The southern group of Dutch islands comprises Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao, just north of Venezuela. All KLM flights to Peru and Ecuador touch down here which make extensions very easy. Dutch, the local colloquial language Papiamentu, Spanish and English are widely spoken. The islands offer year-round sunshine, with an average temperature of 27°C. The wettest months are December, January and February but even then showers are short as there is less than 560mm of rainfall a year.
Aruba is the smallest island of the group, only 25km north of the Venezuelan coast, and has the best beaches. It is dry and arid so, before the desalination plant was built, it imported all its water from Dominica. Snorkelling and diving among the crystal-clear waters are the main attraction, and windsurfers from all over the world are attracted to Aruba's shallow water and high winds.
What Bonaire lacks in beaches it makes up for with natural spectacles. Being outside the hurricane belt, the coral reefs that surround the island remain undamaged, and with up to 60m visibility at the many dive and snorkelling sites it ranks as a top Caribbean diving destination. The sea birds are also a big attraction - the Washington-Slagbaai National Park has around 190 species. The nightly spectacle of flamingoes flying home to roost is a highlight.
Curaçao is the largest of the ABC islands. It is 65km long with sparse vegetation dominated by cactus and stunted divi divi trees. The capital, Willemstad, is an attractive colonial city with lovely, brightly coloured buildings and good restaurants offering local and international cuisine. Highlights include the Mikve Israel-Emanuel Synagogue - it is the oldest continuously-used synagogue in the Western Hemisphere, dating back to 1732. There are some great beaches and over 30 dive sites, including several intriguing wrecks.
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