Located just 29 kilometers off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is a popular Caribbean vacation destination for both Europeans and Americans looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday. Not only is this tiny Dutch island peaceful, but contained within 74 square miles, it boasts some of the most stunning natural and man-made places in the entire Caribbean. Let’s take a look…
Located on Aruba’s northern shore, Alto Vista Chapel, also known as “Pilgrim’s Church”, is a small Catholic chapel originally built by Domingo Antonio Silvestre around 1750. Recently restored to pristine condition, Alto Vista sits on a hill high above the sea at the end of a winding road marked by the Stations of the Cross. A calming atmosphere and spectacular views of the island’s north coast welcome visitors. It’s the perfect place to relax before heading out for a hike or bike ride along one of the many public trails that crisscross this part of Aruba.
Purposefully sunk by the German army at the start of World War II to avoid confiscation by their enemies, the wreck of the freighter Antilla is the largest shipwreck in the South Caribbean. Today, it is a popular diving destination by day, or by night. Not only are underwater explorers treated to a diverse look into the sea life local to the waters around Aruba but also to the sublime spookiness that is characteristic of shipwrecks. While there’s no sunken treasure to be found, the wreck of the Antilla is certainly worth a visit.
Originally constructed by the Aruba Island Gold-Mining Company Ltd. in 1872 to process the gold being mined at Seroe Plat, the smelting works at Bushiribana was only in use for 10 years until it was abandoned and fell into ruin. It is only due to its impeccably solid construction that a discernable percentage of the gold processing mill still remains. While the Bushiribana smelting works probably wasn’t very appealing its heyday, the ruins left behind offer a spectacular backdrop for any outdoor activity taking place in its vicinity. A favorite way to capture a photo of the ocean from this site is to take it through one of the ruins’ still-intact windows.
Constructed between 1914 and 1916, the California Lighthouse was named after a steamship that sunk nearby in 1891. Soaring more than 90 feet high into the often-azure Aruban sky, this French-designed lighthouse commands the island’s rocky Northern shore, reminding those who lay eyes upon it of its original function as a beacon for lost ships. While the actual building is closed to the public, the marine views from the foot of the California Lighthouse are impressive and definitely worth seeing.
Built by Dutch settlers in 1796 to protect themselves from marauding pirates and foreign enemies, Fort Zoutman is both the oldest remnant of the original Dutch settlement on Aruba, as well as the island’s oldest standing structure. The King Wilhelm III Tower was added in 1868 and served as Aruba’s official clock tower and lighthouse. After Aruba no longer needed a fort to defend itself, Fort Zoutman housed an array of civic organizations for more than 100 years, including a library, government offices and a prison. Today, the fort contains Aruba’s Historical Museum, which showcases artefacts from the island’s indigenous past through to the present day.
Lourdes Grotto | Courtesy of Aruba Tourism Authority
Located on the south-east coast of Aruba near the town of San Nicolas in Seroe Preto, the Grot di Lourdes (Lourdes Grotto) is a holy site dedicated to the memorial of the Virgin Mary’s appearance in Lourdes, France. In 1858, a peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous claimed to have seen Mary many times near the town of Lourdes, which is now the second most popular tourist attraction in France behind Paris. 100 years after the sighting, a priest named Erkamp created the Aruban memorial, which consists of a statue of the Virgin weighing 700 kilograms. The grotto’s natural beauty is only complimented by the ring of colorful flowers routinely placed around the statue.
Aruba’s capital city of Oranjestad, named after Huis van Oranje, the royal family that ruled during the colonization of the island, is the perfect place to spend an afternoon shopping, whether you’re looking for luxury brands or local crafts. However, be sure not to miss the Plaza Daniel Leo, named after a local politician, that’s situated in front of the Renaissance Mall. Not only is this plaza home to a plethora of boutiques, it also boasts some of the best examples of stunning multicolored Dutch colonial buildings in the region.
Seroe Colorado, a small village located on the south-eastern tip of Aruba contains some of the most gorgeous sights on the entire island. The town’s name translates to “Colorful Hill”, due to the tall, multicolored limestone cliffs that dominate the landscape. Baby Beach, so called because of its very calm waters, is the perfect place to bring children for swim. Rodgers Beach is another great place to take in the sand and surf. Be sure to stop by the giant red ship’s anchor at the entrance to the town – it’s the perfect place to snap a photo.
While Aruba has many stunning manmade attractions, the island is also home to spectacular natural sites that are certainly worth a visit. The Ayo Rock Formation is one of Aruba’s most interesting wild landscapes to explore. Enormous boulders of different sizes sit stacked atop each other, seemingly at random, all worn nearly smooth by the salty air. Steps and paths between the formations allow visitors to get up close and personal with this amazing terrain. Incredible photo ops are a given!
For a peek into Aruba’s ancient past, look no further than the Fontein Cave. Located on the island’s north-east coast in Airkok National Park, this cave is famous for the Arawak Indian paintings still visible on its ceilings and walls. The grotto-like cavern offers the indigenous artwork an incredible backdrop that certainly won’t disappoint adventurers who wander inside. There is no substitute for this attraction as it is the only cave on the island with such paintings. That said, some other interesting caves to explore include the Guadirikiri Cave and Huliba Cave.