An autonomous region within the Netherlands, Aruba has an old world Dutch charm about it. Downtown Oranjestad is quaint and it is easy to spend a full day shopping. The locals are very friendly and accommodating. The island boasts less than 1% unemployment and less than 1% crime, hence its epithet, “One Happy Place!' Though Aruba's currency is the Florin, most everywhere we went, U.S. dollars were accepted. In addition, most Arubans are fluent in four languages, Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamento, the beautiful native language, so there was no communication barrier.
Despite the hot temperatures – the year round average is 82 degrees – trade winds offer a pleasant breeze making the heat very tolerable. The island itself is very small, only seven miles wide by 20 miles long. The interior is desert-like while the exterior boasts beautiful, white sand beaches. The blue-green water is very clear and allows you to see the ocean floor, sometimes up to 100 feet deep! We were also able to see the wreck of the World War II German freighter, Antilla, one of the largest wrecks in the Caribbean, from our snorkel ship. Thanks to the calm waters on the island’s south side, there are abundant water activities to enjoy. We took advantage by snorkeling and taking in some catamaran sails at sunset. Although the waves are rougher on the northeast coast, amazing rock formations, such as Natural Bridge and the Natural Pond formations, make for an exciting visit.
Because the island is so small, it is very easy to tour a lot of it and an island jeep safari tour is a great way to cover ground. Don’t miss the opportunity to explore the Arikok National Park, which encompasses 25% of the island and hosts the Quadiriki Caves, to snorkel in the Natural Pond, a hidden ocean pool surrounded by rocks, or visit the Bushiribana Ruins, the remains of a gold smelter that was built of natural stone in 1825 and functioned for most of the 19th century. If you still have energy at the end of the day you can hit the casinos or simply take a stroll on the beach.
The food in Aruba will amaze you; we thoroughly enjoyed every meal we ate. But be sure to arrive early as many restaurants don't take reservations. If you do need to wait, remember you are on island time, so sit back, have a cocktail and drink in the ambience. One restaurant you should not miss is the Flying Fishbone on the south side of the island. The tables are on the beach, in the sand. You can take your shoes off, relax and watch the surf while you eat. Plan to arrive early for a good table and sit back to watch the most spectacular sunset you will ever witness!
Although we left the kids at home for this trip, Aruba is surprisingly kid-friendly. The hotels all offer amenities for the kids and there are many extra-curricular activities for them across the island.
Aruba is beautiful, fun and relaxing vacation spot. It should be at the top of the list for anyone traveling to the Caribbean. Once you go you won’t be able to wait to go back!