Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull
We’ve visited Aruba dozens of times over the years. Located 15 miles north of Venezuela, the little Dutch island that is part of the “ABC islands” of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, is known for constant sunshine, strong east trade winds, and rugged island terrain.
What’s brought us back to Aruba so many times?
Aruba: One Happy Island
According to the Aruba tourism authority, Aruba is the most re-visited destination in the Caribbean, with more than half of all visitors returning for another visit.
Strike up a conversation with most anyone along Palm or Eagle Beach and most will tell you how many times they have returned to the island – some of them visiting annually for decades. So, what brings them (and us) coming back?
Aruba has beautiful beaches, lots of things to do, casinos and great food, but, in all honesty, so do many islands. What’s the draw?
Aruba has some of the friendliest people you’ll meet. 108,000 people from over 90 nationalities call Aruba home and they always seem to have smiles on their faces and are ready to assist if possible. The island has had the motto “One Happy Island” as far as I can remember, and, while I am generally not a fan of slogans, it is a spot-on description of the culture.
Aruba’s beautiful beaches
We’ve dipped our toes into the sand on more than a few beaches around the world, but some of the prettiest can be found on Aruba. With 18 beaches to choose from, a week on the island could be spent just visiting different beaches, but if you are going to narrow it down to three, here are our picks: Consistently named to numerous “top 10 beaches of the world lists,” Palm Beach is 2 miles of gorgeous white sand and the location of many of the large chain-brand, high-rise resorts.
Palm Beach. Consistently named to numerous “top 10 beaches of the world lists,” Palm Beach is 2 miles of gorgeous white sand and the location of many of the large chain-brand, high-rise resorts.
Eagle Beach is a delightfully wide expanse of soft, white sand, with a scattering of low-rise resorts lining the beach, plenty of parking, and some shaded picnic areas. Laid-back and with ample room to roam, Eagle Beach offers calm waters and a quieter, less crowded beach experience than its neighbor to the north, Palm Beach.
Known for its calm, clear water and vast reefs, Baby Beach is a preferred snorkeling spot on the island. A popular spot for families and locals, Baby Beach is located on the opposite side of the island from Palm Beach and has cabanas, picnic areas, and pristine, white sand.
Aruba hotels: Where to stay
We’ve stayed at many of the large hotels along Palm Beach in Aruba over the years. Large and glitzy, they are a hub of activity with casinos, restaurants and swim up bars. We have also rented a private house. Spacious, with a large private pool, the house was a nice but a bit too isolated.
For this trip, we sought accommodations somewhere in the middle of the two – peaceful, but close to the action, and we found a relaxing, tranquil environment, with spacious and inviting rooms in a tropical setting, that was close to a beach.
Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba
A hidden treasure steps away from Palm Beach, Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba has 14 casitas, or vacation houses, each with fully equipped kitchens, modern baths, private patios and a swimming pool. Owned and operated by locals, it has the Aruban influence that caused us to fall in love with the island so long ago, while also delivering the comforts of a trendy, boutique hotel.
Aruba: Things to do on the water
It doesn’t take too long gazing at the beautiful water from the beach before you want to get out there and play in the Caribbean.
As the windsurfing capital of the world, the waters near the shoreline are dotted with brightly colored wind and kite surfers sailing along in the ever-present trade winds.
The clear, pleasant Aruban waters also provide for a perfect snorkeling environment and a chance to discover the underwater world of the Caribbean. Popular snorkeling spots include the fish-filled waters of Catalina Bay and the shipwreck of the Antilla, a 400’ sunken German freighter that rests 400 feet below the sea, just north of Palm Beach.
For those wanting to explore the depths of the sea, Aruba is a diving paradise with more than 20 dive spots around the island, including the Antilla and the SS Pedernales, a tanker that was sunk by a German U-boat torpedo during World War II and now lies 25 feet below sea level off the shore near Palm Beach.
Looking for something a bit more casual on the water? Take a sail on a catamaran. Whether on a luncheon or dinner sail, a snorkel trip sail, or a sunset sail, gliding along the scenic Aruban coastline with a tropical drink in hand always makes for a memorable, relaxing experience.
While there are a multitude of water sports provider options in Aruba, we’ve always used Red Sail Sports for our fun on the water. Departing from a pier near the Hyatt on Palm Beach, Red Sail Sports offers diving excursions, diving courses for first-timers to advanced, deep-sea fishing tours, a variety of sailing options, and two of the newest watersports, hoverboard and JETLEV, which has you literally flying over the ocean, soaring up to 30 feet in the air.
Aruba: Things to do on land
Aruba is just 19.6 miles long and 6 miles across at its widest point, but despite its small size, it has a wide assortment of activities and things to do on the island.
On the northwestern tip of the island, the California Lighthouse is located in an area known as Hudishibana. Named after the S.S. California, which sunk in 1910, the California Lighthouse was originally built to warn ships as they approached Aruba’s rocky, coastline. Now a popular tourist attraction, the lighthouse provides great views of the island and Palm Beach.
While exploring the island, be sure and stop to chat with locals and try some fresh coconut water.
Near the California Lighthouse is Tierra del Sol Resort and Country Club, home of the Robert Trent Jones II designed 18 hole course and a driving range, putting greens, chipping areas, and a golf shop. The resort’s restaurant, Ventanas del Mar, is a beautiful location for dinner with both air-conditioned and outdoor dining options with panoramic views of the golf course and the ocean.
The island’s first Roman Catholic Church, Chapel of Alto Vista, is a charming, little yellow church, originally built in 1750 and reconstructed in 1953.
White crosses line the road to the church, which sits on a hill above the northern shore, northeast of the town of Noord. Mass is held on Tuesdays at 5 pm but the chapel is open to visitors daily.
Philips’ Animal Garden is a sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals with over 50 species of exotic animals from around the world. A great place to bring children, educational tours are offered daily with up-close interactions throughout the shelter and rehabilitation center.
Much of the east side of the island can only be reached off-road. One of the many ATV or jeep tours available is a great way to visit the attractions and have some fun exploring the rugged coastline.
Donkeys, iguanas, and goats roam freely on the island so stay alert when driving and keep your speed low.
Sadly, what was once one of the most popular destinations on the island, the Natural Bridge, collapsed in 2005. Created by crashing waves battering the limestone cliffs over thousands of years, several natural bridges still exist on the windward side of the island, including Baby Bridge near the remains of the Natural Bridge.
Aruban tradition says that stacking loose stones can make your wishes come true. While stacks of stones can be spotted all around the island, hundreds of stacks are located near Natural Bridge / Baby Bridge.
Simply find a few stones and make a wish as you place each rock on the stack.
In 1824, a 12-year-old boy named Willem Rasmijn found gold on the island while herding his father’s sheep near Rooi Fluit. The discovery launched gold fever. In 1874, Aruba Island Gold Mining Company of London built the Bushiribana Gold Mill, which operated until World War I. The ruins are now a popular stop on the jeep routes, near the Natural Bridge.
Nearly 90 donkeys have found a place to call home at the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary.
Founded in 1997, the Aruba Donkey Sanctuary is a non-profit facility completely run by volunteers committed to saving the donkeys. Families are invited to bring their children to learn about and participate in the care and feeding of the donkeys.
Seemingly out of place against the flat desert, the Ayo Rock Formations are a group of boulders located near the village of Ayo. A sacred site by the island’s early inhabitants, the formation is the site of petroglyphs, or rock drawings, dating back thousands of years.
Heading back to the opposite of the island, be sure to take time for a visit to the charming capital of Aruba, Oranjestad.
A colorful village built in the traditional style of Dutch colonial architecture, Oranjestad is home to numerous restaurants, bars, casinos and a vast array of shops with offerings ranging from designer clothing to jewelry to souvenirs.
As evening rolls around, check out the Kukoo Kunuku – a bus offering several tours, including the popular Dinner & Nightlife Tour and the Caribbean Pub Crawl.
Aruba: Know before you go
Language: The official language is Dutch, the local language is Papiamento, and most Arubans speak English and Spanish as well.
Climate: While the trade wind breezes and average daytime temperatures of 82 degrees keep even the sunniest of days pleasant, Aruba is located very close to the equator and the sun is very strong. A high SPF sunscreen is recommended and should be reapplied often.
Driving: While driving is on the right side of the road, Aruban road signs are different than in U.S. Additionally, roads can be quite slick following the occasional rain shower, so use caution.
Car rental: Numerous car company choices are available at the Aruba airport and also at many hotels if you just want a car for the day. We used Budget at the airport – which I would not recommend. Upon arrival, the wait for a car was over an hour. We drove 10 miles to our hotel, parked the car overnight, and came out to two flat tires the next morning. We called Budget and they charged us $20 to have someone bring a new tire and change the spare.
Currency: The official currency is the Aruban Florin but the US Dollar is widely accepted in stores and resorts.
Drinking: The water in Aruba is produced by a desalination plant located in Balashi and meets the highest quality of the World Health Organization, so drink up and stay hydrated. As far as those tropical cocktails, the legal drinking age in Aruba is 18.
Casinos: Casinos are located at many resorts and throughout the island. The legal gambling age is 18.
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