein Curaçao, a tiny, desolate island of volcanic rock off the main coast, with the longest and whitest beaches. Here divers, snorkellers and fishing enthusiasts alike will be well catered for. Visit the narrow channel flanked by rocky cliffs to access Playa Lagun, with a variety of bright reef fish and turtles to discover amongst corals and sponges. Similarly, nature lovers will enjoy Playa Santa Cruz, surrounded by a mangrove swamp that attracts a host of fascinating local birds.
When the sun sets, the fun does not stop in Curaçao. The multitude of lively restaurants, lounge bars, beach clubs and casinos, ensure that entertainment and cocktails continue into the early hours.
As with the wider travel industry, the yachting industry has felt the impact of logistical limitations from COVID-19. However, bookings are still being made with increased flexibility in place, and charter brokers are readily available to help with future plans for your next great escape.
Nicholas Dean is Managing Partner of Ocean Independence. Ocean Independence is a global leader in luxury yachting, providing a bespoke experience across yacht charter, sales and management.