Imagine a Caribbean island boasting 365 days of sunshine, cool trade winds constantly blowing, the most picturesque beaches and diverse landscapes, thriving wildlife, delicious local munch, and with the friendliest and most welcoming people around.
Does that all sound too good to be true? Well, that’s Aruba.
Just 18 miles of the coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea lay the island of Aruba. Along with Curacao and Sint Maarten, Aruba is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Aruba, Bonaire, Curcacao, also known as the ABC Islands, are located on the South American continental shelf and geographically listed as part of the continent.
Due to the fact that it lies just outside Hurricane Alley, Aruba has a hot semi-arid climate and boasts the most sunshine in the Caribbean. Hot climate is moderated by constant trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean therefore Aruba remains cool all year round. This generally flat, riverless island’s flora and fauna differs from other topical islands. Not only does it have white sand beaches and cerulean waters along its coast but desert-like landscapes actually make up most of Aruba. Aloe Vera is the most common plant in the island and cacti, thorny shrubs, and evergreens litter its interior. Being isolated from mainland South America, it has also fostered the evolution of multiple reptile fauna and other desert-dwelling animals endemic to the island.
Home to a little over 100,000 people, Aruba is a cultural melting pot with four languages (Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish, and English) and 90 nationalities. A seminomadic tribe from Venezuela called Caquieto Indians is the first known inhabitants of the island. They eventually established large villages and settled in the island for years.
At the age of exploration, a Spanish explorer reached the island of Aruba for the first time. This started the 137 years of Spanish control in the island. Colonizers didn’t believe the island to be profitable for plantations and crop growing due to its topography but enslavement of the Caquieto “giants” happened and they were sent to Hispaniola to work on plantations and mines.
At the height of the war between the Spanish and the Dutch for naval supremacy, the Dutch seized Aruba from Spain for its strategic location in the Caribbean and proximity to continental South America. The Dutch had to protect the influx of their salt supply from the continent and wanted to establish a naval base in the region.
Today, Aruba remains a constituent country of the Kingdom of Netherlands but they do have control over their internal affairs. Laws, policies, and the national currency, the Aruban florin, are all under the supervision of the Aruban government. The Aruban people enjoy a high standard of living, a healthy economy, low unemployment rate, a solid welfare system, and well-established infrastructures. Since the pursuit of happiness and wellbeing is the cornerstone of Aruba’s approach, the small island remains at the forefront of sustainability and renewable energy in the Caribbean. It holds the world’s third largest desalination plant. They also pride themselves as being LGBT and special needs friendly. Everyone is accepted and welcomed in Aruba.
With its rich culture and enthralling natural wonders, Aruba has more to offer than just your typical Caribbean cruise stop. Here are a few of the things to do and see in the island:
Being the capital and largest city in Aruba, you would never run out of things to do and see in Oranjestad. Colorful and interesting Dutch Colonial architecture are seen all around the city. If you’re more interested in learning more about Aruban history, the capital is home to countless historical sites and museums. Due to the influx of tourism over the years, malls, restaurants, and casinos have popped along the coast although te donkey sanctuary and butterfly farm within the city are also worth visiting.
Literally translated as haystack in Dutch, Hooiberg is a volcanic formation located almost at the center of Aruba and can be seen from anywhere in the island. On a clear day, not only will you be able to enjoy panoramic views, you would also even be able to see Venezuela from the top.
Have an adventure at Arikok National Park
Get a chance to discover every inch of Aruba’s unique flora and fauna through Arikok National Park’s different hiking routes. Showcasing diverse geological landscapes, Arikok is home to the Fontein and Quadiriki caves ripe for exploration with the latter offering prehistoric pictographs and the former striking cave formations. Taking up approximately 18% of the island’s area, the national park is home to countless of beaches like Boca Prins, a famous turtle nesting ground, and Dos Playa, which offers waves good enough for surfing and bodyboarding. Arikok’s hidden gem though is Conchi, a stunning natural pool on the east coast of the island protected from the rough seas by surrounding rocks. Another great option is to go on a horseback excursion through Rancho Daimari.
Spend time in the water
Aruba is home to some of the best kitesurfing in the world. Anyone can learn the sport from different kitesurfing schools from all across the island (some people say Boca Grandi is a prime location). Surfing and bodyboarding is another option in Aruba. Check out Boa Baranca, Wairuri, Arashi, and Manchebo. Line-ups here are never crowded! Of course, Aruba offers a great number of snorkeling sites and more than 20 historical dive sites. Enjoy nature’s kaleidoscope under the Caribbean sea!
With its desert-like landscape, it’s a no-brainer that Aruba offers a lot of 4x4 fun. On your way to the Aruba Natural Bridge, a must is a stopover at the two former gold smelter sites of Bushiribana and Balashi. Visitors would get to explore and get some history out of these gold mill ruins and Aruba’s role in the Spanish gold trade.
Eat and drink
Since Aruba is a cultural melting pot, there’s no doubt that local cuisine is definitely worth trying. 90 plus nationalities all contribute to the small island’s exciting culinary heritage. Everyone will be able to enjoy Caribbean-style seafood, South American churrascaria, European cheeses, and, surprisingly, a wide-range of Indonesian food options! Arubans also love champagne and have a knack for mixing it with different types of fresh fruit. Another thing that Arubans are extremely proud of is the locally brewed beer, Balashi. Enjoy every bit of cultural exchange and be merry in this extremely hospitable and welcoming island!
Take a side trip to San Nicolas
Southeast of the capital is Aruba’s second largest city, San Nicolas. It used to be a bustling company town with an oil refinery but now it’s one of the most artistic places in Aruba. This charming coastal town is home to a multitude of local galleries showcasing local arts and crafts. Its streets are lined with colorful art of every style. There’s a thriving local art scene that encourage citizens and visitors alike to look at Aruba’s artistic heritage.
Enjoy the tranquility of the sand dunes
The California Sand Dunes and Lighthouse, named after a ship that sank offshore in Aruba’s northwestern coast, is a part of Aruba that will dazzle you. Locally called, Hudishibana, these rolling white sand dunes are every photographer’s dream. Although the lighthouse is closed to the public, anybody can explore the exterior from every angle. It is not permitted to drive on the sand dunes but everyone is welcome to walk as much as they like amidst this desert-like environ littered with patches of cacti and aloe. Visitors can enjoy both otherworldly sunrise and sunset sessions on these dunes.
See unique rock formations
The Ayo Rock Formations and Casibari Rock Formation are monolithic rock boulders located in Aruba. Everyone can go through walking trails and steps around these unusually shaped boulders. Ayo Rocks is also home to some petroglyphs carved by the earliest inhabitants of the island presumably while performing religious rites. Let your imagination wander!
Celebrate local festivals
Enjoy the ultimate immersion to island culture with the full-fledged Aruban-style Carnival! Lively Caribbean music and glittery costumes will surely get you into a celebratory spirit and get you dancing and jiving to traditional dance and music. If you can’t make it to Aruba at the first quarter of the year, mini-Carnivals also happen weekly in San Nicolas. With the island’s flourishing art scene, music and arts festivals have been booming. Local arts and crafts pop up during the vibrant Caribbean and Bonbini festivals.
Having experienced this all, visitors will truly understand how and why Aruba lives up its national motto, “One Happy Place.”