Aruba is fun to visit because there are so many places to see and diverse things to do. Whether traveling with adults, or in a family with children, the island’s compact size makes it enjoyable for everyone.
The constant winds and arid climate enable day and evening activities, such as climbing the island’s second highest hill. My family climbed the 165m (541ft) Hooiberg (haystack in Dutch) at 2pm in August – and it was a breeze!
From sun-up to sundown, there is no reason to laze in a hammock all day. One can fish and snorkel from a boat or onshore in the same basic vicinity. Thus, both the fly caster and spin fisherman are happily stalking bonefish from the same beaches as the group who chooses to go snorkeling instead. From trumpetfish, with green and blue spots, to gliding sea turtles and hundreds of colorful fish schooling around sunken structures in 10 to 12 feet of water, Aruba’s water access and beaches make vacationers content with their variety of activities. Among the snorkeling and fishing spots are Malmok Beach, Boca Catalina and Arashi Beach. Aruba’s ocean temperature averages 80 degrees and visibility is superb.
Another must-do activity is a visit to Arikok National Park with its austere and yet alluring desert landscapes, clusters of cacti; lava-like rough rock, and hidden coves and caves. Whether the visitor center is open or not, you have access to the park because the family-owned restaurant, Boca Prins, is open until 6pm and welcomes happy hour guests as well as early diners. My family ate there three times in one week.
We hiked and visited the caves in search of bats and prehistoric drawings; we searched for, and found, the aqua blue lizard (kododo) and the three snake species within the park; and while driving, we found the resident herds of donkeys and goats.
You might also see the Aruban burrowing owl (known locally as ‘Shoco’). We did not swim in the park because the currents are too strong, but still there was plenty to enjoy.
The oldest remains of the Dutch settlement and Aruba’s oldest building, Fort Zoutman, were built in 1798 in Oranjestad to protect against pirates and enemy attacks. In 1868, the Willem III Tower was added to the fort and served as Aruba’s first public clock and lighthouse. Although the light has been extinguished, the Historical Museum is there and displays artifacts from Aruba’s distant past, colonial times and up to the present day.
Every Tuesday night the Bon Bini Festival, which shares Aruban culture and traditions, takes place at Fort Zoutman. Folkloric acts such as musicians, singers, dancers and storytellers as well as poetry are shared, and typical foods and handmade goods are sold for fair prices. Here, Aruba’s spirit is celebrated.
The Archaeological Museum of Aruba and the Aloe Museum and factory also are worth a visit. The archaeological museum shares the story of the island’s earliest inhabitants and their way of life including their handicrafts, while the free Aloe Museum is located among aloe fields that were in use 160 years ago. The aloe plant has a place of honor on Aruba’s shield or coat of arms.
Other ‘touristy’ things to do don’t make them any less fun. Try the Go-Kart track, especially if you have kids, or dive undersea with the SeaBob, an easy-to-use underwater scooter that allows riders to glide on and under the sea at speeds of up to 13mph.
Naturally, you’ll want to eat some Aruban specialties like fresh fish. However, don’t neglect the more ‘junk food’ type treat of deep-fried pastechis. Once we discovered Don Pastechis at L.G. Smith Blvd (Sasakiweg), in Oranjestad, we were there every day picking up lunch to go in the form of pastechis stuffed with cheese, cheese and ham, cheese and pepperoni or beef or chicken.
Transportation is easy on the island with buses running regularly for a small fee, however, when a cruise ship is in town, the capital’s streets can get gridlocked, so that’s a great day to be in or on the water!
For yachtsmen, there is the Oranjestad Renaissance Marina at LG Smith Blvd 9 (adjacent to the weekly Bon Bini Festival), with daily, weekly, monthly and yearly slip rates; the Aruba Nautical Club at Balashi z/n in Oranjestad, and a 5,000 square foot Budget Marine shop located in the Spanish Lagoon, also at Balashi 75-B.
Jill Zima Borski is a freelance writer who has lived in Islamorada in the Florida Keys for 21 years. She loves to travel and recently returned from Croatia.