Sights—View the wind-shaped rock formations at Ayo and Casibari; bird-watching at Bubali Bird Sanctuary; go spelunking to see the impressive Caiquetio petroglyphs at the entrance to the Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park; spectacular views at the California Lighthouse.
Museums—Artifacts that trace the island's history and culture over 4,500 years at the National Archaeological Museum Aruba; the Historical Museum of Aruba at Fort Zoutman/Willem III Tower; soothe your skin at the Aruba Aloe Museum and Factory in Hato.
Memorable Meals—A late lunch at Cafe the Plaza; local seafood specialties at Flying Fishbone; Caribbean dishes at Papiamento Restaurant.
Late Night—Evening concerts, musicals and ballet at Cas di Cultura; gambling, live bands and shows at one of the island's casinos; dance to merengue at Mojito's Cantina and Grill, or simply groove at Local Store; hop on the Kukoo Kunuku, Aruba's No. 1 party bus.
Walks—Climb to Yamanota Hill in Arikok National Park, the highest point in Aruba; hike up the steps of Hooiberg for another great view of the island; stroll through Oranjestad to explore its Dutch-Colonial architecture; a walk through Wilhelmina Park to Seaport Marina.
Especially for Kids—An early-morning visit to The Butterfly Farm; baby ostriches at the Aruba Ostrich Farm; a day at Blue Parrotfish Water Park on private De Palm Island; more than 52 different species at Philip's Animal Garden; petting the donkeys at Donkey Sanctuary Aruba.
Aruba's foremost attractions include beaches, shopping, casinos, watersports, excellent restaurants, high-energy nightlife and friendly people.
If you enjoy good beaches, ethnic food, gambling and quality shopping, Aruba is for you. Don't expect, however, to partake in a "Bali Hai" island experience (Aruba resembles a flat desert) or to find much distinctive Caribbean culture. If you prefer lush rain-forest-type destinations, Aruba may not be your preference. It's more like Arizona or New Mexico than Puerto Rico or St. Croix.
The big-name resorts and other hotels are a real draw, and accommodations range from deluxe high-rise properties located along Palm Beach to smaller, low-rise hotels and inns lined up along Eagle Beach. A few properties are located a block or so inland from the main hotel strip along the beaches and offer lower rates. Visitors who prefer to stay in town will want to make reservations at the upscale Renaissance, which has a private island reached by complimentary boat shuttle.
In general, visitors cannot make a bad choice of accommodation. Competition is fierce among the resorts, and hotels are vigilant about renovations, maintenance and service. Time-shares continue to spring up everywhere, and some chain hotels have erected separate buildings adjacent to their hotel properties specifically for time-shares. This market has contributed to increasing tourism numbers in Aruba.
Typical shore excursions include around-the-island sightseeing, an off-road Jeep or ATV tour through Aruba's wild countryside, or a sail around the island with stops for snorkeling and swimming. Some passengers may prefer a day of guided scuba diving or a horseback ride along the coast. Special-interest tours are available for photographers, and beach bums can sign up for a day pass at one of the waterfront resorts, which often includes use of all the facilities and watersports equipment.
Several ranches on Aruba raise paso fino horses—descendants of the Andalusian and Arabian horses brought to the New World by the conquistadors. The creatures' controlled and elegant gait is delightful, and trail rides are offered for all skill levels.
Those unusual-looking trees bent over by the wind are watapana (divi-divi) trees, and they make it impossible to get lost on Aruba. All of the trees are bent to the southwest, where the majority of the hotels and resorts are located.
The frequently used description cunucu house refers to a house in the countryside. Cunucu means "country" in Papiamento.
The city of Oranjestad was established in 1824 and named in honor of the Dutch Royal Family, which is known as the House of Orange, whose first king was Willem van Oranje-Nassau (1544-84).
Fort Zoutman, site of the Bon Bini festival every Tuesday night, was built in 1798 to protect the east side of the island. Bon bini means "welcome" in Papiamento, and the festival is a year-round folkloric event that celebrates Aruban music, local cuisine and crafts.
Nature lovers: Be sure to pay attention to the lizards and cacti on the island—there are unusual species of both.
If you want to speak Papiamento, start with con ta bai ("how are you"). Masha danki means "thank you very much." Bon dia means "good morning."
For some reason, the Aruba Island Rattlesnake chooses not to rattle a warning before striking. The danger of being bitten is very slight, however—in fact, the snake is an endangered species and one of the rarest rattlesnakes in the world.
Aruba's Natural Bridge was once one of the island's most recognizable attractions, gracing every tourist item from shot glasses to postcards. Alas, this wave-carved wonder collapsed into the sea in 2005.
Aruba is an island for lazy beach days, late party nights and occasional excursions into the untamed countryside. While there are plenty of creature comforts, including all the grown-up toys made for water and land adventures, there are relatively few cultural or historical places worthy of more than a quick visit. Exceptions include the National Archaeological Museum and Aruba's Historical Museum at Fort Zoutman, both in Oranjestad.
The most famous natural site on the island, the Natural Bridge, crumbled into a rock pile in 2005, leaving behind smaller natural bridges, called Baby Bridges, and caves along the windward coast as the main tourist attractions.
At Casibari, in the center of the island, and Ayo, down the road in an easterly direction, you'll find the most striking landforms on the island—giant diorite boulders that have been carved into eerie, dramatic shapes by the wind.
Outside Oranjestad are a few other attractions worth visiting. For a panoramic view of the island, we suggest climbing to the top of Hooiberg (named after the rare Hooibergite rock formations, only found in Aruba and Iceland), located 6 miles east of Oranjestad. The climb up several hundred carved steps is strenuous but worth the effort. Although this isn't the highest point on the island, it has the best views. Make the climb early in the day, if possible.
There are many caves on Aruba, but none are very long or deep. Quadirikiri, a large bat cave, is relatively easy to maneuver except for a few slippery slopes. Fontein (in Arikok Park) is rather shallow, but a must-see for its impressive Caiquetio petroglyphs—the best of which are near the entrance. Both caves are northeast of Oranjestad.
Aruba has a tremendous variety of restaurants, including Japanese, Indonesian, Dutch, French and Italian. Excellent local food can be found at the island's many cafes.
Among the local specialties are shrimp en coco (a delicacy made with brandy and coconut), pastechi (meat, shrimp or fish wrapped in a light crust), keshi yena (hollowed out and baked wheel of gouda cheese stuffed with meat, spices, raisins and vegetables), funchi (cornmeal) and lamb with pan bati (flatbread or pancakes). Top it all off with a taste of quesillo, a delicious caramel flan.
The local beer is Balashi, brewed on the island. Imported beers from the Netherlands are also widely available.
Through the efforts of the Aruba Gastronomic Association, visitors can dine at more than 30 of Aruba's top eateries as part of a well-organized Dine-Around program. Prices for coupon books range from US$150 for three dinners to US$350 for seven dinners. Participating establishments put very few limits on your coupon value. Contact the association to purchase booklets. Phone 586-3797. http://www.arubadining.com.
If you are in Aruba around Christmas and you're brave, try the traditional Dutch Caribbean Christmas dish called sulz. Aruban cooks marinate a pig's ear and feet in vinegar with onions and hot pepper, boil it and serve it with bread.
Dos & Don'ts
Do conserve water. The island depends on costly desalination for all of its drinking water.
Don't litter the beaches: There's a stiff penalty—starting around US$275—and the more you litter, the higher the fine.
Don't remove any plants or parts of plants (especially cacti) from Arikok National Park.
Do get to know the people of Aruba. Their longtime tourist slogan is "One Happy Island," and you'll find that spirit reflected in many of the locals you meet.
Don't go topless while swimming or sunbathing. It's only permitted on private nude beaches, such as Renaissance Island, not public beaches.
Do support nonprofit organizations such as Arikok National Park Foundation, Donkey Sanctuary Aruba and Philip's Animal Garden to help safeguard the island's flora and fauna.
Copyright ©2017 Northstar Travel Media LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
See More Sunsets Travel