Insider’s Guide to Aruba
VIDEO: Take a Historical Tour of Aruba with Shane O
Off the coast of South America, you will find Aruba, a Dutch-owned Caribbean island renowned for its immaculate stretches of white-sand beaches and strikingly beautiful turquoise seas. Located outside the Hurricane Belt, with constant cooling trade winds, Aruba has more sunny days than any other Caribbean island. With more than 90 nationalities, the island has become the epicenter of a cultural mosaic. While Dutch and Papiamento are Aruba's official languages, most Arubans speak at least 4 languages, including English, Spanish and Portuguese.
Where to Stay
In addition to the Hotel Riu Palace Aruba, the uber-luxurious Ritz-Carlton are options if you haven't decided where to stay for this island getaway. The 320-room Ritz-Carlton, Aruba is the island’s most lavish hotel, with a 24-hour casino, a 13-treatment-room spa and four 4 restaurants. Expect to pay around $450 per night.
More of an intimate, boutique venue, Boardwalk Hotel Aruba features spacious rooms with fully equipped kitchens and private patios with charcoal grills. Built on the site of a former coconut plantation, the hotel has a luxurious garden with hammocks on the terraces. Rooms start at around $165 per night.
If you want an all-inclusive hotel, the Divi Aruba is the one to book. Overlooking The Links at Divi Aruba 9-hole golf course, the Divi Village All-Inclusive Villas offer spacious studios, one1- and two2-bedroom villas with designer furnishings, luxury amenities, plasma TVs, an in-suite welcome bar, and private terrace or balcony. Rooms start at around $575 per night.
What To Do
While it’s easy to spend serene afternoons relaxing in the endless sunshine, adventure-seekers will discover Aruba -- though only 19.6 by 6 miles long -- is chock-full of exhilarating land and water activities. From catamaran sailing and underwater exploration to off-road jeep safari excursions through the rugged Arikok National Park, there is a plethora of island action.
The island boasts more than 20 dive spots ranging from 20 to 100 feet, including the Shipwreck of the Antilla, which is one of the most popular spots for snorkelers and scuba divers alike; at 400 feet long, it is the largest shipwreck dive in the Caribbean. Known as the “ghost ship,” the Antilla is a German freighter built in 1939. Scuttled in 1945 to prevent Dutch marines from seizing it, the ship now rests on its port side only 500 yards offshore and 60 feet below the surface, and is illuminated at night by fluorescent cup corals. Visitors can explore its compartments, anchors, cargo holds and boiler rooms.
You can board one of Red Sail Sports’ luxury catamarans at any of their 3 full-service dive and watersports centers to take you to Aruba's best snorkel spots. The company also offers a guided safari adventure designed to showcase the rugged and unseen beauty of Aruba -- places only accessible by 4-wheel, off-roading vehicles.
For fans of stand up paddle boarding (SUP), the calm coastal waters of Palm Beach and Mangel Halto provide a serene venue for the sport, giving paddlers a unique perspective of the island while getting a full-body exercise workout.
Where to Shop
Inside the Paseo Herencia Mall lies a small kiosk called Mia Spiaggia, meaning "my beach" in Italian. Filled with lights, ambient music and the sparkle of locally crafted jewelry, this little store has a unique selection of gifts ranging from jewelry to children's toys to an Aruban natural aloe vera soap. Paseo Herencia Mall is within walking distance from Aruba's high-rise resorts.
A popular fashion boutique in Aruba, ShabbyShic features home décor and apparel with a unique style. The friendly staff allows you to take your time while you meander through the store’s vintage furniture, beautiful chandeliers, paintings and Buddha statues. Whether you’re looking to pick up a dress to wear on your final night of vacation, or to pick out a beautiful necklace, earrings or scarf to commemorate your trip, a visit to ShabbyShic is a must.
Where to Eat
Aruba's authentic culinary combinations range from local dishes like gouda-glazed chicken or beef keshi yena and keri keri, a Criollo-dressed fresh fish stew, to international dishes such as Argentinian churrasco, Middle Eastern shawarma, and Japanese sushi and teppanyaki.
Tourists and locals alike enjoy the range of upscale international restaurants in Aruba, including Papillon, a French food favorite, and La Trattoria el Faro Blanco, a hilltop Italian restaurant offering a 360-degree view of the island. Those seeking a more intimate meal enjoy seafood at sunset at Marina Pirata or Pinchos, 2 fine-dining spots floating on the water.
Guests visit Papiamento, a 175-year-old authentic Aruban manor house situated in lush tropical gardens, to tour the mansion and wine cellar before or after dinner. And those craving the “catch of the day” often stop by popular local eatery Zeerover for an Aruban Balashi beer and basket of fresh fish and traditional side dish, pan bati, an Aruban pancake.
Aruba’s Best Beach
Aruba’s Baby Beach features crystal-clear, calm waters and the best snorkeling on the island. The beach’s extensive coral reefs offer a kaleidoscope of coral and tropical fish, including parrotfish, blowfish and angelfish, as well as an impressive swimming cove.
Located in Seroe Colorado, about a 45-minute car ride from Aruba’s high-rise hotel area, Baby Beach is tucked away from tourist foot traffic. Due to the man-made lagoon’s shallow waters, the beach offers a safe swim for small children and gives swimmers the chance to wade a long distance out while still being able to touch the sea floor. Cap off your day with a delicious, open-air dining experience at Big Mama's restaurant.
Major carriers to Reina Beatrix International Airport from the United States and Canada include Delta, American Airlines, US Airways, Continental, JetBlue, AirTran, Spirit and Air Canada. Aruba is a direct flight away from more than 10 major US cities, making it a quick Caribbean escape.