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Would you believe us if we told you there was a windy desert island just off the coast of Venezuela? Aruba is a Caribbean paradise with all the white beaches, luxury resorts, shipwrecks, and rugged landscapes you need for your next summer vacation – like something from a pirate film, only set in the 21st century. Whether you’re looking to feel the sand between your toes, sip wine on a patio overlooking the sea, or hold on for dear life to a windsurfing board, this beautiful island has it all. Spend at least three days here to really get a sense of what makes it so universally loved. Enjoy Travel is available for you to book your car rental in advance for a stress-free trip around Aruba.
Guide to Aruba
Aruba is a part of the Lesser Antilles islands, around 39 km from the Paraguana peninsula in Venezuela. With a population of just over 100,000, it’s quite a small place – so much so that it takes only an hour to get from one end to the other. All in all, its landscape is mostly flat with some gentle hills. The northern side of the island is covered in cacti, palm trees, and arid sand dunes. To find some lovely beaches, head to the west coast, which is also where the capital and biggest city – Oranjestad – stands.
Weather in Aruba
The weather on the island is both sunny as well as windy, so be sure to bring lots of sunscreen. The best time of year to visit is between April and August when daily temperatures hover around 28°C (and resorts charge you relatively less).
As one of the constituents of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, its culture has strong Dutch elements. Until the arrival of Spanish explorers Amerigo Vespucci and Alonso de Ojeda, Aruba was cut off from most of the world, being inhabited only by the aboriginal Caquetio people. After colonization, it changed hands between the Spanish, Dutch and British, until it ended up back with the Dutch and then gained recognition as an autonomous country.
The island’s currency is the Aruban florin, but most shops will also accept American dollars.
Diving sites in Aruba
Though Aruba was far from the main theatres of conflict during the Second World War, its waters contain the highest concentration of sunken battleships in the Caribbean. Many of these are open for exploration. The most famous shipwreck to see is the SS Antilla, a Nazi cargo ship sunk by the Dutch navy. There are many tour agencies that organize boat tours from the island. We’d suggest you take one and spend a day swimming, snorkeling and diving around the Antilla. The ruined ship has espoused an ecosystem of its own, so don’t be surprised if you find a massive goliath grouper swimming around.
Things to do in Aruba
Explore Oranjestad’s beaches
The capital, Oranjestad, is a good place to set up camp. It’s also got its fair share of sights to see. Visit Eagle Beach, voted one of the best beaches in the world. Feel free to sunbathe and exercise here but try not to get in the water because the waves are fairly rough. The best time to visit is in the morning. Alternatively, if you’re staying at one of the major resorts in the city, head to Palm Beach. It’s much less isolated but also has calmer waters, which makes it better for swimming. Afterward, grab a bite at one of the restaurants along the beach.
Discover local history
In the afternoon, head to the National Archaeological Museum. This place, which was once a mansion, displays a plethora of Native American artifacts dating back to three periods: the pre-ceramic (2500 years ago), ceramic (900-1515), and Columbian (1515-1880) eras. Take note of the native burial sites uncovered on the island. Do also check out the exhibits that tell the story of Aruba’s 18th-century gold rush.
Speaking of the gold rush, when the Spanish first landed on the island, they called it isla inutil (‘useless island’) because they thought it wasn’t worth colonizing. However, they changed their minds when a young boy discovered gold ore in a riverbed. Head over to the ruins of Bushiribana and Balashi, two smelters that were once used to process the gold mined in the nearby hills. Looking at their crumbling walls, it isn’t hard to imagine a time when Aruba was a major colonial outpost in the Caribbean. Sunsets by the mills make for great photos, by the way.
See Aruba’s natural wonders
For years, Aruba boasted a rock formation called the Natural Bridge. This coral limestone structure, located quite close to Bushiribana, was the last remnant of a prehistoric cave. Unfortunately, it collapsed in 2005. But the good news is that there are at least seven similar formations across the island. The most picturesque of these is the Baby Natural Bridge. You probably shouldn’t try walking on any of these natural bridges but you can always spread out a picnic mat and enjoy the view.
Another natural wonder to check out is the Natural Pool, also known as Conchi. The waters on the northern and eastern shores of Aruba are generally quite violent but you can safely go for a swim at this pool since it is separated from the sea by a ring of massive rocks. The sound of the waves crashing nearby, coupled with the sudden coldness of the pool’s water, is enough to give even the saintliest of tourists an adrenaline rush. There are also plenty of fish and other marine animals in the pool.
The Natural Pool is actually part of the Arikok National Park, a tract of protected land that occupies about a fifth of Aruba. In addition to the pool, the park contains plenty of caves, stretches of beach, hiking trails, and rock formations with Native American paintings for you to admire. It even has a donkey sanctuary and ostrich farm. The park is also home to some species found nowhere else in the world, such as the Aruban whiptail lizard and Aruban parakeet. To make sure you don’t miss seeing anything in the park, collect a map from the visitor center.
Take photos on Flamingo Beach
Once you get back on land, plan for a pleasant morning at Flamingo Beach. As its name suggests, this beach is home to a large flock of pink birds. The flamingos aren’t scared of people at all. In fact, they will happily eat seed right out of your hands. To get to the beach, you need to enter the grounds of the Renaissance Hotel. If you’re staying there already, you can visit the beach any time, but if you aren’t, you need to buy a day pass from the reception. The hotel sells only 30 passes a day, so you might want to get there early.
Eating out in Aruba
Since a majority of the island’s visitors have always been American, the sort of food available in Aruba is much like what you would find in the Southwest United States. This means lots of hamburgers and steaks. However, being a Caribbean island, Aruba also has its own cuisine – a unique blend of gustatory palettes from the Netherlands, West Indies, and Latin America.
For a light snack, grab a Pan Bati from any of the island’s roadside eateries. This is essentially a slice of sweet fluffy bread served either plain (like a pancake) or with some gravy. If you’d prefer some meat, wherever you eat, ask to taste the catch of the day, and you will be served a basket of delicious fish, shrimps, and other seafood items.
Other popular dishes on the island include different kinds of bolo (cake), cos dushi (homemade sweets), keshi yena (chicken with cheese), and ayaca (meat and dried fruits). Wash down each meal with a cocktail that mixes regular beverages with tropical fruit.
To reach Aruba, fly to the Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA). This airport is serviced by 26 international carriers, including Air Canada, Spirit, Thomas Cook Scandinavia, American Airlines, and WestJet. From here, take a bus or taxi to your hotel. Your journey shouldn’t take longer than 15-20 minutes.
Getting around Aruba
Within the island, the best way to travel around is by quad bike (ATV), utility task vehicle (UTV) or rental car. These will allow you to enjoy the scenery and stop wherever you like. There are plenty of travel agencies that are willing to rent you the vehicle of your choice. Aruba also has plenty of government-regulated cabs and buses.
Driving in Aruba
Those visiting Aruba for the first time often opt to rent a car for maximum comfort and convenience. The most popular car rental agencies across Aruba are Aruba Car Rental, Mitoo, and Drive 4 Cheap.