Our popular guest writer Jacqui Ridler, from the Luxury Cruise Company (www.theluxurycruisecompany.com), has been travelling again. This time she was cruising the Caribbean where she visited the “ABC” islands of the Dutch Antilles: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao. Here are her “Top Ten” things to do on the islands.
1. Beach. Heading for the beach is the best thing on most Caribbean islands, and the Dutch Antilles are no exception. On Aruba, Palm Beach is quite busy but is good for swimming, snorkelling and water sports. For a quieter time head to Eagle Beach, it has calm seas and pure white sand – great for swimming. Baby beach is a good beach for families. The best beach on Bonaire is Sorobon Beach, near Lac Bay. There are a couple of bars, a chance to do some windsurfing, the water is shallow and there is some shade. Don’t stray too far as there is a nude beach next door! Curacao has nearly 40 beaches, from small areas in front of hotels to secluded coves, but they are not the best beaches in the Caribbean. The only full facility white sand beach is the Curacao Sea Aquarium
2. Hire a jeep (or a quad bike – my favourite) on Aruba.Make sure you pick up a map from the rental office. Before you go off road I recommend a stop at the California Lighthouse, you get spectacular 360-degree views. A large part of Aruba has a moon-like terrain and driving across it is an amazing if sometimes bumpy experience. Stop and look at the giant boulders; the Alto Vista Chapel built in 1750 by Spanish settlers and native Indians; the ruins of the Bushirbana Gold Smelter built in 1872 (you can climb up inside for amazing views); and the Ayo Casibari rock formations which look like the set of ‘The Flintstones’.
3. Snorkelling is at its best in Bonaire. Or take a catamaran and sail to the famous Bonaire National Marine Park
4. The floating market on Curacao. Marvel at the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, named after Queen Emma (1890–1898) and built by Leonard Burlington Smith in 1888, which connects the Punda and Otrobanda districts of Willemstad. Also known as the “Swinging Old Lady”, the bridge has 16 floating pontoon boats to support the walkway, and swings open to allow ships into the port. Scores of schooners tie up alongside the canal for the floating market near the bridge, where sellers from Venezuela, various West Indian islands and Columbia have an array of fresh fruits and vegetables on offer.
5. Take the Atlantis submarine on Aruba. See shipwrecks and coral reefs as you descend 150 feet, as well as hundreds of tropical fish in various colours, shapes and sizes.
6. Take a trolley tour of historic Willemstad, on Curacao. The tour begins at Fort Amsterdam and has an excellent commentary. You pass Pietermaai Cathedral and the historic Fort Riffort (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built in the 19th-century to guard the island), the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, and the floating market. There are some picturesque homes built in the 1800s in Scharloo, and one of the stops is at the pretty “wedding cake house,” You will see the Mikve Israel Emmanuel Synagogue, Queen Wilhelmina Park, and finally Fort Amsterdam – built in 1635 to guard the entrance to the harbour.
7. Visit the Kura Hulanda Museum in Willemstad, Curacao. This museum (open daily, 10-5) contains exhibits from the 17th to the 19th centuries, and traces many of the islanders’ African routes by telling the story of the slave trade. See how the African cultural heritage has influenced Curaçao and other Caribbean societies. The museum is one of the largest and most unusual in the Caribbean.
8. Arikok National Park. This ecological reserve covers 20 per cent of Aruba. Caves worth visiting in the park include Quadirkiriri Cave with its two large chambers, and Fontein Cave with drawings left by Amerindians. Look out also for the graffiti left by early settlers, strangely shaped stalactites and stalagmites, and the 300ft long Tunnel of Love with its heart shaped entrance.
9. Bonaire caves. Barcadera, on the coastal road across from the Bonaire Caribbean Club, is a cave once used to trap goats. Stone steps take you down to admire the stalactites.
10 Shopping! Great in Curacao (over 200 shops) – this is where Curacao blue liqueur comes from. Not much in the way of shops in Bonaire, and quite expensive in Aruba.