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Got it! Thank you! Podcast: Learn the ABCs of Southern Caribbean Getaways

Why Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao might be the Caribbean's best fall destinations.

Christina Colón, Caribbean expert and author of Frommer's Portable Aruba, Bonaire &amp Curacao, speaks with host Kelly Regan about three of the Caribbean's less familiar islands. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao offer fewer Hurricanes, more natural wonders, and better fall deals than most of their regional counterparts.

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  • Geography: The ABC islands are located just north of Venezuela, where the trade winds keep the insects and storms away from the islands.
  • Away From the Beach: Leaving Aruba's beaches, you can find dramatic landscapes and terrific biodiversity.
  • Wildlife: You can see the abundance of diverse wildlife at any time and place of the ABC islands.
  • Snorkeling: Can be more relaxing and rewarding than SCUBA diving because you aren't as distracted by the mechanics.
  • What to Do (Bonaire): Mountain biking, caving, horse-back riding, bird-watching.
  • What to Do (Curacao): Curacao has a rich architectural history which has been well preserved. Visit the museums.


Kelly Regan: Welcome to the Travel Podcast. For more information on planning your trip to any one of thousands of destinations, please visit us at
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Kelly: Hi, and welcome to a conversation about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan, editorial director of the Frommer's Travel Guides. I'll be your host. My guest today is Christina Colon, the author of our guide, "Frommer's Portable Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao," which is on sale now.

She covers other islands of the Caribbean for us as well in her book, "Frommer's Caribbean Ports of Call." But she's here today to talk about Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, or the ABC islands as they are often called, and what makes each one a compelling travel destination.

So Christina, welcome, thanks for being here.
Christina Colon: Thank you for having me.
Kelly: Sure. Well, you know, first let's give people a little geographic orientation. The ABC islands are located in the southern Caribbean, and they're just north of Venezuela. So they're about as far south as you can go and still stay in the Caribbean. Is the weather and the topography here marginally different from what you'll find on other Caribbean islands?
Christina: I think there are some unique features that make the ABC islands particularly nice. They are known for their trade winds, which keep the weather consistently beautiful and, better yet, help keep all the pesky insects that are often a problem in other islands, other Caribbean destinations, really keeps them away. So the beautiful trade winds just make it cool and breezy all day long.

The rainfall is minimal. They are outside of the hurricane belt, so storms are very rare.
Kelly: Oh, wow.
Christina: Yeah. So really their geography makes them ideally suited for the perfect vacation any time of year.
Kelly: That's great. And certainly I think you often see in other parts of the Caribbean, fall -- September, October --being an off-season for travel precisely because it's when hurricanes are coming. So if you're thinking of going to the Caribbean in the fall, it seems like that would be a good choice, because then that's one thing you don't have to worry about.
Christina: That's right. And there are also some good bargains to be had during the off-season in general. So that really, again, going there any time of year, you're guaranteed to have beautiful weather and certain times of year, you're going to get a great bargain.
Kelly: Yeah, that's great. Aruba is obviously the most well known of the islands. It's the one with the prettiest beaches. Tell me what kind of traveler would prefer Aruba, and what the big draw is there.
Christina: Aruba does have some of the prettiest beaches in the Caribbean. But it has so much more in terms of just pure, natural beauty. And so a lot of people who go there might be surprised to see that if you get away from the beaches, you're going to be astounded by some of the gorgeous, dramatic landscapes.

If you go onto the opposite side of the island from where the beaches are, you have beautiful, dramatic cliffs and crashing surf and waves and very powerful rock formations that are just the result of this geologic activity. And that's terrific.

There's also a national park that protects some of the native biodiversity. And there are a lot of species that you might not expect to see on Caribbean islands; for example, a lot of the cactuses really make it look like you're in a western movie.
Kelly: Oh, wow.
Christina: Yeah, yeah. The plants are fantastic; the wildlife that you see is just going to be really exciting. So I think most people are surprised at how much natural beauty there is on the island. But it also attracts other kinds of tourists.

The beach-goer is going to love it. People who love to shop, it has tons and tons of shopping. The last time I was there they were in the middle of building a new shopping mall. And it has night life, it has casinos, it has shows, it has culture, and it has tons of restaurants.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: So it's got everything.
Kelly: OK. Well, you know, you mentioned at the beginning of your answer, I wanted to expand a little bit, I wanted to talk a bit about sustainable travel and eco-tourism, because you do cover that quite well in the book. You mentioned all the wildlife and indigenous plant life that you'll find in Aruba in particular.

But you know you have a background in ecology and environmental education. And I really enjoyed when I was looking through the book the way you bring that experience to bear when you're writing about aquariums and doing sports such as scuba diving or deep sea fishing. And I'm curious whether the islands themselves, the governments, are taking steps to respond to environmental concerns, because there are things like protecting the reefs to consider.
Christina: I think the ABC islands have really set a good example and still play a leadership role in showing how you can promote tourism while promoting conservation. A particularly good example of that is Bonaire, which has one of the oldest national parks of the Netherland Antilles. Washington Slagbaai National Park was established in 1969 as a protected area.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: Then they followed that with the first of the Netherland Antilles marine protected areas, which really serves as an example for the rest of the world on how to, again, promote tourism while protecting biodiversity. Bonaire's tag-line is 'the diver's paradise.' And they take their diving very seriously.

And they take their reefs as a real economic draw to the island. People come there and spend thousands of dollars to see some of the marine life. And so they really invest in protecting it and also require the visitors to respect that. And so it's very effective.
Kelly: Yeah, and it's also in general just good business sense, right? I mean they want people to keep coming back to enjoy the reefs, so they need to do what they can to preserve them.
Christina: Absolutely, and again the fact that they're really not likely to be hit by major storms is one of the natural reasons why they have such a rich, beautiful reef system that's so intact.
Kelly: Right.
Christina: Other places you go you'll just see so much storm damage. And with climate change of course that storm damage is going to become a more and more likely scenario in the future. So protecting these pristine habitats is so crucial.
Kelly: Yeah. I mean, and let's talk a little more about that actually. It sounds like the reefs are in pretty good shape, as you said. What kinds of things are divers going to see underwater? I mean, what's the marine diversity like when you're snorkeling or when you're scuba diving?
Christina: In Bonaire and Cura�ao they both have protected, specifically protected, marine areas. In part because of that, because of lesser extensive development on beach front areas than say Aruba. You're more likely to see some really rare things like some of the turtles, the sea turtles, marine turtles, green turtles. Green turtles have longer heads.

Also, both of those islands have adjacent smaller islands that serve as ideal nesting sites for these turtles. So they not only get visited frequently by the turtles, but they also have active programs to promote conservation and conduct research on their breeding activity. So, that's one of the real exciting possible things that you would see.
Kelly: Yeah.
Christina: But I mean again anywhere you go around there, you're going to see these beautiful reefs that are these dramatic colorful rainbows of island diversity, of these different colonial organisms that make up the reef. I mean the reef is literally this living structure, that is this skeleton and outer bodies of these little tiny organisms that form these giant formations. Because of that complexity of the habitat, you're going to see lots of really cool critters living in it.
Kelly: Sure.
Christina: Everything from octopus to starfish, or sea stars, brittle stars. You're going to see lots of eels. You're going to see lots of lobsters and shrimp, big fish--lots of many big fish. I even saw a sea horse, which is pretty rare.
Kelly: Wow!
Christina: So you're just guaranteed to see terrific things, no matter when you go. Even just dabbling in the water along a small beach or just sticking your head underneath a pier, you're going to see tons and tons of beautiful rainbow colored fish, and sizes that you don't normally see. These guys get real big, because they're living there for a long time--again not disturbed by a lot of things.
Kelly: Right, right. Well that was the question I was going to ask you, is that if you fail to see some of this incredible marine life, that you need to be scuba diving or is it just as easy to see it when you're snorkeling as well?
Christina: It's just as easy to see it when you're snorkeling, and that's one of the great things. You can go straight from the shore, and just snorkel right by the grass, the sea grass and the flats, or you can go a little further out. You're going to see pretty much an abundance of life no matter where you look under the water.

Snorkeling in some ways is a lot more rewarding, then scuba diving for the person who isn't necessarily an advanced diver. Because you're not distracted by the mechanics of diving...
Kelly: Sure thing.
Christina: ... and all of the equipment, and all of the time you spend making sure that you're at the right level...
Kelly: Sure.
Christina: ... and that you're breathing correctly. Snorkeling--you just sort of plop yourself in the water, and just relax.
Kelly: [laughs] It's a very relaxing thing, you're kind of floating. You're just kind of floating and just breathing through your little tube.
Christina: That's right, that's right. The water's so calm. You don't get a lot of disturbance on the water surface, which is also distracting. Yeah, I really recommend snorkeling. Even for people who like to scuba dive, it's not necessary.
Kelly: Yeah.
Christina: You're going to see neat stuff.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah, no that's a really good tip. Sounds like especially on Bonaire and Cura�ao that the snorkeling and scuba diving is really pretty top-notch.

I want to let you get back on land for a little bit, and just talk about Bonaire a little bit more. Because I think people more commonly hear about Aruba, which has a lot of big luxury hotels, and as you said casinos. Bonaire I think is a little bit lesser known and it seems to appeal to more a adventurous or outdoorsy traveler. So can you talk a little bit about the other kinds of things there are to do sort of not water-based, but it seems that there are a lot of other opportunities on the island?
Kelly: Absolutely. In Bonaire there's some great land-based outdoor activities that range from mountain biking--I think they have an annual competition. I think it attracts a lot of international mountain biking events. There's some great trails that have been established going through, again the National Park, and through some of the dramatic landscape.

I actually went for the first time ever, caving.
Kelly: Oh!
Christina: Many of these islands have limestone caves that...
Kelly: Sure.
Christina: ... form big elaborate systems. I had really never explored them. But I have to say I was really impressed, and it's just this magical other world. So, I really recommend if people want to try something new, that's a great one.
Kelly: Is it claustrophobic at all to do that?
Christina: Some are a little bit. Some of them you're in the water in the cave, so you're kind of swimming along. Some of them you're on land. You can really sort of find caves that fit your interest. Some of them have colonies of bats, which are lovely and exciting. Unless you don't like bats, but I think they're kind of cute.
Kelly: [laughs]
Christina: I recommend giving them a chance.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: But some of them you just go in perhaps in a small opening, and you come out in this magical kingdom where there are mountains and valleys made of crystal that look like they're sugar.
Kelly: Oh, wow!
Christina: They're just sparkling like gemstones. It's just fantastic!
Kelly: That sounds incredible.
Christina: There's the big popularity nowadays with the quads of ATVs, where people like to take these big noisy four-wheel drive big buggies, all over the landscape.
Kelly: Right, right.
Christina: Which is exciting, but I prefer actually horseback-riding.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: The horses are going to be a little bit less wear and tear on the landscape.
Kelly: Yeah.
Christina: They're not going to be so loud and obnoxious, and you're not going to be screaming your head off.

Kelly: Right.
Christina: But just exploring the terrain, is really what it's all about in Bonaire. There are some sanctuary's for some of the native wildlife, there's a flamingo sanctuary. There's a lot of bird watching on all of the islands.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: Many migrating birds utilize some of the salt flats. Bonaire actually exports salt as one of its only commercial products. It has this big, wide, flat areas that used to be maintained by slaves. So, they have slave huts that are still there as a reminder of the history. But the beautiful flats not only attract a lot of wildlife, but also take on this amazing pinkish color as the salt is literally extracted from the sea water.
Kelly: Oh, wow.
Christina: That's a beautiful little afternoon exploration you can do.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: And let's see. What else? There's a donkey sanctuary because, although not native to Bonaire, there are plenty of donkeys left over from again colonial eras when they...
Kelly: Sure.
Christina: ... were used as beasts of burden. They're quite cute. So a visit to see that is always fun.
Kelly: Hey, bet you guys have never heard of a donkey sanctuary before? [laughs] That's very useful.
Christina: Sure. Sure.
Kelly: That's useful. Yeah. Well, let's stop over at Cura�ao before we go. You say that Cura�ao is probably the most sophisticated of the ABC islands, though the beaches are not as pretty as you might find like, on say, Aruba. But one of your favorite experiences is to explore the islands' many museums. So, can you talk a little bit about the kinds of museums there are to see there and what are one or two of the things that you shouldn't miss?
Christina: Absolutely. Cura�ao has such a wonderful architectural history, much of which has been preserved and maintained as part of their little network of museums. One that's definitely not to be missed is a small private museum that is part of the Hotel Kur� Hulanda. I'm not sure I'm pronouncing that right.
Kelly: [laughs]
Christina: But the hotel itself is almost like a museum because it's an entire section of the old city that's this labyrinth of small streets, and little...
Kelly: Wow.
Christina: ... shops, and tiny homes that have been turned into hotel suites and restaurants all within the walled confines of this lovely eclectic hotel.
Kelly: Oh, that's terrific.
Christina: Yeah and also has a museum, the Museum Kur� Hulanda, which really documents in a very fascinating way the history of the slave trade, because Curacao was the hub for slave trading. And many of the artifacts and many of the historic evidence...
Kelly: Right.
Christina: ... of the trade markets remain intact and again have preserved...
Kelly: Wow.
Christina: ... and put on display. So, it's dramatic but very educational.
Kelly: Right. Right.
Christina: So, I'm very into that. And then the buildings are just beautiful. The waterfront has this lovely thatch architecture and the pontoon bridge -- the floating pontoon bridge -- was just restored in the floating market. Those are beautiful throwbacks to an earlier time. So the fact that they've protected them as national, in fact world...
Kelly: Right.
Christina: ...heritage sites just makes a stroll through town practically a museum adventure in and of itself.
Kelly: Yeah. That's great. That's great. You know, I guess before we get out, there were a couple of other questions I wanted to ask you and one of this is: Do you have a favorite place to stay on all of the islands? And if so, what is it?
Christina: They all have such lovely places to stay...
Kelly: [laughs]
Christina: would be too difficult to select one. [laughs]
Kelly: Yeah.
Christina: But I do think that I enjoyed staying in Aruba in particular. Some of the resorts that are part of their network of what they call the Green Globe Sustainable Ports and Facilities really do make for a lovely vacation. One of my favorite places to stay in Aruba is the Bucuti Beach Resort, and they recently added on to that, "& Tara Beach Suites".
Kelly: OK.
Christina: Which are elegant topnotch facilities right along the low rise area on what they call Eagle Beach.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: And these are owned by a lovely owner who just really took the time to create a facility that's sustainable and beautiful and nearby actually is another beautiful little facility called Amsterdam Manor.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: It looks like a castle and when you're inside, it's this courtyard full of fountains and bars and, again, the rooms are kind of interspersed among what would like a little mini-village.
Kelly: Right.
Christina: And it's right across the street from the beach. There are some beautiful places to stay on the high rise strips in Aruba as well. And some of those have been recently redone. So they're really top notch. The Occidental Grand and the Westin are good examples of that.
Kelly: Oh, that's great.
Christina: OK.
Kelly: OK. Well those are all really good ideas. And then right before we go, my last question is a practical question just for listeners: You can fly nonstop to Aruba from the U.S., as I understand.
Christina: Hum.
Kelly: And I just wanted to find out how then do you get to Bonaire and Curacao? Do you fly to Aruba, and then take little puddle-jumper flights to the other two islands? Can you take a boat? What's the best way to go?
Christina: You actually can't take a boat. You can take puddle-jumpers from Aruba to both Curacao and Bonaire, and vice versa, but you can also fly direct from the U.S. So, I believe American Airlines has daily nonstop flights from Miami. Continental has nonstop flights from Newark on weekends.
Kelly: OK.
Christina: So, Bonaire. Let's see if I can think of where-Bonaire also has Continental Airlines and American Airlines serving direct flights from Newark, Houston, San Juan and...Air Jamaica.
Kelly: That's quite a lot of picks. So even though the islands Bonaire and Curacao are a little bit smaller perhaps, not as well known, you can still get there nonstop from the U.S.
Christina: You can. Absolutely.
Kelly: That's great. That's great. OK. Well, that's probably all of the time that we have for today. I've been talking with Christina Cologne, who's the author of our new book, "Frommer's Portable Aruba, Bonaire and Cura�ao " and, as I said, the new edition is on sale now. Christina, thanks for your time today. I really enjoyed talking with you.
Christina: Thank you so much.
Kelly: Sure. And join us next week for another conversation about all things travel. I'm Kelly Regan and we will talk again soon.

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