Quintessential Aruba

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Quintessential Aruba
Aruba rewards those who are willing to dig a little to uncover her secrets. The sea to the west is littered with eerie shipwrecks, while the island interior is peppered with bizarre rocky outcrops, and colorful festivals take place through the year.
By Flash Parker, AFAR Ambassador
Photo by Jochem Wijnands/age fotostock
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    Divi-Divi and Aloe: Aruba's Flora
    Aruba's arid climate has birthed an unusual assortment of hardy Caribbean flora, such as the iconic divi-divi tree (also found on Curaçao and Bonaire). The underrated Aruba Aloe Museum and Factory in Hato offers an interesting lesson on Aruba's first cash crop, and on how the island eventually transformed into a cosmetics power. Learn how to carve up your own plant, and even give it a taste. The island's southern coast is home to beautiful frangipani, coconut, papaya, and almond trees; look closely and you may even spot a resident iguana hanging out.
    Photo by Jochem Wijnands/age fotostock
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    Into the Deep Blue Sea
    Slip into the deep blue for some of the Caribbean's finest diving, in some of the clearest water you've ever seen. JADS Dive Center caters to small groups to allow for as much one-on-one service as possible, and a convenient San Nicolas location near the airport makes getting started easy. Dive Aruba is an excellent choice for divers after certification, with top-notch instructors and engaging courses. They showcase the best of the west's great wreck sites and the remarkable reefs of the south, and can even arrange thrilling night dives for the truly adventurous.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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    The Sounds of Aruba
    Aruba's music scene is vibrant and marked by a number of festivals that charge locals and visitors with a special kind of island energy. 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. The Dande Festival in December is Aruba's largest musical event, with more than 50 acts coming together to celebrate Aruban culture and traditional music. The Soul Beach Music Festival in May invites guests to chill on the beach while the sounds of Aruba take them past sundown. If you want to learn to dance, Aruba Salsa and Pachanga Dance Studio both offer Caribbean dance lessons.
    Photo courtesy of Caribbean Sea Jazz Fest
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    Aruba Rocks
    Roughly two miles from the Natural Bridge you'll find the Ayo Rock Formations, which can be climbed in pursuit of the perfect island vantage point. At the heart of the island sits the Casibari Rock Formation; the giant boulder mound can be surmounted via an easy path, while the summit provides sweeping views of the entire island. The Hooiberg, otherwise known as the Haystack, is a volcanic formation that towers some 540 feet above Aruba. The island is also home to numerous cave systems, such as Guadirikiri, with naturally illuminated passages and resident bats, the Fontein Cave, with Arawak artwork, and the 300-foot Huliba Cave, known as the "tunnel of love" because of its heart-shaped entrance.
    Photo courtesy of Aruba Tourism Authority
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    Bounteous Birdlife
    More than 180 species of bird can be spotted at any one time on Aruba, while during the winter migration, more than 300 call in on the island. The Bubali Bird Sanctuary's wetlands usually have visiting herons, egrets, pelicans, and more. Arikok National Park is a great place to spot hummingbirds, ospreys, orioles, kestrels, Caribbean parakeets, burrowing owls, and doves hanging out on cactus tops. If you visit the park in the late afternoon, when most of the jeeps have left the area, you'll have the opportunity to spy the birds as they search for food and rest close to shore.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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    Caribbean Art
    At Reina Beatrix International Airport you'll find paintings and sculptures from local and international artists in the lounges, prayer hall, meditation room, and sculpture garden; the latter features Ryan Oduber's whimsical Double Nothing domino sculpture, among others. There are also public pieces scattered across the island, like the Lost Fishermen outside the Governor's House, as well as impressive private collections like those of the Aruba Marriott, with one-of-a-kind works from Caribbean masters like Elisa Lejuez; her colorful canvases serve as a tribute to local lore and everyday life, while Elisa herself offers studio tours.
    Photo courtesy of Aruba Tourism Authority
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    Crazy for Carnival
    Aruba goes wild during Carnival, a month-long celebration of Caribbean culture that features lively street parties (known as jump-ups) and parades that demand the wildest costume you can create. Parties in San Nicolas and Oranjestad are massive events that involve everyone in town; check online for the yearly schedule. Aruba's Grand Carnival Parade is held on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday in Oranjestad, and features numerous beautiful floats. If you can't make Carnival, come for the weekly Caribbean Festival held in San Nicolas and experience the pomp and circumstance of the big event in miniature. Live music, pop-up food carts, handcraft vendors, and more entertain an audience that is usually made up mostly of cruise-ship passengers.
    Photo by Jan Sochor/age fotostock