Where in the World is Aruba?
I am in the Dentist’s chair and he is drilling away. I try with all my might to go to my “happy place”. My mind drifts to soft breezes, beautiful turquoise waters, gorgeous scenery and the smell of the sea. For me this “happy place” is Aruba. Aruba is one of the ABC Islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. These Islands have a Dutch heritage and are located approximately 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Each of these islands is beautiful, unique and definitely worth exploring, but Aruba holds a special place in my heart. Aruba is approximately 20 miles long and 6 miles wide. It is located outside of the hurricane belt and has an average temperature of 82 degrees year-round. Pretty darn near perfect I would say. The Aruban florin is used here but the dollar is accepted just about anywhere. Even though this is a tourist destination and can have that touristy vibe that can sometimes be annoying, there are many qualities that will satisfy the adventurer as well.
What makes this Island so Special?
Aruba is a photographers dream. You really can’t stop taking pictures. On one side of the island, the impossibly blue-green water is calm and perfectly swimmable. On the other side, it is wild, untamed and beautifully dangerous. Driving in Aruba is pretty easy. The roads are mostly well maintained and easy to navigate. Although some of the roads are not well-marked, getting a map from any hotel lobby showing some landmarks will make it easy to find where you are going. Beaches are all public, even the hotel beaches. I love this because they are all so beautiful and perfect for any kind of beach day you might like to have whether its a crowded, party-like atmosphere or a secluded spot for two. One beach seems completely dedicated to wind-surfing and paddle boarding. Lessons can be arranged and it is spectacular to watch. A surprise for us was that Aruba is dry and desert-like in some areas. There are scrubby little bushes and 10 foot tall cactus. There are goats and donkeys roaming freely in some areas. Sand dunes for off-roading and beautiful Divi Divi trees delicately carved by the constant sea breezes.
There is truly something for everyone here. Water sports of every variety are readily available. Foodies will find some great restaurants and families will find their favorite fast-food chains. There are beautiful hotels and casinos, great entertainment and best of all miles of beautiful beaches.
Let’s Get Specific.
I want to share some highlights of the Island with you and in the next section give you my top five pics for must do budget-friendly activities.
Orangestad is the Capital of Aruba. It is a colorful City of pastel buildings and original Dutch-influenced architecture. There are fewer options for lodgings in this area but the vibe is fantastic. Renaissance Plaza offers is a fantastic open-air venue for outdoor entertainment. The Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival is held here every year around October and boasts world class entertainment. There is a trolley that takes you around and local outdoor market for Aruban souvenirs. If you stay at the Renaissance Aruba, guests have access to their own private island. A boat will pick you up inside the hotel lobby and take you on a beautiful ride to the island for a day of swimming, nature walks and lounging on the beach. Truly magical. There are some wonderful restaurants in the area and a mall with upscale shopping. The seaport casino is a fun place and appears to be a favorite of the locals.
You will meet people who will often ask “Were are you staying?” The appropriate answer for most tourists is either the low-rise area, or the high-rise area. Both areas are great and have much to offer. The low-rise area includes a golf resort (Divi Aruba), a casino, restaurants and beautiful beaches of course. Eagle Beach, Manchebo Beach, Druif Beach are located in this area and are fantastic.
This area includes the big hotels and resorts. Almost every one has a casino, fantastic restaurants and beautiful views of Palm Beach. Some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen are when strolling this beach and ending up at one of the restaurants located on the piers jutting out in the water for dinner and a drink. Also located in this area is a mall, many restaurants, street vendors, bars and great entertainment.
All the rest
There is so much more to this island you can see from the places described above. Rent a car and explore. It’s a small island and practically impossible to get lost. If you do, just look for a landmark and drive toward it. Below I have listed my top five things to do on this island that doesn’t include relaxing in a lounge chair on a beach and marveling at the beauty surrounding me which is always my number one thing to do in Aruba.
My top five, budget friendly things to do in Aruba.
1. Casibari and Ayo Rock formations
These beautiful rock formations are located in the interior of the island in an area just north of Hooiberg. They are breath-taking enormous rock formations, some weighing several tons. There are walking trails and steps through these rocks providing hikers a way to see the beautiful views of the Island from the top of some of these rocks. The shapes of these rocks are quite unique and interesting. These areas were once considered a sacred site to the Arawak Indians, the original inhabitants of the island. There is no admission fee.
2. Arikok National Park
The park encompasses 18 percent of the island. It is a great place to see the different varieties of cactus, divi divi and other interesting vegetation. My favorite part though and worth the trip alone, is visiting the caves. There is the Quadirikiri Cave which has openings in the roof which lets in lots of light and casts an eerie glow over everything. The other cave is the Fontein Cave which boasts pictographs left by past cave dwellers/explorers. There is a park employee at the entrance to the Fontein Cave who is very knowledgeable and will show you the highlights so you don’t miss anything. Admission is $11.00 for Adults, Children under 17 are free.
3. Snorkeling at Boca Catalina
Ok, this spot doesn’t look like much, a few palapas, a rocky shoreline, small beach but the real gem here and my sole purpose for visiting is what’s going on under the water. This, for me, is a perfect snorkeling spot. I am not the most fantastic swimmer and spent most of my life upstate New York so here I get all the thrills of snorkeling and the comfort of being close to shore. Don’t get me wrong, I have seen some amazing sea life here. It never disappoints and there is never a bad snorkeling day. Local snorkeling excursions drop here, so any level of snorkeler will not be disappointed. It is truly like being inside an aquarium. Some fish will swim right up to you which is great but can be annoying. Just swim a little way out and they don’t bother you. This place is perfect for first time snorkelers and I always see something I never saw before. This place is a little tricky to find. Ask a local or the concierge at your hotel, it is free and well worth it!
4. Fort Zoutman Bon Bini Festival
Every Tuesday throughout the year, historic Fort Zoutman hosts the Bon Bini festival. The festival starts at 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Fort Zoutman is located in Orangestad and is across the street from Renaissance plaza. This folkloric show is held year-round every Tuesday night from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. You will experience music, dance and colorful costumes depicting the history and customs of the island. It is extremely well done and fun for the whole family. They also serve delicious local food at reasonable prices. Admission is $5.00.
5. Beach Hopping
I know I have really focused on the Beach thing but its why I am here and what I dream of when I am not. So, stop at Super Foods (my favorite Aruban supermarket), pack a cooler with Balashis (the local beer), grab your map, get in your rental and go along the main road near the ocean. Stop at the little beaches along the way sprinkled with palapas. Each spot is beautiful. Look for Arashi beach, a public spot which is never crowded. Go shelling for the stunning delicate sea shells striped with pink. Then take a drive to baby beach, a beautiful spot with a restaurant called Big Mamas serving cold beer and good food. This restaurant features enormous carved wood tables, chairs, etc. Look for the unexplored little beaches inhabited by no one. We found a pretty impressive one in Saveneta. Aruba can be pricey, so it is great when you can just enjoy the simple things.