Aruba: Work and Play During the Pandemic
Avoiding Covid and the Cold In Aruba
By Tab Hauser
Senior Travel Writer
On my third day in Aruba, the right side of my brain said, “pace yourself Tab, you can’t have bacon every day for breakfast just because it is in front of you.”
My recent Aruba visit was not a vacation. It was about living and working in the tropics for a month during these pandemic times at the Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive Resort.
A big benefit of living here a month was able to write an in-depth travel story on what Aruba offers its visitors.
Spiking Numbers at Home
At home COVID 19 numbers were spiking. We, like many people, were not visiting family and friends. Outdoor dining and walks were also not happening due to the deep chill and snow on Long Island.
With this in mind, living, working, and playing on the tropical island of Aruba for a month would be just the ticket to take back some control of our lives. We also felt safer here because the two-week running average of new COVID cases was very low compared to home.
It helped that the Aruba government took things seriously here. To start, no one was allowed on the island without passing a PCR test.
They also required masks worn indoors and mandatory sanitizing anywhere that had a door. Hotel staff was also tested regularly.
Aruba’s COVID rules during our visit included no bar seats, strict limits on music, no dancing, and spacing at tables. Boat tours ran at one-third capacity. Simply put, we were in a low-risk area doing outdoor low-risk things.
Aruba’s Living Abroad Rate
To live in the tropics we chose the Tamarijn Aruba Resort because they offered a living abroad special at $200 for two people in a spacious updated sunset ocean view room with a balcony. This rate was less than half of their winter discounted price but required you to stay a month.
At $200 a couple you had unlimited food, an open bar, gym, pools, and a very good beach. The best rate I found in advance for an oceanfront condo was $280 (plus the food).
Working in Aruba was easy as the internet service was good. I was also able to Zoom with friends and photo clients (at www.tabhauserphoto.com) as if I was home in the cold.
As an early riser, my routine was to hit the gym every other day and then work from 7:30 AM to 1 PM.
It was then to lunch and the beach using my cell phone to take care of any business needed for a few hours. Work would continue for two hours before dinner (with a break to watch the sunset).
On our days or half days off we would see the best Aruba had to offer.
The Happy Island
Aruba, known as the “Happy Island” is 12 degrees north of the equator. The island is six miles wide by 20 miles long.
It is mostly flat, always sunny, and always has a breeze. In fact no matter how hot it gets the sand never burns your feet. It has a Dutch past with a blend of dozens of cultures who all speak four languages.
It is also very developed with mostly American tourists who come here repeatedly for the beaches.
Palm Beach is the high-rise hotel area of Aruba. Here you will find calm waters and the perfect sand for long walks. There is every kind of water-based thing to do here. It can also get crowded in a normal peak season. There are lots of shops and restaurants a block from the beach where it gets lively each night.
Eagle Beach is lined with condos and timeshares. It has calm waters on a long stretch of sand that connects to Eagle Beach. At the north end of the beach are the much-photographed Divi trees with their branches and leaves away from the wind.
Baby Beach is a pretty crescent-shaped place in the south where you are guaranteed calm waters to float because it is inside a large manmade bay. Bring a picnic as the beach bar is a little pricey. Visit Boca Grandi nearby to see Aruba’s speedy kite surfers.
Mangel Halt Beach is a small beach by the mangroves and is a good place to snorkel.
Off The Beach in Aruba
Aruba’s Art Scene in San Nicolas in the south has 54 murals within three-quarters of a mile of each other. Tito Bolivar in 2016 arranged for artists to use large walls and entire buildings as their canvas. By doing this he transformed the “ghost town” of San Nicolas into an Art District. On his tour,
he explains many of these murals with a passion. The city now hosts the annual Aruba Art Fair (www.arubamuraltours.com)
Aruba Walking Tours offers a historical and a food-based tour. Our guide, Beach, was informative and entertaining on both tours we took.
The food tour went to five restaurants offering tastings and cocktails from the different influences on Aruba. We did not leave hungry.
Walking Among the Aloe on Aruba
Aruba Aloe: With the sun being very strong on your skin, take a beach break and learn the history and uses of Aloe by taking an interesting factory tour here.
This starts at the field, continues to the factory, and ends in the store where you can find all kinds of skin-soothing and healing products. (Aruba at one time was the world’s largest aloe grower). (www.arubaaloe.com)
Farmers Market: On the first Sunday of the month the Ostrich Farm hosts vendors that sell crafts, baked goods, hot sauces, and local food in a covered area.
Haystack Mountain is a 541-foot volcanic formation that has 662 steps to reach the top. People in average shape should make it in 20 minutes.
From the top, you can see the cruise ships in town, Arikok National Park, the California Lighthouse nine miles north, and on a clear day, Venezuela 15 miles to the south.
On The Water
Red Sail Sports has a three-hour dinner cruise on a nicely spaced-out catamaran. There is nothing better than sipping a cocktail with the sails pushing you quietly along while watching the sunset.
After dinner and when the sails are hoisted go to the bow and watch the lights on Palm Beach and the stars above.
Underwater: Red Sails offers one and two-tank dives. Our first dive was on Aruba’s famous shipwreck, the 400 foot SS Antilla.
In 1940 its German crew scuttled their new cargo ship in 60 feet of water rather than surrender her to the Dutch.
A 1953 storm broke it in half giving meaning to the word “wreck” and making it an interesting dive.
A second dive nearby was highlighted by several turtles. For information on all of Red Sails water activities go to www.redsailaruba.com
Pelican Aruba Tours does a five our “Luxury Lagoon Schooner Tour”. This is a definite upgrade to
the usual crowded two and half hour catamaran tours offered around. This very comfortable schooner motors (not sails) north to a lagoon.
There, a guide leads you to a coral reef before lunch. Other activities include kayaking and swinging from the deck making a splash in the sea. Drinks are made to order, the food is good and the crew attentive.
Clear Kayak Aruba has clear bottom kayak tours alongside the mangroves. Here they teach you their importance. A unique tour feature a is walk through a mangrove tunnel chest-deep in water. They also do night tours with lights on the bottom of their kayaks.
Aruba’s Natural Side
Arikok National Park takes up 18% of the island and is undeveloped. The first highlight here is the Natural Pool. It can only be reached via 4 X 4 tours or renting a Jeep and driving carefully at 5 MPH or less for a few miles to reach the pool. The pool is protected by tall walls of rock. During our visit the waves were crashing 20 feet high over the wall and into the pool making it dangerous to enter.
The rest of the park can be seen via car on the paved and gravel roads. The park’s other highlights include the Quadirikiri Cavern where you walk through two large chambers (minding the occasional flying bat) to an opening in the cavern ceiling allowing light in.
Fountain Cavern is known for its 1000-year-old pictographs. Near the cavern is a spring where you can put your feet in and have the fish give them a good cleaning. (Try it, it’s fun) Continuing down the road you will pass the wind turbine field. Allow at least half a day for this trip and consider spending your afternoon cooling off in Baby Beach nearby.
Natural Bridge and Gold Era Ruins can be found by driving 20 minutes to the rough side island.
Here you will find Aruba’s largest natural bridge collapsed with but the smaller one still standing. This is a good spot to watch the waves crash high.
Backtrack and climb around the old gold era ruins built into the rock having its stone walls still standing.
Look north and you will see for miles waves crashing and eroding the coastline.
De Palm Tours has various full and half-day adventures. Their half-day excursion splits the time between their 4 X 4 truck ride to the Natural Pool and driving your own UTV (mini-open 4 X 4’s). The ride to the pool is fun and scenic but not for people with bad backs. Once you leave the park you are back on your UTV to drive along the rough coastal road from the Natural Bridge to the California Lighthouse.
While we stayed at an all-inclusive resort, being here a month we wanted to try some of the island’s diverse restaurants.
The Old Cunuco House is located in a 150-year-old Aruban farmhouse. The local entrees I recommend is the Keeshi Yena which is a Dutch dish made of shredded chicken, cashews, raises and olives in a red sauce-covered melted Gouda cheese. The other entree was a tasty Caribbean-style conch.
Yanti is a place you don’t want to miss for lunch. It is Indonesian / Suriname which comes from the Dutch influence in those countries. Portions were very large. Let their cheerful server guide you on their menu.
If Flying Fishbone was any closer to the water you would get wet. Actually, at high tide, it is fun to dine bare feet and ankle-deep.
You can also opt to sit up a level with staying dry. This a beautiful restaurant serving Seafood and Aruban food that should not be missed.
Fusion is an elegant-looking restaurant and piano bar that served us the most tender steaks and lamb chops cooked out front on their Green Egg Grill. Start with their meat and cheese platter and a bottle of wine from their excellent selection. They have entertainment frequently while dining.
Papiamento has diners seated around a pool in an elegant setting in front of an old cunuco house. This is a special occasion restaurant that fuses Caribbean ingredients to Dutch and international fare.www.papiamentoaruba.com
Tamarijn Aruba Resort is a good four-star place. Across the beach from it is the Divi Aruba Resort. Staying at either place allows you get to use the facilities, bars, and food from each hotel. The resorts have good food with mid-level spirits at the bars and friendly staff.
They have four sit-down restaurants with the Red Parrot being the best. It is has a modern design, faces the ocean and serves continental and Caribbean fare.
Their other restaurants include Mexican, Italian, Asian, and the self-cooking Palm Court. They have two “action station” restaurants which are like a buffet but the staff serves you. A nice feature here was the fresh fruit and vegetable drinks made to order. This restaurant spins delicious rotisserie chickens all day and serves steak, fish, pasta, salad, and nightly themed specials.
Around the resorts are bars with pizza, burgers, pasta, and sandwiches for all day and evening snacking. The bars serve every tropical colored and flavored drinks you can think of.
The resort has an excellent gym, bicycles to borrow, and floating noodles for the water.
At the hotel entrance is a bike/walking trail by the ocean that goes for miles. Pre-pandemic they had entertainment nightly. For complete information click www.tamarijnaruba.com.
I recommend renting a car from Jay’s (www.jayscarrentalaruba.com/) to get around. He answers emails fast, his rates are good and he allowed me to swap a car for an off-road-ready Jeep at a discount for a day.
A Word on Pandemic Flying: I don’t consider myself a high person of risk. Risk is a personal thing we all must deal with on our own level. When I fly I wear safety goggles to protect my eyes from anything airborne. I also wear an N-95 mask to filter the air I breathe and don’t remove it during the flight.
If I need to eat, I rip a piece of a protein bar and put in under my mask and chew. I also splurge for comfort class seating or if price reduced, first-class to be in the front of the plane where I board last and get off first.