Aruba Travel Guide
Every evening they come to sit by the shore to await the sunset: a family of six visiting from some distant land. During the day the parents may have dined in style or gambled in the glitzy casinos downtown. The kids may have gone snorkeling or diving, or perhaps drove an ATV across the arid, moonlike surface of the northern coast. The evening, though, is the time when they all come together as a family to watch the sun dip down below the water. In the tangerine light of another Aruba sunset, they hug and laugh, six happy silhouettes against the Caribbean sky.
Cruise ships gleam in Oranjestad Harbour, while thousands of eager tourists scavenge through souvenir stalls looking for the perfect memento. The mile-long stretch of L. G. Smith Boulevard is lined with cafés, designer stores, and signs for the latest Vegas-style shows. The countryside is dotted with colorful cunucu (country-style houses) and small neighborhood shops. Suddenly, the rocky desert landscape is startlingly austere.
Aruba offers an amazingly diverse experience in a small package. Tourists flock here for the sunny climate, perfect waters, and excellent beaches—so much so that the area around beautiful Eagle Beach is an almost unbroken line of hotels, restaurants, and bars. Here on the south coast, the action is nonstop both day and night, while the fiercely rugged north coast is a desolate and rocky landscape that has so far resisted development.
Aruba’s wildly sculpted landscape is replete with rocky deserts, cactus clusters, secluded coves, blue vistas, and the trademark divi-divi tree. To see the island’s wild, untamed beauty, you can rent a car, take a sightseeing tour, or hire a cab for $40 an hour (for up to four people). The main highways are well paved, but on the windward side (the north- and east-facing side) some roads are still a mixture of compacted dirt and stones. Although a car is fine, a four-wheel-drive vehicle will allow you to explore the unpaved interior.
Traffic is sparse, but signs leading to sights are often small and hand-lettered (this is slowly changing as the government puts up official road signs), so watch closely. Route 1A travels southbound along the western coast, and 1B is simply northbound along the same road. If you lose your way, just follow the divi-divi trees, which always lean southwest.
Aruba Restaurant Reviews
Aruba has many fine restaurants, so you can expect outstanding meals and international cuisine. Arubans tend to eat their main meal at lunchtime, so feel free to follow suit and save money by trying the lunch menus at the better restaurants. Be sure to try such Aruban specialties as pan bati (a mildly sweet bread that resembles a pancake) and keshi yena (a baked concoction of Gouda cheese, spices, and meat or seafood in a rich brown sauce). On Sunday you may have a hard time finding a restaurant outside a hotel that’s open for lunch, and many restaurants are closed for dinner on Sunday or Monday. Reservations are essential for dinner in high season.
The Aruba Gastronomic Association (AGA www.arubadining.com) offers Dine-Around packages that involve more than 20 island restaurants. Here’s how it works: you can buy tickets for three dinners ($117 per person), five dinners ($190), seven dinners ($262), or five breakfasts or lunches plus four dinners ($230). Dinners include an appetizer, an entrée, dessert, coffee or tea, and a service charge (except when a restaurant is a VIP member, in which case $38 will be deducted from your final bill instead).
Aruba Hotel Reviews
Hotels on the island are categorized as low-rise or high-rise and are grouped in two distinct areas along L. G. Smith and J. E. Irausquin boulevards north of Oranjestad. The low-rise properties are closer to the capital, the high-rises in a swath a little farther north. Hotel rates, with the exception of those at a few all-inclusives, generally do not include meals or even breakfast. The larger resorts feel like destinations unto themselves, complete with shopping, entertainment, and casinos.
Unlike many islands, Aruba’s nightlife isn’t confined to the touristy folkloric shows at hotels. Arubans like to party. They usually start celebrating late, and the action doesn’t pick up until around midnight.
“Duty-free” is a magical term in the Caribbean—but it’s not always accurate. The duty-free shopping zone in Aruba closed several years ago, so the only true duty-free shopping is in the departure area of the airport. (Passengers bound for the United States should be sure to shop before proceeding through U.S. customs in Aruba.) Downtown stores often advertise “duty-free prices,” with markdowns of up to 25%, but comparison shopping is still advisable. Major credit cards are welcome virtually everywhere; U.S. dollars are accepted almost as readily as the local currency; and traveler’s checks can be cashed with proof of identity.
Aruba’s souvenir and crafts stores are full of Dutch porcelains and figurines, as befits the island’s heritage. Dutch cheese is a good buy (you’re allowed to bring up to 10 pounds of hard cheese through U.S. customs), as are hand-embroidered linens and any products made from the native aloe vera plant—sunburn cream, face masks, or skin refreshers. Local arts and crafts run toward wood carvings and earthenware emblazoned with aruba: one happy island and the like. Since there’s no sales tax, the price you see on the tag is what you pay. (Note that although large stores in town and at hotels include the value-added tax of 3%, tiny shops and studios may add it separately.) Don’t try to bargain. Arubans consider it rude to haggle, despite what you may hear to the contrary.