For hundreds of years the Old World's colonial powers were attracted to the Caribbean rum, gold, and workforce like swarms of ravenous bees to a single barrel of honey, and once again it comes as no surprise that they satiated their expansionist hungers with a handful of islets drifting in the bowl of tropical delicacies. Discovered by the legendary Columbus and first settled by the Spanish, the islands were conquered by the Dutch in the 17th century and served as the slave trade depot until the abolition in 1863. Today, the autonomous territory lives off oil refinement and tourists who come as eagerly as the wannabe imperialists did years ago, albeit for somewhat different reasons.
The Netherlands Antilles comprise two groups of picturesque islands, but it's not quite arbitrary which one you choose for your dreamed-of Caribbean stay. Although the colorful folklore and love of calypso rhythms bind them all together on the spiritual level, each has taken up a matchless identity and appeals to different kinds of visitors.
Among the Leeward Islands, all mountainous and fertile, Sint Eustatius is adorably simplistic and perfect for a languid beachy stay, paradisaical Saba cuts the sky with its volcanic peak, and Sint Maarten never fails to address the hedonistic needs of its visitors. In the Windward group, semiarid, rather flat, and fringed with one of the world's most gorgeous reefs, Bonaire is a diving mecca with a genuine community feel, while Curacao courts your attention with a balanced mix of natural marvels, urban attractions and splendid 16th-century heritage.
As of October 10, 2010 the Netherlands Antilles cease to be a unified entity and each constituent island is going to form separate ties with the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For you, Dear Traveler, nothing really changes at all. Be it a quintet or five soloists, their calypso and soca will always sound as high-spirited as they do today.