The Caribbean offers a lot of options and it can be quite difficult to make a choice when it comes to a vacation to Bonaire or Curacao. Both islands meet the most essential conditions of any tropical vacation: it is sunny & warm, and the beaches are dreamy white. Of course, there is much more than that.
It is just a short 30 minute flight from Curacao to Bonaire, but the islands are very different from each other. If you are in doubt about which island to travel to, this overview is for you. Take note of the differences and similarities between Bonaire and Curacao, at a glance.
Salt flats (Bonaire)
Beaches: Intimate Coves vs. Pristine Beaches
No tropical island is complete without white sand beaches and a surrounding ocean in fifty shades of blue. Both islands have numerous white sandy beaches but there are differences. Curacao has over 35 bays and smaller beaches. Bonaire offers far a tinier number of beaches and also less accessible beaches.
Bonaire does offer a more pristine beach with beautiful pebbles and petrified coral, but offers fewer facilities (no umbrellas, chairs, toilets and/or beach bars & restaurants).
Curacao beaches are better accessible and offer more convenience as in most cases you do not need to bring a jug because you can just order your tasty food & cold beverages at the beach bars.
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Activities: Exclusive & Cultural vs. Less supply & Watersports
It would not be the Caribbean if nothing were celebrated - this happens exuberantly on Curacao. Throughout the year, events and activities are organized on both Curacao and Bonaire, varying from sports to art.
Curacao is all round when it comes to activities, there is a lot to experience. In general, Curacao attaches more value to culture and the history of the island. This is reflected, for example, in the number of museums.
Bonaire is a paradise for water sports and diving, for both beginners and advanced. On both Bonaire and Curacao many activities and sights are related to nature and water.
On Curacao there is a lot of variation, but it’s still far from mass tourism, so the tourist still has an exclusive experience.
The amount of activities and variety on Curacao is higher because the island is also larger (444 km2) with a larger local population of almost 160.000 people. Bonaire is more compact (288 km2) with just 20.000 inhabitants.
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Nature: Hilly & Rocks vs. Sustainable & Reserves
Despite the dry climate, there is beautiful nature on both Curacao and Bonaire and no shortage of greenery; there are many palms, mango, banana and divi divi trees.
Curacao is hillier and this is especially visible in the Christoffel National Park. Here you will also find the 372 meter high Christoffel Mountain, which requires a real climb to reach the top (highly recommended!).
Bonaire is boss when it comes to sustainability and untouched nature. No less than one fifth of Bonaire is a nature preserve and this island is highly recommended for nature lovers with numerous National parks and protected areas.
Washington Slagbaai National Park (Bonaire)
Hotels & Restaurants: Boutique hotels and culinary delights vs. Small-scale and cozy
The number of hotel chains on Curacao is higher than on Bonaire, as is the number of all-inclusive hotels.
On Curacao and Bonaire, the hotels - some of which like the popular Avila Beach Hotel, have been run by families for years - are low-rise (no tall buildings). Bonaire offers more small-scale resorts and apartments which are mainly less luxurious.
On both Curacao and Bonaire there are restaurants where the food is prepared at "fine dining" level, however you will find more top restaurants on Curacao. This too is a great way to taste the best of the region as most of these top-notch restaurants work with local products.
Underwater: Accessible vs. Divers paradise
Bonaire and Curacao both have a breathtaking underwater world. Divers (both beginners and advanced) from all over the world come to these islands for that reason.
On Curacao you can reach the most beautiful spots, even shipwrecks, by simply walking into the water and swimming for a while. This is also ideal for snorkelers.
Curacao, Bonaire, and in particular Klein Bonaire (only accessible by boat), are on many lists of the most beautiful dive sites in the world. It is therefore the main attraction of Bonaire and the majority of tourists who visit this island come especially for diving.
General type of tourists: European vs Regional & Dutch
Most of the tourists on Curacao come from the Netherlands and other European countries. It is just a short flight from Curacao to Bonaire but on Bonaire the percentage of Dutch tourists and tourist from the region (Aruba, Curacao, St. Eustatius & Sint Maarten is higher percentagewise.
Dutch influences can be seen in the street scene and the language on both islands, for example: on Curacao and Bonaire it feels European and people mainly speak Dutch. On both Bonaire and Curacao, people do not speak one language, but four different languages: Dutch, English, Papiamento and Spanish.
Curacao is more vibrant than Bonaire and offers more things to do. You mainly go to Bonaire to rest and for diving. Both islands are being discovered more often by American tourists (stayover and via cruise) since the past few years.
Bonus Islands: Bounty Island vs. Ecological island
Do you swoon away from those advertisements with snow-white beaches and a beautiful turquoise sea? Then Curacao’s little brother, Klein Curacao, is certainly to your liking! Klein Curacao is an uninhabited and pristine bounty island off the coast of Curacao. It is a true paradise within the paradise of Curacao, and you can go there only by boat.
Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited coral island just off the coast of Bonaire. It is known for its underwater world and immensely popular with divers, a breeding ground for sea turtles and home to many flora and fauna.
Nightlife: Different vibrant areas vs. Terraces and small pubs
Going out on Bonaire and Curacao is slightly different.
The nightlife and Happy Hours on Curacao is certainly more vibrant and spread over different areas of the island, each with its own atmosphere (think of Dutch, Latin, Caribbean, Authentic, etc.).
There is much more peace and quiet on Bonaire, but there are still some small establishments. Bonaire especially offers cozy terraces and small pubs.
Going out on Curacao and Bonaire is not only fun, but also safe on both islands.
Zanzibar Happy Hour (Curacao)
Atmosphere: Little Amsterdam vs. Village Vibes
Curacao has an architecture that is comparable to the Dutch with the famous Amsterdam canal houses, hence the UNESCO World Heritage Site Handelskade.
There is a European vibe on Curacao, while Bonaire feels more like a village. In terms of tourism, Curaçao is usually busier. It is even quieter on Bonaire.
Visiting Curacao is like visiting Amsterdam, but much warmer and sunnier. Visiting Bonaire feels like you are in a friendly little village.