With luxury resorts, a wide variety of activities, great dining options, a vibrant nightlife and, of course, miles and miles of beautiful beaches, each day in Cabo can be filled with as much adventure or relaxation as one desires.
As the sun hinted of its quickly approaching presence, it was time to head out to the ocean. With the exception of a scattering of fisherman and a few early risers, the beach was quiet as the waves made their way to the shore.
Waiting for the warmth of the day to begin, I dug my toes into the cool sand underfoot and simply took in the beauty of the simplicity of the morning. Dozens of fishing charters headed out of the marina, gliding by on the azure waters of the Pacific. A dolphin playfully jumped in the distance. The buildings on the hills basked in the warm glow of the early dawn light.
The sky continued to fill with a myriad of oranges and yellows until, in an instant, the sun reached above the horizon and a new day in Cabo San Lucas was underway.
One thing about Cabo – you can fill your day with as much or as little as you please. The resorts have calendars overflowing with activities ranging from blackjack to yoga to pool exercise classes. Not quite your thing? Grab a chair and a book and relax as the Baja sun warms your body and the stresses of the real world melt away.
While it may be tempting to simply while away to the sound of the ocean for your entire stay, an array of pursuits also await outside the gates of your resort. Spend an afternoon shopping in San Lucas or San Jose, play a round of golf on one of Cabo’s numerous golf courses, or if you are seeking something more daring, several adventure companies offer activities ranging from scuba diving and snorkeling to ziplining to camel rides.
Throughout our stay, we took in our share of beach time, explored San Lucas and opted for a bit of adventure with an afternoon at Wild Canyon.
Take a ride on the wild side at Wild Canyon
Camel rides in Cabo? You bet! Located about 20 minutes outside of Cabo San Lucas, Wild Canyon is home to ziplines, ATV and UTV touring, a bungee drop, an animal sanctuary and Camel Quest camel riding tours.
Our Cabo Camel Ride adventure began with an introduction to the camels we would be riding and some riding instructions. After a fun ride through the canyon, we took a short hike for an up-close view of an unexpected waterfall – something thoroughly enjoyed by the wild animals that call the canyon home.
Following our hike, we rode the camels back to their habitat, where we fed them and learned more about these beautiful creatures.
Next up was a tour of Wild Canyon’s Kingdom, an animal sanctuary, where we held….
and a baby crocodile
and love birds
We finished our afternoon of adventure with a drink and snacks at the Lion’s Den before being whisked back to our hotel on the Wild Canyon shuttle.
As nightfall draws near, a new set of options await. Restaurants in Cabo range from quiet to chic, with cuisines spanning the culinary continuum. Many of the larger resorts also hold themed dinners each evening, providing dinner and entertainment without venturing into town.
An additional evening option that combines drinks, dinner and a beautiful way to view the Land’s End is a sunset cruise. Several leave from the San Lucas marina each afternoon and we decided this would be the perfect way to end our last day in the Baja.
As we boarded the boat, we were handed cocktails, which were replenished as often as we wished throughout our evening’s journey. Our first stop after leaving the marina was Lover’s Beach and the El Arco de Cabo San Lucas.
The spot is called Land’s End because it is just that – the end of the Baja Peninsula and the point where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sea of Cortez, also called the Gulf of California. Lover’s Beach, or Playa del Amour, is the beautiful, secluded beach next to the Arch.
After our stop at The Arch, we left the Sea of Cortez and made our way up the Pacific Coast shoreline, with dolphins and sea lions playing in the waters along the way. The crew said whales also could be spotted between late December through March, when the migration brings humpback whales to waters off the shore of Cabo San Lucas.
We continued parallel to the shoreline, passing resorts and mansions high on the hills before we turned and casually headed back toward San Lucas. As we gently glided along, the chefs prepared dinner on the grills along the back of the boat.
Anchoring in the bay outside the marina, we enjoyed a delicious dinner of fajitas, an assortment of side dishes and dessert. Following dinner, we enjoyed a glass of wine and some conversation as the lights from the resorts sparkled along the shore.
Airport: The San Jose Del Cabo International Airport (SJD) is located about 29 miles / 48 km) from Cabo San Lucas and about 8 miles /13 km from San Jose del Cabo. Transportation to the resorts can be arranged via car rental, taxi, shared shuttles or private shuttles.
Currency: The official local currency is the Mexican Peso but U.S. dollars are widely accepted in Cabo.
Power: Cabo San Lucas uses 110v electricity so power adapters from the U.S and Canada are not required.
Language: Spanish is the national language of Mexico, although some amount of English is spoken by most Cabo locals.
Timeshares: Timeshare sales agents are prevalent in Cabo and are tenacious. You will be offered everything from free cab rides to free activities or even cash for attending a presentation. Unless you want to dedicate half of your day to a high-pressure sales presentation, just say no and enjoy your vacation.
There was a period of time when we only went on beach vacations. Our work lives were crazy at the time, so we escaped to an island every couple of months, even if it were only for a few days. Consequently, we visited quite a few sun-kissed spots around the globe, and have continued to do so, even though our travel destinations are now a bit less one-dimensional.
Throughout our journeys to islands located in varying oceans and seas around the world, one has stood the test of time and travels for the top spot on our favorites list – St. Barths. Over the last two decades, we’ve visited the island countless times, from day trips to week-long excursions. We’ve arrived by plane, ferried over by boat, stayed in hotels, rented villas, and watched the sun set while sipping champagne on a boat – ok, it was a small yacht (stay long enough, and these things sometimes happen).
Saint-Barthélemy, typically shortened to St. Barts or St. Barths, is, of course, the tiny gem in the Caribbean known for its celebrity visitors and conspicuous consumption. Like the Côte d’Azur, Bora Bora or Aspen, there’s a reason certain places are frequented by those with ample funds seeking a quiet retreat with posh accommodations and a bit of pampering. Extraordinary resorts and villas, stunning natural beauty, fabulous dining and libations, and the best in shopping usually top the “needs” list for these destinations – and are easily fulfilled in St. Barths.
But, can those not arriving to Gustavia harbor by yacht, still enjoy the 8 square miles of paradise without selling their house in advance to fund the adventure? Yes – it’s still not cheap, but there are a couple of ways to fit it into most travel budgets. Whether you sample the island on a day trip from St. Martin or visit during lower seasons when the hotel rates aren’t quite as outrageous, St. Barths deserves a place on your “where to visit list.”
When to visit St. Barths
As timing is closely linked to prices, your St. Barths’ dollars (yes, they accept U.S. currency) will go quite a bit further at certain times of the year. Of course, there are a few trade-offs for the lower prices – like the possibility of hurricanes.
Mid-November to March
The highest season (i.e., costliest) to visit St. Barths is mid-November to March. Most websites will say December, but in the last few years, it seems to be creeping back to mid-November or at least around Thanksgiving. The weather is perfect during this time, St. Barths is a gorgeous alternative to the cold, and the prices are off the charts.
If want to go around December holidays, plan on booking months in advance for hotels and restaurants and you better have a high limit on your credit card. That said, carnival is really fun in St. Barths. The harbor fills with yachts and the entire island shuts down for a parade.
Day trips are a good bet for saving costs during winter months. While prices are high on all islands when it’s snowing in the northern hemisphere, they are exorbitant in St. Barths. A day trip from nearby from St. Maarten can save thousands of dollars and accomplish many of the same activities – just with you sleeping on a different island.
April and May
April to May is a good time to visit – the rain is only occasional and hotel rates start to drop.
June to late November
Otherwise known in the Caribbean as hurricane season, prices are cheaper, but rain is more likely and your vacation could be interrupted by a hurricane. That said, historically, more hurricanes hit during August to October.
Days of the week
Most shops are closed in Gustavia on Sunday, so if shopping is on your agenda plan accordingly.
Getting to St. Barths
Typically, the first step in getting to St. Barths is to get to St. Martin / St. Maarten, which is about 15 miles away. Numerous flights arrive daily to at Princess Juliana airport (airport code: SXM) from the United States, Europe, South America and other Caribbean islands. Once in St. Maarten (the airport is on the Dutch side of the island), there are two primary methods of getting to St. Barths.
The first is by plane. Small commuter airlines deliver and return passengers daily via the short 10-minute ride between St. Maarten and St. Barths (Airport code: SBH). A little pricey and a bit precarious, the landing at St. Barths can be an adventure unto itself, as the landing strip is short and requires special training for pilots. A few commuter flights are also available from Antigua, St. Thomas and San Juan as well.
The other option is by water, with the most common being the Great Bay Express ferry that leaves from Philipsburg in St. Maarten. Far more economical, the trip takes about 45 minutes, and you don’t have the added time of security and waiting at the airport.
Luggage is no problem – it’s a common method of transportation for travelers between the islands. There are also a few other private charters and smaller ferries running from St. Martin / St. Maarten. For day trippers, the Great Bay Express has an option that leaves in the morning and returns in the evening, providing the option to explore St. Barths without paying the higher hotel rates found on St. Barths.
Upon arrival, whether by plane or boat, passengers must pass through customs. The airport is located at St. Jean and the ferries arrive in Gustavia. Taxis are available at both locations. Car rental locations are located at the airport, so those arriving by ferry and wanting to rent a car, need to cab over to the airport, which is about 5 or 10 minutes away. However, upon your return, most times the rental car company will transport you back to the ferry dock. For those staying on the island, the hotel will typically meet you at your point of arrival and provide transportation to the hotel.
When we first began going to St. Barths, Mini Mokes were prevalent on the island, followed by a period when Smart Cars were all the rage. Now though, everyone primarily gets around by regular cars and scooters.
Things to do in St. Barths
So, for the “Can I really afford St. Barths?” tally – the Great Bay Express is $80 RT from/to St. Maarten per person, a cab from the ferry port to the airport is about $10, and a one day car rental on St. Barths ran us $58 with tax. For our most recent experience, we did a day trip on a Sunday, so many businesses and shops were closed. Many day trippers don’t opt for the car rental – which I think is a mistake, unless you really can’t afford it. The only beach within easy walking distance from Gustavia is Shell Beach, which gets it name for the thousands of tiny shells that cover it. It’s small and nothing to write home about.
With a car, you can explore and, given it’s a tiny island, you can fit quite a bit into your day. Here are a few things that should be on your itinerary for the day….
Bask in the seclusion of Saline Beach
Saline is a stunningly beautiful, long, undeveloped beach with a laid-back, isolated atmosphere. The beach is deep, with plenty of room to find a spot far enough away from the water to not be bothered by those taking a stroll near the water’s edge.
While there is a parking lot at Saline, there are no facilities, so bring water and snacks. From the parking lot, it’s about a five-minute walk up and over the dunes to the beach. Although nudity is technically illegal in St. Barths, topless sunbathing is popular here and full nudity is common, especially on each end of the beach.
Languish over a luxurious lunch at St. Jean
After a morning of reading and relaxing on the pristine sands of Saline, you’ll wan to head to St. Jean for a bit of nourishment.
There are a variety of restaurants available in St. Jean, both across the street and along the beach. From pizza and casual fare to restaurants where the cuisine is only rivaled by the view, St. Jean has a fairly good selection of dining choices. We like to slip into French mode when on the island and enjoy a long, luxurious lunch – and decided to splurge on the experience. One of our long-time, go-to spots is Eden Rock.
A beautiful hotel, Eden Rock is perched on a rock overlooking the turquoise waters of St. Jean Bay. Constructed in the 1950’s, Eden Rock was the first hotel built on the island. Over the last 20 years, the hotel acquired adjacent properties and transformed into one of the most luxurious and diverse on the island with a variety of lodging types including standard rooms, cottages, suites, beach houses, and villas.
We’ve stayed at Eden Rock and it is a beautiful resort in a fabulous location – but on this trip, we just opted for lunch, which set us back $135 + tip for two drinks and two sandwiches. Yep – a little on the insane side of pricing for a fish sandwich. But, we essentially had a few hours at a resort where standard rooms were going for over $1000 per night during the time we visited.
Another beachside dining and drinking option at St. Jean is the famous Nikki Beach. If you plan to go, make reservations ahead of time and anticipate a price tag similar to Eden Rock. If the party scene is your thing, you’ll love it.
Take a walk along St. Jean
All beaches on St. Barths are public and free, so a walk along St. Jean won’t cost you a dime.
Located next to the airport on the Baie de St. Jean, the white sand beach curves around the bay and is home to an array of water activities. Snorkel in the calm waters near the shoreline or head further out for wind-surfing or surfing.
Head over to Gouverneur
After all the activity at St. Jean, it’s good to finish the afternoon with some quiet time on Gouverneur Beach.
More remote, Gouverneur is a beautiful, serene beach with amazing views. Like Saline, Gouverneur can be reached by a paved road, has a parking lot, but does not have any facilities, so bring water, an umbrella and anything you wish to eat. Also like Saline, beach goers may opt for that full tan, going au natural.
The drive to and from Gouverneur also yields some of the most spectacular views from the island, with a photo opportunity around each turn.
Throw back a cold one at Le Select
After dropping off our car at the airport, they brought us back to Gustavia and we decided to take a stroll around town.
The story has it that Jimmy Buffet, a frequent patron of Le Select back in the 1970’s, cut a deal with the establishment’s owner, Marius Stakelborough. In exchange for rights to use the “Cheeseburger in Paradise” line from Buffet’s famous song, Buffet would have his tab covered at the establishment for life. Over the years, Buffet has returned to the corner where thousands have downed a beer and burger, for an impromptu concert or an anniversary party at the bar on the quay, which has been in operation over 60 years. A great spot for people watching and enjoying a cool drink under the shade trees, Le Select is open Monday – Saturday.
Shopping in Gustavia
A duty-free port, Gustavia is home to over 200 boutiques that line three streets in the quant village. While the names of luxury retailers range from Louis Vuitton and Bulgari to Cartier, Hermès and Chopard, many small shops offering beachwear, accessories, and t-shirts can be found as well. The shops are typically closed from noon to three but open again in the late afternoon until 7pm. Most high-end retailers are also closed on Sunday, but a few of the stores offering casual wear and t-shirt open in the late Sunday afternoon hours.
Grab a drink and watch the sun set over the harbor
There are quite a few fabulous places to watch the sun set while on St. Barths, but we are always a fan of grabbing a cocktail and watching the boats return to the harbor as the sky fills with amazing hues of orange and purple.
For those leaving the island, the ferry returns at dusk to whisk you back to St. Maarten. For those staying on, the island changes after sunset. The day trippers leave, the stores close and a quiet settles over the island as visitors enjoy casually elegant dinners, before retiring to their hotel or villa or opting for a little nightlife at one of the late night cocktail bars.
How much did that day in St. Barths cost?
Let’s tally up our one day in St. Barths. Even with our splurge lunch, we spent just over $400 for the two of us. If we had opted for a not-on-the beach pizza for lunch, we could have easily cut it to $300. On the other hand, as it was high-season, if we had stayed on the island even one night, it would have run well over $1000. So, for us, an enjoyable day on one of our favorite islands for a couple of hundred bucks a piece was well worth it.
Disclosure & Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Each time we fly into Puerto Rico, I marvel at how green it is. On approach, huge green hills suddenly appear out of the miles and miles of blue ocean. While we’d been to Puerto Rico many times, we’d never ventured outside of San Juan, typically staying in Old San Juan for a day or so in route to another Caribbean island.
This time was different, as we were heading to Fajardo on the eastern coast of the island and our destination was the El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort.
El Conquistador, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
A huge resort on a 300-foot bluff above the ocean, El Conquistador has it all: 23 restaurants, bars and cafés, a private water park, 7 pools, a spa, a golf course, a private island, shops, and five areas of hotel rooms across the El Conquistador, and the adjacent sister property, Las Casitas Village.
El Conquistador Resort: Getting there
We took advantage of the hotel’s shuttle from the airport ($78 pp roundtrip, reservations required). It saved us the car rental, the parking fee at the hotel and greatly simplified our arrival and departure. Since the resort is about an hour away from the hotel, we didn’t have to navigate across the island and, once we arrived at the hotel, we didn’t think about leaving once during our three day stay. However, if you want to venture out, car rentals are available at the hotel, in addition to day tour excursions.
We had an ocean view room in the Las Vistas wing, near the golf course & spa. Accented with tropical touches, the large, well-appointed room included a couch, desk, large flat-panel TV and refrigerator.
The bath also was large, with a nice sized closet and a large safe.
From watching the resort quietly spring into action each morning as the sun began to rise, to the bustling activity at the main pool complex throughout the day, the view was spectacular.
El Conquistador Resort Puerto Rico: The resort
Strolling around the sprawling resort’s 500 acres is an activity in and of itself, with a different, stunning view waiting around every corner. Leading to the back of the resort, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet, the boutique-lined Promenade level walkway provides amazing photo opportunities.
At the end of the promenade, a tram provides easy access to La Marina Village, where additional rooms, shops, restaurants, the water park and access to the ferry to Palomino Island are located.
Not a resort that shuts down with the sun, the seven pools are open 24 hours a day.
El Conquistador: Activities
A short, ten-minute ride across waters once sailed by Spanish conquistadors, the resort’s private island, Palomino Island, awaits with a wide variety of activities.
Even the ride on the boats over to the island is a big adventure for children staying at the resort. Overheard on one of ferry rides to the island – the little girl sitting in front of us asked her mother, “So, where are the fairies?”
From an array of water sports to horseback riding to shopping, or relaxing on the beach with a beverage in hand, Palomino Island is one of the resort’s most popular attractions.
Coqui Water Park
Located at La Marina Village, Coqui Water Park is 2.4 acres of water adventures.
Named after Puerto Rico’s Coqui frogs, whose loud mating call can be heard each night, the Coqui Water Park has slides, a lazy river, pools, a restaurant & bar, and other fun activities, such as getting a temporary tattoo. Appropriately, I got a coqui frog (it lasted a little over a week).
Arthur Hills Golf Course
Designed by Arthur Hills, the El Conquistador golf course is an 18 hole, par 72 course with rolling terrain and beautiful rainforest views.
Want to improve your game while in paradise? Get in some practice at the three-tier driving range, improve your short game at the putting green and chipping area or take a private lesson from a PGA instructor. Equipment rentals and golf attire are available at the Golf & Tennis Pro Shop.
Game, set, match. El Conquistador has seven tennis courts, four clay and three hard surface, for guests to enjoy. Equipment rentals and private lessons are available through the Golf & Tennis Pro Shop.
Waldorf Astoria Spa
Achieve tranquility and rejuvenation at the Waldorf Astoria Spa, which offers a wide range of spa treatments and packages, a traditional Japanese bath, and a fitness center. Located next to the spa, the Spa Labyrinth invites guests to take an introspective journey “to the balanced centered part of ourselves, leading us to peace and inner knowledge.”
El Conquistador: The restaurants, bars, and cafés
With 23 restaurants, bars and cafés ranging from casual to elegant, there’s something for everyone and every taste. Our favorites…
Café Bella Vista. We ate at Café Bella Vista the night we arrived and returned multiple times. Excellent service by Ramón and the shrimp mofongo was amazing.
Starbucks. Located in the main lobby and one of the more economical spots at the resort, it was great to be able to pick up a chai in the morning or stop by for a cappuccino.
Las Brisas Restaurant. Albeit a bit pricey, Las Brisas serves an amazing breakfast buffet with a huge assortment of foods from hot to cold.
The Bar at Chops Steakhouse. Always fans of eating at bars in upscale restaurants, we thoroughly enjoyed an evening at Chops. For beverages, the Lemongrass Drop (vodka, St. Germain, lemongrass syrup, fresh lemon juice, pineapple juice and mint leaves) and the Secret Kiss, basically a French Kiss with vodka, Chambord, and pineapple juice) were divine. The lobster bisque is killer and, of course the Waldorf Salad is a must. Great service and grown-up atmosphere.
El Conquistador: Nearby things to do
The only rain forest in the U.S. National Forest Service, El Yunque Rain Forest has 24 miles of hiking trails, allowing visitors to explore the exceptionally diverse forest with hundreds of plant and animal species.
Camuy River Cave Park, is one of the largest cave systems in the world. The network of limestone caves features an underground river, the Río Camuy.
One of Puerto Rico’s three Bioluminescent Bays is located near Fajardo. A Bio Bay contains micro-organisms which glow in the dark, emitting a blue light, when agitated. Kayak tours to observe the phenomenon are available most evenings.
Know before you go
Puerto Rico is a U.S Commonwealth. The currency is the U.S. dollar and U.S citizens do not need a passport.
El Conquistador is very family-oriented. With the water park and many children’s activities, El Conquistador is great for families.
WiFi. Internet access is available throughout the resort and is included in the resort fee.
Disclosure & disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own.We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
The island of Bonaire is known for diving and, even though we’ve been to the Caribbean upwards of 30 or 40 times, we don’t dive so we’d never been to Bonaire. But, this year, we wanted to check it out and see what the island had to offer.
Known as one of the top spots in the world for diving, Bonaire is a paradise for those seeking to explore the colorful kaleidoscope that lives below the sea. For years, we’ve wondered if the “B” in the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) was worth a visit for non-divers.
The answer – if you like a relaxed island with 22 quiet beaches, turquoise waters, fabulous resorts, and so many activities you can’t fit them all in during your visit – then, yes, Bonaire is a true resort vacation destination – above and below the water.
A Bonaire resort vacation
We believe that the perfect resort vacation should include a fabulous hotel, some beach time, a bit of island exploration, a few local activities, and, of course, some island flavors in the form of food and drinks. Here’s how we put our Bonaire resort vacation together.
Bonaire: Where to stay
Bonaire has a wide selection of hotel options, ranging from locations offering an intimate retreat to world-class resorts with full amenities. For our Bonaire resort vacation getaway, we stayed at the upper end of the luxury scale with a visit to the Harbour Village Beach Club.
Situated on a private beach of powder white sand, Harbour Village Beach Club is the definition of beach resort vacation with luxury rooms and suites, a great restaurant and bar overlooking the water, a spa, marina, an attentive staff, and a long, private beach.
While it was quite tempting to laze away under the blue skies and warm Caribbean sun, we also wanted to fully experience Bonaire while on the island, so we pulled ourselves out of our beach chairs and headed out for a few cool adventures.
There’s no shortage of things to do on Bonaire – hiking, biking, horseback riding, sailing, snorkeling, canoeing, and, of course, diving.
Swimming with horses at Rancho Washikemba
Neither of us had ever ridden a horse before (yeah, who would have figured), so we decided a first-time horse riding experience on a Caribbean island was a good place to start.
Always a fan of sailing, we next headed to Compass Bonaire for an afternoon sail and sunset dinner cruise.
Captain Wim and his crew entertain guests with an open bar, snorkeling, a delicious BBQ dinner and a beautiful Bonaire sunset. A sail with Compass Bonaire is not to be missed while visiting the island!
After a leisurely breakfast, we set out on a drive to explore Bonaire.
To the north of the capital city of Kralendijk is a winding road along the coastline with numerous spots to park and take a short hike down to the water.
The clear waters provide ample opportunity to view a vast assortment of the colorful fish in the warm Caribbean.
At the northern end of the island is Washington Slagbaai National Park and Brandaris, the highest peak on Bonaire at 241m / 784 ft, which provides beautiful views of the island. With multiple trails for hiking and mountain biking, Washington Slagbaai National Park has a wide variety of terrain ranging from flat roads near the coast to steep, rugged hills. Not for the faint of heart or out-of-shape, the temperatures can get very hot in the exposed environment and require lots of water and sunscreen.
Thousands of donkeys roam freely on the island of Bonaire. Originally brought to the island by the Spaniards in the 17 century to perform labor, the donkeys must fare for themselves, which can be difficult with many facing starvation, dehydration and the threat of being hit by cars.
When driving in Bonaire, be sure and use caution as you may round a curve only to find a couple of donkeys standing in the road. If you stop and roll down the window, don’t be surprised if they stick their head in the car – many are very accustomed to people, others are much shyer and may run to hide.
Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire has rescued over 600 donkeys and a visit to the sanctuary, which is located south of the airport, is a great way to spend a few hours up close with the donkeys, along with iguanas and tortoises. The sanctuary is open daily and can be toured by car, scooter, bike or on foot.
In addition to donkeys, iguanas, goats, and other animals that call the island home can be seen scurrying across the road, so stay alert and keep your speed low when driving.
On the east side of the island at Bara di Karta, several hiking and biking trails offer the chance to explore the rugged side of Bonaire. Like other trails on the island, the trails are very exposed and can take a toll in the hot sun, so early mornings with a good amount of water and sunscreen are a must.
Flamingos can be spotted around the island and, on the south side of the island, The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is one of only four areas in the world where flamingos breed.
Near the salt pans, the water appears pink from the many brine shrimp in the water. The brine shrimp are the flamingo’s meal of choice and are what gives flamingos their pink color.
The Pekelmeer Flamingo Sanctuary is home to thousand flamingos, but unfortunately, most of them cannot be seen from the road and the sanctuary is not open to the public. However, a few wandering flamingos may make their way to viewing distance on occasion.
Further down the road from the salt pans, are several groups of small, structures – one set yellow, one white, pinkish/red. We couldn’t figure out what these little buildings were for – they are near the sea turtle breeding beaches, so we thought maybe they’d built them for that.
When we returned to the hotel that evening, we asked the bartender, and he had one of the staff that had lived on the island his entire life tell us the history. The structures were slave houses. Five or ten people would call this “home” while they worked at the salt pans. Once a week, they would be allowed to walk to home to Rincon, about 35 km away, to see their families. The slaves, the majority of them government “owned”, were freed on 30 September 1862.
Just a bit further down the road at the southern end of the island stands a beautiful lighthouse, Willemstoren, also known as Lacre Punt Light, which was built in 1837.
Visiting Klein Bonaire
Klein Bonaire is an uninhabited island just off the west side of Bonaire and home to many snorkeling and diving sites. Klein Bonaire is about 800 meters / 1/2 mile from Bonaire at its closest point and can be accessed via boat, water taxi, sailing tours or kayak. As part of the Bonaire National Marine Park, Klein Bonaire is protected and subject to the park’s fees, rules, and usage regulations.
Bonaire: Know before you go
Languages: The official language is Dutch. English and Spanish are widely spoken on the island.
Climate: Bonaire’s average temperature is 83º F /30º C, with the trade winds keeping it quite comfortable. The average water temperature is 80° F. Located so close to the equator, the sun is very strong and sunscreen with a high SPF should be worn and reapplied frequently.
Currency: The U.S. dollar is Bonaire’s official currency.
Electricity: 127 volt, 50 cycle.
Rental cars and driving: Multiple car rental companies are located at the airport. Driving in Bonaire is on the right side of the road.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
When it’s time to relax and recharge, a fabulous resort is unquestionably needed. A resort that is tranquil, with an incredible ocean view and a quiet, private beach.
A resort with a full menu of spa services to truly get pampered.
A resort with spacious, luxurious rooms and suites that beckon you to stop, unwind and enjoy.
A resort with a tropical paradise for leisurely strolls.
And, just in case you decide to get out of that beach chair or hammock, a resort on a casual, friendly island that has plenty of things to do.
We found it…
Harbour Village Beach Club in Bonaire
When visiting an island, the resort can make or break your experience and, in this case, we credit Harbour Village with causing us to recently fall in love with Bonaire. Having been to Aruba or Curacao multiple times before, we’d never been to Bonaire and jumped at the chance when we were invited to explore a new Dutch Caribbean island and a luxury resort.
The top resort on Bonaire, the Harbour Village is filled with lush greenery and flowers and has a long, serene beach, all the amenities you could ever want or need, a fabulous restaurant and bar, and an attentive staff.
Our suite in paradise
Our premier, oceanfront one bedroom suite was a huge, well-appointed apartment with a balcony overlooking the beach. It was simply outstanding.
A romantic, netting-draped king size bed took center stage in the majestic bedroom retreat. With two closets, a desk, comfortable chair and ottoman, and a flat-screen TV, the bedroom was spacious, relaxing and well-equipped.
The bath was huge with a large standalone shower with rainfall head, granite double vanity and a claw-footed tub that was perfect for leisurely bubble baths.
With a stunning beach view, the living room was decorated with upscale Caribbean furnishings, including a couch, overstuffed chair and ottoman, dining table, and a cabinet housing another flat screen television. Sliding doors lead from the living room to a table and chairs on our private balcony overlooking the ocean.
A fully-equipped kitchen with Bosch appliances and a full-sized refrigerator was more than ample to prepare a meal or snack and also contained a Nespresso coffee maker.
We like to explore a hotel upon arrival and set out for a walk around Harbour Village’s four acres of grounds.
As the palm trees swayed and the ocean breeze cooled the afternoon, we strolled along the beach. Tranquil and serene, the private beach runs the length of the property, with La Balandra, the resort’s restaurant, on one end of the beach and Great Escapes, the resort’s water sports and dive center, on the opposite end.
Continuing to wander, we located the main swimming pool and then moved on to the hotel’s courtyards with their fountains, benches and lush landscaping. Every pathway was lined with meticulously maintained plants and flowers as we wound our way throughout the resort.
Located on the inner side of the resort, the Harbour Village Marina has 60 boat slips or docks for yachts and is a fun spot to sit and watch the marina activities.
Styled like a ship, the resort’s bar and restaurant, La Balandra, overlooks the water and beach and serves great food and drinks. While at Harbour Village, we dined in the restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and had drinks in the bar on numerous occasions. The food was excellent and the staff was helpful and friendly.
How fresh was the catch of the day? Each morning during breakfast we’d learn what the fish for the daily special would be as it arrived and the chef would make his selection.
When evening rolled around, we’d return to La Balandra to discover how the daily special had been prepared and enjoy the delicacy by candlelight next to the sound of the waves gently lapping on the shore beside us.
Things to do
Bonaire is watersports paradise and Harbour Village operates a water activities center on the property called Great Adventures Bonaire. A PADI, five-star Instructor Development dive center, Great Adventures offers an array of dive services as well as snorkeling equipment, underwater camera rentals, air-tank filling, kayaks, paddle boards and other related gear.
A day at the spa is a necessity to reach full rejuvenation and The Spa at Harbour Village offers a full menu of massage and salon treatments.
Bird, fish, and animal watching
While Bonaire’s underwater world is truly spectacular, for those that would prefer to experience Bonaire with a Piña Colada in hand, a vast assortment of fish, birds, and animals can be seen above ground at the resort – and many from a chair at the bar.
The level of service, the quality of the accommodations and hotel amenities, and the tranquil environment easily make Harbour Village Beach Club the only place to stay in Bonaire. The resort is a secluded paradise and, whether you dive or not, is a not-to-be-missed destination on its own.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Harbour Village for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
A favorite destination for visitors worldwide, St Maarten / St Martin is the smallest land space in the world shared by two countries.
Discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on Nov 11, St. Martin Day, Columbus named the island Isla de San Martín. During a time of frequent battles over colonial holdings by European nations, both the French and the Dutch found themselves occupying St Maarten / St Martin by the middle of the 1600s. How did the two countries end up sharing the 37 square mile island?
The Legend of the St Maarten / St Martin Border
According to legend, about 350 years ago, the French and the Dutch decided to draw a border between the two countries on the island they had chosen to share. To do so, they would hold a race by two men to determine where the border would be drawn.
Starting at the same point on the island, the French would walk north along the coastline and the Dutch would follow the coast to the south. When they met again after walking around the island, the two countries would draw a line across the island from the starting and end points, which would become the border.
Before departing, each group selected a beverage symbolic with their culture, with the French selecting wine and the Dutch selecting gin. Apparently, the wine had less of an effect on the performance of the French as the gin did on the Dutch, with the French ending up with 2/3 of the territory when the land grab race was finished.
The Treaty of Concordia, the oldest international treaty still in existence, made it official, with both sides agreeing to coexistence and the ability to move freely between the two sides. While the border survives to this day, it is only noted by a sign when crossing, with people moving freely between the two sides with no immigration or customs checkpoints.
St Maarten: The Dutch side
The most Caribbean of the two sides, and definitely the more American-influenced, Sint Maarten, or St Maarten, became an independent country on 10 October 2010 but is still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
St Maarten’s capital of Philipsburg is a bustling city located on the Great Bay, a huge harbor that is also a point of call for many of the cruise ships sailing in the Caribbean. Home to many duty-free shops along Front Street, Philipsburg is also situated on one of the longest beaches on the island, Great Bay Beach. With numerous bars, restaurants, and beach facilities, Great Bay Beach is a popular choice for visitors arriving via cruise ship.
Also located within walking distance of Philipsburg and the cruise ship port is Bobby’s Marina.
A busy marina with a mini-mart, restaurants and shops, Bobby’s Marina is a departure point for boat charters and several day excursions, including the Great Express ferry to St Barths and the popular 12 Metre Sailing Regatta.
For evening entertainment, numerous casinos and nightclubs can be found throughout the Dutch side of the island, keeping the Caribbean beat and the party going into the wee hours of the morning.
The island’s interior is a mix of small towns, shopping areas, fast food restaurants, and businesses, networked together by good roads that wind through the hilly, green countryside. Although easy to navigate by car, allow extra time for traffic – at times it can take a good while to get a short distance on the busy, little island.
The main airport for St Maarten / St Martin, Princess Juliana Airport, is located north of Philipsburg near the popular Maho Beach area. The airport is known for its low-flying jet landings just above the on-looking beachgoers.
Simpson Bay, the Caribbean’s largest lagoon, is a major port for mega-yachts and sailboat charters. Landlocked, the Simpson Bay Bridge, Simpson Bay Causeway Bridge and Sandy Ground Bridge provide access to Simpson Bay with drawbridge openings up to six times per day.
On the eastern side of the island, Oyster Pond is a marina situated directly on the Dutch-French border and was the starting point of the walk establishing the borders over three years ago. A laid-back area with restaurants, hotels, and charters leaving from the Oyster Pond Marina, Oyster Pond is a great place for a lunch or afternoon break while exploring the island.
St Martin: The French side
In 2007, St Martin was separated from the overseas department of Guadeloupe and established as one of France’s overseas collectivities. St Martin is a part of the European Union.
Sitting on a hill above the capital city of Marigot, Fort Louis was built in 1789 to guard the stores of goods, such as salt and rum, that were traded from the Marigot Bay harbor.
Marigot’s harbor, which was the location of the finale of the 1997 Sandra Bullock movie, Speed II Cruise Control, is now a busy port with yachts, boats, and charters and ferries to Anguilla and other nearby islands – but, no cruise ship traffic.
The absence of the daily influx of cruise ship tourists gives Marigot its slightly quieter atmosphere than Philipsburg, although it is still a lively city filled with shops, a market, restaurants, and businesses.
With a French-Mediterranean slant to its Caribbean culture, Marigot and the French side of the island has a more reserved feel than its neighbor’s Caribbean party vibe.
To the east of Marigot is Grand Case, the culinary nucleus of the island. Referred to as the “Gourmet Capital of the Caribbean,” Grand Case’s row of restaurants are located steps from the sea, where the freshest of gourmet seafood can be enjoyed.
A quiet gem on the northeast tip of the island, Anse Marcel is home to a resort and marina. On a day spent roaming around the island, Anse Marcel is an excellent lunch spot with a fabulous view across the waters to the island of Anguilla.
Two beautiful spots for photographs are located near Anse Marcel. The first is at the top of the hill near Anse Marcel (there’s a place to turn off and park).
The second photo opportunity is to the south of Orient Beach, north of Oyster Pond, at the Mambo Snack Bar, where there’s an elevated platform for shots to both the north and south.
Where to stay in St Maarten / St Martin
With accommodation options including hotels of all sizes and styles, large resorts, and private villas, finding the right place for your St Maarten / St Martin stay can be a bit overwhelming. Finding a good resort in a good location can add hours of enjoyable time to your vacation, allowing for day trip adventures around the island, but not requiring you to leave the resort every day.
An all-inclusive resort also allows for unlimited food and drink, making vacation budget planning a much easier activity. The key to a good all-inclusive hotel is to find a resort with plenty of food and bar options. The Sonesta hotels on St Maarten are an excellent solution for a St Maarten / St Martin stay.
The Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort is located on the beautiful Great Bay, just a short walk to Philipsburg. With four bars, four restaurants and the ability to visit the sister all-inclusive resort, Sonesta Maho Beach Resort, and utilize the pools, restaurants, and bars there as well.
St Maarten / St Martin beaches
Containing 37 beaches on its 37 square miles, there’s a beach or two or three on the island for any mood.
Want to take a long walk on the beach? Orient Beach on the French side is two miles long and Great Bay Beach is over a mile of white sand luxury on the Dutch side.
Not feeling like donning swimwear for the day? Orient has its very famous nude section and the cave and rock formations at the small, secluded Cupecoy Beach are also frequented by those seeking a full tan, however, topless sunbathing can be found on many of the island’s beaches (although not at most resorts).
Looking for a great beach bar? Stop by Sunset Bar and Grill at Maho Beach and watch the planes land at the airport while sipping a daiquiri or beer.
Want to play in the water? Many beaches have water sports providers offering snorkeling, scuba diving, kitesurfing, jet skiing, body boarding, windsurfing, water skiing, stand-up paddleboarding and more.
St Maarten / St Martin land activities
In addition to beach activities throughout the island, St Maarten / St Martin has numerous land activities as well.
Shop for fruits, vegetables, spices, crafts and local goods every day except Sunday at the Marigot Market.
A hike or drive up to St Martin’s highest point, Pic Paradis, provides panoramic views of the island. At the foot of Pic Paradis, stop by Loterie Farm, a nature reserve with a cafe, bars, swimming pools, hiking, and zip-lining.
Take a tropical walk through a rainforest as butterflies from around the world fly about freely at the Butterfly Farm.
For some off-road fun, take an ATV quad tour to explore the island in the open air. Be sure to bring sunscreen and, with St Maarten / St Martin’s traffic, an ATV tour will provide a safer, more enjoyable adventure than renting on your own.
Know before you go
Languages: English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento
Currency: US Dollar, Netherlands Antilles Guilder or Florin (NAF), and the Euro
Driving: On the right. Use caution, as goats, iguanas and other animals roam freely on the island.
Airports: Princess Juliana Airport (Dutch side) and L’Esperance Airport, Grand Case which is mostly used for inter-island destinations
Electricity: Dutch Side: 110 Volt / 60 Hz, French Side: 220 Volt / 60 Hz
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As I gazed out over St Maarten‘s Great Bay upon our arrival at the Sonesta’s Great Bay Beach Resort, I simply thought, “I can’t believe it’s been a decade since we’ve been to this beautiful island.”
With high hopes for a weekend on an island that had captured our hearts years before, we cooled off upon arrival with the welcome towels and glasses of champagne with which the hotel staff had welcomed us. Having been invited to check out the Sonesta Great Bay while we were in St Maarten, this was our first time visiting the resort and things were definitely off to a great start.
The Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort
Located within walking distance to Philipsburg on the Dutch side of St Maarten / St Martin, the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort is an all-inclusive resort with spectacular views, fabulous food, and an amazing staff.
An escape unto itself, the Great Bay Beach Resort has three pools, a grand beach, a spa, a casino, four restaurants, four bars, activities throughout the day and evening and loads of comfortable seating throughout the hotel to find a quiet spot with a glass of wine and simply take it all in.
The hotel has two buildings, The Flamboyant and the Miramar – each with a different feel, but both with stunning views.
We stayed in the smaller, quieter Miramar building. A peaceful retreat from the Caribbean action, the room was large, with a big, comfortable bed covered in pristine, white linens. Eyeing the two big comfy chairs, we grabbed a couple of beers from the stocked refrigerator (replenished each day) and relaxed for a few minutes.
The large bathroom had a corner tub and shower, Gilchrist & Soames toiletries, and plenty of fluffy, white towels.
Stepping outside to our patio, with its teak table and chairs, the beautiful expanse of the calm, turquoise waters of Great Bay once again sprang into view.
Each level of the Miramar building has a large terrace with lounge chairs – a perfect place for reading, catching some sun, and watching the cruise ships as they come and go from the St Maarten cruise port across the harbor. On the first level, accessed by stairs from the other levels, is a quiet pool and hot tub.
We next decided to explore the hotel and headed over to the Flamboyant building to check it out. Located on the other side of the lobby, it is the largest of the buildings, with both island view and ocean view rooms. More bustling than the Miramar, the Flamboyant building is situated directly above the two main pools and beach.
Reaching around the water from the hotel to Philipsburg, where it is lined with shops, restaurants, and bars, Great Bay Beach is one of the longest on the island.
Heading down to the first floor, we located the Serenity Spa. Offering a wide selection of relaxing and therapeutic options, services range from specialty massages to pedicures.
Next door, we stopped by the gift shop, where you can find just about anything you may need, then headed out to the pools just in time for a spectacular St Maarten sunset.
The restaurants and bars
From casual dining to buffets to à la carte menus, Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort has something to satisfy every taste from breakfast to lunch, to dinner and snacks in between. And – it’s all included!
Any day that begins with a smiling face and the question, “Would you like a Mimosa or a Bloody Mary?” is my kind of day.
Breakfast is a massive buffet spread at the Bay View Restaurant with fresh fruits, pastries, really good croissants, meats, cheeses, juices, custom omelets and made-to-order pancakes.
For lunch and munching throughout the day, choices are available all over the hotel from pizza to à la carte to the lunch buffet at Bay View.
Cocktail time! The Great Bay Beach Resort bars are pouring all day, evening, and night. As a Stoli girl, you can imagine my sheer joy when we sidled up to the lobby bar and behold, the choices were abundant, including multiple flavors of my favorite clear beverage.
As the sun headed toward the horizon, the staff kicked into high gear at both Il Pescatore Seafood Restaurant and the Bay View Restaurant.
Both choices are amazing. From à la carte seafood delicacies at Il Pescatore to another lavish display of goodness served against a backdrop of the twinkling lights of St Maarten, the food is fabulous and the service, beyond stellar.
After dinner, coffee and a nightcap, if a bit of time spent playing some games of chance strikes your fancy, then a stop at The Golden Casino should be on the agenda. Located in the hotel lobby, the Golden Casino has over 110 slot machines, electronic blackjack, 3 card poker, ultimate Texas hold’em and roulette machines.
The Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort staff
Our hopes for a fabulous St Maarten weekend were fully realized at the Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort – a fun, vibrant hotel with stunning views, fabulous food & drink and most of all, one of the best hotel staff we’ve met.
We met guests that have returned to Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort for decades and it is understandable. From Vicky and Edrick to Alexandre, to Rosalie, Rolf and the entire hotel team, everyone was helpful, polite, and always had a smile on their face – which turns a good hotel stay into a great and memorable one.
We can’t wait to return – and, this time we won’t wait a decade to come back!
Location: 19 Little Bay Road, PO Box 910, Philipsburg, St Maarten
Design: Contemporary Caribbean
Rooms: 257 guest rooms and suites, 205 in the Flamboyant building and 52 in the Miramar building
Room amenities: Private balcony or terrace with table and chairs, Flat screen TV with US & international satellite channels, Direct dial telephone, Air-conditioning, Iron and ironing board, Coffee maker with coffee and tea, In-room safe, Radio/alarm clock, Hairdryer, Mini-fridge with water, beer and sodas (highest room categories also have spirits and beer)
Toiletries: Gilchrist & Soames
Hotel amenities: Champagne and cold towel check-in, Full breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks each day in any of the resort’s restaurants, Unlimited international and domestic premium beer, wine and spirits, fruit drinks and soft drinks in all bars, including the swim-up pool bar, Weekly manager’s cocktail party and beach dinner party, Fitness center, Guest pass to Sonesta Maho Beach Resort with complimentary use of our sister resort’s facilities, restaurants, bars and lounges, Optional butler service
Activities: Three swimming pools and beach, The Golden Casino, Scheduled daytime activities like aerobics, bocce ball, billiards, board games, darts, ping-pong, snorkeling, tennis and water aerobics; Nightly theme parties, live entertainment, and outdoor movies, Staffed tour desk, Duty-free shopping in nearby Philipsburg
Spa: Services include guavaberry and sugar body scrub, Sint Maarten island flow massage, Thermal stamp massage, Hanakasumi foot massage and more.
Restaurants & bars: Bay View Restaurant, Il Pescatore Seafood Restaurant, Pizzeria Capri, Water’s Edge Restaurant, Anchor Swim-Up Bar, Bay View Bar, Lobby Bar, The Living Room Bar & Lounge
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Sonesta Great Bay Beach Resort for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
Gliding through the waters aboard a catamaran watching the golds and oranges fill the sky is about as perfect an ending to a day in Aruba as one can experience.
The heat gives way to a cool sundown breeze and the lights in the hotels along Palm Beach and Eagle Beach twinkle against the dusk sky. Clouds turn pink and yellow, matching the rum punch in your hand.
As the catamaran gently cuts through the water, the romance and relaxation of an evening at sea quietly encapsulate the boat as the day’s rays slowly disappear on the horizon.
Red Sail Sports Aruba Sunset Sail
If I were to advise someone headed to Aruba on one not-to-be-missed activity to experience, it would be a sunset sail.
Always a fan of a boat ride with an open bar, watching the day wind down on a sunset cruise is both a beautiful and fun experience. And, our Aruban adventure outfitter of choice has long been Red Sail Sports Aruba.
Our typical Red Sail Sports Aruba Sunset Sail begins with a happy hour drink on the pier near the Hyatt where the boat departs.
Even if you aren’t sailing, this is a great spot to enjoy a happy hour beverage and watch the dive boats return and the crew set up the catamaran for the evening sail.
When it was time to sail, we boarded the boat with the assistance of the crew. Our hosts for the evening were Firstmates Randy Commenencia and Gerald Nicolaas.
After some boat safety instructions, the bar opened, and Captain Darcy expertly maneuvered the catamaran away from the pier.
The sails went up and off we went over the waters toward the waning sun.
One of the nicest parts of choosing a provider with a large catamaran is that there’s plenty of room for couples and small groups to find a spot on the boat and enjoy the stunning views.
In addition to pouring tasty libations, Firstmate Gerald periodically distributed an assortment of appetizers, stopping to chat with passengers as he did so.
As we reached the end of Eagle Beach, the sun was beginning to mellow.
By the time we neared the Aruba cruise port, it was nearly gone.
Under a moonlit sky, we turned to head back.
As darkness surrounded us and we sailed back to the pier, the music cranked up, the drinks continued to pour, and the dancing began, where Firstmate Randy showed us some of his moves on the dance floor.
The entire two-hour sail was perfect thanks to the beautiful surroundings, the large, clean Red Sail Sports catamaran, and the excellent crew.
Sunset Sails last 2 hours and are available on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.
Red Sail Sports Aruba
Having provided water and land-based adventures to thousands of visitors for over 25 years, Red Sail Sports is the most experienced tour company on the island, with a wide selection of activities available from the adventurous to the relaxing.
In addition to the Sunset Sail, Red Sail Aruba offers…
Dive excursions for all skill levels, from beginner to expert, that provide opportunities to explore Aruba’s best dive locations. Red Sail Sports Aruba is a PADI 5 Star Dive Resort and operates dive programs aboard three custom-designed dive boats and, in addition to diving excursions, offers diving courses and night drives.
Catamaran sailing options that include snorkeling and dinner sails along Aruba’s beautiful coastline. Sails include hors-d’oeuvres, beverages and snorkeling equipment, where applicable.
Hoverboard – a surf board that is attached to a jetski that propels the hoverboard above the water’s surface. Operated by Red Sail Sports’ Hoverboard Certified Instructors, who communicate with hoverboard riders from the jetski during their ride. Some participant restrictions apply.
JETLEV – a water-propelled Jetpack, enabling riders to fly over the ocean up to 30 feet above the water. A flight assistant accompanies each JETLEV participant and some restrictions apply.
ATV Tours that explore Aruba’s north coast off-road in the open air with numerous stops on the rugged back roads.
Beach Tennis combines tennis, badminton and beach volleyball with players using purposely built paddles and a slightly depressurized tennis ball. Both court reservations and lessons are available through Red Sail Sports.
A variety of Jeep Safaris are offered in four-wheel drive Land Rovers to various points around the island.
Tour Fofoti and Tour Kini Kini each provide an opportunity to explore Aruba in the comfort of an air-conditioned tour bus. Tour Kini Kini runs daily and Tour Fofoti is offered on Fridays.
Deep Sea Fishing excursions provide those wanting a chance to catch Tuna, Blue Marlin, Wahoo, Barracuda, Shark and Sail Fish a perfect day of fishing on the beautiful Aruba waters with a captain who knows where to find the biggest catches.
Learn Kite Surfing or Windsurfing in one of the best spots in the world. Aruba’s winds combined with the flat waters at Fisherman’s Huts. Swimming capability is required.
Hop on the Kukoo Kunuku buses for a pub crawl or dinner and nightlife tour aboard the colorful party buses.
Mountain Biking in Aruba aboard Trek aluminum frame mountain bikes with front shock suspension. Helmet, non-alcoholic beverages and light snacks are included with the tour.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Red Sail Sports for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
We love boutique hotels done well. The seclusion, the personality, the charm – a great boutique hotel turns a hotel stay into a unique experience.
But, it’s funny, we haven’t found many good boutique hotels in the islands. We’ve found them in the French countryside, in small towns in Belgium, in ocean side getaways in California – but not in the Caribbean.
That changed recently when we arrived at the Boardwalk Small Hotel in Aruba – a boutique hotel that gets it so right. We’ve been to Aruba countless times and have stayed in most of the high-rises along Palm Beach. They are very nice, and Palm Beach in Aruba is one of the prettiest beaches on the planet, but it can be so touristy and busy.
The last time we came to Aruba we rented a private house. With a pool, palapas, and tons of room – it was pleasant but very isolated. This time we were looking for something secluded and relaxing – but still close to the beach, the restaurants, and the casinos. So, when Boardwalk Aruba asked us to stay with them, we decided it sounded just like what we were looking for and – it exceeded our expectations. Here’s why…
A boutique hotel with a fabulous location in Aruba
Located across the street from the Ritz Carlton, the Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba is tucked away on a former coconut plantation that is lush, quiet and casual and only a three-minute walk to the beach.
An oasis in the midst of the most desirable area of Aruba, we were instantly in love with the little jewel. As the wind rustled through the trees, the bright play of tropical colors served as a cheerful invitation to relax and enjoy the peaceful surroundings at the Boardwalk.
With 14 studio, one or two bedroom casitas, or apartments, the hotel is small enough to be charming but large enough to support hotel features – like maid service, breakfast delivered to your room, and a pool.
Our tropical casita
Upon entering our one bedroom casita, we both said the same thing – “It’s immaculate!” As 100+ nighters per year in hotels, we’ve seen the gamut of cleanliness from good to, well not so much, and the Boardwalk was the most pristine of them all.
A beautiful combination of bright whites and warm colors, the decor is the definition of a tropical oasis. From the comfy, rattan couches to the plush, white bed linens on the cushy bed, every inch of the casita was well-thought out. The fully equipped kitchen included a microwave oven, blender, toaster, coffeemaker, and, inside the fridge was the most amazing iced tea.
The bath was quite large with a walk-in rain shower, vessel sink, Aruba Aloe toiletries, and tons of storage.
It’s in the details
As we continued to explore and discover, we found a cooler to take to the beach – and if we wanted, the hotel had snorkeling gear and beach chairs we could borrow. Additionally, fresh beach towels are delivered daily to your casita.
If heading to Palm Beach, Boardwalk Aruba hotel guests have free access to Moomba Beach Club, which includes the use of lounge chairs and discounts on the restaurant’s food offerings.
Then there’s the Treasure Box.
Filled with suggestions for the best things to do in Aruba, the Treasure Box highlights activities and dining recommendations on the island. Each tip described in detail on laminated cards ranging from restaurants to yoga to beach tips.
With a bottle of wine in hand and a couple of glasses from the kitchen, we next headed outside to our private patio with a hammock and teak patio furniture.
One of the Boardwalk’s cats came by to say hello and, as we enjoyed the setting sun, the smoky fragrance of our neighbor’s barbecue was quite enticing. In addition to the full kitchen, each casita is equipped with a charcoal BBQ but we decided to just head across the street and enjoy a dinner at the Marriott, located next to the Ritz.
Arriving back at the hotel, we took a last stroll by the pool before turning in for the night.
The best breakfast in Aruba
After a fabulous night’s rest, we awoke to enjoy breakfast delivered to our patio. From the multiple selections offered, we chose the local breakfast, which included a cappuccino, fruit smoothie of the day, pastries, home-made arepa (corn-based bread) with cheese, jam, butter and, since we don’t eat eggs, they substituted fruit and yogurt with granola. The entire breakfast was fresh and delicious – the yogurt was divine.
A quiet morning by the pool
After breakfast, we spent some time wandering around the hotel grounds. Nestled amongst the tropical gardens are a quiet swimming pool and Jacuzzi with lounge chairs for those seeking a quiet spot to relax.
Near the pool is a common area with couches and a hammock – it would be a great place for larger groups to gather and share the events of the day or just to spend some quiet time reading.
Stopping by the lobby, which is open daily from 9am to 5pm, except on Sundays, we found Kimberly and Stephanie, the Aruban-born sisters who discovered the property in 2008. Following a major renovation that transformed the hotel into the tropical oasis it now is, Kimberly, Stephanie, and their staff now manage the property and are on hand to dispense advice and suggestions on how to get the most out of a visit to the island.
The two have truly created an exceptional boutique hotel. It’s no surprise they’ve been recognized by the New York Times and have also received TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Award as a 2015 Top 25 hotels in the Caribbean for service as well as the Certificate of Excellence from 2011-2015.
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Boardwalk Aruba for hosting us as their guest. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
As more alternatives to traditional hotels have emerged over the last few years, travelers have more opportunities to design the type of vacation that suits their style – even for a beach vacation to Aruba. If a quiet, comfortable setting near the beach with more independence and space than a hotel room offers is what you are seeking, Bubali Bliss Studios delivers just that.
Located in a what was formerly a large, private villa, Bubali Bliss Studios has 10 apartments ranging in size from studios to one bedroom, each unique in design and layout.
With a focus on providing an Aruban vacation stay in an excellent location, with the best value for the money, and in apartments with modern comforts and design, the Bubali Bliss Studios concept offers those travelers less dependent on full-service hotels a pleasant, spacious accommodation with a full kitchen and housekeeping every third day.
Bubali Bliss Studios: Hotel & self-check-in
Centrally located on the island of Aruba, the Bubali Bliss Studios apartments are tucked away in a laid-back, tropical setting just steps away from a grocery and shops and about 650 meters (under a half of a mile) from Eagle Beach.
On a short street behind the Superfood Supermarket, the apartments sit behind a bright yellow, keyless entry gate. Bubali Bliss’ self-check-in provides flexibility and privacy, with the gate code, apartment door code, and a map of the property sent prior to arrival, making check-in easy and available at any time of arrival.
As guests arrive inside the gate, directions to the apartments are provided amidst the tropical greenery and landscaping.
Marcel, the manager of Bubali Bliss, is very helpful and on-site at the property Monday – Saturday from 9 am-11 am. A phone number is provided to guests for questions and emergencies at other times.
Bubali Bliss Studios: The studios and apartments
Each apartment at Bubali Bliss Studios has a full-size kitchen, updated bathrooms, a safe, and an air-conditioned bedroom.
Decorated in white with bright color accents, the apartments are fresh and clean with a tropical flair.
The kitchen is ready-to-go for cooking with a refrigerator, coffee maker, microwave, 4-burner stove, sink, dishes, pots and pans, towels, knives, and utensils.
The bathrooms are modern and furnished with Aruba Aloe Toiletries and plenty of plush towels.
Deluxe studios have a living area separated from the bedroom area by a dividing wall and the one bedroom apartments have a living area with a sleeper sofa, flat screen TV, and dining area.
Studios deluxe and one-bedroom apartments open to a patio with an outdoor dining set via french doors.
While at Bubali Bliss, we stayed in a one bedroom apartment. The property was very quiet and peaceful. A walk across the street to the grocery yielded the ingredients for early evening refreshments that we enjoyed before heading out for an evening sail.
Returning later in the evening, we relaxed near the pool, taking in the Aruban sky as the wind gently rustled the trees.
Rooms: 10 studio, studio deluxe and one-bedroom apartments. Each room is unique in size and layout, so check the hotel website and/or give Marcel a call to discuss your needs prior to booking.
Facilities and amenities: Pool, fully furnished kitchen, housekeeping every third day, beach towels replaced every third day, air-conditioned bedroom, self-check-in, property secured with keyless entry, some units have patios shared with common area
WiFi and parking: Free
Disclosure & disclaimer: Special thanks to Bubali Bliss for hosting us as their guests. The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.
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.
Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.