Located in the southern Caribbean only 26 kilometres from the South American coastline, the Dutch island of Aruba is like no other. From world-class white sand beaches and luxury resorts, including popular all-inclusives to cactus-studded landscapes, fresh island cuisine, and abundant land adventures and water activities, the "One Happy Island" is a destination for those who love life.
Look for the many "I love Aruba" signs scattered about in different places. After all, it's hard not to love an island with such incredible scenery and where the average daytime temperature is about 28 degrees Celsius year-round. And even though the official language is Dutch, don't worry about any language barrier either, as most Arubans speak English and Spanish fluently. If you hear a melodic, lilting conversation, chances are it is Papiamento — a local language that is a rich mixture of Spanish, Dutch, and Portuguese with tidbits of English and French thrown in for good measure.
Whatever your interests, there are plenty of reasons to love this 32 kilometre long island of Aruba. Here are my top 10 based on my recent visit:
1 The Beaches — From the half-moon-shaped Baby Beach with its friendly shallow waters to Eagle Beach, known as one of the world's most beautiful, what's not to love? The bonus is that all beaches are open to the public. While both coasts have spectacular views, the windward side is generally more remote.
2 The Resorts — From all-inclusives to high-rise, low-rise, time-shares and boutique, each has its own signature and draw. Try Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, where I joined in on a beach dinner party with live music. For one of my favourite meals we had all-you-can-eat shrimp, lobster, fish, and veggies. The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino is centrally located in downtown Oranjestad, close to the airport and also close to upscale shopping.
3 Nature and Natural Scenery — The best way to immerse yourself in the island's unique flora and fauna is with a trip to Arikok National Park. The nature preserve covers almost one-fifth of the island and is home to sand dunes, limestone cliffs, craggy inlets, and underground Indian caves. Located on the northeast coast and within the park is Boca Prins, a photographer's paradise. This secluded yet enchanting cove is framed by limestone cliffs and sand dunes. Expect to see aloe plants, divi-divi trees, and exotic cacti. If lucky, you might spot the prikichi — an Aruban parakeet along with burrowing owls, iguanas, and invasive goats and donkeys.
4 The Food — Island cuisine is brimming with fresh fish, shrimp, and lobster — the daily catch from the ocean. Try the local favourite Zeerovers for lunch, where the only thing on the menu is shrimp and fish. Or experience fine-dining at Wilhelmina Restaurant or Papiamento Restaurant, where a nearby plantation furnishes fresh herbs, fruits and greens. At Craft, breakfast is filled with healthy and some not-so-healthy comfort foods (waffles). All food and coffee is lovingly prepared with artisanal pride. At Sea Salt Grill, as might be expected, everything is about the grill, so be sure to try any of the seafood dishes. Try the skewered shrimp for an appetizer.The lobster salad comes with lobster in the shell.
5 The Water Activities — Pick your water activity from swimming, snorkelling, diving, fishing, sailing, boating, and kayaking to some of the best kiteboarding and windsurfing. Did you know that Aruba is one of the top five worldwide windsurfing destinations? Tranquilo Tours offers an awesome sail and snorkel package that includes one fine lunch made by Capt. Anthony and his crew, which includes a life-vest wearing Jack Russell Terrier named Buster. Free-flowing drinks, beer, and liquor add to a wonderful way to experience Aruba. While under sail, be sure and ask Capt. Anthony about the Second World War German submarine. He has stories that really grip you.
6 The Land Adventures — From hiking 32 kilometres of trails in the national park and horseback riding to climbing Hooiberg, one of Aruba's tallest peaks, outdoor adventures await. Off-road adventure is big with mountain bikes, Jeep rentals, and all-terrain vehicles available at a variety of places.
7 Private Island — By staying at the Renaissance, you are entitled to complimentary access to its private island. A boat shuttle service departs every 15 minutes to the island, which boasts private beaches, a spa, a restaurant, bar, gift shop, air-conditioned fitness centre, activity-rental centre, tennis courts, and even a nature walk. On one side is the adults-only Flamingo Beach with complimentary lounge chairs to enjoy the lagoon. On the other side is the family-oriented Iguana Lagoon. Private cabanas are available for a fee with all the attendant luxury that goes with it.
8 The Shopping — The original shopping mecca is in downtown Oranjestad, where you can find a great selection of international brand-name items — more than anywhere else in the Caribbean, and for that matter, South America. Consider buying island-made products such as Aruba aloe, cigars, stamps, and even an island hot sauce found in most restaurants and made with locally grown green papayas — Hot Delight's pica di papaya. Award winning, it is all natural and made with no preservatives.
9 The Murals — On your drive to Baby Beach, take time to peruse the town of San Nicolas, home to myriad professional wall murals. This under-rated attraction adds life and vitality to a small, sleepy town.
10 JetBlue flights daily — As of January 4, 2017, JetBlue is providing new daily service from its south Florida hub in Fort Lauderdale to Aruba's Reina Beatrix International Airport. This is in addition to service already provided from JFK airport in New York, and Boston.
Of course, there's more depending on your interests. Casinos, celebrations, and festivals to live entertainment, music, and nightlife, it's all here for the choosing. Live life and love Aruba.
Karin Leperi is an award-winning editorial writer and photographer who focuses on culture, cuisine, cruising, wildlife and luxury travel. While the umbrella is travel, she feels that culture, cuisine, and nature define a destination in unique ways that say why you must connect.