21 Mar Know Your Island ABC’s!
A chain of three small sister islands in the south Caribbean off the north coast of Venezuela, South America are known the world over as The ABC islands. These islands are popular tourist destinations because they provide consistent tropical weather, great beaches, loads of activities, culture, attractions and situated outside of the hurricane zone, making them an ideal year-round vacation spot.
The ABC islands, Aruba, Bonaire (pronounced bone-air) and Curacao (pronounced Cure-a-sow) are close in proximity to each other and very diverse. Aruba is the liveliest and most popular of the three islands attracting the highest number of visitors. It boasts long stretches of white sand beaches, large hotel complexes, casinos everywhere you turn and a remarkable tree that grows along the shoreline called a “Divi Divi.”
What makes the Divi Divi trees so unique is that they are bend facing or pointing always in a southwesterly direction. The tree looks like a whole bunch of roots that have been entwined to form the trunk and branches. Put it this way, they’re always pointing towards the beach no matter where you are in Aruba. Trade winds that blow across the island from the northeast have formed the Divi Divi, now Aruba’s icon. These trees make fabulous photo subjects.
One of the best ways to explore Aruba is to rent a motor scooter. The roads are very easy to navigate even in Oranjestad (meaning Orangetown), the capital city. It is a town where one can see many sights but Oranjestad attracts more shoppers that sightseers. The downtown core is lined with malls, boutiques, handicraft vendors, restaurants, many jewelry outlets and beautiful architecture. A word to the wise, this area becomes very crowded during cruise ship arrivals.
The ABC islands are noted for having some of the largest Ostrich farms outside of Africa. These gigantic birds are grown mainly for their meat and a visit to this farm can be an educational and fun experience. When they see food in your hands, they will swarm you, but don’t worry the Ostriches are only interested in the food while you pose for a memorable photo with them.
Aruba has plenty of amazing reefs and underwater sights for the snorkeler and diver, like the Antilla shipwreck: A German freighter that was scuttled in the 1940’s. The Antilla is the largest wreck in the Caribbean (122 metres long) and sits in shallow waters, no more than 18 metres deep. Located off of the northwest coast the ship’s foot beam can be seen sticking out of the water. As soon as you jump in the water and see the ship, a very eerie and ghostly feeling overtakes you. The water is so clear that the bottom of the ship can be seen from the surface. The ship is completely intact and snorkeling its length is simply breathtaking.
Located about 80 kilometres from the coast of Venezuela is Bonaire, the smallest of the ABC islands. It is considered one of the world’s best snorkeling and diving destination. Locals will tell you that you can snorkel anywhere you can fall into the water. Bonaire does not get as many visitors as her two sister islands, yet more than 50% make a return visit. The island provides a relatively unspoiled and serene landscape, ideal for a tranquil getaway. Because the island is noted for its pioneering role in the preservation of Nature and the Marine environment, visitors can experience the best of both unspoiled worlds.
Curacao is the largest of the ABC Islands and provides a more colourful approach to tourism. The capital city is Willemstad recognized by the beautiful Dutch influenced architectural structures-pastel coloured buildings that seem fairytale like. A walk around the city and the main harbour area is a treat. The Otrobanda district, located along the harbour is where most tourists congregate because of the picturesque setting, spectacular view of the Queen Juliana bridge, one of the highest bridges in the world (towering 57 metres above sea level), and the many trendy shops, restaurants, boutiques and the local way of life found throughout the narrow alleys.
The Queen Juliana bridge is a daunting structure and a drive across this bridge requires steady nerves. The bridge has four lanes and fairly low guard rails. The views are spectacular at this elevation, but a turn of the head to look at either side may cause less experienced drivers to get the jitters and a sensation that the car is driving on air.
To get spectacular photos of the bridge, Willemstad or other attraction in Curacao, try a helicopter tour. Blue Skies Helicopters is quite unique and innovative in providing tourists an unbelievable tour of the island called the “Top Gun” experience. They state that the tour is not for the soft-hearted and they are so right.
I booked the Top Gun experience and went up with George Tielen (one of the owners, a former Navy Aviator and police pilot). I did not know at the time that one of George’s prized possessions is his World Champion Precision Flying Award! The lift-off was so smooth, the pass under the Queen Juliana bridge was exciting and when we hovered 152 metres over the town of Willemstad I snapped a few spectacular photos and then those fateful words from George, “are you ready for your Top Gun experience.” I said “yes” eagerly but before I could finish he banked the helicopter hard right and we dropped in a matter of seconds to no more than 2 metres above of the water. My stomach was in my throat, in fact, it left my body. He then told me to hang on, but to what? Strapped in my seat I watched as he skimmed the water along the coastline at full throttle.
George managed to hover over a pod of stingrays and even flew the helicopter backwards as we followed a sailboat. We were so close to the boat that they could have handed us a hamburger from their grill. From here we flew inland and skimmed the tree line at full throttle banking sideways left and right. We were so close that I am positive we were pruning the treetops with the blades. Here I asked him a silly question, “how do you know if you’re getting too close to the trees?” In his usual jovial manner he said, “Well Frank, when I hit the branches, I know I’m too close!”
He then proceeded to skim the trees and fly low. To my shock we were heading straight for a rocky hillside that looked impossible to clear, but at the last second, George miraculously pulled up, skipped over the hill and brought us up to a higher altitude. I felt like I were on an Olympic ski jump hill…my stomach still in my out of my body.
This is truly a thrill and best described as a 40-minute white-knuckle adventure, one that I will never forget.
One of the most picturesque and phenomenal complexes on the island is the Lodge Kura Hulanda and Beach Club located on Curacao’s west end. It is nestled in a relaxing tranquil setting and like the Top Gun experience this luxurious resort will take your breath away. Delno Tromp is the General Manager who showed me one of the most exciting attractions of the complex, the Tree House. If you have ever wondered how to live in luxurious style up a tree, this multi-roomed house with balcony looks like its out of the movie George-Of-The Jungle. It is jaw dropping gorgeous both inside and out. At a rate of a few thousand dollars per night, every amenity is at your beckon call.
One of the restaurants at the Lodge Kura Hulanda is Christoffel Terrance overlooking the Cliffside coastline. This place provides the best, unobstructed view of the warm Curacao sunset and a fabulous cuisine.
The ABC islands welcome their visitors with splashy hues of colour, friendly people, many activities and picturesque tranquil environments. Each island has its own unique characteristics one thing in common with the others, they are proud of their Dutch heritage (The Netherlands-Europe) which influences everything a tourist experiences.
Frank Greco is a world traveler, producer and host of a new television travel show called The Travel Guy airing in 116 countries. The Travel Guy is airing on The Travel Channel International, SUNTV (in Ontario) and nationally on MENTV (Canada). Contact Frank at: email@example.com.