There is no place In the Caribbean better prepared to welcome and host tourists than Aruba. A rich island, spared by hurricanes due to its location, this Dutch dependent state has optimized its tourist industry to the level few other places in the world can match. First colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century, the island’s dry climate and poor rainfall made it an unattractive destination for sugar and cotton plantations and associated with it slavery. Therefore, it was was mostly left to its own devices for the first 200 years after colonization up until the discovery of gold in the 19th century. From then on gold mining and a little later oil-refining became the key industries for Aruba enriching its population and leading to a build-up in its infrastructure.
|Size||69 square miles (179 square kilometres)|
|Population||105,000 (75% European and mixed, 15% Black, 10% other)|
|Status||autonomous state within Kingdom of Netherlands|
|Official language(s)||Dutch, Papiamento|
|GDP per capita (2014)||$29,924|
|Electricity||US standard two and three-prong|
|Driving||on the left|
Then, in early 1990s, Aruba quickly grew as a tourist destination and as of now this industry drives much of the island’s economy. Today, Aruba has arguably the best nightlife scene in the Caribbean, superb flight connections to most of the US, a fantastic public transportation system and some of the best shopping options out of all the islands in the region. Although the official languages are Dutch and Papiamento, you will easily communicate in English, which is spoken by most natives and used in pretty much in every hotel and restaurant. Aruba is safe, very kid friendly, and offers attractions of truly every kind.
The list of direct flights from the US to Aruba’s airport in the capital of Oranjestad is long. It includes more than 10 cities such as Houston, Atlanta and Baltimore. Correspondingly, there are quite a few airlines flying to Aruba – American, Delta, JetBlue, KLM, Southwest, Spirit and United. Flights from outside the US usually require a stopover in an American airport. Make sure to take your passport, of course – you will be allowed to stay for up to 30 days on a usual visitor entry.
As mentioned earlier, Aruba has a great system of local buses, which travel between the capital city to most of the towns around the island and stop right by many of the major hotels. The buses are reliable, pretty modern and cheap costing $2.30 for a round trip between Oranjestad and hotels, for example. You will also be pleased to learn that Aruba’s roads are well maintained and with plenty of signs pointing you in the right direction. Hence, driving a car on the island is a pleasure, though this experience may not be worth it financially considering the island’s both, the great bus system as well as plentiful taxis, which have their rates fixed by the local government. This means you can feel pretty sure you will not be taken advantage of with obscene rates, but rather should know the cost of your ride in advance of starting a journey. Of course, if you are more adventures than an average traveller and wish to explore Aruba’s dirt roads and unexplored routes, you can rent a four-wheel drive at the airport or in many locations throughout the island.
Things to explore
Aruba has lots to offer for its small size. Here is a breakdown of key points of interest and activities by several main categories:
• Sightseeing cities and towns – the capital of Oranjestad is best explored by a free local streetcar, which stops often pretty much in every part of the city. The city’s architecture is its own attraction with colorful colonial styled buildings lining up main streets. There are several museums in the city that you may want to visit: Aruba Aloe Museum & Factory, National Archaeological Museum as well as built in 1798 Fort Zoutman and its tower. For those into beer brewing, check out the Balashi Brewey & Beer Garden (fun fact: Aruba is the only place in the world making beer from desalinated water) and in order to get a good feel for Aruba’s folklore music and dancing, go to Bon Bini Festival held every Tuesday at Ft. Zoutman. Besides the capital, other towns worth visiting are: Savaneta, where you can find eat amazing fish straight from the sea, Seroe Colorado, where you will find a picturesque natural bridge and San Nicolas, which is the island’s oldest village.
• Hiking trails – as much as 20% of the island territory is made up of Arikok National Park, which has over 20 miles of gorgeous nature trails to explore. Part of the park is Mt. Arikok and Mt. Yamanota, the island’s two highest peaks you are welcome to climb. Another natural wonder to explore are massive rock formations located near villages of Ayo and Casibari. Finally, you cannot miss the hike to and around California Lighthouse on the western tip of Aruba. This national monument was built in 1910 and is a great spot for photo sessions and romantic walks (though make sure you wear sun screen as there isn’t much shade around)
• Exploring fauna – Any nature lover cannot miss visiting Aruba’s Butterfly Farm in Palm Beach, where you can find thousands of beautiful butterflies from all over the world and you can also watch movies and plenty of exhibits about these beautiful creatures. Once done with butterflies, why not visit an Ostrich farm? You can find one in Paradera, where you can enter every day between 9am and 4pm to meet both, Ostrich and Emus remaining freely and carefree.
• Beach hopping – thanks to the local buses and great roads, you can quickly get between many of Aruba’s best beaches. Palm Beach in the North West of the island is the party beach of Aruba and in that regard it rivals with places such as South Beach in Miami. Neighboring Eagle and Manchebo beaches are another popular destinations for travelers as well as locals and their wide sands are perfect for a beach party or a workout. Another two beaches nearby are Arashi and Malmok, which are smaller and less busy, but popular with the locals. Once you explore all beaches on the northern side of the island, head to the south where we recommend checking out Baby beach (perfect for families with its super calm and shallow waters) and Boca Grandi (big waves and winds makes it a perfect spot for water sports).
• Shopping – truly a paradise for shoppers, Aruba’s shops offer all and more that you can find on New York’s Fifth avenue. Probably the best starting point for any sophisticated shopper will be Main Street (Caya G.F. Betico Coes) in Oranjestad where you will find many arts and crafts shops selling designer jewelry, accessories and artwork. For more of a mall experience, visit Royal Plaza and Renaissance Malls with several floors of beautiful storefronts and restaurants. Outside the capital, check out Paseo Herencia, a beautiful old style shopping center with souvenir and local art shops in Palm Beach as well as Alhambra Mall in Druif, which hosts a casino and lots of American brand restaurants.
Most of Aruba’s prestigious high-rise hotels are located to the north of the capital near Eagle and Palm beaches. If you are looking for more of low key options, you will find several boutique hotels right in Oranjestad as well as in the south around the town of Savaneta. Keep in mind the difference in options and amenities between high-rise Palm Beach hotels and low-rises is significant, but so are the prices. For couples ready to splash more consider staying at adults only Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort located at the most stunning part of Eagle Beach and arguably the whole island. This 4 star hotel has a full service spa and is located walking distance to Aruba’s nightlife hotspots and some great restaurants. For those travelling with whole families, consider instead Mariott’s Aruba Ocean Club with its beautiful waterfall pools and plenty of amenities for kids and adults alike. For a family on a budget, check out Mill Resort & Suites also located on Palm Beach, which offers great value and a good location close to all the action.
Our personal favourite outside of the busy north-west of the island is a low-rise Baby Beach Vacation Home, with relax terraces overlooking the Caribbean sea and located 5 minutes’ walk from the famous Baby Beach.
Food & restaurants
Dutch cuisine and dishes are prevalent on Aruba. You want to be sure to try at least a couple of local specialties like Pastechi (pastry filled with cheese and meat), Pan bati (cornmeal pancake) or Keshi yena (baked cheese with meat stuffing). Local food shops and supermarkets are very well-stacked and carry foods from both, Europe as we as the US. Food prices are pretty high, but not too excessive.
As far as local restaurants, the popular ones stay very busy all year round. Hence, it is a good idea to book in advance. Menu’s are pretty eclectic and you shouldn’t have any problems finding something on them that fits your dietary requirements. Dress code is also pretty relaxed although be sure to check individual restaurant’s policy when heading to a more sophisticated establishment. If your stay is for a littler longer than a couple days and you want to explore as many restaurants as possible, consider joining Aruba’s Gastronomic Association. Their membership guarantees discounts at over 30 local restaurants. Of all restaurants in Aruba, our own two favorites for their romantic vibes are Papiamento and Pinchos Grill & Bar, both offering varied menu and amazing outdoor settings.
Aruba’s Palm Beach easily makes top 5 lists for best nightlife in the Caribbean. Its South Miami vibe combined with reasonable prices make for a superb party destination. Nightlife on the island starts somewhat later than on in other destinations with midnight being the time when most bars and clubs really get going. If you are looking for a proper club night check out Gusto – big, loud and flashy club in the middle of Palm Beach. For even more flashy and sleek, try another nightclub called Reflections where beauty and money abides! For something more laid back, you will find lots of great bars lining up Eagle and Palm beaches such as an open-air MooMba Beach Bar where you will often hear live local music.
Besides a being a great place dancing and drinking, Aruba is also a top notch destination for those who gamble. There are as many as four super-size casinos on the small island as well as many more small ones in Oranjestad and its surroundings. The largest one of all is Stellaris Casino located at the Marriott Resort in Palm Beach. You can be sure to find a busy schedule of entertainment shows in the venue so be sure to take a break from making bets to enjoy some truly breathtaking performances.
Sports & adventure
Aruba is a mecca for processional windsurfers and kite surfers, who flock to the island’s north-east coast thanks to its great wind and surf conditions all year round. Boca Grandi is the beach where you are likely to find most of the expert windbreakers. In June and July you can also observe (or participate) in wind and kite surfing competitions, which draw participants from all over the world. Aruba is also a popular destination for large and small yachts from as far as Europe and every August the island hosts a three day regatta associated with lots of festivities and celebrations. But, more importantly the island has a lot of local cruise and yacht operators who organize lots of different escapades for: snorkelling, fishing, sailing, partying or simply anchoring on a quiet beach and relaxing. It is one great way to make friends or get away from people, depending on what you are in a mood for.
Kids favorite, Aruba is a host to a fantastic theme park called DePalm island. Located in the south and right off the coast of Aruba this location offers truly fantasy experiences. A big water park with tens of slides, shallow and deep snorkeling, all-inclusive buffet, and zip-lining are just a sample of activities for both, adults and kids alike. Getting to the island is easy as there are multiple shuttles operating daily from most hotels and a water taxi will get you from mainland Aruba to DePalm island in less than 15 minutes.
Besides water adventures and sports, hiking, horseback riding and golfing are all popular island activities. Arikok National Park is go to destination for the first and second of these activities with is 20 miles of nature trails to explore. As far as golf, there are two courses at your disposal: 9-hole course at the Links at Divi Aruba and 18-hole course Tierra del Sol in the north of the island where, besides making many long drives, you can also enjoy some incredible views out to the Caribbean sea.
Safety and security
Aruba is very safe and its crime rate is low. The island can be considered an advanced country with low poverty and an educated society. This is not to say you should leave your money in the open. Remain careful and observant. Watch out especially for drunken tourists late at night, they are likely to cause more trouble than the locals.
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