Freshly landed from Charlotte, North Carolina on the Happy Island, as it is called by the locals, we traveled by limo to the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa, one of the island’s luxury hotels.
It recently completed a $30 million renovation and offers brand-new facilities surrounded by enchanting lagoons, fragrant gardens and beautiful, cascading waterfalls. The Radisson is located right on the pristine white sand Palm Beach, one of the nicest beaches on the island. I always wanted to visit Aruba, and after hearing all the stories from friends and reading about the island in magazines, I have to admit my first impression was good.
Our limo passed by the downtown of Aruba’s capital, Oranjestad, in front of the luxury stores Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Gucci and many more awaiting high-end shoppers after a day at the beach. Immediately upon my arrival in my suite facing the Atlantic Ocean, I decided to try the turquoise water and I was not disappointed. It was 85 degrees, blue like in the brochure and since I was there in the summer, not too busy.
Home to one of the “Top 10 Beaches in the World,” Aruba, which covers 70 square miles, is located on the outside fringes of the Hurricane Belt in the heart of the southern Caribbean, 16.9 miles north of Venezuela. The sun shines in Aruba year-round, and the island boasts a constant 82 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. Low humidity and refreshing east trade wind breezes make this Island an attractive destination.
The Aruba Tourism Authority invited us for dinner at one of Aruba’s best restaurants, The Old Man and the Sea. It is located on the Savaneta coastline, and its owners, Osyth Henriquez and son Jonathan Vieira, have demonstrated their artistic wave of creativity to transform a private residence into an exclusive hideaway in the Caribbean, perfect for a special dinner. Hand-painted menu covers, comfortable cushioned lounge areas and intimately lit tables amidst the moving palm trees make it the perfect spot to enjoy the view of the sunset or the starry sky. The cuisine is a delectable mix of local dishes with international flavor, ranging from the fresh catch of the day to quality meats imported from distributors across the globe. I had a great culinary experience, tasting one of the best lobsters I ever had as well as the delicious local Bouillabaisse soup and the giant shrimp cocktail.
Beyond the turquoise waters and sun-kissed, sandy shores exists the real Aruba. This is why our hosts planned for the next day fabulous ATV riding and scuba diving experiences. We left early for the Arikok National Park with our four-wheel ATVs. Sprawling across nearly 20 percent of the island’s landmass, government-protected Arikok National Park is an exciting playground for visitors seeking something more than a traditional day on the beach. Arikok National Park is home to many hidden beaches, natural bridges, historical cave paintings and indigenous flora and fauna, including Aruba rattlesnakes, burrowing owls and blue whiptail lizards. This action-packed ATV trip took us over canyons and jagged rocks, dodging cacti while exploring the rugged beauty of the island’s northern shore. We made stops at the California Lighthouse, the Gold Mill Ruins as well as at the island’s most stunning sights – Baby Beach, the Guadirikiri Caves and Conchi natural pool, a “must see” and “must swim” place with breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
In the afternoon, we focused on scuba diving. For many, spending tranquil days basking and relaxing in the unending sunshine is the highlight of their Aruba vacation. But beyond the beaches, adventure-seekers will discover one happy island full of invigorating land and sea activities.
Good visibility, several shallow reefs and captivating shipwrecks give snorkelers an array of options. Most sites are on the southern or leeward coast. Slightly north of Palm Beach, Catalina Bay and Arashi Reef feature brain and star coral, sea fans, parrotfish, angel fish, eels, barracudas and an occasional octopus. The island boasts more than 20 dive spots, ranging from 20 to 100 feet, including the Shipwreck of the Antilla, one of the most popular spots for snorkelers and divers alike. At 400 feet, it is the largest shipwreck dive in the Caribbean. A well-kept-secret dive spot, the SS Pedernales, was a World War II lake tanker that was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat en route to a refinery in Aruba. The center portion of the vessel still remains submerged off the shore of Palm Beach, approximately 25 feet below sea level.
My short Aruba weekend ended on a high note with a trip to a local rum shop. Locals and tourists alike are invited to sit at the bar with lawyers and fisherman and take part in one of Aruba’s oldest traditions: enjoying an ice-cold beer at an open-air rum shop. An old Aruban bar in its purest form, these quick in-and-out bars offer drinks and a rich atmosphere filled with years of history and tradition. Local rum shops are scattered throughout the island, but classics include White Star, Essoville and Aruba Rum Shop located in San Nicolas, the Sunrise City.
Aruba is the most revisited destination in the Caribbean, with more than half of all visitors returning year after year. I promised myself to return to this incredible island to continue my island adventures and discover more of Aruba’s untold stories.