Netherlands Antilles Overview
Split into two relatively distant island groups, the former slave trade capital of (former) Netherlands Antilles is now a mellow corner of the Caribbean, known for white-sand beach resorts and the pastel colors of its Dutch-influenced waterfront housing, which exists in odd contrast to its clear blue waters and relentlessly sunny skies.
Curacao, since 10 October 2010 a separate country, is perhaps the most popular island, and home to Papiamentu, a widely spoken, home-brewed mix of countless European languages (though most inhabitants are comfortable communicating in English). You’ll find picturesque diving and snorkeling beaches, as well as imposing colonial forts guarding harbor gates, a colossal Ostrich Farm offering its own intriguing tours, and ‘the floating market’, a regular influx of fresh fish and cheap fruit that arrives from nearby Venezuela. The electric-blue liquor named after the island is made from the prominent bitter oranges found throughout, and now comes in a vivid yellow shade, too, while the food is a mysterious mix of European, East Asian and African influences, which fuse into a unique local flavor.
On nearby Bonaire, public body within the country of the Netherlands, you’ll find still gaudier diving, together with picture postcard beaches draped in the occasional surviving slave hut, no bigger than a small garden shed. It’s an adventurer’s hang out: off road biking and kite boarding are big here, while wildlife lovers will find fluttering flocks of flamingoes and expansive salt-flat ecosystems.
The Dutch (southern) half of St Martin happily co-exists with the northern (French) half, and is a bustling tourist spot inundated with the dreaded time-share community salesmen. Beaches are still the main draw, though casinos and a gentle butterfly farm - as well as more of those indescribably eclectic restaurants - are a pleasant aside from the countless generic resorts. Tiny St. Eustatius is far less accessible, but a pleasant getaway spot, while the near-uninhabited expanses of beautiful Saba play host to exceptional wall diving, villages seemingly tumbling from the verdant hills, and an outstanding range of orchids, lizards and sea life.
Split distantly in to two groups – it would be illogical to simply visit every part of Netherlands Antilles – these islands are nonetheless bonded by a common past and collectively astonishing underwater experiences.