Two things about Aruba are hard to miss. One is the wind. It blows so constantly that mosquitoes are often sparse and the native divi-divi trees are bent into dramatic sculptures that decorate the landscape like art. The other is the sun. It shines down on Aruba more often than any other Caribbean island. Even better, the island lies outside of the hurricane belt, making it a safe choice for a Caribbean vacation any time of year.
Just 19 miles long and five miles wide, Aruba is remarkably diverse, filled with a surprisingly varied landscape, restaurants for every taste, lively nightlife and opportunities for outdoor adventure — all with a side of Dutch culture and more than a little Gouda cheese. It’s also easy to reach via nonstop flights from many major airports. Travel Impressions makes it convenient to enjoy this diverse island with a variety of hotel packages that will suit every taste and pocketbook.
Start with the beaches. They’re tufted with the softest sand imaginable, stretch for miles along the south coast of the island and are lapped by calm, clear turquoise water. Some, like Palm Beach, are popular with windsurfers, who zip across the water like sea birds, and dramatic, gravity-defying kiteboarders. Others, particularly Eagle Beach, are impressively wide, rimmed by sea grapes and dotted with sea turtle nests. Just southwest of the airport, Mangel Halto is best known for snorkeling and walk-in scuba diving, but the beach, which is rimmed by a mangrove swamp, is peaceful and calm enough for even novice kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders. Like most of Aruba’s beaches, Mangel Halto is dotted with permanent thatch-roofed umbrellas, which can provide a shady respite for a day at the beach.
Beyond the beach, the rugged north coast is also worth exploring. Take a jeep into Arikok National Park, and you’ll enter a world of limestone cliffs and caves (some of which are decorated with ancient petroglyphs), huge sand dunes, and a sandless beach that resembles a moonscape.
Plan to spend at least one day in Oranjestad, Aruba’s lively capital. You’ll find high-end designer goods in several malls that line the main thoroughfare. Head into the town’s maze of sherbet-colored buildings to find souvenirs, duty-free shops, local art and a number of museums. Taking up several historic homes and structures, the National Archaeological Museum of Aruba details the island’s Amerindian history with a vast collection of 10,000 artifacts and a number of interactive exhibits. Located within 18th-century Fort Zoutman, the Aruba Historical Museum is often staffed by local historians and writers. Climb the eight flights of steps to the top of the building’s Willem III Tower for a sweeping view of the island.
Many restaurants within the hotel zone are refined and upscale. Those in neighborhoods are typically casual affairs serving fresh fish and unique Aruban specialties like Keshi Yena, which makes marvelous use of Gouda and Edam cheese shells by filling them with a flavorful chicken concoction. Many are located in country homes, called cunucu houses. The Old Cunucu House Restaurant is set within in a residential neighborhood and serves lunch and dinner inside a maze of casual, art-filled dining rooms or on the covered porch.
Aruba’s breezes make outdoor dining pleasant and bug-free. Perched at the end of a small pier overlooking an impossibly blue lagoon, Zeerovers is a melting pot of local professionals, in-the-know visitors and fishermen. The menu is printed on a large board that’s hung next to the window where you order and pay. Fried fish and shrimp arrive dusted with a translucent glaze of peppery crumbs and the pan bati — Aruban-style cornbread — is more addictive than the fries, which are also a treat. It can get crowded, but no one seems to mind. It’s about the fish, the view, the cold beer and the laid-back atmosphere.
Zeerovers isn’t alone. All over the island, local chefs serve up memorable meals in gorgeous outdoor settings. Don’t wear your best shoes — or any, for that matter to Flying Fishbone, where prime tables are actually set into the water. At Boca Prins Bar and Restaurant, grilled local snapper comes with a view of Arikok’s deserted, wind-swept beaches and a basket of the addictive fried polenta known as funchi.
For a small island, Aruba’s lodging options are vast, from small boutique hideaways to luxurious resorts, some all-inclusive, that come complete with casinos and spas. Travel Impressions represents many of the island’s top properties and can help you discover your perfect home base on the island.
Separated from its neighbors by a grove of sea grapes, the 320-room 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.
Large rooms, restaurants and activities galore (including a large casino), several pools and terrific access to Palm Beach keep the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino popular with couples, groups and families. This Marriott also hosts the exclusive Tradewinds Club, an upscale hotel-within-a-hotel concept on the top floor. Guests who book these accommodations may indulge in upgraded amenities, five daily dining presentations in the private lounge, a members-only beach area, and full access to the Tradewinds Concierge Service.
Recently renovated, the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino comprises two separate resorts — the Renaissance Marina Hotel and the Renaissance Ocean Suites. The adults-only Renaissance Marina Hotel provides a great location near Oranjestad’s designer boutiques and nightlife (the resort’s pool overlooks the action). You’ll also have access to Renaissance Island, the resort’s 40-acre private island retreat that’s accessible only by boat and is filled with friendly pink flamingos. Amenities like in-room mini-fridges, microwaves and sofa beds make Renaissance Ocean Suites a favorite of families. Ocean Suites guests also have access to Renaissance Island.
The family-friendly all-inclusive Hotel Riu Palace presides over Palm Beach. Generous free extras include 24-hour-a-day room service, drink service at the pool, an in-room mini-bar, entertainment for kids and adults, and water sports equipment.
It’s all about the water at Riu Palace Antillas, a 482-room adults-only all-inclusive set with sprawling free-form pools, whirlpools and a swim-up bar, all overlooking Palm Beach. Rooms have private balconies, free mini-bars and coffee makers.
Barcelo Aruba all-inclusive resort welcomes guests to Palm Beach with freshly renovated rooms and a new seafood restaurant and lobby bar. Daily programming includes dance lessons, cooking classes and fitness sessions.
Ready to relax and rejuvenate on Aruba? Call 800-750-5386 or visit your AAA travel office to speak with a AAA Travel Agent who can design a Travel Impressions Aruba vacation package just for you.
(March/April 2017 Traveler)