Ah, Aruba! What a magical place :). Or as the slogan for the country goes, One Happy Island!
As I have stated in the past, I don’t like to pick favorites, but if I absolutely had to pick a Southern Caribbean favorite, it would be the wonderful island of Aruba.
Aruba is located 15 miles north of Venezuela in the warm waters of the southern Caribbean. The island is geographically tiny at just 19.6 miles long and 6 miles across, with a total area of 70 square miles. Because of the location, it falls just below the hurricane belt and has a dry climate with rarely any rain.
Oranjestad is the capital city, and is located on the western coast of the sovereign island nation. Aruba is home to beautiful white-sand beaches, 82-degree days and beautiful culture. With miles and miles of beaches, Aruba is said to have some of the best beaches in the world.
Many westerners have made Aruba home mainly due to the developed nature bearing similarities to the western world’s, but on a tropical paradise. The country was discovered and claimed for Spain in 1499, but was acquired by the Dutch in 1636, hence the Dutch influences all over the island.
In fact, though sovereign since 1985, the island is a semi- autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
There are a number of things I truly loved about Aruba, but to name a few…
Now, you may say that Aruba does not have a monopoly on amazing sunsets, and that this may have just been a one-off occurrence, and on both fronts, you may be right, however, for each night I was in Aruba, one thing I looked forward to every evening was watching the sunset. It was so beautiful every night! I can’t, of course, guarantee that every visitor to Aruba would experience sunsets such as this, but this was certainly one of my favorite things about my visit.
While the main one did collapse some years ago, Aruba is still filled with many beautiful natural bridges. There are actually 7 of them in all. The original one that most refer to when they talk about a natural bridge collapsed in 2005. However, I got to visit the smaller bridge right next to the fallen bridge that still stands and it was still a magnificent beauty!
The Dutch influences
I am partial. This reason may not entice others quite as much as it enticed me. Coming off living in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, I had grown fond of the Dutch and had some withdrawals, so I was quite excited upon landing in Aruba and seeing airport signs in Dutch. In fact, road signs are also in Dutch and the residents speak fluent Dutch as the country is a sovereign state under the Netherlands. Many Dutch people come to Aruba to vacation, so the roads, infrastructure and facilities are very well developed as one would expect while actually in the Netherlands (think Rotterdam, but in the Caribbean and without the bicycles).
Yet, I was pleased that even with this heavy Dutch influence, Aruba is still its own nation with own distinct cultural offerings and character.
During Aruba Carnival is a great time to experience the culture of Aruba.
The carnival runs from February 11th through March 4th next year. If you would like to visit during the carnival period, the major dates for the 2014 iteration is as follows:
- February 14th – Aruba’s 60th Carnaval Queen Election
- February 19th – 20th annual Mrs. Carnaval competition in Oranjestad
- February 22th – 49th Noord Children Parade
- February 26th – Tourist Night Steelband and Costume Show
- March 1st – Big Saturday, Aruba Carnival Parade in San Nicolas
- March 2nd – Big Sunday, Aruba’s Big Carnaval 60th annual parade
- March 4th – Street Party ends with Burning of King Momo
Some random facts about Aruba
– Dutch and the local language of Papiamento are the official languages of Aruba, but most Arubans speak a minimum of four languages, including English and Spanish
– The Arikok Natural Wildlife Park takes up over 20% of the island and is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Aruba where you can find some animals completely indigenous to Aruba such as the Aruban whiptail lizard
– Aruba is predominantly a Roman Catholic state (82%) with the rest of the religions split between Protestants, Hindu, Muslim and Confucianism
– As can be imagined, tourism is the main industry, and along with gold mining, phosphate-mining, aloe exporting, and petroleum refining, make up the 5 dominant industries in Aruba
– Aruba has one of the highest standards of living in the Caribbean region and has a low unemployment rate
Want to go?
You will fly into Reina Beatrix International Airport (IATA code AUA), the only commercial airport on the island. All major American carriers have either direct or connecting operations to AUA including American Airlines (Miami), AirTran (Atlanta, Baltimore, Orlando), United (Chicago, Washington/Dulles, Newark, Houston Intercontinental), US Airways (Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte), Delta (Atlanta, New York JFK), and JetBlue Airways (New York JFK, Boston).
Approximate round trip flight costs in February (during carnival) at the time of this posting are as follows (sample itineraries from February 13th through 19th):
- Washington DC (IAD): Connecting flight on American for $535 (6.5 hours total onward and 9 hours on the return, connection included)
- Baltimore: Direct roundtrip on AirTran for $489 (4.5 hours flight)
- Miami: Direct roundtrip on American for $488 (2.5 hours flight)
- New York: Direct roundtrip on JetBlue for $496 (4.5 hours flight)
- Chicago: Connecting flight through Miami on American for $532 (7.5 hours total time each way, connection included)
- Atlanta: Direct roundtrip on Delta for $478 (4 hour flight)
- Dallas: Connecting flight through Miami on American for $603 (10 hours total time each way, connection included)
- San Francisco: Connecting flight through Miami on American for $715 (11.5 hours total time each way, connection included)
The cost of these roundtrips are slightly higher due to the carnival period. During none carnival periods, the cost of tickets can drop down as much as $200.
All U.S. citizens and Canadian citizens must have a U.S. or Canadian passport for all air travel, including to and from Aruba. All sea travelers must also now have a passport or passport card. You are required to have an onward/return ticket, proof of sufficient funds and proof of lodging accommodations for your stay. The typical length of stay granted by immigration is 30 days, and may be extended to 180 days by the office of immigration.
I stayed at the Westin Aruba located on gorgeous Palm Beach.
This hotel has everything one could want for a beach hotel and the location could not be more superb. The strip the hotel is located on is a great walking strip with great resturantants, bars and entertainment just rght down the street. I found myself walking and enjoying the day many times while there.
On one such occasion, I stopped for these pictures…
The Westin Aruba is part of the Starwood Hotels brand and is considered a Category 4 hotel in the SPG program. Average room rates are $189/night for standard rooms, or 10,000 Starpoints (or 5,000 Starpoints + $75) for a free room. The hotel features 481 heavenly guest rooms including over 200 spectacular ocean view rooms, all with private balconies.
If you do not fancy the Westin, there are over 30 other suitable accommodation options to choose from. You can peruse them here.
So many to choose from! Where do I start?
I opted for a half day tour of the island to get to know it better. The island is quite small, so we were able to cover almost it’s entirety in just 5 hours! We visited such national landmarks as the Baby Natural Bridge, Ayo Rock Formation, Lourdes Grotto, California Lighthouse and Alto Vista Chapel. The last stop was at Baby Beach on the island’s southern tip which was quite a treat!
Other tour option suggestions:
- Baby beach Jeep adventure
- Catalina Bay and Antilla Ship Wreck Snorkel Cruise
- Aruba Sunset Catamaran Cruise
- A Day trip to private island of De Palm from Aruba on a Passport to Paradise adventure
..or you could just choose to sit back and relax on the beach all day :).
With beaches like this…
…who could blame you?