Aruba

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Aruba
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Overview

“Bonbini!” might be the greeting you hear when you step off the plane in friendly Aruba. That means “welcome” in Papiamento, Aruba's native language, and the people here are definitely ready to welcome you to their Caribbean paradise.

Aruba offers so much you could stay for weeks and never get bored. Are you a beach person? You have a world of choices on this “one happy island.” Visit the west coast for turquoise waters, brilliant sand beaches and a resort atmosphere complete with swimming, snorkeling, kite surfing, waterskiing and more. If you're looking for something more rugged, the east coast offers more secluded and undeveloped areas where you'll find limestone coves and craggy terrain that has been battered by the sea.

Airport served by: Aruba (AUA)

Destination basics

Is there such a thing as perfect weather? If so, Aruba's the place to find it, with clear skies, sunshine and cooling trade winds keeping residents and visitors happy year-round.

The average temperature is 28 C, with May through October being the hottest months and slightly cooler temperatures from December through March. Aruba gets very little precipitation – barely 400 mm per year (though even that small amount is welcomed by the area's tropical plants).

If you want to avoid that little bit of rain, plan to visit outside the wettest time of year, which is typically from October through January. The hurricane season goes from June through November, but Aruba's location on the southern edge of the hurricane belt means a direct hit isn't likely.

weather chart

Human activity on Aruba dates back at least 4,000 years. Colonization by the Caquetio people, originating in Venezuela, was established by 1000 AD. After Europeans arrived at the end of the 15th century, the island was held by Spain, then came under Dutch rule in 1636 as part of the Netherlands Antilles. Aruba claimed autonomy in 1986 and is now a separate entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Today Aruba is home to an ethnic rainbow, nearly 107,000 people of 96 nationalities from the Americas, Europe and Asia, along with native Arubans who claim Dutch, African, Spanish and Caquetio ancestry.

Aruba’s history is reflected in its tongues. Official languages are the native Papiamento, which, despite being used for 300 years, was not recognized as an official language until 2003. Dutch, English and Spanish are also widely spoken.

The story of Papiamento (the name literally means “to talk”) helps to define the island and its inhabitants. Spoken only in the ABC islands or the Lesser Antilles (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao), Papiamento has its roots in an Afro-Portuguese creole, a pidgin language born in the slave trade so people of different nationalities could communicate. Most words are variations of Portuguese and Spanish, with borrowings from Dutch, English and other languages.

The influence of these cultures is reflected in Aruba’s folk traditions and arts. Community celebrations, like the Feast of Saint John, Carnival and New Year’s, are a time of merriment with traditional music, dance and food that continues to evolve.

Music is influenced by Latin America and the Caribbean. Christmas season reverberates with Venezuelan-style Gaita Zuliana and Aguinaldo sounds. Carnival jumps to calypso, steel pan, brass band and tumba music.

The island’s old architecture also tells a tale. Social status was revealed by the style of one’s home; farmers in the utilitarian Cunucu or countryside house, the upper classes in the European-style manor house. This you can still see downtown Oranjestad; City Hall and the National Archeological Museum are fine examples.

It should be no surprise that Aruban cuisine is spiked with international influences. Seafood is the staple, with catch of the day jokingly referred to as the “national dish.” Barracuda, grouper and snapper are fished year-round, with jack, wahoo, mahi mahi, tuna and kingfish caught on seasonal runs.

Traditional dishes include keri-keri (shredded fish sautéed with chopped vegetables, spices and herbs), balchi di pisca (fish cakes) or Arubans’ favourite, fish with savoury Creole sauce. Meals are accompanied by rice, pan bati (corn bread pancake) or funchi (polenta), along with ice-cold local Balashi or new Balashi Chill beer.

Get a taste of Aruba’s culture at the weekly Bon Bini and Carubbian festivals.

Aruba is a Caribbean island nation modest in size but rich in natural beauty and cultural activity. Following is a city-by-city look at everything lovely about this unique tropical paradise.

Oranjestad
Oranjestad is Aruba's glittering cultural center, replete with all manner of can't-miss attractions. You'll find illuminating museum experiences thanks to organizations such as the Historical Museum of Aruba and the Aruba Numismatic Museum. One-of-a-kind oddities like the Aruba Ostrich Farm will keep kids of all ages entertained for hours on end, during which time adults of all ages can revel in theatrical spectacle at the Crystal Theater. Shoppers have a number of options to choose from, including high-end shopping complexes like Royal Plaza and Seaport Village, vibrant local marketplaces like the Tourists Go Flea Market and quaint little shops such as Artistic Boutique and Caperucita Roja. With so much to do, it can be helpful to enlist the services of local guides in seeing the whole of the island in as efficient a way as possible. Guided tours on land (courtesy of Banana Bus or Tours ABC) or at sea (aboard one of Aruba Kayak Adventure's trusty vessels or have an adventure with Jolly Pirates) are fun and enlightening. After so much activity, hunger will most certainly strike. Luckily, dining in Oranjestad is a treat. Enjoy casual dining with a dash of island flare at Rumba Bar & Grill.

Palm Beach
Palm Beach is home to many of Aruba's resorts, providing tourists with calm waters and white beaches ripe for frolicking. The nearby restaurants are not to be missed and serve an array of cuisines. For Brazilian fare, head to Texas de Brazil Churrascaria. For quality seafood, hunker down to some grub at the Aqua Grill or Fishes & More. Those partial to Italian should opt for a meal at Casa Tua. Get really festive with your feet in the sand at Simply Fish, where you dine right on the beach.

Eagle Beach
Just south of Palm Beach lies the coveted Eagle Beach. Though smaller in size and density, Eagle Beach nevertheless takes pride in being touted as one of Aruba's best beaches, carrying a charm all its own. It gets crowded on the weekends, but its restaurants are still a hoot. For those who prefer some French flair in their dining fare, Manchebo French Steakhouse hits the spot.

Noord
Noord is home to the northernmost area of Aruba, with the landmark California Lighthouse at the tip. Just a mite south of the lighthouse lies the green stretches of Tiera Del Sol Golf Course, with championship links. Noord's Papiamento offers hungry patrons a wealth of international cuisine piled high on its buffet tables, from Aruban to European to Indonesian and more. Hankering for a frolic at the nearby beach? Ocean Drive provides for all of your sunbathing necessities, carrying sunglasses, sunscreen, hats, designer beachwear, the works.

San Nicolas
San Nicolas is Aruba's second largest township. As such, it is home to everything a good "second city" should have. First and foremost among these amenities is a series of world-class sporting events. Marathonners from around the world flock to the island for the annual International Aruba Half Marathon, a run that offers challenging terrain and undeniably amazing vistas. Another kind of racing is popular here in San Nicolas, but you might say it requires a bit more octane. Hotly anticipated drag-racing events such as One Cool Summer International and the Boss Drag War Super Series are held right here in town. Time your visit right, so that you can revel in the competitive atmosphere. Whether you're here for the running or the dragging, so much excitement is bound to leave you hungry.  Charlie's is a tip-top choices for casual island fare.

Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, near the island's center point, is home to a pair of attractions sure to impress upon every visitor the true scope of nature's wonder. The Natural Bridge, one of Aruba's most famous landmarks, today lies in ruins after an epoch of stoic steadfastness. It is a marvelous sight nonetheless. Donkey Sanctuary Aruba offers a look at a somewhat different aspect of nature's wonder, the humble donkey. Bring the kids and get close to a creature that is eminently emblematic of this part of the world.

National Park Arikok
Just a ways past Santa Cruz is Aruba's grand Arikok National Park, land of unspoiled countryside and invaluable historic sites. Bushiribana Ruins are located on the premises, and they provide a peerless view into the island's past. Quadiriki Cave delves back in time even further. Count on Rancho del Campo to provide the tour guides and vehicular conveyances that will ensure that time at the park is time well spent.

Many travelers come to Aruba with nothing but visions of sandy beaches and warm tropical water dancing in their heads. Little do they know that the island also offers a wealth of top-flight entertainment options as well. From museums and theater to shopping and sports, no entertainment-related dream goes unfulfilled in Aruba.

Museums
A trio of engaging facilities offers every visitor a well-rounded look into Aruba's past – and its relationship to the rest of the world. At the Historical Museum of Aruba, catch a glimpse of the history of the island, a tale very familiar to any number of once-colonized locales around the world. The Archaeological Museum of Aruba delves even further into the island's past, looking at ancient remains for clues to eternal questions. Looking at the world from a decidedly more specific tack, the Aruba Numismatic Museum frames the history of civilization in terms of the history of coins.

Shopping
Shopping 'til you drop is an easy thing to do in Aruba. Island-themed souvenir outlets like Ecco and the slightly goofier Juggling Fish will keep you in t-shirts and knick knacks 'til the cows come home. Duty-free shops such as the aptly named Little Switzerland contain truckloads of discounted designer goods, from jewelry to fashion and more. But don't take that as an indication that fashion is taken lightly here in Aruba, there are many great high fashion boutiques. To get a real feel for the island and its energy, simply browse the booths at Tourists Go Flea Market, a one-stop festival-like destination for everything you need. Other great shopping spots include Paseo Herencia and Palm Beach Plaza, both of which have upscale shops, restaurants and entertainment.

Music
What Aruba lacks in visits from major-label superstars, it makes up for in local talent with real chops. In fact, you can feast on some chops while bobbing your head to first-rate live music thrilling crowds at L.G. Smith's Steak & Chophouse in the evenings. Sopranos Piano Bar delivers it own take on island-ready jazz.

Sports
Again, Aruba may lack the amenities of a major metropolitan city (like, say, a highly-paid professional sports team), but that doesn't mean sportsmanship isn't alive and well here. Tiera Del Sol Golf Course is a world-renowned site, expertly manicured and nestled on quiet beachfront property. It is but one of a number of golfer havens on the island. Golf too tame for your tastes? Try beach tennis, a popular Aruban pastime made all the more special at the annual International Aruba Beach Tennis Open.

Gaming
Speaking of casinos, try the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino, with its seven elegant restaurants and harbor-side view. The Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino is Aruba's largest casino and is open 24 hours, the only casino besides the Crystal Casino and Renaissance. Just remember to always double down on 11.

Oranjestad, being the most populous of Aruba's regions, is home to a wide variety of dining options, drawing on cuisines from all over the world.

Of all the major Caribbean islands, Aruba is closest to mainland South America. In light of that fact, a number of South American regional cuisines have gained popularity in Aruba. At El Gaucho, Argentine culinary artistry is the name of the game.

Mexico is not too far away either, so Mexican food is easy to find in Aruba.

Of course, Aruba is an island so stunningly beautiful that proximity and convenience have little to do with folks' reasons for coming here. Europeans make that great trek across the Atlantic regularly, to frolic on the island's sunny shores. Similarly, European cuisine has made the trip here as well. Chez Mathilde is a prime example of this phenomenon, providing its patrons with a mouth-watering taste of French tradition.

While Europeans might feel at home at Chez Mathilde, Americans might fit right in at Scandals, a rustic bistro-style restaurant that recalls the Mediterranean influenced contemporary menus of California and New York.

If so much highfalutin globe hopping is more than you bargained for, Oranjestad is also populated by plenty of island-style casual-dining spots, full of happy people, exotic cocktails and familiar (but sometimes Aruba-fied) pub grub.

Beyond the Oranjestad city limits, lots more possibilities await:

Palm Beach
Continuing the international theme of dining in Aruba, Palm Beach is also home to Casa Tua, an inviting Italian joint trafficking in pizza, pasta and a host of traditional specialties not necessarily familiar to the average joe.

Also pushing the boundaries of familiarity is Aqua Grill, an internationally renowned contemporary seafood kitchen where you can order Asian-influenced dishes right alongside those of New England and Central America.

Like Oranjestad, Palm Beach has no shortage of less formal establishments–places where you can guzzle your beverage and cut loose. Fishes & More won't let you down (the "more" referring perhaps to their intoxicatingly lengthy menu of innovative cocktails). The Tortuga Bar & Grill is even looser, affording diners and drinkers the opportunity to eat and drink right on the beach, under the sun or the stars, watching the waves crash or the sun set.

Eagle Beach
The lingering remnants of European colonialism are still in evidence in Eagle Beach - in the best way possible. As was made clear, there are steakhouses aplenty in Aruba, but Manchebo is one that adheres strictly to French tradition.

Noord
This area is home to a trio of establishments that speaks to the astonishingly wide variety of clientele present on the island. Papiamento, located in an actual Aruban manor, will surely appeal to visitors seeking an authentic island experience.

San Nicolas
In San Nicolas, the culinary emphasis seems to be on leisure. Meals are not overwrought and fancy. Concepts are barely there. What you can count on is dependability and comfort. The friendly Charlie's, is one perfectly pleasant cantina.

Oranjestad

Country: Aruba

Oranjestad by the Numbers
Population: 34,980
Elevation: 4 meters / 13 feet
Average Annual Precipitation: 47.2 centimeters / 18.6 inches
Average January Temperature: 26.7°C / 80.1°F
Average July Temperature: 28.6°C / 83.5°F

Quick Facts
Electricity: 110 volts AC, 60Hz; standard North American two prong plugs.

Time Zone: Atlantic Standard Time, GMT-4

Country Dialing Code: +297

Area Code: 297

Did You Know?
When you're in Aruba, you do not need to buy bottled drinking water. The island's tap water is relatively uncontaminated and thirst quenching because it has been purified in a plant known as WEB, one of the world's largest desalination plants.

Orientation
Oranjestad is on the island of Aruba in the Caribbean's West Indies. It is about 29 kilometers (18 miles) off of the coast of Venezuela and is approximately 12 degrees north of the equator.

Mother Nature reserved her crown jewels to adorn Aruba’s south and west coastlines and sparkle in the depths of the surrounding Caribbean Sea, endowing the tiny isle with some of the world’s best white-sand beaches and warm, translucent aquamarine water studded with colourful coral reefs in which to play.

Inland, however, the 30-kilometre by nine-kilometre island is a rocky desert, with only about 450 millimetres of annual rainfall and steady east trade winds.

Nonetheless, Aruba's semi-arid climate supports a variety of vegetation including mesquite, sea grapes, aloe vera, several species of cacti and the island’s famous watapana (or divi-divi) tree, which, buffeted by constant winds, grows at a sharp southwest angle.

The hill-studded topography and geological formations offer sightseeing and activities different from most other Caribbean destinations: giant rock piles, wave-carved natural bridges, ancient painted bat caves, rolling sand dunes and gold-mining ruins.

It is possible to trace the volcanic island’s geological origins with the naked eye, one of the few places in the world where you can do so. The best place to see the island’s three geologic formations is Arikok National Park. Here, on the hike to Cunucu Arikok, you will come across massive grey boulders called tonalites, formed 80 million years ago when magma penetrated the earth’s crust and solidified. The other geologic formations—limestone plateaus of fossilized coral and the Aruba lava formation, the oldest—can also be seen in the rolling hills running from the park entrance to the sea and along the windward coast.

Early History
The earliest inhabitants of Aruba were the Caquetio Indians. Around 1000 AD, who fled their home on Venezuela's Paraguana Peninsula to the island in order to avoid the violent attacks of their neighboring enemies, the Carib Indians. Their indigenous ancestry is still present today in that the names of many towns and geographical landmarks are named after various Indian chiefs. Many remnants of Aruba's earliest people can be found in the caves at the Arikok National Park or at the Historical Museum of Aruba located in Oranjestad.

There are many legends about the origin of Aruba's name. It was once thought that their name was Spanish for "there was gold" ("oro huba"), but in reality the Spanish were unsuccessful in their mission to hit the gold jackpot. Another possibility for Aruba's name source is that it was a Carib Indian word for "shell" and "island." Whatever the name "Aruba" might have meant back in the day, today it certainly means sun, fun, and seaside friendly climes.

Tumultuous Beginning
During the age of exploration, Aruba underwent many changes as several European countries claimed ownership over it. In 1499, the Spanish explorer, Alonso de Ojeda, took claim over the island in hopes that they would strike gold. At this time, the Spanish were unable to locate the gold mines and they abandoned the island in order to seek more profitable endeavors. At this point, Aruba was informally taken over by pirates. The remains of a pirate fortress can still be seen at the Bushiribana Ruins. Around 1636, the Dutch acquired ownership of Aruba and it remained that way for the next 200 years. For a brief period in the early 1800s, the British took control, but it was soon after returned to the Dutch in 1816.

Modern Aruba
With the arrival of the 20th century, Aruba developed its two major industries. While Aruba's gold rush reached its peak in the early 1900s, they soon recognized the value in oil known as "black gold." By the 1920s, the island saw the opening of its first oil refinery. The island's refineries were a prosperous source of income despite its relatively short-lived existence as they were closed in the 1980's. With the closing of their oil refineries, the tourism industry became the island's focus as a staple part of Aruba's economy.

Today, Aruba's developed and well-established tourism industry continues to be one of the Caribbean's best spots for vacationers from around the world. In fact, Aruba has developed a reputation as being the "Las Vegas of the Caribbean." Despite many changes of ownership in the previous centuries, Aruba today is independent of the Netherlands Antilles, but transition towards full independence of the Netherlands was stopped upon request of Aruba.

To get to and from Queen Beatrix International Airport:

There is no shuttle service provided by hotels. De Palm offers luxury bus transportation from the airport, stopping at all major hotels. Total transfer time ranges from 20 to 40 minutes. Cost is US$20.40 round trip, book online. De Palm also arranges private transfers.

Taxi fares are fixed by the government and must be on display in the vehicle. Expect a range of US$16 to US$30, depending on location (to Palm Beach is US$25). Tipping is not mandatory, but 10 to 15 per cent is appreciated. There are no unlicensed cabs in Aruba.

All major car rental agencies are here, directly across the road from arrivals. The minimum age of 21 to 25, and maximum of 65 to 70, varies by company.

There is an Arubus public bus stop on the highway across the road from the airport. It runs to the main terminal in Oranjestad, where you transfer to another bus to the hotel area (#10 or #10A to Palm Beach). Ask the driver to indicate your stop in front of the resort.

With its Dutch heritage and Latin flair, Aruba, in the Lesser Antilles just off the coast of Venezuela, is known for its poster-perfect sugary-white beaches, some of the Caribbean’s top wreck diving and, thanks to near-constant trade winds, world-class windsurfing and kite-boarding.

“Bon bini!” It means “welcome” in Papiamento, Aruba's native language, although English, Dutch and Spanish are widely spoken. Whatever your language, friendly, hospitable Arubans are eager to welcome you to their safe island home, a real blend of the South American, Caribbean and European, particularly Dutch. Pastel-painted houses and roofs make for a cheery landscape, and lots of traffic circles (“roundabouts”) remind one of Britain.

 

Aruba is one of the Caribbean’s most cosmopolitan islands. It has vibrant casinos, exclusive shops and boutiques selling international brands, outstanding international cuisine and world-class beaches, all of which are public. And almost one-fifth of the island’s area is devoted to the natural and geological wonders of Arikok National Park.

Aruba offers visitors two completely different kinds of accommodation options, most along the west coast. There’s the low-rise hotel area, with small, quiet properties fronting pristine, uncrowded beaches. Then there are the big, luxurious highrise hotels with full services and amenities sitting chock-a-block along famed Palm Beach. Whether you’re looking for action and buzz in the resort area or quiet relaxation in more natural settings, Aruba has it.

In the 2012 Travelers’ Choice awards, TripAdvisor readers voted adjoining Palm and Eagle beaches number two of 181 top worldwide beaches. This year, Aruba was also named one of the best destinations in the Caribbean by smartertravel.com, which also recognized the island for integrating culture into tourism through the weekly Carubbian Festival (see Calendar). The island also bolstered its reputation as the most fashion-forward Caribbean island with its new Aruba in Style fashion event. Fusion cuisine naturally thrives here, blending the best of Europe, the Americas and Asia with Caribbean and Aruban in more than 100 international restaurants. Best of all, you get pure drinking water straight from the tap.

It’s no wonder why over 60 per cent of visitors return to Aruba more than any other Caribbean destination.

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