Netherlands Antilles – Tours & Adventures Travel Guide
“Comprising of Bonaire and Curacao off the coast of Venezuela and Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten east of the Puerto Rican coast, these island made up what is collectively known as the Netherlands Antilles. The capital Willemstad is on Curacao. Many words like “Best Kept Secret”, “Diver’s Paradise”, “Unforgettable” and “Unspoiled”, have often been used to describe these islands. The truth is, they all only described part the essence of which makes the Netherlands Antilles such a desired destination for a Caribbean holiday. Because of their individual history, each island offers a distinctive and unique holiday experience. Whether it is the world-class resort facilities of Curacao which draws you here or the tranquillity of Saba, the Netherlands Antilles has everything that you could wish for in a Caribbean Holiday and more.”
Netherlands Antilles Holiday Highlights
History & Culture - The Netherlands Antilles was originally discovered and settled by the Spanish in the 15th Century. By the 17th Century, the Dutch had conquered these islands and made them their military bases and more important the trading center for the slave trades in the West Indies. With the abolishment of slavery in 1863, these islands declined in importance. It was not until the 20th century that these islands began to flourish again by serving as oil refineries centers for Venezuela. It is also lately that tourism has played a greater role in the economic growth of these islands.
Due to the colonization by the Dutch, the cultures of these islands are largely influenced by the Dutch way of life. In addition, these traditions are often infused with a local flavor making them a unique potpourri of culture for each respective island. These cultural diversities are reflected in the festive events that display the colorful parades, the vibrant music like the Calypso and Pan Music as well as the traditional cuisines of the island.
Bonaire Island - Bonaire charm’s lies in its people. From the influences of the Caiquetios Indians to those of the multiracial population who have made this island their home, the island has developed what is uniquely a Bonaire culture. From the African is derived the festive dances of Bari and Simadan. The Dutch brought with them the waltz, Polka and Mazuaka while the Latin segment of the population brought with them the Joropo, Danza and Rumba.
Not only is the island blessed with a rich cultural heritage, the island with its incredible reefs at the Bonaire National Marine Park also draws divers from all over the world. The park is also renowned for offering first-rate windsurfing conditions.
The mangrove swamps on the island with their pink flamingos are a feast for the wildlife lovers. If the pink flamingos present a feast for the wildlife lovers, then the Washington-Slagbaai National Park will represent the dessert to that feast. The exhilaration of observing the green iguanas in their natural habitat will more than make up for the heat of the tropical desert that one has to endure to get to this park.
Other main highlights of Bonaire include:
- Bonaire Museum
- Goto Meer
- Peckelmeer Lagoon
- Sorobon - Lac Baai
Curaçao Island - The architecture of the houses found on Curacao can attest to the influences the Dutch have on this island. If architectural attractions is your cup of tea, then the Historic Area of Willemstad, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Queen Emma Bridge are a must visit. The capital, Willemstad, developed over the centuries, reflects European urban planning concepts and the styles of not just the Dutch but also that of the Spanish and Portuguese.
The migrant population of this island is also evident in the sound and sights of this enchanting island. Visitors will be able to relish the distinctive Caribbean music like Reggae, Calypso, Tambu and the muzik di Zumbi. These traditions can be observed during the festivals like the Easter Great Seu March.
If the crystal-clear water appeals to you then Groot Knip, the Sea Aquarium and the Baya Beach Club at Caracas Bay Island should be on your list of places to stopover. Besides swimming, visitors have a selection of activities like boat rides, canoeing and water biking to indulge themselves in.
Places of interest worth visiting on Curacao include:
- Beth Haim
- Curaçao Maritime Museum
- Curaçao Museum
- Floating Market
- Fort Amsterdam
- Fort Church Museum
- Kurà Hulanda Museum
- Mikvé Israel-Emanuel Synagogue
- Numismatic Museum
- Postal Museum
- Roosevelt House
- St Annabaai, Schottegat
- St Jorisbaai
- Tele Museum
Saba/Sint Eustatius - Both the islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius differ tremendously from the island of Bonaire and Curacao in the sense that they do not cater to mass tourism. These islands are instead more inclined towards eco tourism and they are better known for their laid-back ways.
Mt Scenery located in the Saba National Land Park offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding islands and the Caribbean. Nature lovers will also enjoy Ladder Bay, which offers some great hiking trails and views. Visitors interested in the history of the Saba Island should visit the Harry L. Johnson Museum. Those interested in the beauty, which lies under the water off Saba’s coast, can visit the Saba National Marine Park.
The beauty of Sint Eustatius lies in its simplicity and a landscape that is unblemished by urban development. Also known as Statia, the island main attractions are its historical relics found among the ruins in the town Oranjestand as well as the 600 archaeological dig sites all over the island. The Sint Eustatius Museum also has superb collections of artifacts of the island including a 2000-year-old skeleton. Other notable historical highlights on this island include Fort Oranje and Fort de Windt. The island also has several shallow shipwrecks that offer a superb vision of the underwater world. Last but not least, nature lovers would love the hike to the island dormant volcano called the “The Quill”. The crater’s bottom contains some unbelievably massive trees.
Notable sites of interest on these two islands include:
- Fort Bay
- The Bottom
- St Eustatius
- Try eating at the stalls. Not only is the food cheaper, you also get the authentic taste of the local fare and not the watered down version meant for the “foreigners”. In addition, you get to mingle around just by asking what is what.
- The local bars are also a good place to meet with the locals. Because Rum shops are in reality the meeting places for the local community especially in Bonaire and Curacao, you soon get to be part of the pack. Try to be loyal and not bar hop as so many tourists comes and goes. It might take a while before you get to be part of the crowd but a regular face soon becomes a familiar face.
- Bonaire/Curaçao - Depending on what you prefer arrange your schedule so that you can have an easy and relaxing time on one or both islands. First, decide your favorite beaches and dive spots for each island. Compare and pick the best of each for both islands. Two weeks should be enough to have a satisfying and enjoyable time but you can take as long as you wish.
- Saba – One Day - Arrange with the local dive shops and arrange for a two tanks half-day dive. Head out to the reefs and enjoy the splendor of the underwater world. Have lunch at Windwardside and immerse yourself with the local populace. If you still have the strength then try out the Sandy Cruz trail towards the later part of the day. Three Days - Select a hotel in Windwardside, tour the town on the first day, and then take a hike to Mount Scenery. On the second day and third day, go scuba diving around the reefs and around the sunken pinnacles. Just relax in the afternoon and enjoy the cool breeze of the Caribbean wind. In the evening try out the local fare at the numerous restaurants on the island.
- Sint Eustatius - Three Days - Spend day one and day two scuba diving around the various dive sites like the Aquarium, Barracuda Reef, Charlie Brown and Wreck City. On the third day, hike the Quill Crater.
- Sint Maarten - One Day - A day is hardly enough time to scratch the surface to savor what this island has to offer. However, if you are arriving by Cruise ships, your options are limited. Even then, you start by renting a car and enjoy a lunch of sweet barbecue ribs at one of the open air ‘Lolos”. Orient Beach should be your next stop for the feel of sand under your feet. Lastly drop by at one of the bars at Simpson Bay and watch the jumbo jets literally trying to land over your head.
- Fort Amsterdam
- Lynch Plantation Museum
- De Graaff House
- Dutch Reform Church
- Gertrude Judson Memorial Library
- Honen Dalim Synagogue
- Three Widows Corner
Sint Maarten/ St-Martin - The island of Sint Maarten is actually famous for being the smallest land mass shared by two nations, the Dutch and the French. The Dutch quarter is known as Sint Maarten while the French side is called by St Martin. Relatively untouched by commercialization, the island main historical attractions include Fort Amsterdam and Sint Maarten Museum. Those who love to go au naturel can do so at Orient Beach. Simpson Bay is also an interesting place to relax at as you can get to observe the passenger jets careening overhead trying to land at the extremely short runway.
Places of interest on St Maarten include:
- Cay Baai
- Guana Bay
- Maho Bay
- Mullet Pont Bay
- Border Monument
- Dutch Cul de Sac
- Great Salt Pond
- Burgher's Houses
- De Ruyterplein
When To Go
Bonaire/Curaçao - The average temperature is quite stable at around 28C (82F). Peak season runs from December through April. The peak season for cruise ships runs from October until April. Because these islands usually miss the hurricane season, outside these peaks season month is a good time to go since the places can be classified as sleepy then. The hotels rates are also substantially lower during these off peak period.
Saba/Sint Eustatius/Sint Maarten - Because the Hurricane Season starts from July until October, You should try to time your visit to these three islands around November to early December and from May to June.
The real charm of the Netherlands Antilles lies in its people. You cannot savor the true essence of the Caribbean without getting to know the people. You need to join in and mix with the local population in order to get a feel of the warmth and character of the local populace.