When it comes to dream getaways, Bonaire and Curaçao are two bucket list destinations that can offer amazing and unique Caribbean experiences.
Choosing whether to visit Bonaire or Curaçao for that once-in-a-lifetime vacation or honeymoon can be difficult though. Having visited both, we compare Bonaire vs Curaçao below, and show you what each has to offer.
We compare the beaches, vibe and activities in each, and show you the things that make these islands different, as well as any similarities. All, so you can make the right decision!
Bonaire vs Curaçao: A Quick Overview
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, and so are included 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.
Where Bonaire shines though, is under and over the water! The snorkeling and diving spots on this little island 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 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!
Bonaire vs Curaçao: Stunning Natural Scenery
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.
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 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.
Bonaire vs Curaçao: Explore the Sights and Experience the Tropics
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.
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.
As part of the Dutch Caribbean, Bonaire has a Dutch feel and Caribbean vibe. Whilst this island is an outdoor adventure-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 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. You will have a go at traditional instruments, and taste traditional food and drink. It’s a great way to get to know this island.
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).
Bonaire vs Curaçao: A Taste of Island Life
Both Bonaire and Curaçao have a great little food scene, with cuisine formed through Caribbean and Dutch influences.
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!
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.
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.