Aruba might be the most visited of the Caribbean islands, but there are reasons behind that: its glorious beaches, uninterrupted sunshine, compact capital and near-perfect kitesurfing conditions.
This long-celebrated paradise island may be diminutive in size but Aruba packs in a serious amount. With white sand beaches to spare, scuba diving and snorkelling spots you’ll remember for a lifetime, not to mention a lush national park and ever-present trade winds to give your new windsurfing habit a push in the right direction – Aruba has it all.
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A year-round tropical climate makes every day a good weather day in Aruba, with seawater that’s as easy to step into as a warm bath at any time of year. The waters off the capital of Oranjestad are never less than about 26C. The trade winds bring welcome breezes – meaning the heat is manageable – and the island sits fortuitously on the southern edge of the hurricane belt. With this winning combination of geographical factors, Aruba’s appeal is secure.
The carb of choice here is flavourful plantain, while fish you’ll see commonly on Aruban menus include red snapper, mahi-mahi and lionfish (the sustainable seafood at romantic beach spot Elements includes lionfish ceviche and red snapper fillet, for example). The island’s on-beach dining culture was pioneered by the well-liked Flying Fishbone restaurant (a fact of which they are keen to remind customers), where you can eat your seafood by the light of tiki torches, your toes in the sand.
If you hadn’t realised that Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the name of its capital, Oranjestad, is a big clue – as is the distinctive Dutch colonial architecture. This city of fewer than 30,000 people sits on the southern coast, near the western end of Aruba. As capitals go, it’s small but packs a punch, with a port, university and popular shopping mall all within touching distance of the airport.
Use Aruba’s reliably consistent trade winds to your advantage and try – or perfect – your windsurfing and kitesurfing while you’re here. Myriad watersports operators can help you do so and some hotels have their own team for this. If you’re looking for an operator who can enable you to scuba dive, the prime locations are the waters near Malmok, Spanish Lagoon and Commandeurs Baai. Notable wrecks to try to see for yourself include SS Antilla, a German cargo ship that sank in 1940.
Things don’t get more photogenic than the beach on Renaissance Island, an extraordinary destination where flamingoes wander the sands. Seemingly highly relaxed, they pick a path contentedly between the delighted beachgoers. Renaissance Beach is on the private island of the Renaissance Resort, which allows only limited-capacity access for non-residents. But it’s reliably possible to book a day pass, which also grants access to luxury cabanas. There’s a beach bar and grill here – to visit whenever the resort is at no more than 80% occupancy.
The best snorkelling sites tend to be on the northern and western sides of the island. As well as simply heading into the water on foot (or flipper), it’s worth taking a boat trip to a prime spot. Multiple operators offer boat trips from locations such as Malmok beach, on Aruba’s west coast, to a drop-off point just off the shoreline. But even in the shallows, it can be worth enlisting a guide here to help you find and swim safely and respectfully with sea turtles.
On Aruba’s east coast, Arikok National Park is a diverse landscape which, at 21sqmi (34sqkm) comprises around 18% of the island. The varied locations it spans include a natural ocean pool formed by volcanic stone circles, the turtle nesting site of Boca Prins beach and Caquetío Indian cave paintings. Inhabitants include Burrowing Owls, rare lizards and even a few bird and snake species that aren’t found anywhere else in the world. You’ll never see it all, so choose a hiking trail and enjoy.
Aruba is characterised by flat terrain, but the few exceptions to the rule are something to behold. The site of Casibari, near the centre of the island, is a 172m (564ft) volcanic rock formation from the top of which you can, on a clear day, see all the way across to Venezuela. Elsewhere, the volcanic boulders of Ayo form a similar site that’s also worth a detour.
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