As the sunset burns over the horizon of Aruba's 20-mile white sand coast, the story that shocked the world in 2005 seems to be the furthest thing from mind.
"What incident?" a local sarcastically asks when pressed about whether the "incident" still puts a dent in Aruba's tourism industry.
That "incident," of course, is the disappearance of Alabama teen Natalee Halloway and the headline-grabbing investigation that ensued. As the media circus was fueled by talk that Aruban officials dragged their feet when she first went missing, the island's main source of income -- tourism -- devastatingly plummeted.
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But on the beaches of this tropical paradise, where cool trade winds make for the perfect year-round climate, Aruba has seemed to rebound as it once again emerges as an ideal vacation hot spot in 2012.
Travelers who have stuck with Aruba, or given the destination a second chance, will know that crime is typically minimal and security guards patrol the beaches at night, a stark contrast from the portrait painted of the island community in 2005.
It's easy to see that there is something for everyone within Aruba's unique dichotomy -- a local Arawak culture with Dutch infusion makes for unmatched hospitality, savory dining and energetic nightlife. From snorkel cruises to couples massages, Aruba is ideal for adventurists and relaxation-seekers alike.
Feel like a VIP at the island's top-notch resort: Hyatt Regency Aruba (J. E. Irausquin Blvd. #230, Aruba; +011-297 586-1234). Choose from an ocean-view room or one that overlooks the tropical courtyard with sparkling pools. With its own beach for guests, six restaurants and a casino that's hopping till the wee hours, vacationers don't ever need to leave the property, unless it's to buy some hand-rolled Cuban cigars in the shops across the street. Rates run from $335 in low season, and $595 in high season.
Have the hotel arrange a taxi and venture off the beaten path for a more local dining experience. Grab a table on the patio at island favorite Madame Janette (Cunuco Abao 37; +011-297-587-0184). Choose from Argentine cuts of beef or a fresh catch from the Caribbean sea. Don't miss the Shrimp "Coco di Rasta" -- jumbo coconut shrimp smothered in red curry sauce and served with rice.
Or, dine with your feet in the sand at Hyatt's Footprints restaurant (+011-297-586-1234 ext. 37), which offers romantic tables on the beach so you can watch the sunset as you sip local cocktails and enjoy fresh fare like snapper ceviche or grilled lobster for two.
Though Aruba is just 20 miles long, its diverse geography features stunning views and picturesque scenes. Sandy white beaches turn into rocky cliffs and natural bridges as you venture from end to end. Buckle up for a bumpy ride with a Jeep excursion through De Palm Tours (L.G. Smith Blvd. 142; +011-297-582-4400) -- be sure to ask for Rocky! Or sip on an Aruba Arriba as a catamaran with Red Sail Sports (L.G. Smith Boulevard 17; +011-297-586-1603) takes you to the island's best snorkel spots, where you'll get a close-up of ocean life and a German shipwreck from 1940.
Aruba’s desert climate makes it a perfect growing location for aloe, and the plant’s healing properties are utilized at Hyatt Regency Aruba’s ZoiA Spa (J.E. Irausquin Blvd. #85; +011-297-586-1234). Give your skin a rest from the hot sun with aloe-based facials, wraps or soothing rituals for your hands and feet. Try a color-themed spirit bath, a tradition used by locals to calm the spirit and relax the mind.
Kick back with a drink and sing along to karaoke at Piet’s Pier Bar ( J.E. Irausquin Blvd. #85; +011-297-586-1234 ext. 51) Stay till close and a security guard will be waiting to escort you back to the hotel. Hint: Ask the bartender to sing Shania Twain’s “Still the One,” but be prepared to join him in the duet.
Senor Frog’s (J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 348 A; +011-297-586-8900) gets a bad rep as a tourist trap, and, indeed, there are plenty of drunken moms and college-aged guys on the prowl. But if you can get past the cheesy atmosphere, it’s not a bad spot for late-night dancing.