Photo by Sasidhar Pamganamamula/Shutterstock
The beaches along the west coast of Aruba—which sits a mere 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela—are brochure-perfect, lending the tiny island an air of escapism unmatched anyplace else in the Caribbean. Sundowning on endless Palm Beach is the quintessential Aruban experience, after all. Away from th…ese dreamy stretches of sand, the interior of the island and the rugged east coast provide visitors with opportunities for adventures not often associated with the Caribbean. Aruban dining ranges from beach-shack casual to white-linen extravagance, and the legendary wellness scene encompasses both spas and such healthy activities as SUP yoga. Aruba is a true island paradise.
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Aruba enjoys a hot and dry Caribbean climate. The weather rarely diverges much from the average annual temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit, although trade winds provide a constant breeze. The island lies outside the main hurricane belt, but is still subject to regional storms. Prices are high during the peak season, December through April, while summer sales bring hotel discounts of up to 50 percent.
Queen Beatrix International Airport is modern and well-organized. Most major carriers offer daily nonstop flights to and from the United States and other international destinations. Hotels cannot pick up arriving guests, but fixed-price taxi services are available upon arrival. Note that it can take a long time to clear customs at the airport. Visas are not required for visitors from North America.
Traffic in Aruba’s towns can be maddening at rush hour, when it may seem that there are more cars on the roads than people on the island. Get away from the main thoroughfares, however, and you’ll feel like you have the entire island to yourself. If renting a car, be cautious of driving around when a cruise ship is in port; visitors often wander the streets without paying attention to traffic, which can be dangerous for all parties. A bicycle is a safer and more enjoyable way of exploring the island. Many hotels can arrange rentals for you.
Depending on where you’re staying, Aruba’s food scene may not vary much from the familiar: many of the larger hotels have adopted North American culinary techniques, and Sunday brunch can make you feel like you’re in New York. Nevertheless, the island’s traditional food scene—informed by Spanish and Dutch colonialism alongside Carib and South American traditions—is remarkable. Seafood plays a major role in day-to-day dining, with delicious staples like stoba (a hearty stew often made with conch and fish) and keshi yena (rings of cheese, often Edam, packed with fish, shrimp, bread, olives, and spices). For a taste of Dutch tradition, try bitterballen (deep-fried balls of meat) and kesio (a decadent caramel custard).
Before the Spanish arrived in 1499, Aruba was inhabited by Arawak peoples for centuries, evidence of which can still be seen on cave walls. Ceded to the Dutch in 1636, Aruba remains a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Some 105,000 people from more than 90 different ethnic backgrounds now call the island home, and the festivals, cuisine, dress, and language (most of the locals you’ll meet speak four or more languages) have been shaped by 500 years of colonial rule, trade, and tourism. Aruba is one of the friendliest and safest places in the Caribbean, and hosts nearly 100,000 guests at any one time.
Passports are required for tourists traveling to Aruba, as well as proof of a departure ticket. The official languages are Dutch and Papiamento (a mix of Portuguese, Creole, French, English, and Spanish), but English is widely spoken here, and schoolchildren are required to learn it. The local currency is the florin, which is pegged to the U.S. dollar, and the U.S. dollar is widely accepted. Aruba voltage is 127V, which U.S. appliances should be able to tolerate just fine—no converter needed. U.S. and Aruba use the same A and B plug types, but some Aruba outlets are the European-style F sockets.
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A travel writer and photographer, Amanda Castleman lived in Europe and the Middle East for eight years before returning to her home port of Seattle. Despite her yoga-and-yogurt tendencies, she’s a former wilderness guide who’s happiest covering nature, animals, and outdoor adventures. Her Honduras scuba article won a Lowell Thomas award.