Which Island Paradise is Right for You? Caribbean Islands are some of the most breathtaking destinations in the world, so it’s no wonder that they attract throngs of tourists each year.
Though many visitors know they want to visit this region, they’re often unsure of which island to choose, and even less sure how to go about the selection process. Curacao and Sint Maarten are two of these stunning options, and although they share some similarities, they differ in plenty of ways, too.
If you’re having a tough time choosing between Curacao and Sint Maarten, read on for all the information you could need to make a decision.
Beaches: concealed alcoves vs. resort luxury
Curacao is a less popular destination than most of its Caribbean counterparts like Sint Maarten, so its many bays are secluded and more intimate than the beaches on other islands. Sint Maarten is home to many resorts, most of which stake claim to some of the island’s magnificent white sand beaches.
If you’re interested in vegetating beneath an umbrella a few hundred feet from your resort, Sint Maarten may be your best bet, but if you’d rather live like a local and enjoy an idyllic beach (for free) with less people, Curacao wins out here.
Photo: Grote Knip beach on Curacao
Nature: varied landscape vs. bustling cityscape
Though a small island, Curacao is home to a variety of landscapes featuring everything from Cacti-riddled dry areas to mountainous overlooks. This variety makes Curacao an ideal destination for travelers with a penchant for adventure and outdoor exploration.
Because Sint Maarten is part of a split island, the occupied areas are quite densely populated. This means that there isn’t a whole lot of nature to be seen on dry land, as most of it has been settled by residents. In this way, Sint Maarten is perfect for those looking for a traditional beach vacation without extraneous recreation.
Photo: Christoffel Mountain on Curacao by National Geographic
Underwater: easy exploration vs. curated dives
In line with its other attractions, Curacao offers plenty of easy access points for snorkeling and scuba diving. All a visitor needs to do to begin enjoying Curacao’s abundant underwater sites is walk in from any of the many beaches.
On the other hand, Sint Maarten is a bit more regulated in their approach. Vacationers can explore Sint Maarten’s underwater areas at an approved dive site with the assistance of a professional.
As with most of their differences, Curacao exhibits a more laid-back attitude here where Sint Maarten employs more pre-planning.
Photo: St Maarten Dive Adventures
Bonus islands: unspoilt beauty vs. a one-stop shop
Curacao features a small, uninhabited sister island called “Klein Curacao” perfect for particularly adventurous vacationers to explore. This small island features unspoilt landscape, a beautiful white sandy beach and many sea turtles and gives visitors an idea of what many of the Caribbean islands looked like prior to being settled.
Sint Maarten only encompasses its portion of the one island, so there are no others to explore within its bounds.
Photo: The uninhabitant island of klein curacao
Overall type of tourists: Europeans vs. Americans
Curacao is a little-known gem of the Caribbean, so not many people outside of the Dutch are aware of its existence, let alone travel there.
Though Sint Maarten is also Dutch, it has become a major port for U.S. cruise ships. This brings in a high traffic of American tourism with very quick turnover. The many high-rise resorts also draw in a greater volume of tourism, since Sint Maarten is a more well-known destination than Curacao.
Photo: Cruise port Sint Maarten
Island vibe: little Europe vs. lively Caribbean
A cursory glance at Curacao’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Handelskade, is bound to make one feel like they’ve been transported to the Netherlands with a Caribbean twist. Featuring charming, colorful houses that closely resemble those of the Dutch, Curacao’s cultural influences are easy to suss out.
Sint Maarten differs from much of the Caribbean in that it’s known for a lively, feisty attitude more than a relaxed, easy going one. It’s certainly still possible to relax and unwind on Sint Maarten, but the energy tends toward vibrance over calm.
Photo: UNESCO World Heritage Site, Handelskade
Hotels and restaurants: character-rich beachside finds vs. pre-selected experiences
Being the smaller and less popular of these two islands, it should come as no surprise that Curacao features a more family owned and boutique experience in terms of both dining and hotels. Curacao does have some of the tourist-friendly establishments you’d expect, like fast food and dining beachfront.
Sint Maarten features high rise hotels much more prominently, many of which are all-inclusive and make venturing out to dine unnecessary. However, there are some great eating experiences on Sint Maarten if visitors take the time to seek them out.
Photo: The family owned Avila Beach Hotel on Curacao
Activities: authentic activities vs. tourist attractions
Thanks again to its smaller tourist numbers, Curacao offers more culturally relevant activities, as well as secluded recreational spots. For example, Christoffel National Park and Shete Boca National Park are unique spots of immense natural beauty that visitors can traverse without having to wade through massive crowds of tourists.
Because Sint Maarten is the more popular destination, it tends to cater to tourist desires. This is obvious with the emphasis placed on casinos and adventure parks intended to delight the many visitors who arrive and leave quickly due to their cruise schedules.
Photo: Maho Beach Sint Maarten
Nightlife: local hotspots vs. beach bars
Though both of these islands have their fair share of beach-centric party spots, Curacao features a much more balanced sampling of nightlife locations. You can find exciting spots scattered around the island, not exclusively on the water, so you are bound to get a taste of the local flavor. Besides this there are countless happy hours and often concerts and events with famous artists and DJ's from the Netherlands.
Since many tourists come to Sint Maarten to enjoy the beaches flanked by resorts, it’s no surprise that much of the nightlife is centered around these areas, leaning heavily on the American expectations of the Caribbean.
Photo: Nightlife in Philipsburg Sint Maarten
While it’s clear that both of these destinations bring their vacationers a slice of paradise, and the choice about where to vacation is a personal one, it’s hard to imagine anyone turning down Curacao’s authentic charm in favor of Sint Maarten’s crowded aesthetic.
Being located outside the hurricane belt, Curacao is also marked as a safer destination to visit during hurricane season (from June through November).
Photo: Curacao’s Tugboat