I had always wanted to visit paradise and Aruba was just that. From being surrounded by white sandy beaches, colourful buildings reminiscent to doll houses and colourful fauna and flora as far as the eye can see. This island I discovered had much more however including native Indian caves with a deep history, wrecks to be explored and gold to be uncovered.
Coast & beaches
The first thing I noticed as the plane descended were the turquoise waters and white sandy beaches. I knew this would be my first stop on the island. Eagle beach – named one of the top 10 beaches in the world by TripAdvisor.com – is not only a highlight of Aruba but one of the Caribbean.
The beach is just a 10 minute drive from Aruba’s capital; Oranjestad. Be sure to walk along this 1.3 miles of pure white sand and you’ll discover some of Aruba’s most iconic features. The first thing I noticed was the Divi Divi (Fofoti) tree, which has been blown into it’s surrealistic shape by Aruba’s strong winds. The trees are protected and are native to the island – so take some snaps! I loved this spot on the island so much, that I walked it’s stretch everyday for the 5 weeks I spent on Aruba.
Another stop I made was Mangel Halto – just south of the airport, this exotic stretch has little sand but it’s crystal clear shallow waters are great for snorkelling and daily diving trips will ensure you discover its colourful depths. Make sure to explore the area and take a walk through its vibrant mangroves. You may even be lucky enough to meet a pelican or 2!
If snorkeling and marine life are your priorities, then De Palm Island is a great spot. You’ll get to spend the full day on this island with fun activities from riding banana boats to snorkeling with giant blue parrot fish – they’re happy to come up and swim along with you too! A full buffet is also included in the price, so no need to bring extra cash or food for the trip. ($99 (£69.44) adult, $69 (£48.40) children) If you would rather not spend the extra money however, Mangel Halto and other diving spots will be a just as brilliant experience.
Tip: Bring a cheap and disposable underwater camera!
Before venturing into the heart of Aruba I stopped off at beaches on the north of the island – Andicuri and Dos Playa. These beaches are just as exotic, however with high waves and cliffs, you won’t want to go for a relaxing swim here. Instead take your surfboards and water sports equipment or hike the surrounding area. Between these 2 beaches is the infamous natural pool – Conchi. Created by volcanic rock this natural pool is a tranquil retreat from the surrounding waves which clash against its shared rocks.
Arikok National Park
Arikok is a protected national park and takes up around 20% of the island and is almost untouched by humans. From cacti forests which tower above you to hills and canyons, this is a unique hiking experience – just look out for snakes!
If you want to discover the deep past of Aruba, be sure to check out the caves within Arikok National Park – the main three are Fontein, Huliba and Guadirikiri. These caves were inhabited 4000 years ago by a group of nomads from the Americas. More recent were the Arawak Indians – they inhabited the caves just a thousand years ago and you’ll find remnants within via paintings which have remained on the rock.
Quadirikiri cave is somewhat unique among caves – as I walked through the dark tunnels a stream of light, heavenly in appearance appeared in front of me. This was due to the rock above collapsing and allowing light to pour through.
If you want to maybe strike lucky and find some gold Bushiribana ruins is the place to go. This abandoned gold mill produced 3 million pounds of gold just a couple of hundred years ago. In fact the name Aruba means “Red Gold”. I unfortunately didn’t come across any, but seeing the ruins and views of the northern coast made up for that!
Oranjestad and architecture
The Caribbean is known for it’s vibrant culture and Oranjestad – meaning Orange Town – is definitely living up to that expectation. As you walk through it’s streets you feel as though you are a miniature version of yourself walking through a beautifully painted dolls house. The architecture is that of Dutch and European, however with a Caribbean twist of bright colours.
Oranjestad also has a wide range of museums, shopping malls and restaurants. One stop you should make is Fort Zoutman, the oldest structure on Aruba. This was built when the Dutch came to the island in 1798 and now houses a museum and every Tuesday night 6:30 – 8:30pm hosts the Bon Bini Festival. Here you can see dancers with extravagant outfits and music in the native Aruban language; Papiamento. This was a fun evening and as it’s weekly you won’t miss it.
Another famous site on Aruba is Alto Vista Chapel. Originally built in 1750 by a Venezuelan missionary but then abandoned and later rebuilt in 1952 by the Dutch, this is the oldest church on the island. Close to Arikok National Park, this isn’t something to miss and will only take an hour or so out of your day.
Hooiberg & the Ayo Rock Formation
Not too far from Oranjestad is Hooiberg – translated as Haystack. This is the tallest natural formation on Aruba and is a great climb – 562 steps to be exact, but it’s worth it! The views from the top are amazing and with water on both sides just show how small this island paradise is. With my eye I could just make out the South American mainland – Venezuela is just 15 miles from Aruba and can be seen from Hooiberg on a clear day.
Ayo Rock Formation is another high point of Aruba in which Venezuela can be seen. These unusually shaped boulders can be explored and climbed and they a great spot to see some of the Aruban wildlife. I was visited by the islands native burrowing owl – the shoco. But you’ll also see a variety of other intriguing animals here and elsewhere on the island, including huge green iguanas, spotted blue lizards, rare rattle snakes and an infamous bird of prey; the Warawara – which I was lucky enough to see. Ayo also has some of the very same markings left by the Arawak Indians previously seen in the caves – it is said that they used these rocks to listen for thunder and judge the upcoming weather patterns of Aruba.
This island has something to offer for everyone from lounging in front of the turquoise waters, hiking its nature trails or discovering its hidden past. For me this was a trip of a lifetime and I recommend Aruba for everyone.
- Official language: Dutch, Papiamento
- Capital: Oranjestad
- Religion: Catholicism
- Population: 102,911
- Currency: Aruban Florin / USD