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Quintessential Aruba

Divi-Divi and Aloe: Aruba's Flora
Quintessential Aruba
Aruba rewards those who are willing to dig a little to uncover her secrets. The western sea is littered with eerie shipwrecks, while the island interior features mysterious rocky outcrops. The island also hosts colorful festivals throughout the year.
By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador
Photo by Jochem Wijnands/age fotostock
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    Divi-Divi and Aloe: Aruba's Flora
    Divi-Divi and Aloe: Aruba's Flora
    Aruba's arid climate has birthed an unusual assortment of hardy Caribbean flora, like the iconic divi-divi tree (also found on Curaçao and Bonaire). On the southern coast, you’ll also find beautiful frangipani, coconut, papaya, and almond trees—look closely and you might spot a resident iguana. To learn about the island’s first cash crop, visit the underrated Aruba Aloe Museum, where you can carve your own plant and even get it a taste.
    Photo by Jochem Wijnands/age fotostock
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    Into the Deep Blue Sea
    Into the Deep Blue Sea
    Thanks to its crystal-clear waters, Aruba offers some of the finest diving in the Caribbean. JADS Dive Center keeps groups small to ensure plenty of one-on-one attention and features a convenient location in San Nicolas near the airport. If you’re already certified, try Dive Aruba, which boasts top-notch instructors and engaging courses. The outfitter leads trips to Aruba’s best reefs and wreck sites and can even arrange thrilling night dives for the truly adventurous.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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    The Sounds of Aruba
    The Sounds of Aruba
    Vibrant and varied, Aruba’s music scene brings a number of festivals to the island. The Caribbean Sea Jazz Fest (held every October over two days) showcases local and international jazz, poetry, and visual arts, while the Piano Festival (held in September) has a grand reputation in chamber music circles. Aruba’s largest musical event, the Dande Festival in December features more than 50 acts, coming together to celebrate Aruban culture and tradition. There’s also the Soul Beach Music Festival in May—to prepare, sign up for Caribbean dance lessons with Aruba Salsa or Pachanga Dance.
    Photo courtesy of Caribbean Sea Jazz Fest
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    Aruba Rocks
    Aruba Rocks
    Roughly two miles from the Natural Bridge you'll find the Ayo rock formation. Climb it and you’ll enjoy the perfect vantage point of the entire island. For more sweeping views, head to the heart of the island and visit the Casibari rock formation, a giant boulder mound that you can climb via an easy path. Also worth seeing is the Hooiberg, a volcanic formation that towers some 540 feet over Aruba. If you’d rather go underground, check out the island’s numerous cave systems, including Guadirikiri (with its illuminated passages and resident bats), the Fontein Cave (home to Arawak artwork), and the 300-foot Huliba Cave (known as the “tunnel of love” for its heart-shaped entrance).
    Photo courtesy of Aruba Tourism Authority
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    Bounteous Birdlife
    Bounteous Birdlife
    Aruba is typically home to more than 180 species of bird. During the winter migration, however, it features more than 300. Head to the wetlands in the Bubali Bird Sanctuary to spot herons, egrets, and pelicans, or visit Arikok National Park for hummingbirds, ospreys, orioles, kestrels, Caribbean parakeets, burrowing owls, and doves. If you go to the park in the late afternoon—when most of the Jeeps have left the area—you’ll have a better chance of seeing birds along the shore as they search for food.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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    Caribbean Art
    Caribbean Art
    To see some of Aruba’s best art, start at Queen Beatrix International Airport, where works by both local and international artists fill the lounges, prayer hall, meditation room, and garden. The airport is even home to Ryan Oduber’s whimsical Double Nothing domino sculpture. The rest of the island boasts a scattering of public pieces, including the Lost Fisherman outside the Governor’s House. You can also view impressive private collections like the one at the Aruba Marriott, which features unique works by Caribbean masters like Elisa Lejuez.
    Photo courtesy of Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
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    Crazy for Carnival
    Crazy for Carnival
    Aruba goes crazy during Carnival, a month-long celebration of Caribbean culture that includes wildly costumed parades and lively street parties (known as jump-ups). On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, head to Oranjestad for the Grand Carnival Parade, which features a number of beautiful floats. If you can’t make it, settle for the weekly Caribbean Festival in San Nicolas, during which you can experience the pomp and circumstance of the main event in miniature. Live music, pop-up food carts, craft vendors, and more entertain an audience mostly made up of cruise ship passengers.
    Photo by Jan Sochor/age fotostock