The Caribbean island clichés cultivated by tourism companies are thankfully absent at this former Dutch colony, sister to better-known Aruba and nearby Bonaire. Saved from rapacious over-development (it’s home base to plenty of off-shore banking), it’s not a monoculture dependent on dubious touristic practices; expect to hear English, Dutch, Spanish, and the local Creole, Papiamentu. The locals are quick to call visitors dushi (sweetie), and welcome all.
Take some time in the capital, Willemstad, to explore the brightly colored Dutch-style buildings and the floating pedestrian bridge, and learn a bit of the history of the island—but the action really takes place at the hotels. Floris Suite Hotel (FlorisSuiteHotel.com) is the gayest property on the island, run by a Dutch expat and his partner. In late September, you’ll find the boys and girls (and drag queens) hanging poolside there during the annual Get Wet weekend, a sort of regional gay pride without the parade. Or stay in the heart of the city at one of the most distinctive boutique hotels, Kura Hulanda, located in a meticulously renovated 18th-century village that even includes a heartbreaking museum about the Caribbean’s slave-trading past.
At the island’s newest and largest property, the Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Resort, a former Hyatt, you’ll get a great beach and restaurants -- and even 18 holes of golf -- so you won’t feel the need to venture into town. Pay attention to the seafood menu, where the chef has decided to take a creative approach to eradicating the invasive lionfish that are destroying the Caribbean’s coral reefs, stripping them of their poisonous spines and creating a ceviche that complements the fish’s buttery flavor. Watch out: It’s easy to get sucked into hotel life, but don’t forget to take a car or a boat to the west side of the island, where you’ll find the best beaches, and snorkel the Blue Cave -- that’s when you’ll realize how genuinely unspoiled this place really is.