In July 2017, I had the pleasure of going on a press trip to sunny Aruba for Feeling magazine. I didn’t encounter endlessly deserted islands or paradisal tranquility, but rather an island flooded by Americans who prefer nothing more than Kentucky Fried Chicken delivered at their beach chair. When you’re happy to explore the other side of Aruba, however, you could be nicely surprised by this Caribbean island. Here are our 5 must dos for visiting Aruba and some very much to be avoided don’ts.
Aruba: water sports paradise for everyone
At the west side of Aruba, you’ll find beautiful white beaches overlooking the calm, azure blue sea. Diving, snorkeling, paddle boarding, jetski… at this side of the island, the sea lends itself perfectly for all kinds of water sports. The underwater world around the ABC-islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) is one of the most beautiful around the globe. Tropical sea inhabitants are happily swimming through the colourful coral reefs and ship wrecks found here in the ocean. A real paradise for water lovers! And with just the tiniest bit of luck, you might encounter parrotfish, butterflyfish and even giant sea turtles or a stingray.
If you’re up for something a bit more rough or like going off the beaten track, you’ll have to get to the southeastern part of Aruba. Landward winds and rough waves offer the perfect conditions for kitesurfers to show their tricks. Apparently, it’s also the ideal spot to learn to do so. We, however, preferred watching those colourful kites rushing by over the wild water.
Walking around colourful Oranjestad
The size of a handkerchief, friendly Oranjestad is absolutely worth a visit during your holidays in Aruba. Especially the historical centre around Wilhelminastraat is worth facing the hot sun by daylight. Charming colonial buildings in those typical Caribbean colours mix and match with dilapidated houses that were undoubtedly beautiful once upon a time. Don’t miss the green and white town hall, a colonial love nest that was nicely redone and now serves as a place for engaged lovers to seal the deal. When you turn into the smaller streets, you might see more of those beautifully pastel coloured houses among the many rundown buildings lining up the streets.
You can choose to discover the town with a local guide from Aruba Walking Tours, who’ll take you to the nicest parts of town and tell you more about its history. You’ll also get to taste some Arubian specialties along the way.
Discover the Caribbean cuisine
For those of you who love a culinary treat once in a while, will certainly find their liking in Aruba. Some of the best Caribbean restaurants are located here. From the French fusion cuisine at Screaming Eagle (where you can comfortably enjoy your dinner from a romantic lounge bed) to delicious fresh fish & meat dishes served by the Colombian chef at Papiamentu: the food is really good here on this island. If you can then enjoy dinner with your feet in the sand at Barefoot restaurant, you know: this is a holiday like it should be. Also, don’t miss out on the trendy coffee and cocktailbar Craft at Palm Beach. It’s the perfect place to start your day with a healthy breakfast or shamelessly pick one of the gigantic waffles with a topping of your choice just like we did. Getting into your day here on the rhythm of the island is pure bliss. In for something more local? Then try out lunch at Zeerover, the most important place on the island for fishermen. They recently built a restaurant on the pier where you can enjoy delicious fish. It’s couleur locale at its best. Local fish such as mahi mahi are caught, grilled an baked here straight from out of the sea onto your plate.
Relaxing at the sea side
Start your day with a yoga session right on the beach. Nothing more relaxing than looking at that bright blue sea while palm trees are waving their leaves above you and the island is slowly waking up. At the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort where we stayed, you’ll get to do that on one of the most beautiful stretches of beach on Aruba. If you’d like a massage under the palm trees, this is also a good place to go. I bet that breakfast afterwards never tasted that good!
Photogenic walls in San Nicolás
Rent a car to explore the island at your own pace and certainly don’t miss southern San Nicolás. This sleepy town has plenty of pretty art deco buildings on display reminiscent of a small version Miami, even if most of them are rather rundown. The streets around Berhardstraat got a make-over in 2016 when local and international artists could let their street art skills run wild. It certainly lifts up the place quite nicely and your instagram feed will never have looked more lively!
… and some absolute don’ts for Aruba
Would you like to visit the natural pool? Okay, but then don’t join one of those tours like De Palm Tours offers, even if they assure you it’ll be a private drive full of ‘off road adventure to the most secluded treasure’. You’ll end up sitting in a rattling jeep that’s going way too fast on rocky roads (which shady tourists love of course) to arrive at a pool the size of a stamp full with hundreds of other people. Pure horror. Choose to set off on your own as early as possible in the morning or late in the afternoon after the crowds are gone.
Another tourist trap are the catamarans who’ll take you snorkeling along with hundreds of other tourists. Bye bye idyllic swimming moment with tropical fish. Beach chairs and snorkeling gear in the car, and off you go with your rented car. Much more fun!
We’re also not 100% convinced by Renaissance Island, an artifially constructed island that’s part of the hotel with the same name. They lure tourists with imported pastel pretty flamingos that walk between the lined up beach chairs while you’re tanning and sipping your expensive cocktail. But we’ll admit, those flamingos set against the blue sea make for great pictures…
KLM flies directly to Aruba from Schiphol almost on a daily base, or with a stopover on Bonaire or Curaçao (return ticket from € 599, price july 2017). The time difference is 6 hours in summer, 7 in winter. You’ll need an international passport that’s valid for at least 6 months upon arrival. No need to get a visa as a Belgian tourist. No special vaccinations needed, but check itg.be for the most recent information. More info about Aruba on www.aruba.com.