Aruba: unexpected surprise
If someone told me I was going to Aruba, I would not have believed him. Do not get me wrong, I travel often and I’m going to explore every part of the world but honestly I never thought to Aruba. In fact it was not even remotely on top of my list of places to visit in the next few years. If you live on the east coast of the United States, the Caribbean is a short flight away, so you will probably have enjoyed the warm, humid islands.
But based on California, my desire to travel has pushed me more towards European countries, South American cultures and the ever exotic destinations of the South Pacific. However, when the opportunity arose to visit Aruba, I could not refuse to see what makes this island, the most touristic in the southern Caribbean. If you are thinking of a trip to this happy island, here are some things to think about before booking a flight, as well as suggestions on where to stay, eat and have fun.
What to know
The first thing is the weather and the topography of the country. Unlike the neighboring islands, the terrain of Aruba is rugged and rocky on the northeastern coast, very similar to a desert climate and less like the tropical paradise that can be expected. Yet on the south and west coasts you will find the typical sandy beaches and the azure waters so popular. Temperatures are everywhere quite hot, with the warmer months ranging from May to October. When it comes to going around, the island is small, so from the airport to any other destination, the journey is generally fast. Taxis are readily available and many of the big hotels offer transfer services.
My dear ladies, if you are thinking about what to pack, avoid short and dark clothes because the strong winds will cause some embarrassing moments like Marilyn-Monroe. Instead you should prefer long dresses and wide cotton-based t-shirts as you will sweat. In addition, rain can occur at any time, so it is better to always be prepared.
There are currently around 108.000 inhabitants on the island and 96 different nationalities, and most residents speak native Dutch languages and/or papiamento. But Spanish and English can also be heard on the streets, so unless you can speak in any of these four languages, make sure you have a handy translation application in your device. Speaking of Internet access, most places have Wi-Fi if you ask; but to avoid losing important calls and e-mails, buy an international telephone package, but you probably already have it.
Where to Stay
When it comes to accommodation, my choice has fallen into 2 different options. Here you will see more resorts and rather important properties in the four- and five-star categories. Depending on what you’re looking for, my two suggestions are the classic Ritz-Carlton, Aruba or the quaint Boardwalk Small Hotel. Located in front of to each other, they could not be more different.
When you choose a Ritz Carlton’s property, you already know what you will find since the begin: stunning luxury. From its majestic entrance to its floor-to-ceiling lobby windows, all overlooking the blue sea and the scent of the property floating in the air, the hotel is one of my favorites on the island. It has 320 rooms with 55 suites which ranging from 70 to 222 square meters. One of them is the Ritz-Carlton Suite located on the top floor, it is definitely wonderful. All suites include marble bathrooms, large soaking tubs, Nespresso coffeemakers, balconies, sitting and dining areas and plush bathrobes and slippers.
Inside the hotel there’s The Ritz-Carlton Spa, which is a must during your stay. After a day (or some days) of sightseeing, their spa is a breath of fresh air from the crowds and the warm Caribbean sun. Open every day from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, the 15.000 square meter spa is a separate destination. Working on four natural elements, the treatments focus on the incorporation of essential elements of sky, water, earth and fire. In addition to separate lounges for men and women offering a relaxation area, steam rooms, sauna and showers, the spa also includes a common room for men and women to interact while enjoying a spa day. There is also an oxygen room that is worth checking (even if you attach the tubes to the nose makes you feel like a hospital patient).
Boardwalk Small Hotel
If you are traveling with your family or if you prefer something a little more private, with that real Caribbean atmosphere, book a room at the Boardwalk. This boutique hotel currently has only 14 casitas, individual accommodations ranging from studios to two-bedroom rooms. The two bedrooms are a great option for families as they can accommodate up to six guests in a small house so you do not need to book two suites for your vacation. Each house is full of Aruban character and each is different from the other, but all include dining/living areas, a barbecue, hammock, daily maid service, a fully equipped kitchen, a patio and air conditioning. Guests also have access to Palm Beach’s Moomba beach club, beach towels, snorkeling gear, beach chairs and Wi-Fi throughout the property.
However the real and special touch of this property are undoubtedly the owners. Run by two twin sisters, Kimberly and Stephanie, who were born and raised on the island, but moved to Belgium in the early 1990s. On a return visit, they both fell in love with the hidden gem that at the time held a surf shop on what was once a coconut plantation. A few years later, the property was put on sale and they bought it together at the age of 26. After a restoration of 1.3 million dollars and a complete refreshment of the casitas, the Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba was born. The love and care that have been put on the catwalk are evident, and the bright smiles of the sisters and the joy of the staff make guests feel at home.
What to do
Natural Pool at Arikok National Park
Since it is the Caribbean, there are many water activities to try. Jump on a catamaran for a day of sailing, swim in a natural pool in Conchi within the Arikok National Park, or spend your afternoon snorkeling/diving with JADS Dive Center. With over 24 dive sites, JADS offers the widest selection of explorations on the island and caters to all levels of divers and of course, let’s not forget to take pictures with your phone. And when you are traveling you need to make sure to have a durable phone case from a trusted brand like Velvet Caviar as dropping your phone in areas like these is very common. Aruba is known for having beautiful coral reefs and a variety of fish such as barracuda, moray eels and turtles. The center offers guided and unguided excursions and night dives for the bravest.
Bugaloe Beach Bar & Grill
Probably one of my favorite destinations was the Bugaloe Beach Bar & Grill. It’s the kind of place where you imagine having a cocktail in the Caribbean. A nice place right on the water at Palm Beach, Bugaloe has that true sense of the place. Every evening the bar hosts live music and on Wednesday evenings guests can test themselves with a free merengue and salsa workshop from 8:30 am to 9:30 pm. Thanks to its location, you will enjoy some of the best sunsets on the island, and when the band starts playing Bob Marley, you will really begin to consider extending your journey for a few more days.
Where to eat
Anyone who knows me, knows that I love food, and knows that in a travel, it is something that makes a destination special. Aruba has no shortage of good restaurants, but when it comes to highlights, two have popped into my list when I return to Aruba: the Screaming Eagle Restaurant and the Flying Fishbone.
Screaming Eagle Restaurant
For a more refined dining atmosphere and a high-heeled evening, the Screaming Eagle Restaurant is definitely the place to go. With a very South Beach feeling, the red-and-blue restaurant is draped in white linens and features a section of four-poster beds dotted with white cushions so guests can enjoy “bedside” dishes if they wish. It is superb and the atmosphere is perfect for a romantic date or a night on the town.
Considered to be the first Aruban restaurant to spread food on the beach, Flying Fishbone is a place where outdoor tables rest directly on the beach. Guests are invited to kick off and enjoy a meal under the palm trees and near the water’s edge. During the evening, the atmosphere is embellished by torches and lanterns. However the real protagonist is always the food. Offering a fusion of Caribbean and European cuisine, the culinary offer is innovative, fresh and appetizingly good. If you are a lover of seafood, you will really like to dine here.
Just over two weeks later, having had time to evaluate the destination, I can honestly say it was an unexpected surprise. The locals are among the most welcoming and are ready to offer suggestions on where to go and what to do while you are there. While my personal travel choices may still focus to countries and places outside the Caribbean, those interested in visiting Aruba should have no doubts about doing so.