Aruba: Happy Days – Easy Stay

There are dozens of reasons why this sunny isle makes for a foolproof island destination, but here are just a few. It’s easy to get to: hop on a plane in Atlanta or Charlotte, and it’s just four hours to Aruba’s large, modern airport. The beaches are long, white, lapped by the turquoise Caribbean Sea and, remarkably, nearly bug-free, thanks to trade winds that blow all year long. There’s plenty to do beyond the shoreline, too, as this quirky Dutch oasis also overflows with not-so-typical Caribbean adventures like four wheeling in the rugged outback, touring an aloe factory, bird watching and gambling at glitzy hotel casinos. There’s no language barrier either, since English is widely spoken and American dollars are accepted everywhere. 

Island Time

By day, Aruba is a true Caribbean stunner, when the pure white, silky-soft sand of Eagle Beach and Palm Beach seems to glow against the aquamarine water. Beyond keeping the bugs away, the island’s trade winds draw wind surfers and kite surfers, who put on a show racing and whirling across — and over — the sea like dancing marionettes. Tucked here and there along the south side of the island, calm lagoons make stand-up paddle boarding almost as easy as it looks; the surrounding mangroves attract rainbows of tropical fish. Golf at Tierra del Sol’s Robert Trent Jones II-designed course is just 10 minutes from most hotels.

Reaching from the island’s craggy north coast into its desert-like middle, Arikok National Park comprises nearly 20 percent of Aruba and offers a glimpse into its ancient history, diverse landscape and natural beauty. The best way to see the park is to take a guided tour that includes visits to the new visitor center; Boca Prins’ white, windswept sand dunes; Fontein Cave, which is lined with 1,000-year-old petroglyphs, and Dos Playa, a pair of beaches popular with nesting sea turtles. Don’t forget your bathing suit — taking a dip in Boca Keto, an ocean-fed natural pool carved from lava stone, is a once-in-a-lifetime thrill. 

Just north of Eagle Beach — near the red Dutch windmill — the Bubali Bird Sanctuary attracts more than 80 species of birds to its natural wetland. The shaded viewing tower is a comfortable place to set up camp as you search the sky and marsh for rare species. 

Back in Time

To get a sense of the island’s history, head to the capital, Oranjestad. Constructed in 1798 to defend against marauding pirates, Fort Zoutman is now a museum, where you’ll find a small but interesting collection of artifacts and exhibits. If you can, climb to the top of Willem III Tower, which was added about 70 years later, for a view of the city, the harbor and the surrounding landscape. Plan to spend at least a half day in Oranjastad — the winding streets surrounding the museum are lined with duty free boutiques, handicraft stalls and designer shops and there’s even a new trolley to take you around. Healing aloe vera thrives in Aruba’s dry climate and was once so important to the island’s economy that it appears on the island’s coat of arms. Founded in 1890, the Aruba Aloe Company was the first company to cultivate aloe; tours offer insight into both the history and the benefits of this ancient remedy.  

Down Time

With its west-facing beaches, Aruba’s sunsets are dreamy. Take them in at one of the bars and restaurants that line the shore (torchlit, toes-in-the-sand dinners are a romantic tradition in Aruba; try Flying Fishbone in historic Savaneta) or aboard one of the sunset cruises that depart from De Palm Pier. Once the sun has dipped into the ocean, join the dressy crowd playing blackjack, baccarat or simply spinning the slots at one of the island’s numerous Palm Beach casinos, which rival Vegas’ in terms of unrestrained dazzle.

Brand-name resorts welcome guests with large pools, full-service bars and restaurants, air conditioning and other creature comforts. Separated from its neighbors by a grove of sea grapes, The Ritz-Carlton Aruba  has the north end of gorgeous Palm Beach almost to itself. Don’t miss the spa, which has enlisted an herbalist to create a line of products utilizing locally gathered-botanicals. 

Kids love the massive pool complex at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino. Adults can’t get enough of the pampering spa, which uses mineral-rich local mud in its treatments, or the dazzling casino. This beachfront resort also boasts ten restaurants and a freshwater lagoon rimmed by tropical blooms.

Both the adults-only Renaissance Marina Hotel and the family-friendly Ocean Suites give guests access to Renaissance Island, a 40-acre private island retreat that’s accessible only by boat. 

Plan your escape to One Happy Island! Call your AAA Travel Agent today at 800-398-0379.

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