Located in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela, the tiny island of Aruba is synonymous with beautiful weather, fantastic scenery and total relaxation, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Aruba’s first settlers were the Caquetios Indians, who migrated from Venezuela to escape their more bellicose Carib counterparts and dominated the island for centuries. Indeed, initial European contact only followed much later in 1499 courtesy of the Spanish explorer Alonso de Ojeda.
The island itself was only taken in 1636 by the Dutch and, with the exception of a brief period of British control between 1805 and 1816, has remained in their hands ever since. This status quo was briefly threatened after the island’s secession from the Netherlands Antilles in 1986 but quickly reasserted when the movement towards complete independence was voluntarily ended in 1990.
Prominent in the gold and oil trades from the 19th century up to World War II, Aruba is now renowned as a tourist paradise. With plenty of things to see and do and a unique mixture of Dutch and American culture, it won’t take long to understand its appeal.
Aruba’s official languages are Dutch and the Creole language of Papiamento. Spanish and English are also spoken on the island. Common phrases include:
Bon dia/tardi/nochi – Good morning/afternoon/nightDanki – Thank youPor favour – PleaseSi – YesNo – NoAyo! – Goodbye
Aruba’s official currency is the Aruban florin (AWG). However, US dollars are generally accepted. The following exchange rates are accurate as of August 2006:
1 USD : 1.79 AWG1 EUR : 2.30 AWG1 GBP : 3.38 AWG
Aruba has a much drier climate than other islands in the region, with the small amount of rain generally falling in the autumn.
There is little seasonal temperature variation, with an almost constant 28 degree centigrade temperature.
The beaches of Aruba are naturally its most obvious attraction, being some of the best in the world. The major spot for locals is Eagle Beach, with picnic areas and in close proximity to a number of hotels. However, the Baby Beach is extremely popular with tourists, being shallow and sheltered and thus perfect for families. Palm Beach is also a delightful location, with its calm waters and enchanting butterfly farm. In spite of the rougher waters found towards the north, Hadicurari Beach is also very appealing, particularly for watersports enthusiasts or those wanting to snorkel.
Nevertheless, Aruba is far more than just beautiful beaches. The Arikok National Park near the centre of the island is one of the must-see areas. Taking up roughly 18% of the island, it provides all the main geological points of interests as well as a range of wildlife including several species unique to the island, such as the cascabel (Aruba’s rattlesnake) and the santanero (the Aruba cat-eyed snake).
Also in the centre is the Hooiberg volcanic formation, which can be seen wherever you are on the island and provides both a panorama of the island and views of Venezuela on clear days.
Aruba contains two major religious building worth visiting. With its charming (and surprisingly fitting) façade, the Alto Vista Chapel in Noord is the site of a pilgrimage in October, while the actual 19th century Church of Noord provides a striking example of neo-Gothic architecture.
Supplementing these buildings are a number of museums, boosting the island’s cultural profile. Notable among these are the Historical Museum, set in Fort Zoutman (the oldest building in Aruba) and surveying the island’s history, and the Archaeological Museum on Zoutmanstraat, specialising in remains of Aruwak island culture. On this subject, you can also visit the Ayo Rock formations to see a former site of the island’s first inhabitants.
Lighting up the island’s calendar are a stream of annual festivals like the Carnival (between January and the end of February) and St. John’s Day, each one a fabulous event filled with colour and music which no visitor should miss out on.
Oranjestad’s many shopping centres are the place to go for high-quality shops, for example the Alhambra Shopping Bazaar, the Palm Beach Shopping Centre and the Sun Plaza Mall.
A significant flea market is also held on L.G. Smith Boulevard for bargain hunters. Expect to find local goods like Dutch cheese, pottery, embroidery and skin-care products (locally produced due to the island’s aloe vera resource).
Aruba’s clubs offer a range of music, from salsa at Mambo Jambo to electronica at Musika. Oranjestad is a particularly good place to start looking for a fun night out, and is also home to some of the 11 casinos on Aruba. However, for something a little more upmarket, the Garuja Cigar & Cocktail Lounge on Wilhelminastraat is the spot to visit.
More uniquely, the Tattoo Party Cruises which depart from De Palm Pier provide plenty of music and drinks while drifting along the coast.
Aruba has a decent road network but the interior of the island contains unpaved areas and some of the traffic signs border on the illegible. Jeeps are recommended if you are planning on exploring and be cautious.
Drivers use the right-hand side of the road in Aruba.
Drink driving laws are not rigorously enforced in Aruba but, as part of the kingdom of the Netherlands, you should consider the drink driving limit to be 0.02% for drivers with less than 5 years experience and 0.05% for those with more than 5 years experience.
Food and Drink
Aruba has plenty of fast-food chains, as well as restaurants providing international cuisine like Chinese, Dutch, Italian and French.
The local cuisine naturally specialises in fresh seafood. Dishes like fisherman’s soup, Aruban fillet of fish (fresh fish, Creole sauce, funchi and pan bati) and seared Chilean seabass can be found on menus, washed down with the famous Aruban rum punch. Aqua Grill on Palm Beach Road and Brisas del Mar in Savaneta are particularly impressive establishments.