Aruba vs Curacao: The Only Vacation Guide You’ll Need

Table of Contents

Looking for a getaway that’s as warm and welcoming as its people? Hoping to find a lesser-known island getaway with powdery white beaches, clear blue waters, and sun-soaked activities to fill your days?

Since you’ve narrowed it down to Aruba vs Curacao, you’re on the right track!

While these two islands might seem similar at first glance, they each offer something completely different depending on your interests.

Do you like activities such as scuba diving or snorkeling? Or maybe natural wonders are more your speed.

Keep reading for more information about these two islands and the advantages of each so that you can choose the perfect place for your next vacation!

Is Aruba or Curacao Better?

What is Aruba Known For?

From luxury accommodations to nighttime entertainment, Aruba has carved out an adult-friendly getaway.

Its rugged landscapes and reef-lined shores appeals to both nature-bound travelers and families with older kids, while beachside resorts offer honeymooners a romantic space to retreat to.

It’s a great choice for those who like easy access to nature, but prefer to explore in comfort and with structure.

Cave Beach Ocean Curacao
Cave Beach and Ocean in Curacao

What is Curacao Known For?

Curacao is loved for two main things: the incredible shore diving sites and the Amsterdam-aesthetics of Willemstad.

With a rich heritage center, visitors aren’t bound to just the beaches!

There’s a wider variety of things to see, running the gamut of waterfront eateries, hidden bays and long-sunken wrecks.

Here, you experience a more authentic Dutch Caribbean lifestyle.

Safety

Is Aruba Safe for Tourists?

Aruba is by far one of the safest islands in the Caribbean.

The only thing to look out for is petty theft, meaning extra eyes on baggage and valuables locked up in safes (when you’re in the hotel) or kept on you.

It’s also a smart idea to keep ID copies in your suitcase just in case your passport/wallet gets stolen.

While some may worry about drug gangs, you’re unlikely to come across them.

Just do what common sense tells you – avoid late night walks in dark corners and don’t carry packages for anyone.

Is Curacao Safe for Tourists?

Curacao ranks higher on the risky scale, though it’s generally safe to visit. Do avoid walking back streets at night as they tend to be sketchy.

Also, don’t keep your head in the map – that’s a blaring beacon of “not aware, easy target” for unfriendlies.

Don’t leave anything in your car as break-ins are common. According to locals, it’s best to keep cars unlocked with windows down.

This gives off the impression that you have nothing important inside.

Beaches

Beaches in Aruba

Aruba may be the smallest of the Dutch Caribbean islands, but its beaches are pristine and public.

Every stretch of sand is easy to get to, except the private beaches of Renaissance Island and De Palm Island.

Families with kids will appreciate the public palapas and smooth waters of Baby Beach and Arashi Beach, which offers both shelter and safe swimming conditions.

Palm Beach is a busy hub of water sports, while Eagle Beach has rightfully won Trip Advisor’s ‘World’s Best Number 3’.

Whether you choose to luxuriate on private slices of paradise, or snorkel the reefs of Mangel Halto; Aruba beaches will charm you with its powdery white sand.

Divi Divi Tree Eagle Beach Aruba
Divi Divi Tree at Eagle Beach Aruba

Beaches in Curacao

With the beaches in Curacao dominating 226 miles of coastline, overcrowding isn’t a problem at all. In fact, you’ll find more hotel-private beaches than public ones.

While these come with extra fees, you reap benefits like beach chairs, rental shops, bars and restaurants, and clean bathrooms with showers.

No doubt you’ll hear famous names such as Playa Kenepa Grandi, Cas Abou, Playa Piscado, and Blue Bay.

But the true gems? Curacao’s secluded bays and off-track coves. Compared to Aruba’s long stretches, Curacao beaches come in smaller and charming doses.

Does Aruba or Curacao Have Better Beaches?

Aruba and Curacao both rock the beach scene with a variety of sandy slices, rugged ridges and water sports galore. 

The biggest difference is accessibility. Aruba’s beaches are geared towards tourists, meaning open access and generous amenities. 

Curacao, on the other hand, presents a raw Caribbean experience with tranquil coves. 

tip

Things to Do

Things to Do in Aruba

Aruba proves that big adventures come in small sizes. It may be the smallest of the ABC islands, but features plenty of terrain-based excursions.

There’s the expected beach-studded coast, where rougher trade winds work in favor of more extreme water sports.

Windsurfing, parasailing and kitesurfing beats out beach volleyball any time. For tamer alternatives, sign up for yacht cruises and kite flying.

While the topsy-turvy waves make snorkeling difficult, it does encourage unique experiences like underwater treks.

Aruba is famous for wreck diving too. Explore the Antilla Wreck, Debbie II Wreck, Airplane Wrecks… you get the theme.

For more tropical sights, visit the private islands of Renaissance Island and De Palm Island.

You do have to purchase a $125 day pass for the former but it is home to the iconic downtown pink flamingos that have invaded social media.

The best things to do on Aruba however, center on the towering bocas along the north shore.

From Arikok National Park’s sweeping deserts, ancient Fontein Caves and cacti clusters, to the marshy bogs of Bubali Bird Sanctuary – Aruba is quite the natural wonder collector.

The Natural Bridges at Andicuri Bay and the Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations are just few of many cool attractions. Off-road adventures are a must.

To offset the outdoor fun, Aruba’s cosmopolitan center offers a wild mix of bars and clubs. Nightlife is roaring on this Dutch Caribbean island.

The downside is that tourist-influences are rampant but sign up for horseback tours into limestone caves and you’ll shake off the American-ness of it all.

Willemstad Curacao
Willemstad Curacao

Things to Do in Curacao

Curacao, compared to Aruba, is a lot more heritage driven. Being one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets, its relatively low-key tourism gives you plenty of space to explore capital Willemstad at your own pace.

Willemstad is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason. Gabled houses along waterfronts mirror the island’s mainland counterpart.

The Punda district is preserved in its colonial glory, where the Handelskade neighborhood offers incredible aesthetics that nod to Dutch heritage.

Think waterfront cafés, boutiques in antique buildings and art galleries.

Other downtown delights include Kura Hulanda Museum, which shares the island’s history of slave trade.

Curacao Sea Aquarium is a family-friendly attraction that features underwater sneak peeks, and Queen Emma Bridge links two sides of the city with 16 floating pontoon boats.

Obviously, fun in the sun is guaranteed. There are 38 named beaches with plenty more nooks to canoodle in – start with Kenepa Beach, Playa PortoMari and Mambo Beach.

For the longest stretch of white sand in Curacao, drop by the uninhabited Klein Curacao island. Looking for more than a beach holiday?

Interior greens equal hiking opportunities. Jan Thiel Salt Pan is a great scenic south coast route.

Christoffel National Park comes with shaded hiking trails that bring you past lush forests; Roi Rincon Park consists of short routes that delve through caves and rock formations.

You definitely want to experience underwater Curacao too. Curacao’s west coast is literal snorkeling and scuba diving heaven!

Grote Knip and Playa Lagun and Tugboat Beach are perfect snorkeling spots.

Beginner divers should start with Booby Trap, while Curacao Marine Park is coveted by more experienced divers.

Banda Abou National Park and Central Curacao Underwater Park offers landscapes that range from pristine coral bays to steep drop-off dives.

Are the Activities Better in Aruba or Curacao?

Do you prefer desert terrain or tropical shores? Would you rather dance under strobe lights or stroll through museums? 

Your answers will decide whether Aruba or Curacao is for you. Aruba’s your best bet for ATV adventures in the day, party life at night. 

Curacao is that sweet spot between heritage hunting and moving into hidden caves along the shore. 

tip

Nightlife

Nightlife in Aruba

Cosmopolitan flavor is heavy in Aruba, so nightlife is a go! Nighttime entertainment is fairly concentrated around the hotel strip, coveting bars, clubs and casinos.

It’s nicknamed “Las Vegas of the Caribbean” for a reason.

From fancy wine bars to sports bars with screaming audiences, or weekly Carnival events that lure out the dancers – Aruba is never quiet.

Musical festivals happen year round, while open-air party buses make you well-acquainted with the streets.

Nightlife in Curacao

Curacao nightlife flips the coin so you can bask in relaxing and chill vibes all day and all night.

It’s more about café and food stall indulgences, the slow mingling with fellow travelers. Of course, your Curacao nightlife experience depends on where you loiter.

Mambo Beach brings hedonism and neon strobes onto a half-sand, half-driftwood dance floor.

Rif Fort Village in Willemstad covers all your shopping and cocktail needs, while Sabana Westpunt combines sunset views and beach bars.

Or, take yourself off the island altogether for a luxury cruise at the golden hour.

Does Aruba or Curacao Have Better Nightlife?

Lively doesn’t even begin to describe nightlife in Aruba. 

Best of all, having the best party venues all in one area means you can hop from one sticky dance floor to another. 

If you want to be out from dusk to dawn, Aruba is your jam.

tip

Dining

Dining in Aruba

Aruba’s food scene caters to tourists with fast food chains and all-inclusive hotel dining.

But that doesn’t mean international cuisine gets the spotlight; Aruban dishes are a delightful blend of Caribbean, Dutch and Latin American flavors.

Keshi yena, the national dish, is cheesy goodness stuffed with chicken. For starters, any prawn-based dish is a real treat.

In fact, lean into the Dutch-ness of it all and try as many deep-fried pastry stuffed with choice meats as possible.

Finally, order Aruba Ariba to go with; a refined booze to chug with your pinky up.

Dining in Curacao

Curacao is an astronomical gastronomical stop – that’s to say, food is chef’s kiss.

Its cuisine is influenced by Asian, Latin American, Caribbean and European cultures, resulting in diverse menus.

Do try their popular red herring dish, and wash it down with the citrus-bitter Curacao Liqueur.

This diversity applies to dining styles too. Pietermaai is famous for its fancy restaurants; hence the relative lack of all-inclusive hotel deals.

Punda offers fun cafés while food stands banded together in Otrobanda, but both serving up regional flavors.

For a bit of everything, Willemstad acts as the platter to share.

Where to Stay in Aruba

Aruba has few hostels and villa rentals, mostly outfitted with all-inclusive hotels that come with a luxury hashtag.

Good news for families though – various resorts are partnered up with One Happy Family Package to generously offer family-oriented promotions such as free stays for kids.

Renaissance Wind Creek Aruba Resort

There’s a lot that a downtown location can give you, like a marketplace with restaurants and luxury shopping.

Renaissance Aruba Resort steps it up with a 40-acre private island. This guest perk comes with complimentary water taxis, iconic Flamingo Beach and Spa Cove for pampering.

More amenities are offered at the adults-only Marina Hotel and the secluded Ocean Suites.

But don’t linger too long at the ocean views or Oranjestad’s lively cityscape!

Try your luck at the 24-hour casino, or eat your way through the on-site restaurants and swim-up bar.

Oh, and don’t forget the kids – they get to stay for free.

Hyatt Regency Aruba
Photo by Hyatt Regency Aruba

Hyatt Regency Aruba

Resort, spa and an 11,200 square-foot casino in one – Hyatt Regency Aruba fronts Palm Beach like a mini-kingdom.

All 359 of the remodeled rooms are Caribbean-inspired, opening up to ocean and estate views. Connecting rooms are available for larger families.

Water features are scattered over the property, ranging from infinity pools to two-story waterslides, waterfalls and a freshwater koi lagoon.

Tennis courts and wellbeing activities offer an alternative to sand and sea, while juice bars and regional cuisine help rejuvenate.

Those ready to mingle will love the long strip of bars nearby.

Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino

Another great place to stay on Aruba is Aruba Marriott, which also occupies the glamour-studded Palm Beach.

Whether you’re sipping cocktails in private cabanas or touting the kids on nature expeditions, the staff is happy to help organize your day.

Apart from the pristine sand and tranquil waters, the resort is known for its Stellaris Casino.

Over 26 gaming tables will test both your luck and skill. Then there’s Mandara Spa which uses Balinese techniques to soothe.

Meanwhile, seafood restaurant Atardi sets up a romantic ambiance for sunset dinners.

Where to Stay in Curacao

Curacao accommodations are more often than not family-owned or boutique hotels; expect many low-rise buildings by the coast.

Sunscape Curacao Resort

Sunscape Curacao Resort is a rare all-inclusive find around Willemstad, with free shuttle service into downtown.

The Unlimited-Fun experience offers open access to restaurants and bars, as well as personalized service.

Decorated in bright pops of color and prepped with exclusive clubs for kids or teens, it’s designed with families in mind.

Best of all, the private beach is protected by a break wall, meaning you can swim in safety.

Step right off the pier for paddleboarding or catch a boat to some of Curacao’s best diving sites.

Renaissance Wind Creek Curacao
Photo by Renaissance Wind Creek Curacao

Renaissance Wind Creek Curacao Resort

There’s no missing the rainbow-hued Renaissance Curacao Resort, just blocks from the Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge.

It has all the convenience, just steps away from fun shops and stops, local restaurants and cultural sites. The ocean views? A+.

While this resort may not be authentically beachside, it does house its own manmade beach and pool with plenty of seats.

There’s even a short waterfront promenade for sunset viewing.

The simple but plush furnishings and ocean-facing outdoor massage treatments prove that urban spaces can provide comfort.

What really seals the deal though, according to every review, is the fantastic staff and service.

Avila Beach Hotel

Historic Avila Beach Hotel is centrally located without losing out on water access.

While the Pietermaai district is teeming with trendy restaurants just down the street, privacy is guaranteed thanks to two private beaches.

Family-run boutiques prove to be extremely unique – Avila is home to the island’s 1780 governor’s mansion.

Three hotel wings exude Caribbean, modern and classical vibes. Shared between them are five onsite restaurants and bars, but the highlight lies in the house reef.

If you’re looking for homey luxury, this is it.

Cost & Budget

If you’re taken aback by the 1 week average budget for two in Aruba and Curacao, keep in mind that air fare and accommodation make the bulk of your spending.

You could easily shave off hundreds and thousands of bucks by visiting during low season, or opting for an all-inclusive stay to save on food and entertainment costs.

There are plenty of free activities to enjoy as well.

Average Budget for 1 Week in Aruba

The average one-week Aruba trip budget for two is approximately $4500. Here’s how it breaks down:

Flight cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, an economy round-trip flight costs around $450 per person.

It’s more expensive to fly in from the west coast (if you’re in the States), prices doubling that at $950.

Car rental – The average car rental price in Aruba is $50 per day; $350 a week.

Public transport – Commuting on buses and taxis cost around $26 per day.

Taxis don’t use meters; the minimum fare starts at $7 and averages $45 per hour. Haggling is a must!

Accommodation – There are very few hostels in Aruba but what exists start from $30 per night.

Two to three-star hotels cost around $100 in Oranjestad but prices hop near beach resort areas.

Double rooms in beachside hotels may offer deals at $335 per night, but expect to pay at least $500 for 5-star hotels – at low season.

Food – If you’re not doing all-inclusive stays, lunch and dinner outside ranges from $8 to $25.

Bottled water costs $3, while alcohol expenses are pretty hefty with $22 as benchmark. The average weekly food costs in Aruba for two amounts to $600.

Activities – Full-island tours and champagne cruises start from $80 up, but expect any activity that requires equipment to cost $100+.

ATV rides may cost anywhere between $120 and $220 per group. Expect to spend around $300 on inland excursions.

Aruba Pink Flamingo
Pink Flamingo in Aruba

Average Budget for 1 Week in Curacao

The average one-week Curacao trip budget for two is approximately $3245. Here’s the breakdown:

Flight cost – Depending on departure location and time of the year, an economy round-trip flight costs around $470 from Denver and $670 from Chicago.

Flights may be as cheap as $130 if you book for low season in advance, but tend to average $370.

Car rental – The average car rental price in Curacao is $45 per day; 315 a week.

Accommodation – Accommodation in Curacao has a huge price range.

Budgeteers can enjoy $41/night hostel stays (shared rooms for even cheaper), while mid-range travelers can find good deals between $70-150.

There’s a price jump for beachside resorts, coming in at $300 per night and up to $700 for 5-star VIP treatment.

Food – Free breakfasts are common for hotel stays, but eating out will keep under $10.

Budget mostly for lunch and dinner; the former typically costs $7 to $15, while the latter may hit $30 per person.

Bottled water costs $2, while alcohol expenses are dependent on weekday versus weekend. The average weekly food costs in Curacao for two amounts to $530.

Activities – Beach admissions (if any) average $4 while museums cost $10.

A full-day golf course visit may cost to $110, while ATV tours and diving expeditions hover around $120.

Assuming you do at least one major excursion, expect to spend at least $260 on entertainment.

Is Aruba or Curacao Cheaper to Visit?

If cost is a deciding factor in your Aruba vs Curacao debate, Curacao may very well win. 

Aruba’s high-key tourism makes it one of the most expensive Caribbean islands to visit, whereas Curacao caters to all budgets.

tip