Netherlands Antilles or also known as Netherlands West Indies is made up of 5 islands in the eastern and south eastern Caribbean Sea. The first group located in the Leeward Islands of the eastern Caribbean is located just to the east of the Virgin Islands; they are the Islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, and Sint Maarten. In the south eastern region of the Caribbean Sea , lying just to the north of the South American Coast line, in which is referred to as the Windward Islands is the second group of Islands that make up the Netherlands Antilles, Curacao and Bonaire. The Island of Aruba, which lies to the west of Curacao and is part of the so called ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) was a part of the Netherlands Antilles until 1986 when it became a separate country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands
Saba, Sint Eustatius and Sint Maarten were first discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus and the islands of Curacao and Bonaire as well as Aruba were discovered 6 years later by Alonso de Ojeda, a protégé of Christopher Columbus on his first solo trip to the New World. The two island groups were first settled by Spain which lasted a few centuries until the Dutch and the Dutch West Indies Company conquered the Spaniards and made the islands military and trading post for the growing slave trade.
Curacao is not only the largest of the so called ABC islands, (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao) but is also the most populous of the 5 islands of the Netherland Antilles. With an island population of almost 150,000 people, Curacaos capital city of Willemstad is also home to the Netherlands Antilles government.
The two groups of island making up the Netherlands Antilles are geographically different from one another; Saba, Saint Eustatius and Sint Maarten in the Leeward Islands are comprised of volcanic origin and unsuitable for agriculture. The Leeward Islands are located in the hurricane belt thus resulting in many brushes with hurricanes. In the Windward Islands the islands of Curacao and Bonaire are made up of mostly coral, limestone and volcanic material. Curacao, Bonaire as well as Aruba lie to the south and outside of the hurricane belt thus seeing less frequency in storms.
Tourism is the mainstay of the Netherlands Antilles with the group of 5 islands offering travelers unbelievable beaches as well as varying scenery from island to island. The three most popular islands for travelers are Curacao, Sint Maarten and Bonaire. Oil refinement on the island of Curacao and oil transshipment on Sint Eustatius is important to the economy of the Netherlands Antilles.