Saturday, November 4, 2023

Epic and Unforgettable Trip to the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire + Curacao) ~ May 2023

This trip was dedicated to celebrating life and friendship. When we embarked on this awesome journey, it had been 638 days since Ron’s liver transplant and he was finally living cancer free. It was also 17 months since Jean was found to be breast cancer free. 

As EVERYONE knows, I am the ultimate planner and love love LOVE to plan trips and travels! So, Ron and Jean gave me the ultimate task…when Ron was healthy and cleared for international travel, we would book something really special.

No pressure.

So here we are! We took the trip of a lifetime to the ABC Islands in the Dutch Caribbean. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao were ALL on the agenda. 

Where does one begin to describe our adventure?
Well, me and Steve flew to Newark and met Ron and Jean at the airport United Club. This first class adventure required only the best.

First class all the way!

Let's start with Stop #1...ARUBA!!

Beach. Sun. Cheese. Drinks. Repeat.

Aruba is a Dutch-owned country located 18 miles off the northern coast of Venezuela. It's the smallest of the ABC islands at only 20 miles long and 6 miles across. Population of ~117k.

The native language in Aruba is Papiamento, but most locals also speak Dutch, English and Spanish. The local coin is the Aruban Florin, but USD is accepted nearly everywhere.

Unlike much of the Caribbean region, Aruba has a dry climate and a desert, cactus-strewn landscape. This allows for warm, sunny and clear skies year-round. It also lies outside of Hurricane Alley, so at low risk for poor weather and a highly sought-after destination during all times of the year.

Aruba is also known for it's trade winds, which blow from the Northeast and the East 95% of the time. This means it's not as scorching hot as you'd expect and there is always a light breeze...and lots of windsurfers.
It's fascinating!

Steve and I had stayed at the Boardwalk Hotel Aruba Beach during our first visit to Aruba in 2020 (see post here). We visited again in 2021 (see post here).

We thought this would be the perfect place to call home for our 3 nights on the island. It's a very cute and lush tropical boutique hotel with only 46 rooms (which they call casitas). We booked one of their 2 two bedroom/two bath casitas. It was perfect!

We loved eating breakfast from Eduardo's on the massive porch. The special note, photo and wine from the Boardwalk was just the icing on the cake. I sent them the picture from the first time we met Ron and Jean in Cancun in 2012.

One of the biggest bonuses to staying at the Boardwalk Hotel is the access to Palm Beach with private cabanas.

We lounged on the beach, swam in the sea, snorkeled, and had THE BEST (and most expensive) Pina Coladas from the Ritz Carlton, which was located adjacent to our beach location.

We enjoyed food at a wide range of places including acai and poke bowls from Eduardo's.

We enjoyed walking on the beach at sunset before eating tacos at Lola Tacos.

The freshly caught fish and cold beers at Zeerovers were as good as I remembered!!

We enjoyed a smorgasbord of chicken wings, fries, fried pickles and buckets of beer at the Local Store.

Have you heard about the gouda cheese in the Dutch Caribbean? Get it and eat it.

Their papaya hot sauce is also AMAZING. We exported two liters because we haven't found it anywhere else in the world. It sure added some extra weight to our bags!

Our best dinner in Aruba was at Fred Royal.
I made reservations 8 months in advance and they serve 17 guests per night at a u-shaped high-top table. 

This mustard soup with smoked olive oil drizzled on top was so good. It just didn't make sense! It was served with bread and truffle butter

Our first (or second?) course was a sea bass salad with a sweet chili sauce, cream of wasabi, pickled onions and crispy Canadian rice. Sure the rice looked like maggots, but it was such a delicate popped rice.

Next was a Thai coconut milk soup with lemongrass, shrimp and crispy wontons.

Then we had an empanada with Peruvian corn and slow cooked pork belly with cole slaw and truffle sauce.

Our main course was a black angus tenderloin stuffed with mozzarella and tomato. It was served with a herb thyme sauce, truffle polenta and grilled romaine.

Dessert was a risotto rice fresco with vanilla cream.

It truly was a night to remember. We had an incredible 5 course dinner with wine pairings. Wow wow wow! The presentation and food was sooooo good.

When it came to the water, we filled our days with so much of the best! Aruba is where I first fell in love with snorkeling, so we enjoyed snorkeling and beach time at Boca Catalina, Arashi and Eagle beaches.

Aruba has some of the best beaches in the world and being the smallest of the ABC islands, we were able to see so much in such a short time. 

Aruba truly is One Happy Island!

Next up...CURACAO!!!

We took a 35 minute flight on a 20-seat Divi Divi plane. Jean was a little nervous, but she survived. Next time...more drinks!

Steve and I visited Curacao in 2021 (see post here!) and we were happy to share some of our favorite places from our last stay. We decided two nights in Curacao was enough to eat at our favorite places and snorkel our favorite sites.

We stayed at the Bayside Boutique Hotel, which had a nice private beach, and was within walking distance to a fabulous restaurant (more on that later).

On our first day, we walked around the capital city of Willemstad with its pastel-colored colonial architecture and floating Queen Emma Bridge.

That night we enjoyed a few drinks at the Scuba Lodge before more great food at Kome.

Lunch at De Visserij was another highlight of our visit to Curacao. Very similar to Zeerovers on Aruba, the fresh fish and shrimp were outstanding

We rented a car during our two day stay and snorkeled with the turtles at playa piskado where we saw SEVEN sea turtles!

We enjoyed more snorkeling at Klein Knip and Playa Lagun before heading back to our hotel and hanging out at Blue Bay beach.

On our final night, we indulged in another surprise 5+ courses at Brass Boer Curacao. We love the Brass Boer in Bonaire, so we knew we had to give it a try - and it was located on our hotel premises! While the food was outstanding, they were pretty terrible at making vodka martinis. Ron's virgin cocktail was far superior...

Overall, we were not disappointed.

Tuna tartare ring pops!

Stop #3...BONAIRE!!

After our two nights in Curaçao, we hopped on another Divi Divi Air flight (this time Jean had a few extra cocktails...) and flew a short 25 minute flight to Bonaire to spend the next and last five nights of our vacation.

The beautiful and unassuming island of Bonaire is our happiest place! We absolutely LOVE Bonaire and this post cannot capture the overall mood of the island. This hidden gem is not so hidden to the divers of the world. Considered “A Diver’s Paradise” the underwater world of Bonaire is magical.

We stayed at the only chain hotel on the entire island. This was the 3rd time me and Steve had stayed at this hotel. Thank you Marriott points! The relatively new Courtyard Marriott Bonaire Dive Resort is very comfortable and cute with a nice pool overlooking the waterway.

We picked up our multiple rental vehicles, including not one, but TWO golf carts. We find them to be the best way to see Bonaire and visit multiple snorkel sites, particularly if you're not a diver.

We also rented a 1988 Toyota Land Cruiser standard shift to get all of us around (together) to our snorkeling sites. We jumped in through the back (ok, Jean may have climbed through the front!) and drove around with the wind in our hair. THIS is how you do Bonaire! Simply paradise.

As we drove around the island, we were the envy of many.

While Bonaire is a Diver’s Paradise, we spent most of our time snorkeling. We snorkeled at least 3 sites every day. It’s quite possibly one of my favorite things to do and Bonaire is the best snorkeling we have ever done. The diversity of the sites, the depth and the beauty of the fish was simply fascinating.

The water everywhere is so clear and typically calm. The reefs are miraculous. Some areas are more challenging to enter, involving underwater rocks, reef stems, and in some cases long rock stair cases to the beach below. All are marked clearly where to safely enter and exit.

Once in the water the real treat begins. Clear blue water featuring so much aquatic life as far as the eye can see. So interesting and beautiful.

The underwater camera just didn’t do it any justice, so I left it behind and just enjoyed the scenery.

With over 85 dive sites to choose from, you could easily spend all your time on Bonaire in the water. Each site is identified by a yellow rock. Some are strictly for divers, but we tried as many as we could. Our favorites were Aquarius, Tori's Reef and Andrea #1.

During our golf cart adventures, we also saw several donkeys, flamingos, old slave huts and Cargill salt works.

While snorkeling is the highlight of Bonaire, the food and restaurants are another favorite. After a day of snorkeling, we would watch the sunset and enjoy a special meal to finish our day. We have found the food on the island of Bonaire to be excellent.

On our first night, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset while dining at Sebastian's.

I mentioned earlier that we love Brass Boer Bonaire...well, two nights ago, we were eating dinner at Brass Boer Curaçao and now we were enjoying another great dinner at Brass Boer Bonaire. Island hopping at its finest at a true culinary treasure.

We drove to the east side of the island and enjoyed a few beers at Jibe City. There is something so incredibly relaxing about sitting in an Adirondack chair, watching wind surfers and sipping on a cold beer. Relaxation at its best!

One morning, we took a ferry to Klein Bonaire, which is an uninhabited island not far off the coast of Bonaire. A local restaurant packed us a nice picnic lunch along with chairs and towels to bring with us. We snorkeled for about 45 minutes and I have to say, the beach at the end was one of the best we’ve seen!

Surprise coursed menus with wine pairings are my weakness and Bonaire does them right. Our 4th visit to Chefs Bonaire did not disappoint with one course surprising me more than the next! Only 20 diners per night and reservations 8 months in advance, the experience is always one to remember.

We started with a white rum mojito mule welcome drink.

A white asparagus soup with chives as the amuse-bouche

Our first course was a ribeye that was seared and smoked and then thinly sliced, with sweet corn and mango. It was served with a scotch bonnet sauce with fermented black garlic over cabbage.

Next, we enjoyed a mahi-mahi over grilled zucchini with a lemon vinaigrette.

Then we had some beautiful white asparagus topped with thinly sliced pork filet and hollandaise sauce.

Our main course was a braised beef shoulder reduced with red wine, and served with green apple, potatoes, and snow peas.

Dessert was a pina colada ice cream with pineapple and jicama.

Food trucks are another staple on Bonaire. Divers migrate to the trucks after their underwater adventures and indulge in one of many options, including tuna burgers, beef burgers, and hot dogs.

Stoked Food Truck was in a really cool location on Te Amo Beach. Their burger and potato wedges were awesome.

Also on Te Amo beach is the Kite City Truck.

The King Kong Truck could be found on Bachelor’s Beach and had great burgers, hot dogs and garlic fries.

We loved stopping for breakfast at Between 2 Buns before driving on the north end of the island.

Another night we enjoyed a nice sunset before having a few drinks at a Tiki bar and then dinner at La Cantina Bonaire. The wings and fish and chips were excellent.

Our last dinner in Bonaire was quite the delight. 2 Fools & a Bull Gourmet Studio Bonaire only opened their doors the day prior, but guess who had 4 seats at the table?! We were joined by 12 other diners, who were all local to Bonaire. Kindness, conversation and laughter were heard loud and clear. Another surprise coursed menu with wine pairings was the perfect way to end this amazing trip. Cheers!

Our first course was mussels.

Then we moved onto tuna tartare.

Next was a coconut curry soup over salmon ceviche.

Then we had a lamb chop with smashed potatoes.

We couldn't believe we had another meat course! So much food. This was a beef filet over sweet potatoes and a jalapeño cream.

Finally, we ended with a white chocolate Panna cotta with strawberries and sambuca.

The three ABC islands are very different in their ambiance and beach terrain. When ranking them, we choose Bonaire then Aruba and then Curacao. Aruba’s beaches are phenomenal, but it’s very Americanized and touristy. Curacao wasn’t as easy to navigate and a car was a must.

Bonaire isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for us. It's like no other place we’ve ever been. It’s rustic, beautiful and unassuming. It’s a place for flip flops and pony tails, and the wind in your hair. Thank you for being our hidden gem and surprising us again and again. We’ll see you (very) soon!

What a trip...This was a great adventure that we will be talking about for the rest of our lives.

Let's do it again sometime!



Anonymous said...

What a great way to explore the Caribbean Islands! Happy that you have enjoyed Boardwalk.
Looking forward welcoming you soon again!

Anonymous said...

Of all your posts, this one is by far the best. I may be biased because we are featured, but my God you are a beautiful writer. Thank you for helping us have a trip of a life time. And now we can’t wait to see you in one of our happy places, Lauderdale By The Sea later this week….

Anonymous said...

Where did you rent your 1988 Toyota Land Cruiser?

Shannon said...

We rented through Bonaire rent a car