Living in: the ABC islands
Oranjestad, Aruba. (Richard Cummins/LPI/Getty Images)
The Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, all off the coast of Venezuela, are collectively known as the ABC islands. Their shared Dutch colonial history and West Indian heritage, plus their fortuitous location outside of the tropical hurricane belt, make these islands a coveted playground for snowbirds, sun seekers, avid windsurfers and scuba divers. The islands have varied terrain, pristine beaches, coral reefs and an off-the-beaten-path vibe that attract low-key globetrotters.
Aruba is the most developed of the islands, with golf courses, malls, casinos and international restaurants in the capital Oranjestad and surrounding resort areas. Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Dutch is the official language (as it is on Bonaire and Curacao) and English is commonly spoken, but residents of all three islands also speak Papiamentu, a Creole language that combines Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English, and is the second official language of Aruba.
Its dry, sunny climate and fine beaches attract holiday-makers and second-home buyers from the US, the Netherlands and Venezuela. The constant trade winds make the island a magnet for windsurfers and kite surfers who ply the shallow Caribbean waters in their colourful craft. There are direct flights from many US cities, as well as Amsterdam, London and South American destinations. “Aruba’s weather is fantastic: even temperatures, beautiful trade winds and very little rain in the winter,” said Anthony Amodeo, who owns a timeshare at Marriott’s Aruba Surf Club. “It is a great escape from the winter and only four hours direct flight from New York City.”
Buyers are mainly drawn to the popular west and north sides of the island, which include the soft, white sands of Palm Beach, Eagle Beach and Arashi Beach. “Currently it is a buyer’s market with motivated sellers,” said Miriam Engeln, a sales agent at Century 21. “You can pay in US currency and wire it straight to the notary.” Each island has its own currency – Aruba’s is the Aruban florin, but US dollars are also accepted. Timeshares are available at hotels such as the Marriott Surf Club and many other properties for anywhere from $5,000 or $10,000 for a week on up, while the average price to purchase a stand-alone villa with a pool is between $200,000 and $300,000. Because Aruba is out of the hurricane belt, it does not have sky-high insurance rates or property taxes, which is attractive to foreign buyers.
Surrounded by staggeringly diverse coral reefs that are protected by a national marine park, Bonaire is a diving paradise under the waves, from parrot and angel fish to nurse sharks and stingrays. On the surface, kayaking is popular and landlubbers can cycle through Washington-Slagbaai National Park on the island’s northern tip and past Lake Gotomeer, a salt lake home to flaming pink flamingos. While the main city of Kralendijk has some very good restaurants (and student chefs who train in Emilia-Romagna in Italy), Bonaire does not have the tourism infrastructure found on Aruba or the commercial power of Curacao, and it can only be reached by air, as there is no ferry service from the other islands or Venezuela.
The island’s laid-back reputation and natural landscape draw buyers looking for an outdoor kind of life. “Bonaire attracts Dutch and Americans looking for peace and quiet in nature, good dining, scuba diving, kite surfing, windsurfing, mountain biking and running,” said Anja Romeijnders, a commercial manager at Sunbelt Realty. “Oceanfront properties are always in demand, and people are also interested in buying or renting in Kralendijk, Santa Barbara, Sabadeco and Belnem along the island’s western coast.”
The island changed its currency from the Antillean guilder to the US dollar in 2011. A two-bed oceanfront condo starts at $450,000 and can go up to more than $1 million, while a non-oceanfront two-bed villa starts at around $350,000 and rents for $1,750 a month. “Properties are purchased in US dollars, but sometimes when we have both European buyers and sellers, we decide upon a price in euros,” said Romeijnders.