NOTE: There has been a constitutional reform of the Kingdom of the Netherlands effective since the 10th of October 2010. As a consequence of the constitutional reform of the Kingdom of the Netherlands:
Still, the information here, officially valid until the 10th of October 2010, will be kept.
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Each of the islands in Netherlands Antilles offers a unique travel experience, making the Dutch territory a deservedly popular destination. Whether you desire Curaçao's top class resorts and hotels or prefer the virtually touristless peace of Saba, the Netherlands Antilles has all you could ask for in a Caribbean holiday. The popular tourist areas are around Willemstad, on Curaçao, and Sint Maarten, where fine dining, a festive night life and picture-perfect beaches make for comfortably enthralling visits. But head away from the crowd and you will find some of the world's best diving spots in Bonaire, or the stress-free ease of Sint Eustatius, the Antilles' spot of timeless serenity.
The Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten were first discovered (at least sighted) in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and the Islands of Bonaire And Curaçao were discovered six years later by Alonso de Ojeda. Most of the islands were initially settled by Spaniards, but over the years different countries took the islands. In the 17th century, the islands were conquered by the Dutch West India Company and were used as military outposts and trade bases, most prominent the slave trade, until it was finally abolished in 1863.
In 1954 the islands were no longer considered a colony, but as a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1986 Aruba, which was also a part of the Netherlands Antilles, was granted a status apart, becoming a separate country within the Kingdom, but was separated from the Netherlands Antilles.
Over the years, there have been discussions on all the islands about their. In 2009 it was decided that on the 10th of October 2010, Curaçao and Sint Maarten will become independent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands just like Aruba. The islands of Bonaire, Saba and Sint Eustatius will become equivalent to municipalities of the Netherlands. This will mean that the country of the Netherlands Antilles will no longer exist after the 10th of October 2010.
The Netherlands Antilles was a constituent country in the Caribbean Sea. It consisted of two island groups, the ABC islands Curaçao, Bonaire and (until 1986) Aruba just north of Venezuela, and the SSS islands east of the Virgin Islands. The Netherlands Antilles had 960 km² (1153 km² before 1986) of land, which included no major lakes or other bodies of water. Territory included the islands of Aruba until 1986 and Curaçao, Bonaire, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Sint Maarten (which is the Dutch part of the island of Saint Martin) until 2010 when the Netherlands Antilles was dissolved. Its only land boundary was with France on the island of Saint Martin, which was 10.2 kilometres in length. The Netherlands Antilles had 364 kilometres (432 km² before 1986) of coastline.
The Netherlands Antilles consists of two island groups.
Windward Islands (Bovenwindse Eilanden)
Leeward Islands (Benedenwindse Eilanden)
Willemstad is the capital of the Netherlands Antilles and is by far the largest town on the islands. If culture is your thing, this is the best places at this tropical paradise. The Historic Area of Willemstad, Inner City and Harbour is placed on the Unesco World Heritage List. Here, the Dutch established a trading settlement at a natural harbour on Curacao in 1634. Willemstad developed continuously over the following centuries and nowadays the modern town still has some fine historic districts whose architecture reflects European urban-planning concepts as well as styles from the Netherlands and even from the Spanish and Portuguese colonial towns with which Willemstad engaged in trade. Therefore, Willemstad makes for a great excursion if you want to get away from the beaches and diving which the islands are most famous for.
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Bonaire is a bit more quiet than Curacao and has some natural areas which are very well kept. Although officially the Flamingo Sanctuary is off-limits to tourists, visitors with a strong pair of binoculars can see these beautiful creatures enjoying their everyday life in relative quietness and peace. Other flamingo-viewing spots which are open to the public are for exampl enear the Willemstoren lighthouse at the southern tip of Bonaire.
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Another example of nature is this national park which covers the northwest portion and almost 20% of the island. Washington-Slagbaai National Park is a magnificent place to explore. Although roads are rough this place deserves a visit. Most of the park contains tropical desert, and there is an abundance of cacti and birds. There are flamingos in the lowlands and parrots can be seen as well. Other animals include the large bright green iguanas among other reptile species.
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Saba and Sint Eustatius are much different from the other islands. First of all, they don't cater to mass tourism and specialise in ecolodges for example instead. Mount Scenery on Saba for example is great destination and offers a fine panorama once at the top after a steep climb. The view towards the Caribbean Sea and other islands is just fantastic. Ladder Bay offers some great walks and views as well. Visit the Saba Park website for more information on the Saba Park and the Saba Marine Park.
On Sint Eustatius you can find beautiful historic forts like Fort Oranje and Fort de Windt. The first one offers a view of the waterfront of Oranjestad below.
Curaçao and Bonaire
The islands of Curaçao and Bonaire have a very pleasant and constant climate. This means warm and humid weather yearround but with almost constant sea breezes cooling things of a bit. Temperatures average around 30 °C during the day, cooling of somewhat to 23 °C at night. Most rain falls between October and February but compared to the islands more north in the Caribbean it doesn't rain that much. July and August are high season and therefore the drier months of March to June are the best time for a visit.
Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius
The islands of Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius have a hot and humid tropical climate with average daytime temperatures between 28 °C and 30 °C and average nights around 23 °C. Most rain falls between June and October with a chance of hurricanes from August onwards. Therefore, the drier (and slightly cooler) December to April period is the best time to visit weatherwise. Unfortunately prices rise sharply during this period and the months of November and May still have good weather. So budgetwise these latter months may be a good option as well.
Curaçao International Airport (IATA: CUR, ICAO: TNCC) has connections to neighbouring countries, nearby South American cities, North America and Europe. Airlines operating at this airport include American Airlines, Arkefly, Continental Airlines, Dutch Antilles Express, KLM, Lufthansa and Thomsonfly.
Flamingo International Airport, also known as Bonaire International Airport, (IATA: BON, ICAO: TNCB) serves the island of Bonaire. The main airlines flying direct to this airport are Arkefly, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines and KLM.
Some other airlines provide connections to this island via Curaçao, Aruba and St. Maarten. They include Air Canada (from Toronto), American Airlines (New York, Miami) and US Airways (Boston, Charlotte, New York, Philadelphia).
Princess Juliana International Airport (IATA: SXM, ICAO: TNCM) is the base of Winair (Windward Islands Airways), which serves Sint Eustatius, Saba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Barthélemy, Montserrat, Dominica, Antigua and Barbuda and Santo Domingo. Numerous airlines serve Sint Maarten from both the Caribbean and beyond, for example with KLM to Amsterdam and GOL to Manaus and Sao Paulo. North America is well served as well, with destinations being Washington, D.C., New York, Miami, Philadelphia, Boston, Charlotte and Chicago. Other main cities served include Toronto, Caracas and Paris.
Saba and Sint Eustatius
Winair is the major carrier for flights to and from the islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius, originating from Sint Maarten.
Sint Maarten - Saint Barthélemy
The MV Voyager travels daily and on Wednesdays and Sundays twice daily (one in the morning at 9am and one in the early evening at 6.45pm) between Oyster Pound and Gustavia.
Another option is to take the high speed ferry The Edge that travels to Gustavia once a day from Tuesday till Saturday. It leaves from Pelican Marina in Dutch St. Maarten at 9am. This passage lasts around 45 minutes.
All other islands are not served by any international ferries, although Saba has connections with Sint Maarten (see below).
Dutch Antilles Express connects all islands within the Netherlands Antilles from its base at Curaçao International Airport (IATA: CUR, ICAO: TNCC), except Saba and Sint Eustatius which are served by Winair from Sint Maarten. Insel Air operates flights between Curacao and both Bonaire and St. Maarten. Between the main islands of Curaçao, Bonaire and Sint Maarten there are more regional carriers that operate on these routes, including Divi Divi Air.
Sint Maarten - Saba
The MV Dawn II has sailings 3 times a week according to schedule between Philipsburg on Sint Maarten and Fort Bay on Saba, both leeward islands of the Netherlands Antilles. Crossings are on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, leaving Saba in the morning and returning from Sint Maarten in the late afternoon, taking about 2 hours each way. Sometimes there are cancelations, so check the latest schedule over here.
Another option is taking the Edge Ferry, departing Pelican Marina in St. Maarten at 9:00am on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, returning from Saba later that day. It takes about 90 minutes to cover the sea between the islands.
Renting a car or jeep (Curaçao and Bonaire are popular for jeep rentals) is one of the best ways of getting around most islands, except Saba where you don't really need a car. Instead, people walk or hitch on this tiny and mountainous island.
A national driver's licence is valid here as well and minimum age usually is 21 or 23, but sometimes 26. Driving is on the right. As Sint Eustatius has no public transport at all, renting a car for one or two days is a good option.
Although Curaçao and Bonaire are generally safe, there are more cases of theft and accidents on the islands of Sint Maarten, so watch your belongings and the road.
On Sint Maarten, buses run regularly between Philipsburg, Mullet Bay, Simpson Bay and Marigot and minibuses serve many other popular destinations. On Curaçao, there is a decent bus services linking Willemstad with several other smaller places and beaches around the island. Bonaire has no public buses.
Taxis are plentiful though on all islands, some of them having meters while most of them rather use fixed rates, like on Sint Maarten and Bonaire.
As an overseas territory of the Netherlands, the requirements are roughly the same. Except or the fact that the Schengen Visa is not valid of course.
See also Money Matters
The Antillean Guilder (Naf) is the currency for the Netherlands Antilles. It is also known as the Florin or Gulden and is subdivided into 100 cents. Note denominations are 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 250 NaF. Coin denominations are 5, 2.5, 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.1, 0.05, and 0.01 cents.
The Guilder is fixed to the US dollar at an exchange rate of 1.79:1.
From the 1st of January 2011 onwards the Antillean Florin (NAF) will not longer be the currency for all of the islands.
The US Dollar will be the new official currency for Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius, while Curacao and St. Maarten will get another official currency as well.
The official languages that are spoken on the islands are Dutch, English and Papiamentu. On Bonaire and Curaçao, the main language that people speak at home is Papiamentu, which is Creole language based on Portuguese and Spanish but with influences of Dutch, English and French. On the other three islands English is the most common languages. On the islands you will also find a fair amount of people that speak Spanish.
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Netherlands Antilles. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering the Netherlands Antilles) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Netherlands Antilles. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and vaccination against hepatitis B and typhoid are also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months.
Dengue sometimes occurs as well. There is no vaccination, so buy mosquito repellent (preferably with 50% DEET), and sleep under a net. Also wear long sleeves if possible.
Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.
See also Travel Safety
The Netherlands Antilles are relatively safe to travel around, but some violent crimes have occured in the past, including rape and robbery. Be careful not walking around at night by yourself, especially not as a woman, and also avoid driving during nightly hours yourself as well. Pickpocketing is common in busier areas in the capitals of Sint Maarten and Curacao, Philipsburg and Willemstad respectively, so watch your belongings carefully.
Saba and Sint Eustatius on the other hand are as safe as you could ever imagine!
See also International Telephone Calls
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