While Aruba is famed for its powdery-white sand, there is more to this island than just its beaches. It is top-ranked in the Caribbean for wreck diving, boasts world-class windsurfing and kiteboarding, and serves up outstanding international cuisine—it is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Oranjestad is the vibrant seaside capital, but most visitors stay in the two resort regions clustered along the west coast: Eagle Beach, with its small boutique properties and rentals, and Palm Beach, home to luxurious high-rise hotels and resorts.
Morning: Take a wind- or kite-surfing lesson with Aruba Active Vacations on Hadicurari Beach (locally called Fisherman’s Huts), just north of Palm Beach. The beach’s calm, shallow reef means it’s safe for beginners to try out these exhilarating sports.
Afternoon: Reward your efforts at Taste of Belgium—a chic bistro serving French-Belgian cuisine—in nearby Palm Beach Plaza. Go for a Niçoise salad and Belgian beer. After, indulge in a beachside massage at Spa del Sol, located inside the Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, before chilling on a lounger with a cocktail.
Evening: Hop aboard a vibrant Kukoo Kunuku party bus—it picks you up at your hotel—for a fun night out on wheels. The Dinner & Nightlife Tour starts with a sunset champagne toast on the beach, before setting off to enjoy a Caribbean dinner at a local restaurant. The party keeps going well into the night, with stops at three local hangouts for drinks and dancing.
Morning: Set sail for the SS Antilla’s watery grave aboard a catamaran. One of the Caribbean’s largest wrecks, the German cargo ship was scuttled by its crew during the Second World War. Snorkel above the ship—it lies 18 metres below—that is covered in corals and tube sponges attracting colourful damselfishes and parrotfish.
Afternoon: Join Arubans for some home cooking at The Old Fisherman in Oranjestad; try a combination platter piled with fresh fish and seafood. After, visit the Historical Museum of Aruba, housed inside Fort Zoutman, the city’s oldest building, dating to 1798, to see how the island’s settlers lived.
Evening: Enjoy a romantic dinner at the Papiamento Restaurant in Palm Beach. It is operated by the Ellis family in a century-old cunucu (farmhouse). The Keshi Yena, spiced meat broiled with Dutch cheese, is a must-taste, as is Eduardo Ellis’ seafood pot. End your night by dancing on the sand at nearby MooMba Beach Bar & Restaurant.
Morning: Rent a four-wheel-drive, grab all the fixings for a picnic lunch and head on a full-day tour of Aruba. Drive to the California Lighthouse on the northwest tip of the island before heading east along the rugged windward coast. Unpaved roads zig-zag past churning seas, otherworldly rock formations, towering cacti and Aruba’s iconic divi-divi trees—which are contorted by the winds that sweep over the island. Stop at the tiny Alto Vista Chapel before stopping at the ruins of the Bushiribana gold smelter.
Afternoon: Continue south to San Fuego, located mid-island, to picnic at the Arikok National Park Visitor Centre before popping inside to view the exhibits. You can explore the park on your own, but you’ll learn more by hiring a guide for the 3.6-kilometre circular trek to Cunucu Arikok, an old farmstead. Along the way, you can trace the volcanic island’s geological origins, one of the few places in the world you can do so with the naked eye.
Evening: Mingle with Arubans at cozy Café 080 in Noord, a few minutes from Palm Beach. Try Dutch snacks such as the signature gehaktbal meatball. Back in Palm Beach, purchase art, jewelry and trinkets in The Village’s outdoor night market, and end your day with a sing-along at nearby Sopranos Piano Bar.
Two Can’t-Miss Festivals
Head to Fort Zoutman in Oranjestad on Tuesday nights for this weekly festival. From 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the outdoor courtyard comes alive with local artisans, folk music and dancing—along with the mouthwatering aromas of the Aruban cuisine on offer.
The air is filled with tumba, calypso and road march tunes during the annual carnival celebrations, that run through March 3. Don’t miss the Grand Carnival Parades, a spectacle of costumed groups and dazzling floats, in San Nicolas (March 2) and Oranjestad (March 3).
[This story appears in the February 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine.]
Living Like a Local in Barbados
Barbados celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence on November 30, 2016. To toast the occasion, we asked Bajan Darrio Prescod, the Barbados and Caribbean brand ambassador for Mount Gay Rum (one of the country’s most famous exports), to share his favourite island spots.