ABC islands (Lesser Antilles)

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Not to be confused with ABC Islands (Alaska).
ABC islands
Native name: ABC-eilanden
ABC Islands location map.svg
ABC islands (green below with South America in grey)
Location Caribbean Sea
Coordinates 12°10′N 69°0′W / 12.167°N 69.000°W / 12.167; -69.000Coordinates: 12°10′N 69°0′W / 12.167°N 69.000°W / 12.167; -69.000
Archipelago Leeward Antilles
Total islands 3
Major islands Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao
Area 931 km2 (359 sq mi)
Sovereign state
Population 273,079 (as of 2013)

The ABC islands are the three western-most islands of the Leeward Antilles in the Caribbean Sea that lie north of Falcón State, Venezuela.[1] From west to east they are, in order Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire. All three islands are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, although they remain outside the European Union. Aruba and Curaçao are autonomous, self-governing constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while Bonaire is a special municipality of the Netherlands proper.


Some[by whom?] think that the ABC islands were first explored by one of Christopher Columbus' captains, Alonso de Ojeda, who landed on Curaçao in May of 1499. He is said to have called the islands Las islas de los Gigantes or Islands of the Giants due to the native inhabitants, the Caiquetio Indians. Officially they were discovered by Amerigo Vespucci, whose cartographer Juan de la Cosa first described the islands. The first Spanish colonists, unable to find any gold or silver, kidnapped most of the natives to work on plantations on the island of Hispaniola. By 1527 the Spanish had formed a government and established Catholicism on the islands.

In 1634, the Netherlands fought Spain over control of the islands. They won, and the islands were then administered by the Netherlands. The Dutch West India Company developed the areas, establishing a major port on Curaçao. The abolition of the slave trade in 1863 had a devastating impact on their economies, although the economy revived when oil was discovered in Venezuela during the early 20th century, and the islands became major oil refineries.

The islands became part of the Netherlands Antilles in 1954, granting them political autonomy within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 1986 Aruba withdrew from the Netherlands Antilles, becoming a separate country within the kingdom.[2] Upon the dissolution of the Netherlands Antilles on 10 October 2010, Curaçao gained a similar status to Aruba. Bonaire became a special municipality of the Netherlands proper, although it currently maintains its status of an overseas territory of the European Union.


The ABC islands are part of the Leeward Antilles, which is the westernmost area of the Lesser Antilles. They lie immediately to the north of Falcón State, Venezuela. Due to their political history, they are sometimes considered to be part of North America along with the other Caribbean islands, although they lie on South America's geographical plate; the same case happens with Trinidad and Tobago. ABC does not indicate the geographical order to each other, from west to east the islands are Aruba, Curaçao, Bonaire.

Aruba is a flat island, exposed to the ocean currents. Bonaire and Curaçao are surrounded by reefs, and so are much more sheltered from the weather. Both Bonaire and Curaçao's reefs form popular tourist destinations.


Bonaire is known for being a "diving paradise", with ecotourism playing a large part in its economy. The islands have a huge variety of wildlife, famously including flamingoes and four species of sea turtle.[2]


Afro-Caribbean and people of African/European/Native descent make up a large proportion of the islands' populations. Recently there has been substantial immigration from Latin America.


Dutch has been the official language of the islands for most of their history. A unique creole language has developed there known as Papiamentu.[3] Unlike other creole languages, Papiamentu is not decreasing in usage, and was made an official language on 7 March 2007.[4] Papiamentu's origins are debated, a dispute arising on whether it originates from Portuguese or Spanish. Today it is heavily influenced by Spanish and English.


Aruba and Curaçao are autonomous countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which have their own parliament and prime minister. Bonaire is a "special municipality" of the Netherlands proper, and subject to Netherlands law.

Flags of the islands[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miller, Debra (2005). Caribbean Islands (Lonely Planet) (4th ed.). Lonely Planet. p. 723. ISBN 978-1-74104-055-5. 
  2. ^ a b Sullivan, Lynne M. (2006). Adventure Guide to Aruba, Bonaire & Curaçao. Edison, New Jersey: Hunter Publishing. ISBN 978-1-58843-572-9. Retrieved 2014-06-17. 
  3. ^ Narin, Attila (29 September 2003). "Papiamentu is the local language of the ABC Islands – Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao". Retrieved 9 July 2010. 
  4. ^ "Aruba Language". Archived from the original on 28 June 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010. 

External links[edit]