What is Papiamento?

When you’re on vacation you want everything to be easy and relaxing. And for many, apart from resting and exploring our destination of choice, we would also like to be able to communicate with the locals.


Since English is my native language, and I also speak Spanish quite fluently, traveling through any English-speaking country, Latin-America and quite frankly, most of the world (thanks to the globalization of the English language), has always been easy. Even in Brazil there was no great difficulty in understanding Portuguese, since it has so much in common with Spanish. And even while traveling in the Caribbean, though I felt a bit clueless in the places where a sort of French creole is spoken, I could still understand a few things.

On my last vacation I visited an island in the Caribbean, Aruba. I knew that it was part of the Kingdom of Holland, so I imagined that Dutch would be one of the main languages spoken there. I studied Dutch for three years, and thought it would be fun to be able to practice it a little. Being so close to Venezuela and also very close to Brazil, I also imagined that I could probably get by with a little Spanish or Portuguese, or at the very least, English. But when I reached the island and began listening to the people speak, I soon realized that I was linguistically lost: what the locals were speaking was a kind of creole called “Papiamento“. It’s not Spanish, it’s not Portuguese, it’s not Dutch, and it’s not French … at best, it’s a clash of all these languages combined, with a hint of African influences. So I found myself asking: Is this a language?

That was when I learned that Papiamento (a word derived from the Spanish word parlamento or “parliament”) is in fact a Creole language, and since the year 2003, the official language of Aruba. It is also spoken on Aruba’s neighboring islands of Curaçao and Bonaire. It arises from the confluence of the main languages brought over by the colonizers, slaves and explorers, thus creating this one-of-a-kind language.


It was definitely a challenge to understand Papiamento, although I did learn some basic phrases such as “bonbini” (welcome), “bon nochi” (good night) and “kon ta ku bida?” (How are you?). Luckily, the Arubians speak perfect English and Spanish, both languages that I do understand, as well as Dutch, Portuguese and French. It is a beautiful island, as they say, “the happy island”, which attracts tourists from all around the world.  In the end, the communication aspect of my trip wasn’t so challenging, and coming into contact with this unknown (to me) language added an exotic and fascinating element to my trip.