Aruba, a tiny island only 25 kilometres from the Venezuelan coastline, is known for its turquoise water and white sandy beaches. But, unlike many of its Caribbean neighbours, it hasn’t been taken over by all-inclusive resorts and all of its beaches are public.
It’s safe, easy to get around, and you’ll find hundreds of restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Oranjestad, the island’s picturesque capital, so you won’t be stuck eating at the same buffet table every day.
What to do
If you can manage to tear yourself away from your poolside lounge chair and mojito, there’s no shortage of easily accessible activities on the island — scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kitesurfing, sea kayaking, water skiing and sailing, to name just a few. There’s also hiking, quad trekking and sunset horseback riding in the island’s national park. As for beaches, Eagle Beach and Palm Beach are among the best beaches in the Caribbean, perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
For windsurfing/kitesurfing: To take advantage of the near-constant trade winds, head to Boca Grandi, Malmok, Grapefield or Fisherman’s Huts.
Diving and snorkeling
Aruba is the wreck diving capital of the Caribbean with more than 20 wreck sites off of the coast just waiting to be explored — including the German freighter Antilla, from the Second World War. Whether you’re a novice or advanced diver, you can spot a range of aquatic life. Several outfitters such as De Palm Tours and Red Sail Sports offer catamaran trips to the island’s best snorkeling spots.
January-March, Carnival: This is Aruba’s biggest party of the year, complete with street parties and parades, flamboyant costumes and fantastic music.
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May, Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival: This star-studded, two-night concert series has previously featured India Arie, Alicia Keys and Jennifer Hudson. For more, visit soulbeach.net.
June, Aruba International Film Festival: Actors, producers and film-makers from around the world will descend on Aruba for eight days to celebrate international film. For more, visit arubafilm.com.
November, Aruba in Style (Fashion Week): Don’t miss this yearly fashion, entertainment and lifestyle event — a mix of trendy fashion shows, glamorous parties and high-end shopping.
Snuba and sea trekking
Looking for something different?
Try snuba (which offers an experience similar to diving, but uses an oxygen tube attached to a boat so that you don’t have to be a certified diver), or sea trekking, where you walk along the sea floor wearing a specially designed helmet for diving.
While English is widely spoken, Aruba has its own unique language called Papiamento, which is a combination of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, English and a few African languages. Here are a few translations:
Welcome: Bon bini
Good morning: Bon dia
Thank you: Danki
Where to eat
Thankfully, Aruba offers a lot more than the all-inclusive buffet. In fact, there are several hundred options, from high-end dining to local seafood shacks.
Papiamento Restaurant: Join the Ellis family in their 175-year-old manor house for upscale dining in a tropical garden setting. Try the local specialty Keshi Yena, made with minced tenderloin and chicken stewed with prunes, raisins and cashews, topped with Dutch cheese.
Cuba’s Cooking: You’ll find genuine Cuban cuisine in one of the oldest houses of historic downtown Oranjestad, including ropa vieja, picadillo and palomilla steak — and one of the best bolero singing pairs outside of Havana.
Zeerovers Fish Bar: Head to this typical Aruban fisherman’s bar in Savaneta for freshly caught fish and shrimps — this is where the locals go for the catch of the day. Forks are optional.
Aruban adventures for land lovers
For non-aquatic adventure, head to Aruba’s national park, Arikok National Park, a protected area that covers 18 per cent of the island.
Here you’ll find more than 32 kilometres of hiking trails among several species of cacti (go on your own or on a guided tour with one of the knowledgeable park rangers), as well as historical sites, limestone caves with Amerindian pictographs, and the pounding surf of Dos Playa, ideal for surfing and bodyboarding.