Cruise ships gleam in Oranjestad harbor, and thousands of eager tourists spill out into downtown Oranjestad. The mile-long stretch of L.G. Smith Boulevard (aka “The Strip”) is lined with cafés, designer stores, restaurants, and Palm Beach Plaza, a modern shopping mall. The countryside is dotted with colorful Cunucu (country-style houses) and stretches out into a cacti-studded rocky desert landscape that becomes Arikok National Park—a protected preserve covering 20% of the island’s landmass.
Aruba not only has beautiful beaches and world-class resorts, but also near-perfect weather: It’s outside the hurricane belt and receives just 20 inches of rainfall per year and has constant cooling trade winds. On the south coast, the action is nonstop both day and night; whereas the rugged north coast boasts a desolate beauty that calls to those who seek solitude in nature.
As with Bonaire and Curaçao, the island was originally populated by the Caquetio, an Amerindian people related to the Arawak. After the Spanish conquered the island in 1499, Aruba was basically left alone, since it held little in the way of agricultural or mineral wealth. The Dutch took charge of the island in 1636, and things remained relatively quiet until gold was discovered in the 1800s.
Like the trademark watapana (divi-divi) trees that have been forced to bow to odd angles by the constant trade winds, Aruba has always adjusted to changes in the economic climate. Mining dominated the economy until the early part of the 20th century, when the mines became unprofitable. Shortly thereafter, Aruba became home to a major oil-refining operation, which was the economic mainstay until the early 1990s, when its contribution to the local economy was eclipsed by tourism. Today, after being so resolutely dedicated to attracting visitors for so many years, Aruba’s national culture and tourism industry are inextricably intertwined.
There is good reason why Aruba has more repeat visitors than any other island in the Caribbean. It offers something for everyone: a pleasant climate, excellent facilities, nightlife, nature, and warm and friendly locals. The hospitality industry here is of the highest order. The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere, and English is spoken universally.
Many airlines fly nonstop to Aruba’s modern Reina Beatrix International Airport (AUA) from several cities in North America; connections will usually be at a U.S. airport.
There are nonstop flights from Atlanta (Delta), Boston (American, JetBlue, American), Charlotte (American), Chicago (United), Fort Lauderdale (Spirit), Houston (United), Miami (American), Newark (United), New York–JFK (American, Delta, JetBlue), Philadelphia (American), and Washington, D.C.–Dulles (United). Southwest Airlines has begun flying to Aruba from Baltimore, Orlando, and Houston as well.
Public transportation with Arubus is excellent; it’s a great way to explore the different resorts and beaches along the main tourist areas or get groceries to bring back to your hotel. A modern, air-conditioned fleet of clean, well-scheduled buses travels from the downtown Oranjestad terminal and stops at every major resort all the way to the end of Palm Beach. Fare is less than $5. Schedules are online.
Arubus. Return tickets good for two trips. Day passes available with flat rate. Unlimited travel available, and routes with return fare to San Nicolas and Baby Beach also on offer. www.arubus.com.
To explore the countryside and try different beaches, you should rent a car. Try to make reservations before arriving, and rent a four-wheel drive if you plan to explore the island’s natural sights. For just getting to and around town, taxis are preferable, and you can use tour companies to arrange your activities.
To rent a car, a deposit of $500 (or a signed credit-card slip) is often required. Rates vary but can be between $47 and $75 a day (local agencies generally have lower rates).
International traffic signs and Dutch-style traffic signals (with an extra light for a turning lane) can be misleading if you’re not used to them; use extreme caution, especially at intersections, until you grasp the rules of the road. Speed limits are rarely posted but are usually 50 mph (80 kph) in the countryside. Aside from the major highways, the island’s winding roads are poorly marked. Gas prices average about $1 per liter (about $6 per gallon), which is reasonable by Caribbean standards. But this changes often.
There’s a dispatch office at the airport; you can also flag down taxis on the street (look for license plates with a “TX” tag). Alternatively, ask at the front desk of any resort to call you a cab. Rates are fixed (i.e., there are no meters; the rates are set by the government and displayed on a chart), though you and the driver should agree on the fare before your ride begins. Add $2 to the fare after midnight and $3 on Sunday and holidays. An hour-long island tour should cost about $45 with up to four people, but agree on a fare before heading out.
Dengue, chikungunya, and zika have all been reported throughout the Caribbean. We recommend that you protect yourself from these mosquito-borne illnesses by keeping your skin covered and/or wearing mosquito repellent. The mosquitoes that transmit these viruses are as active by day as they are at night.
Almost all the resorts are along the island’s southwest coast, along L.G. Smith and J.E. Irausquin boulevards, with the larger high-rise properties being farther away from Oranjestad. A few budget places are in Oranjestad itself. Since most hotel beaches are equally fabulous, it’s the resort, rather than its location, that’s going to be a bigger factor in how you enjoy your vacation.
Boutique Resorts: You’ll find a few small resorts that offer more personal service, though not always the same level of luxury as the larger places. But smaller resorts are better suited to the natural sense of Aruban hospitality you’ll find all over the island.
Large Resorts: These all-encompassing vacation destinations offer myriad dining options, casinos, shops, water-sports centers, health clubs, and car-rental desks. Many large resorts are also adding all-inclusive options or are already all-inclusive now.
Time-shares: Large time-share properties offer visitors everything needed to prepare their own meals (except for food) and have a bit more living space than in a typical resort hotel room; some also have in-room laundry equipment.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.