Last updated on March 25, 2023 by Wandering our World
When it comes to dream getaways, Bonaire and Curaçao are two bucket list destinations that can offer amazing and unique Caribbean experiences. Yet despite being neighbors, these islands are actually very different.
Which mens making the right decision between Bonaire or Curaçao for that once-in-a-lifetime vacation or honeymoon is not only difficult, but extremely important.
For example, in our personal experience, if beaches are your priority, then Curaçao is the better option. This island also has a livelier nightlife than Bonaire, and has more accommodation and food options too.
Bonaire has a few nice little beaches too, but is much better suited for adventure lovers who want to dive, snorkel, or kite and windsurf in one of the best underwater sites in the Caribbean. We think Bonaire also has that small island charm which is lacking throughout the region.
However that’s just the start when it comes to how these two islands differ.
Luckily after visiting both, we compare Bonaire vs Curaçao below, and show you what each has to offer.
We compare the beaches, vibe and activities in each, show you the things that make these islands different, as well as any similarities. All, so you can make the right decision!
- A Quick Overview & Comparison
- How Do The Beaches & Landscape Compare?
- Explore The Sights & Culture
- Which Has Better Nightlife?
- Where To Stay According To Your Budget
- Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
- Which Is Better For Watersports?
- Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
- How Does The Cuisine Compare?
- Which Is Cheaper?
- Which Is The Better Choice?
A Quick Overview & Comparison
For tourists looking to enjoy the sun and experience the Caribbean, both Bonaire and Curaçao are great options.
Bonaire, with a population of around 20,000, has far less people compared to Curaçao’s population of 160,000. However that means that Curaçao has more accommodation and food options than Bonaire, which is something to keep in mind when deciding between these islands.
However you can expect beach weather year-round in both. They are also relatively cheap islands for the region, which is why we included them both on our list of cheapest Caribbean destinations!
As for beaches, Curaçao has quite a few white sand beaches which makes it the better choice between the two islands if beaches are your priority.
Bonaire lacks white sand beaches, and many of the beaches it does have are quite rocky. However as the less touristy of the ABC islands, the beaches are rarely busy in Bonaire – that’s in comparison to Curaçao where the popular beaches can sometimes get a little packed.
Where Bonaire shines though, is under and over the water!
The snorkeling and diving spots on the little island of Bonarie are some of the best in the Caribbean. It’s also a great place for wind and kite surfing.
In essence, if you like sunbathing and walks on the beach then Curaçao should be your choice. But if you love a bit of action and adventure on the water, then less touristy Bonaire can provide that.
Below we look in more detail at what both islands have to offer potential tourists, before showing how each is different culturally, and what to expect. Spoiler alert – they’re very different!
How Do The Beaches & Landscape Compare?
Bonaire: The Beaches & Landscape
Bonaire’s beaches may not be as good as the ones on Curaçao, but this rustic, remote island is charming, pretty and barely developed in comparison to its neighbors. That means no big hotel resorts, ugly factories, and the like.
It does have a few great beaches too. Te Amo is one. This golden sandy stretch of coastline is not only a great place to catch some sun, but is one of the best snorkeling sites in the ABC islands.
In fact despite its size, Bonaire has dozens of shore accessible snorkeling and diving sites, which is why underwater enthusiasts travel from around the world to this scenic little island.
Bachelors Beach is another one of our favorites – the water is crystal clear, the sealife teeming, and the beach is rarely busy. You can find a great diving and snorkeling resource for Bonaire here. A great underwater camera – such as this one – is a must too.
And the stunning south of the island is a treat for the eyes with the pink salt pans, mountains of white salt, and turquoise hues of the sea, all contrasting to create an other-worldly look.
Head to Pekelmeer – which now acts as a flamingo sanctuary – to see these funny-looking pink birds wander throughout this colorful landscape.
Curaçao: The Beaches & Landscape
Curaçao has some excellent beaches, with one of our favorites being the white-sandy stretch of coastline at Cas Abao. The crystal clear water, swaying palm trees, and snorkeling opportunities here make it a perfect day out.
The uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao – two hours off the coast of the main island – is home to the longest stretch of white sand in Curaçao, and is an absolute must visit too. In fact a trip to this island is one of our seven favorite things to do in Curaçao.
For snorkeling, the coastline beside the charming village of Lagun is teeming with sealife, and is one of the best places in Curaçao to swim alongside sea turtles.
Another good spot is Grote Knip Beach. Situated in a protected cove, colorful reef fish swim beside the water at the cliff edge – you can sometimes spot small sharks here too!
Curaçao also has a few decent walking and hiking spots, and so may also be suited for people looking for more than just a beach holiday. One of our favorite walks is Jan Thiel Salt Pan, which takes you along the scenic south coast.
Christoffel National Park is another beautiful spot, full of shady hiking trails that pass through the island’s lush green forest.
Roi Rincon Park is also home to many short hiking trails that meander through shaded forests that hide caves and rock formations. It’s a hidden spot, and a great place to get away from the beach crowds.
In essence, while Curaçao is a great place to be a beach bum for a week or two, it also has plenty to offer inland too. More so than Bonaire – it is the bigger and more populated island after all.
Explore The Sights & Culture
Along with the natural scenery on offer, both Bonaire and Curaçao have a wealth of attractions and cultural experiences worth checking out.
Without a doubt Bonaire is the quieter, more laid back island though. So if you want nightlife, Curaçao is the better option (more on that later).
But what you get in Bonaire as a tourist is much closer to local life than in Curaçao.
That gives this small island a real charm that is lacking in other Caribbean islands where the gulf between tourist and local is really felt.
Below we look at a few of the main cultural highlights in each island, so you can see which one may suit you best.
Bonaire: Culture & Sights
As part of the Dutch Caribbean, Bonaire has a Dutch feel and Caribbean vibe. Whilst this island is an adventure and water-lovers paradise, there’s historical landmarks to visit too.
Bonaire’s colorful salt flats are now a tourist destination, but they were originally built and worked on by slaves.
The Slave Huts at Orange Pan have been kept intact as a living museum and poignant reminder of Bonaire’s dark history.
Another building used during the times of slavery, Mangazina di Rei, has been repurposed as a cultural center. There you can get a guided tour that takes you through Bonaire’s history and culture.
A visit there will give you the chance to have a go at traditional instruments, and taste traditional food and drink. It’s a great way to get to know this island.
Curaçao: Culture & Sights
As a Dutch island that is a mix of European and Caribbean culture, Curaçao is a vibrant and colorful place.
The traditions and culture of this island was also formed through its history with the slave trade, and subsequently tambu – a rhythmic music passed down by slaves and that originated on Curaçao – is still a big part of island life.
To learn more about the history of the slave trade and how it shaped this island, a trip to Kura Hulanda Museum in the capital of Willemstad is a must.
Staying in the capital, it’s worth visiting the Curaçao Sea Aquarium. This family friendly attraction is situated by a coral reef and has great opportunities to view the colorful sealife that lives underneath the waves.
Recommended: Unmissable Culture on Curaçao
Which Has Better Nightlife?
Simply put, Curacao is the place to go if you want to enjoy vibrant nightlife during your vacation.
Being the larger island, it’s no surprise that Curacao has a very good selection of entertainment options, catering to different kinds of visitors.
And while Bonaire does have a nightlife scene, it’s mostly subdued and laid-back. The island is not popular with party lovers, but several establishments still offer fun evening entertainment.
Below we look at the nightlife options on each island so you can decide which will suit you best!
Curacao: The Nightlife
There’s something for everyone when it comes to Curacao’s nightlife scene. The island’s diverse culture and large population makes the nightlife there fun, interesting and unique.
If you are a die-hard reveler, consider visiting during Carnival. Did you know that Curacao’s Carnival is the Caribbean’s largest and longest-running celebration? It begins shortly after the new year and ends on the eve of Ash Wednesday.
The carnival features more than 20 parades, with the main ones happening during the last 10 days of the celebration. During this time, the 3-mile parade route is lined with chairs and temporary stands for spectators, and the seemingly never-ending parties begin early until dawn.
The rest of the year features a nightlife where the hot spots move daily like shifting dunes. Simply ask a local for the best place to visit on any given night or check out the K-Pasa website to get a glimpse of what’s happening and where.
However one of our favorite places is the Blues Bar and Restaurant in the Avila Beach Hotel. It’s a tiny tree house seated over the water that offers grilled specialities alongside live jazz and spectacular sunsets. Expect the place to be fully packed every night except when they’re closed on Mondays.
And if you love salsa, the historic Rif Fort Stage is your best option. They have a program called Drink, Dine, and Dance with Gino & Friends that begins at 7pm every Friday night.
You can also visit the place any Thursday night for a relaxing fusion of jazz and funk, or Saturday evening for soul sessions.
Pirates Bay Beach Club & Restaurant at Piscadera Bay is another excellent place to visit. Enjoy dinner and live music with your feet in the powdery sand every Friday evening.
While on Saturday evenings, dance to the Latin beats after their Pirates of the Caribbean Dance Workshop. Or, enjoy live reggae music every Sunday evening from 7pm.
And if you want to try your luck, numerous casinos on the island feature plenty of gaming action. Most of them stay open until 5 am and provide free drinks and snacks to players. You should also expect there to be a dress code regardless of their relaxed ambience.
The island’s biggest and best casinos that are a must-visit, and those include:
- The Emerald Casino at Curacao Marriott Beach Resort in Piscadera.
- The Carnaval Casino at Renaissance Curacao Resort in Otrobanda.
- The Casino Awasa Sports & Race Book at Otrobanda Hotel.
Bonaire: The Nightlife
Bonaire is no Ibiza when it comes to nightlife, but that’s not to say you can’t find something to do when the sun sets.
In fact, night diving and snorkeling are among the most popular evening activities in Bonaire. This usually happens at Buddy Dive or Captain Don’s Habitat at least once every week, around 6:30 pm.
So why not spend an hour or two enjoying Bonaire’s amazing marine life with fellow nature and dive enthusiasts?
But if you prefer something other than diving and snorkeling, there’s still more you can do.
Head out along the seafront in the capital, Kralendijk, as that’s where most of the entertainment spots are located.
Live music is almost a given there. The vibe is laid-back yet fun, and often evenings develop into a vibrant party at the shoreline. After all, it’s almost impossible to sit still to fantastic Latin beats….
Some places to consider visiting include the classic Little Havana where you sit lazily on the verandah, blowing thick smoke from a Cuban cigar while enjoying the beautiful sea view alongside jazz tunes.
Karel’s Bar is another popular spot on the waterfront. There you can sit among the island’s scuba diving experts at the long bar looking over the surf while enjoying live performances or watching a game on the giant flatscreen TV.
But if you’re vacationing with your partner, a romantic night on the high seas is a must in Bonaire. Consider boarding the Samur, a magnificent Siamese junk, for an evening sail with champagne and appetizers. They even have a full 7-course Thai dinner under the stars.
And if you’re feeling lucky, there are two casinos on the island: The Divi Flamingo Casino at the Dive Resort and the Coral Casino in the capital. Both offer slot machines, tables and other games to try your luck.
Where To Stay According To Your Budget
Budget: Located in the heart of the action in Kralendijk, and just 600 m from Flamingo Beach, Aqua Viva Suites is a fantastic budget stay with a lovely pool. It’s also situated fantastically for some of the island’s best snorkeling spots. See photos and rates!
Luxury: Harbour Village Beach Club is an exceptional beachfront resort with access to a coral reef, a diving school on site, a gorgeous beach to enjoy, wonderful sea views, and five-star service to go with it. If you’re looking for luxury on Bonaire, this is it. See photos and rates!
Budget: The Green Turtle Eco Lodge with its lovely apartments, outside swimming pool and private terraces, is a great place for a relaxing stay at a budget price point. The owners are extremely friendly, and the pretty birds that sometimes visit your terrace are an added bonus! See photos and rates.
Luxury: If you’re looking for luxury on the island, then it’s hard to beat Coral Estate. This resort has its own private beach, an incredible swimming pool, breathtaking sea views and world-class service. Best of all, is the fact a resort like this on other more popular Caribbean islands would be double the price. See photos and rates!
Which Is Better For A Family Vacation?
Thinking of traveling with family but need help deciding between Bonaire and Curacao? Well, you can’t really go wrong with either destination, as each has something unique to offer.
However, we highly recommend Bonaire for a family adventure. And here’s why.
Bonaire has a calm atmosphere, the type you can only find on a tiny island. The vibe there is laid-back and even the larger towns are more like big villages rather than actual urban areas.
The island is easy to manoeuvre and get around too – more so than Curacao, which is an added advantage for family trips.
We particularly love the fact that its capital, Kralendijk, is small and walkable. It’s the perfect size to entertain younger kids without them getting too overwhelmed.
Also, Bonaire is less touristy. It receives far fewer tourists annually, about 130,000, in comparison to Curacao’s 1.3 million. And with its small population of around 20,000, you’re guaranteed a relaxed family vacation away from crowds.
In addition, the island features plenty of wildlife that offers constant, natural entertainment for your little travelers. From pelicans diving for seafood and iguanas basking in the sun, to crabs hopping from rock to rock.
There are also plenty of activities to keep your family entertained in Bonaire, some of the best include
Exploring the beaches: Bonaire has plenty of stunning, short and unspoiled beaches, like the unoccupied shores of Klein Bonaire and the shallow waters of Lac Bay. Our personal favorites are Sorobon and Pink Beach because of their shallow waters, alongside lots of coral and spectacular marine life.
Going on a snorkeling expedition: The reef in Bonaire generally begins at the coastline, making it convenient to all to explore, even the youngest swimmers. So you’re guaranteed great snorkeling right off the beach, which makes it easy for even young kids to join in.
Touring the donkey sanctuary: Kids will love feeding these graceful creatures with carrots while learning about them. The sanctuary on the island protects over 600 donkeys.
Visiting Aletta’s goat farm: At this farm, kids can feed, pet and play with goats of all sizes as you can also sample their fresh produce – milk, yogurt and cheese.
Exploring the Washington Slagbaai National Park: The park is a safe haven for various bird and reptile species, including parrots, flamingos and iguanas. Plus the fantastic beaches inside the park have sea turtles!
Curacao also offers many kid-friendly activities, and is an excellent destination for families with older kids. Although the one downside is that it does take more time to travel between the main attractions on Curacao, than it does on Bonaire.
Which Is Better For Watersports?
When it comes to watersports, Bonaire easily takes the win.
Alongside snorkeling and scuba diving, Bonaire is a paradise for numerous watersports like kitesurfing, windsurfing, kayaking, motorboating, and wakeboarding. All due to the trade winds that constantly blow from the east.
However Bonaire is also famous for having some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in the world.
The island has more than 90 world-class diving spots catering for all levels of divers, which allow for the exploration of over 500 species of marine animals, as well reefs and shipwrecks. These sites are well preserved and protected to ensure marine life continues to thrive.
The underwater visibility in Bonaire often exceeds 100 ft too. And with an average temperature of around 80°F (28°C), prolonged dives are enjoyable.
Moreover, due to the size of the island, the diving spots are close to each other which means you can explore multiple diving sites in a day. And guess what? Most of these sites are near to the shore, so you can explore them without paying for an expensive boat ride.
That’s in contrast to Curacao where the diving sites are far from each other, and you’ll need a boat to access the best of them.
Another reason why Curacao may not appeal to some divers is the fact that its waters are not as protected as the waters around Bonaire.
All in all, Curacao is also known for its watersports and superb snorkeling and diving. You can enjoy all the same water sports on both islands, but Bonaire is simply the better destination if you like action above and below the waves.
Which Is Better For Couples & Honeymoons?
Both destinations are fabulous choices for couples and honeymooners.
After all, they both have great weather conditions, stunning beaches with blue waters, mouth-watering cuisines, rich history, culture, and plenty of activities to enjoy with your better half.
That’s why below we’ll look at both islands in more detail, so you can see which one may suit you and your partner the most:
Curacao: For Couples & Honeymoons
There’s plenty to do and see on this small yet mighty island.
Perhaps you should start with the beaches as soon as you touch down. There are more than 35 beaches where you and your partner can enjoy walks, swim to cool off from the hot weather, engage in watersports, or even go diving.
And if you want to stay on land, consider touring Willemstad, the island’s capital and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll love its colorful Dutch colonial architecture, bustling waterfront and famous bridges extending over the city’s canal. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants to explore there. It’s quite a romantic feeling city.
For a more adventurous experience, you can go hiking through Christofellpark, the country’s largest national park, where you can enjoy sightings of unique bird species, plants, flowers and animals.
You can also go cliff jumping at Playa Abou or explore Hato Cave, a natural masterpiece created during the ice age as a result of dropping water levels.
The end your day enjoying the stunning sunset views from a boat deck with a glass of sparkling wine, toasting to a great future with your partner.
Or have dinner at Fort Nassau, a historical hilltop structure that’s now a romantic restaurant overlooking Willemstad. You’ll enjoy the island’s best panoramic views from there, made even more romantic at night.
Besides the activities, there are many hotels and resorts to choose from. Some are adults-only with romantic packages and add-ons like a spa treatment.
In general, Curacao offers a traditional honeymoon with pretty beaches, great restaurants for dining out with your partner, and excellent resorts that are perfect for couples. If you’re looking for that ‘classic’ couples holiday, Curacao will be perfect.
Bonaire: For Couples & Honeymoons
In contrast, a Bonaire holiday is perfect if you and your significant other want something a little different and off the beaten path.
It is an excellent island for active couples looking for a getaway packed with action alongside romantic beaches and a laid-back vibe.
If you and your partner love the outdoors, you’re in for lots of land adventures here, from hiking and rock climbing to horseback riding, bird watching and much more.
Besides diving and snorkeling, which is synonymous with Bonaire, you can also take a day trip to Kralendijk and discover art galleries, cafes, restaurants and shops. This tiny town is completely walkable and safe. Remember to grab some unique souvenirs!
Taking a tour of the island together in a tuk-tuk is another great way to spend a day in Bonaire.
Bon Tuk Eco Tours offers fun and educational tours for small groups which will take you around the island. Consider booking an open-air tuk-tuk if you want to take fantastic photos of the spectacular landscape and wildlife while on the go.
And if you both like golf, then you’ll definitely be charmed by Piedra So, the island’s only golf club. The course offers unique challenges, including meandering animals, constant wind and the probability of backing into cacti! All of which makes the game even more interesting and fun (at least we think so anyway…).
After an afternoon of golf, why not visit the Cadushy Distillery to sample the local spirits they make there from cacti! You can also spend your evening watching the sunset or enjoying a beach-side restaurant.
All in all, a couples holiday or honeymoon in Bonaire will have less options in regards to resorts and dining out, but it will be perfect for active couples who love to spend time outdoors in a less touristy location.
A Taste Of Island Life: How Does The Cuisine Compare?
Both Bonaire and Curaçao have a great little food scene, with cuisine formed through Caribbean and Dutch influences.
Bonaire: The Food
A must try is the universal snack of Bonaire – pastechis! This pastry is a bit like a British Cornish pasty, and is packed full of meat like chicken or shrimp.
For something from the sea, try Piska Kriyoyo. This grilled fish – usually lionfish – is made Creole-style and is delicious.
Keshi Yena is one of the national dishes of the ABC islands and is well worth trying. This large ball of cheese is stuffed with chicken (but sometimes other types of meat too), and is a real comfort food.
For such a small island, Bonaire has an impressive selection of fine dining restaurants. One of our favorites is Capriccio, which also has one of the best wine lists throughout the Caribbean!
Curaçao: The Food
Keshi Yena is also very popular in Curaçao, so expect it here as well as Bonaire. Stoba is another hearty comfort food well worth trying – it’s a spicy goat meat stew.
As an island nation you will have to try the fresh seafood. One of the most popular dishes here is raw herring! However there’s an abundance of more common seafood dishes too, all freshly caught off Curaçao’s coast.
To wash it all down, you must try the nation’s famous namesake Curaçao Liqueur. Made from the dried peel of the bitter orange laraha fruit – only grown on this island – this blue liqueur is as tasty as it looks.
Which Is Cheaper?
Regarding budget, Bonaire tends to be a little cheaper than Curacao, although the difference isn’t that big.
For example if you want to travel on a tight budget, expect to spend around $150 per day in Bonaire and $200 in Curacao. According to past travelers who are visiting on a mid-range budget, the average spend per day is about $205 in Bonaire and $266 in Curacao.
However it is worth noting that transport and gas tends to cost more in Bonaire than in Curacao. Yet accommodation is often cheaper in Bonaire.
Regardless, both of these destinations are pretty affordable compared to other Caribbean destinations.
It’s also possible to visit either on a budget if you put certain money-saving strategies into practice. These include:
- Traveling during off-season
- Trading expensive hotels for cheaper ones
- Reserving hotels and flights well in advance
- Purchasing fresh food from the local markets and making your meals instead of eating out
- Getting the most out of free tourist attractions and activities
Bonaire vs Curaçao: Which Is The Better Choice?
Both islands are fantastic holiday destinations, and if you have the time and money to visit both then you should.
However if beaches are your priority, then Curaçao has the better choices. This island also has a livelier nightlife, and more accommodation and food options.
Bonaire has a few nice little beaches too, but lacks white sand.
This island is better suited for adventure lovers who want to dive, snorkel, or kite and wind surf in one of the best underwater sites in the Caribbean. Bonaire also has that small island charm which is lacking throughout the region.