If the ABC islands were drinks, Bonaire would be a freshly-made, starkly green Mojito. Curacao would be a sophisticated blue-coloured cocktail. And Aruba would be a frozen strawberry colada, pink with three maraschino cherries on top.
With its lush west coast pearled by hotels, and the bone-dry east side beaches ragged and torn by the seas into peculiar shapes of bridges and pools, Aruba is often ignored by cruisers who perhaps see only a tourism-spoiled plastic charter paradise. But think twice before you decide to sail by Aruba, because you are sure to regret it.
If you are in the area, you are probably on your way westward towards Colombia and Panama, or setting off northbound. Either way, you are looking at spending several days at sea. You may choose to turn east from Curacao or Bonaire, and head for Grenada, beating against the wind, seas and currentâ€”a harsh trip. Whatever your course, you deserve a stop at Aruba for some rest and pampering. The island, off the South American coast, pulsates with high level services and entertainment shaped by years in the competitive business of caring for charter tourists.
As you arrive at the Renaissance Marina in Oranjestad, you will receive a pleasant surprise. For exactly the same fee as you might pay for an ordinary marina berth, say, in St Maarten or Grenada, you get free access to fabulous swimming pools, a brand-new air-conditioned gym, a tennis court, power-boat rides to a small island with private beaches, not to mention the WiFi and showers. The garbage disposal is also included in the price. Bright green iguanas the size of a small dog greet you as you walk along the pontoon, together with the splashing colours of tropical fish in the harbour. Happy hour at the swim-up bar, just a few meters away, tops it all off.
All of the usual Western suspects – Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Starbucks – are here, among hundreds of other places you may or may not have heard of. Visitors from Holland will be delighted to see familiar snacks, the sushi is grand, around the corner is a special menu with expertly grilled Chateaubriand, and just about any place you visit will treat you with nice cuisine, two-for-one drinks, and flawless service.
Apart from the sudden luxury that you fight hard not to get too used to, Aruba is also good for practical things. There is plenty of sightseeing and activities – abandoned gold mines, historical places, caves with natural light, wreck diving and more, in fact enough to keep you busy for every day you spend on the island.
At the chandlery near the Renaissance marina, you will find a surprisingly wide array of gear and possibly some of those hard to find extras you have been looking for. My stroll through the chandlery turned up everything from lifeslings to absolutely enormous game fishing gear, decent dry-bags and boat repair kits. The shelves of the book exchange go all the way up to the ceiling of the store.
The local supermarket, although a little weak on fresh meat, offers a great variety of foods, including, surprisingly, ready-to-eat Indian Paneer curries that have an amazing shelf-life and cook in just 90 seconds, perfect for a long ocean crossing.
Lena Padukova is a former IT-professional who left cold Stockholm for the adventures of world-wide sailing. She is the captain of S/Y Space, cruising the Caribbean somewhere near you.