My first taste of the Caribbean was not a rummy cocktail or a fried plantain: It was a blast of salty dirt, delivered to my face when I stood up in the back of a Jeep as we rattled up Aruba’s hardscrabble east coast.
My friend Will and I hadn’t been on the island for an hour when he ordered us into the Jeep. He drove us past the casino- and Dutch tourist−choked beaches of Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, through the time-warped streets of San Nicolas, and into a windswept scrubland called Arikok National Park.
The pavement ended at the park’s south entrance, but we bounced on, passing craggy volcanic cliffs. Our destination was Boca Prins, a restaurant, bar, and gift shop over-looking the ocean that requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle to reach, announces last call at dusk, and anchors its drinks in clay cup holders to keep them upright in the wind.
After bottles of local Balashi beer and plates of chicken pinchos with pan bati (a cornmeal-based pancake), we walked down to a small beach, also named Boca Prins. A sign written in English, Dutch, and the local Creole language, Papiamento, prohibited swimming but said nothing about campfires, so we lit some driftwood as the last headlights disappeared from the bar’s parking lot.
A sunset beer at Boca Prins became a nightly ritual of our Aruba trip. It wasn’t the Caribbean I’d envisioned, but it was the Caribbean I’ve come to look forward to. —Nick Fauchald
Stay at the Boardwalk Hotel in Oranjestad. Rooms from $305. This appeared in the November/December 2012 issue.
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For the Love of Secluded Beaches
Rugged Boca Prins in Arikok National Park, with its rough waters, windswept terrain, and massive sand dunes, seems far removed from the manicured Palm Beach. Boca Prins, accessible via 4x4 or a long hike, is the perfect place for a unique picnic with your sweetheart. Alternatively, Andicuri Beach provides plenty of peace and quiet—provided there's not a bodyboarding competition happening—as well as picturesque bluffs and an ultra-secluded cove. Access to the beaches of Renaissance Island is reserved for guests of Renaissance Resort, and then only via private boat from the landing in Oranjestad. The pristine private island has white-sand beaches, shady coves, and seaside hammocks.
DePalm Tours is a family-friendly outfitter that provides (among other things) off-road adventures into Aruba's rough-and-tumble interior and barren "other side." Learn about Aruba's colorful history and marvel at the island's varied landscape on a half-day tour of the Casibari Rock Formation, California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Butterfly Farm, Natural Bridge, and Natural Pool. These Land Rover tours are wild, bumpy, and exhilarating affairs; for something a little more sedate, hop on a Segway with Segway Tours Aruba and enjoy an easy coastal adventure on a different type of land cruiser—one that makes easy work of sand and stone, freeing you up to enjoy the stunning sea views.
What Aruba lacks in mountainous terrain it more than makes up for in scenic oceanside treks, unbroken sunrise and sunset views, and 29 miles of rugged, rocky trails that lead to some of the island’s secret spots -- spend a few days just hiking the island instead of driving it. The best walking and hiking trails are found inside Arikok National Park, a nature preserve that includes a strenuous five-hour hike that takes visitors across the island’s desert brush to an old adobe house, through caves with numerous indigenous paintings, and finally up Mount Jamanota—at 620 feet, it's the island’s highest point—for breathtaking panoramic views. For something a little different, the most rewarding island trekking experience is perhaps the Jamanota full moon hike.
Versatility is absolutely the name of the game when it comes to the Tamron 16-300mm MACRO lens. In difficult shooting conditions, I need one lens to do everything that an array of lenses from my kit would normally do. On a recent assignment in Aruba, I got the chance to spend the day touring Arikok National Park on horseback – a wonderful way to get around, but not the most forgiving photography setting. My day started at sunrise, where I knew I wanted to capture wide-angle scenes like the one you see here, but I knew that later on I would want to compress landscape scenes with a big zoom lens, or zero in on some of the park’s unique flora and fauna. I didn’t want to even consider changes lenses, what with all the swirling dust and sand. Thankfully, with this new Tamron lens fixed to my camera, I didn’t need to worry about changing anything but what was in front of my eyes.
This Tamron lens is the world’s first 18.8X DSLR zoom, and now one of my most important travel companions. This lens allowed me to communicate the beauty of Aruba without having to sacrifice high-quality camera equipment, and, thanks to its compact size, it doesn’t get in the way of the experience.