From July to September each summer, the warm waters off the southern tip of Florida drag in hurricanes from the Atlantic and funnel them up into North America, temporarily excluding most of the Caribbean Sea and its famous beaches from savvy travelers’ itineraries. But don’t let the weather rob you of your Caribbean vacation altogether—instead, cast your beach-hungry eyes all the way to the southern edge of the sea, just off the coast of South America, and you’ll find three islands that are too cool for hurricane season.
Sprinkled a handful of miles off South America’s northern edge are the ABC islands: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao. All are parts of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and all are infused with a cultural confluence combining that of their Dutch colonizers with Latin American flavors and a heart that’s pure Papiamentu, as the local Arawak- and West African-descended people refer to their creole language and culture.
With glitzy resorts on Aruba, world-class diving on Bonaire, and a buzzing cultural capital sandwiched between the two on Curaçao, there’s something for any summer traveler on the ABC islands.
Alluring Beaches on Aruba
The westernmost of the ABC islands lies just 18 miles off the northern coast of Venezuela, where aquamarine Caribbean water gives way to white sand marching up to multicolored beachfront shops and towering hotels and resorts.
Aruba’s dry climate and the constant trade wind breeze, keeping the island a nearly unvarying 80 degrees year-round, draws more tourists to its beaches and resorts than any other island in the southern Caribbean. Most itineraries start with seafood and cocktails in the capital, Oranjestad, a popular port of call for Caribbean cruises and the cheapest airport of the ABCs for most visitors arriving from the US. From there, Eagle Beach and its neighbors are among the can’t-miss sandy shores of the southern Caribbean.
Aruba’s beaches and the tourist establishments that surround them are a great starting point for those seeking waterborne adventures like windsurfing and diving. For an up-tempo August vacation, catch the annual Aruba International Regatta, three days of quintessential Aruban partying and boat racing.
Balmy Island Adventure on Bonaire
Sparsely populated and covered in green as far as the eye can see, Bonaire is a stark contrast to its larger neighboring islands to the west. It’s the smallest and least populous of the ABC islands, giving it a rural, spacious feeling that can be a welcome relief for those coming from the busier and more touristic islands just to its west; and while it’s got the same perfect weather and beautiful beaches as Aruba, the real treasure here is under water.
Most tourists will use the capital of Kralendijk, the only major town on the island, as a base for launching their underwater adventures. With some of the most diverse marine life and reefs, Bonaire is home to some of the best diving in the Caribbean, offering experienced divers and first-timers the surreal experience of exploring some of the Caribbean’s best-preserved shipwrecks and coral reefs.
During your stay on Bonaire, think outdoors: bird watching, mountain biking, and anything involving a wetsuit deserve a spot high on your to do list for the island. While staying on the first 100% sustainable island of the Caribbean, look for a trendy eco-resort that combines some adventure activities with a few nights of rest in environmentally-responsible paradise.
Cosmopolitan Meets Creole on Curaçao
Centered between Aruba and Bonaire, the largest of the ABC islands is also its cultural hearth: from quirky cuisine to festivals and historical sites, Curaçao has the widest variety of offerings for travelers burnt out on beach bumming and ready for a little stimulation.
The iconic buildings of the Handelskade showcase the cultural confluence that is Curaçao with starkly contrasting rows of distinctly Dutch rowhouses in bright yellows, sky blues, electric greens, and other such bright colors that pop against the backdrop of the turquoise Caribbean sea. The largest city of the ABC islands, it’s home to hip artsy neighborhoods like Pietermaai where urban alternative meets fun in the sun.
Explore the touristy Punda district on your way in and head for historic Otrobanda, meaning “Other Side” in Papiamentu, home to cultural attractions like the Kura Hulanda museum, which showcases the island’s own history and its poignant place in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. Dine on fish caught in the same waters you were swimming in that same morning, or go for a vegetarian-friendly bowl of cactus-based kadushi, or other Curaçaoan dishes with their heavy Indian, Indonesian, Caribbean, and South American culinary influences.
Traveling the Caribbean in hurricane season can still be paradise when done right, but the first step is choosing the right destination. Take your pick of beautiful beaches, unrivaled diving, and the culture and cuisine that defines the southern Caribbean, and escape to the ABCs this summer.