Aruba Travel Guide
Date of Visit: March 2015
Aruba has branded itself “One Happy Island”. The island lies just north of the coast of Venezuela, and is one of the three ‘ABC’ islands (Aruba, Bonaire & Curaçao), which are all former Dutch colonies and are now part of the Dutch Caribbean.
This flat, dry island (there are no rivers) is 30-km long and 9-km across at its widest point (the smallest of the ABC islands) with good infrastructure connecting all places of interest.
The island is divided into the northeast and southwest coasts. The southwest has the white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and warm waters. The northeast coast, exposed to the Atlantic, has a few white sand beaches, cacti, rough seas with treacherous currents, and a rocky coastline.
The year-round temperature is almost constant at about 27°C with little rainfall. Aruba lies outside the Caribbean hurricane belt.
Aruba is the perfect playground for the sun-worshiping tourist.
The capital and largest city on the island, Oranjestad (English: Orange Town) was built around Fort Zoutman shortly after it was built in 1796. The city was named in 1820 after King William I of the Netherlands.
The compact city centre is a pleasant place to stroll and can easily be covered in half a day.
The port is able to accommodate three mega cruise ships at a time. This delivers up to 15,000 day-tripping tourists into the city of 35,000. Not surprisingly the main activities in the city are duty free shopping.
When ships are in town the crowded downtown area is best avoided.
My favourite cafe in Oranjestad is De Suikertuin located at Wilheminastraat 64. This is a Dutch cafe offering a very good breakfast and lunch menu and excellent coffee.
Arikok National Park
The Arikok National Park takes up approximately 18 percent of the island and was one of the highlights of my visit. You should allow half a day in the park. The best way to see the park is with a hire car or by joining a local tour.
Inside the park are some of the island’s oldest Arawak cave paintings, which can be seen inside Fontein Cave.
Some of the most visible of all the wildlife on the island are the lizards. The Aruban Whip-tail lizard can be seen in the National Park and elsewhere on the island.
Most visitors come to the island for one reason – the white powdery sand beaches. They mostly stay in the big resorts that are concentrated in one small area of the island from Palm Beach to Eagle Beach (featured on the main photo).
At the southern end of the island is Baby beach, which is situated in a protected cove and offers good snorkeling.
At the northern end of the island is Malmok beach, which is located in a residential neighbourhood and also offers good snorkeling.
Hiring snorkel gear on the island is not easy. Most resorts and hotels will lend equipment to their guests but do not rent. I found an aquatic shop on Eagle beach, which allowed me to hire gear, otherwise your only option is to purchase your equipment from a local dive shop.
The beaches on the windward side of the island are not protected and as such are exposed to fierce weather, strong currents and have mostly rocky shorelines.
This tourist haven is loaded with accommodation options catering for all budgets, from the huge five-star resorts strung along the white sand beaches of Palm Beach and Eagle Beach to hostels in downtown Oranjestad.
High season prices apply from December to April.
I stayed inland at Paradera Park Apartments, which I would recommend for those who wish to self cater.
Best to book ahead using an online agent such as booking.com
There are lots of restaurants around the island, especially in the beach-side resort areas of Palm Beach and Eagle Creek. In these areas you will find many American chain restaurants such as Hooters, Hard Rock Cafe etc.
Due to the presence of ostrich farms on the island, ostrich meat is also available.
Some nationalities require visas for Aruba – check your visa requirements prior to arrival.
Flights into Aruba arrive at Queen Beatrix International Airport, which is located on the coast, 3km south of Oranjestad.
The airport has flight services to the United States, most countries in the Caribbean, the northern coastal countries of South America, Canada and some parts of Europe, notably the Netherlands. American tourists account for 55% of all arrivals.
The national carrier is Insel Air. On each flight the airline hands out a raffle ticket to each boarding passenger. During the flight a ticket is drawn and the lucky winner receives 30,000 free miles in the airline loyalty program. This is enough mileage to get you a return ticket anywhere in the Caribbean. I’ve won this raffle twice.
From the airport, taxis are available to any point on the island.
If you wish to take a bus downtown you can do so at the bus stop on the main road outside the airport. Bus services on the island are provided by Arubus.
There are no scheduled ferry services connecting Aruba to any other island.
The only way to arrive by sea is by private yacht or cruise ship.
Bus services on the island are provided by Arubus, however the network is not very comprehensive and does not cover the remote parts of the east coast.
The best option for exploring the island is to hire a car. The island can be covered in a day if you rushed around but at a more leisurely pace would require 2-3 days.