Easy as A-B-C: Selling the Dutch Islands
By Melanie Reffes
A trifecta of tropical splendor, the ABC islands are the three westernmost in the Leeward Antilles chain. Sun-dappled and located safely outside the hurricane belt, Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire are distinctive with crooked Divi-divi trees dotting the landscape and a mélange of Caribbean flair and Dutch panache. The hub for island hopping, Curacao is the largest of the trio, while Aruba sizzles day and night and boomerang shaped Bonaire is nirvana for windsurfers and divers.
Curacao: Caribbean Chic
With visitor arrival numbers on the rise, secluded lagoons with more flamingoes than people and the architecturally-fabulous capital city of Willemstad, Curacao also boasts a vibrant arts scene that’s about to get even hotter.
Inspired by the legendary jazz festival in the Netherlands with the same name, the inaugural Curacao North Sea Jazz Festival will take center stage at the World Trade Center in Piscadera Bay (September 3–4) with a roster of soulful superstars from Lionel Ritchie and John Legend to Natalie Cole. “We’re aiming to create a buzz in the marketplace,” says Evita Nita, executive director, Curacao Tourist Board, “which will attract a music niche market.” Free performances begin a week prior to the festival. Visit www.curacaonorthseajazz.com
Hotels jazzing it up include Kura Hulanda where guests can stay four nights for $860, which includes shuttles to Festival events. Visit www.kurahulanda.com. The Floris Suite Hotel is dishing up a “Curacao North Sea Jazz Fine Dining” package with champagne breakfast and dinner at the restaurant Sjalotte. Visit www.florissuitehotel.com
It’s no surprise that the island’s oldest hotel is also one of the hippest music venues. Nicolaj ‘Nic’ Møller is not only the owner of the sixty-year old Avila Beach Hotel, but a musician with two CD’s to his credit. A Dutch Colonial mansion where Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands stays on official state visits, the family-run hotel with the Blues Bar perched on the tip of a natural breakwater has a 1926 Rolls-Royce available for special occasions. Visit www.avilahotel.com
The 350-room Hyatt Regency Curaçao opened a tennis facility with four clay courts, lit for night play. “Building strong relationships with travel agents is an important element to the growth of our business,” says Diego Concha, general manager. “We want to make sure travel agents feel connected and comfortable with us, so that we may serve their clients well and make lasting impressions.” Visit www.curacao.hyatt.com
For an delectable slice of local life, cooking classes at Angelica’s Kitchen are the real deal. A pharmacist-turned- foodie, Angelique Schoop runs the school in her century-old childhood house in Otrobanda where chef ‘wannabees’ prepare a five-course meal from plantain soup to pumpkin pancakes drizzled with Curacao liqueur. “Only 10% of the folks who enroll in the classes can actually cook,” she says, scurrying about the kitchen painted in sea greens and blues. “The rest just like to eat and learn.” Visit www.angelicas-kitchen.com
Thirty-eight beaches dot the island with the finest fringing the west end. Mount Christoffel, the island’s highest point at 1,237-feet, is popular for striking views of Venezuela on a clear day. For more information visit www.curacao.com
Aruba: Life’s a Beach
Fifteen miles north of Venezuela, Aruba packs a unique Latin liveliness. From golf and galleries to shopping and spas, the island covets its 60 percent visitor repeat rate—the highest in the Caribbean. Continuing through December, the Travel Agent Months (TRAM) program designed by the Aruba Tourism Authority (ATA) and the Aruba Hotel Tourism Association (AHATA) can be accessed through an agent-specific website at http://agents.aruba.com. “Aruba is proud to see our first quarter tourism arrivals so strong,” said Otmar E. Oduber, minister of tourism, “especially since the effects of the recession are still being felt in most of our key markets.”
There’s no shortage of familiar high-rise hotels on Palm Beach, with a 320-room Ritz-Carlton Aruba due to open in 2012. Visit www.ritzcarlton.com. The “Green Vacation” package at the Bucuti Beach Resort on Eagle Beach (through December 22nd) includes tours of the National Park and bird watching excursions. Visit www.bucuti.com. Also selling the outdoors, Hyatt Regency Aruba is offering an “Explore” package with snorkel excursions and picnic in paradise as the main attractions. Visit www.aruba.hyatt.com
Targeting families, guests at either Divi or Tamarijn Aruba can use the facilities at both, including the Divi Winds Sports Center with a beachfront rock climbing wall. Visit www.diviaruba.com or www.tamarijnaruba.com. Also family-friendly, all-inclusive Occidental Grand Aruba is offering on-the-house accommodations for kids through December. Visit www.occidentalhotels.com
Surfers throng to the east coast where rocky terrain meets the crashing waves while sunset-seekers bring their cameras to Arashi Flats on the northwest tip. On the north coast, Guadirikiri caves are decorated with century-old Amerindian petroglyphs and tunnels that house hundreds of bats. On the northeast coast, Arikok National Park is home to the indigenous Shoco owls and at Boca Prins Dunes, ‘dune sliding’ or surfing on dry land is de rigueur.
The streets of pastel-pretty Oranjestad are lined with shops and although there is a tax, prices are competitive for Delft pottery and cheese from Holland. The Renaissance Mall houses high-end names like Vuitton and Lauren. www.shoprenaissancearuba.com/mall. Opened earlier this year, Palm Beach Plaza welcomes kids with a bowling alley and rock-climbing wall. Visit www.palmbeachplaza.com
New on the restaurant scene, De Suikertuin (or Sugar Garden) encourages Caribbean canoodling in an elegant mansion in Wilhelminastraat. Visit www.desuikertuin.com. Café de Pijp cheers on an Aruban tradition called Pelpinda or tossing peanut shells on the floor. For a toes-in-the-sand dining experience, Flying Fishbone goes beachfront one better by planting tables in the water. Visit www.ARUBA.com
Bonaire: Something in the Water
A pioneer of Caribbean eco-tourism, Bonaire is a regal marine ecosystem circled by a fringing reef that slopes from shallow to several hundred feet deep. “Our visitors will experience a new synergy encompassing diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, biking, dining, culture, art and music,” said Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes, director of tourism, referring to the ‘Dive into Summer’ program that runs through the end of September. ‘Celebrate Our Planet Week’ (August 22nd through 28th) includes themed dives and on September 25th, volunteers are welcome at the beach cleanup of Klein Bonaire, an important turtle nesting ground. Visit www.bonaireturtles.org.
Above the sea, a bevy of activities for landlubbers include mangrove kayaking and flamingo watching on the salt flats. Regatta Week (October 3–9) is for sailors and windsurfers on the streets of Kralendijk. Vendors dish up local “criollo” food while bands keep the crowds on their feet. Visit www.tourismbonaire.com.
Accommodations run the gamut from quaint inns to seaside condos with a 120-room Hilton opening in 2012. Through the end of October, Divi Flamingo Beach is selling environmentally-spectacular dive packages that occur only after a full moon. “It may require some patience to watch coral spawning, but you will definitely not be disappointed when it happens,” said Serge De Groote, dive operations manager. Visit www.diviresorts.com.
The Tourism Corporation Bonaire (TCB) has launched a re-vamped web site available in English, Dutch, and Spanish. Visitors to the island’s official web site (www.tourismbonaire.com) will see a new landing page where they can listen to background music by the island’s “Grupo Piedra di Bonaire.