By Laurieanne Wysocki
I left Boston Logan Airport on a cold December morning and less than five hours later was on one of those world-renowned white sandy beaches of Aruba having a lunch of wood-grilled mahi-mahi and waiting for nothing more than the waiter to bring the next Aruba Ariba, the island’s favorite libation.
With non-stop flights on JetBlue, getting to Aruba is easy and one of the fastest ways to achieve that ‘ahh’ experience, the feeling you get when you suddenly arrive into an environment extremely different from the one you left.
Never truer than when coming from a New England winter, yet Aruba attracts people all year round. Within minutes from leaving the Queen Beatrix Airport, you can be at one of the two main resort areas located on the beach.
At the Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive I was greeted with rounds of Bon bini, bon bini, as the receptionist checked me in and then again by the smiling driver who golf carted me through a tropical maze of palm trees and purple bougainvillea to my hotel room right on the beach.
“I say welcome to you in Papiamento which is my true language, the language of Arubans”, said the driver, “but soon you will say Mi Dushi to everything in Aruba. You’ll see.”
Without explaining what he meant, the driver brought my luggage into the room and left. I drew the curtains away from the sliding glass doors just in time to see a pelican diving straight down into the rolling surf.
The great bird came up with a fish and briefly bobbed on the surface while gulping it down before taking off on a quest for more. Seconds later, another pelican arrived and the pattern repeated.
I felt like I could have watched them all day but instead threw on a swimsuit and headed down the beach in pursuit of my own lunch.
Now that was easy, I thought, as I skipped in the surf like a little kid. Wasn’t I just wearing a down jacket breakfasting on a stale granola bar in my car?
The Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive Resort is partnered with the adjacent Divi Aruba All Inclusive, where guests can take advantage of all the amenities between the two resorts. This includes golf, water sports, tennis, rock climbing, and beach volleyball.
There are lessons and games for everything from billiards to bingo, kayaking to windsurfing, as well as an events calendar that challenges quiet beach time or a day at the spa.
With twelve dining options from stylish beachfront restaurants to casual poolside grills, along with the nine bars and lounges, finding a delicious meal or cool drink is never a problem. The Palm Grill at the Tam and The Red Parrot at the Divi are recommended.
Besides the glorious beaches…
Yes, people go to Aruba for the climate – which is always perfect. They also go for the shopping and casinos, the upscale restaurants, the lively nightclubs, and some of the best conditions in the world for windsurfing. But there’s so much more to do.
Choose from one of the many scuba or snorkeling outfitters. Some companies offer courses and packages. Try Dive Aruba or Aruba Scuba Diving at Red Sail Sports. Or spend the morning on the open water deep-sea fishing and then go horseback riding on a sunset beach later on in the day.
Learn how to windsurf or kiteboard. The conditions near the fisherman’s huts are favorable and one of the reasons why so many of the outfitters have set up schools and shops nearby. Explore the Guadirikiri caves, the Natural Bridge, or swim in the conchi pool at Cura di Tortuga. Visit an ostrich or butterfly farm. Adopt a donkey from the Donkey Sanctuary.
Arikok National Park offers several trails for hiking or biking. The park is comprised of nearly 8000 acres of natural land where rocky outcrops and crevices have created unique microclimates housing species of animals found only in Aruba.
Covering almost a fifth of the island, the protected area is a breathtaking landscape – at times covered with divi divi trees and cacti and then around the next bend there’s a hauntingly desolate stretch of sand dunes and jagged limestone cliffs – no less beautiful.
It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swang
Hanging out with the Jolly Pirates is a great way to spend a day snorkeling as well as to be entertained by the most amusing swashbucklers you’re ever likely to meet. From the start, things were mi dushi, which the captain said means my sweetness, but can also pertain to anything that is beautiful in life.
“Sailing with the wind, a snapper at the end of a spear gun, a double backflip off the rope swing; these things are mi dushi in Aruba,” he said.
There are a couple of Jolly Pirates tours from which to choose as well as sunset cocktail cruises. I took the 9:30–2 pm tour for $57 that included three snorkel sites, a tasty BBQ lunch, an open bar, and rope swing activities.
At the Malmok snorkel site, I saw damsels, wrasses, triggerfish, parrotfish, spotted and smooth trunkfish, schools of tangs and grunts, and a sea snake. At one point, I followed an octopus until I startled it. Then it flattened its head and squeezed through a slit in the rocks barely an inch wide.
Jumping off the deck at the Boca Catalina site, I plunged directly into a school of squid. Bewildered by my splashy entrance, the squid stuck around while I adjusted my mask and fins, ogling me with their bulgy eyes. And then suddenly (maybe there was a shark behind me), the entire school got into a formation and fled the scene, leaving me in a tiny puff of ink.
German WWII Sunken Ship
Also included on the tour is the 400 ft Antilla Shipwreck, a German WWII freighter sunk in 1940 by a captain who decided he’d rather destroy his own vessel than surrender it to the Allies. Lying on her port side in about 50 feet of water, much of the bridge and mast of the Antilla is clearly visible.
As you are on your own and have roughly 40 minutes, I checked out the unmistakable parts of the ship first and then went to the other end where the pieces of steel are so covered in sponges and marine life forms, I wasn’t quite sure what I was looking at.
None the less, the experience was mysteriously alluring and creepy at the same time. I kept waiting for the Jaws head to pop out.
Non-snorkelers are welcome to stay on board and relax on deck in the sun or on comfy banquets under the shade of the sails. An accessible side ladder is an easy way to get off the ship for a swim. The more adventurous types can simply jump overboard.
ABC Jeep Tours
Spend a full or half-day seeing all the island’s best sights: Arikok National Park, Ayo Rock Formations, California Lighthouse, Natural Bridge, Chapel of Alto Vista, Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, Indian Caves, the famous Natural Pool and Baby Beach.
There is free pick up and drop off at your hotel. BBQ lunch, beverages, and snorkel gear included. Full day 9 -5pm $99-adult, $59-child.Aruba Jeep Safari Tour – ABC Aruba Tours
Vela Windsurf Resort & Dare 2 Fly Kiteboarding School
A windsurfer’s paradise with reliable winds and crystal clear, waist-deep water the school offers lessons for all levels. Rentals are available for those in the know. Located on the beach at the Marriott Resort.
http://www.velawindsurf.com/html/For the strong and the brave, spend a day getting your butt kicked learning how to kiteboard. You’ll be glad you did.
Atlantis Submarine Expeditions
U.S. Coast Guard approved and Green Globe certified, here you can dive to depths of 130 feet inside a fully air-conditioned submarine. See marine life, coral reefs, and two sunken wrecks. 2-hour tours. Adults-$99, Children over 4 years-$49.
Atlantis Submarine Underwater Tour – Aruba tour operator – De Palm Tours
Fly in a Robinson R44 helicopter for a 30-minute island tour, a 15-minute beach tour, or a Fly-In dining tour. http://www.arubahelitours.com/
Shop ‘til you drop
Not officially a duty-free island, many store owners will offer ‘duty-free prices’, at least 35% lower than US retail prices on high brand items and jewelry. TheRenaissance Mall with more than 60 stores and restaurants is within walking distance from the cruise ship terminal.
Across the street from the terminal is the Renaissance Marketplace, a great place to pick up beachwear and unique gifts. For luxury boutiques and designer fashions head to The Village located in the swankier Palm Beach area.
A few blocks inland from the high-rise hotels, you’ll find the Paseo Herencia Mall with shops, restaurants, and cinemas. Nearby, the Palm Beach Plaza has the recently opened Dream Bowl if glow-in-the-dark bowling is your thing. With eight lanes, billiard tables, an arcade, a sports bar with great food, there’s also spectacular views of the ocean from the balcony.
Three great Restaurants
Papiamento Restaurant is located in an old Aruban farmhouse at 61 Washington, Noord. Tel +297 586-4544 Dine outdoors in lush gardens around a luminescent pool or in one of the cozy rooms among all the Dutch antiques.
The keeshi yena appetizer, a stew made from minced beef tenderloin, chunks of chicken, prunes, raisins, cashews, and baked with Dutch cheese is a must try as well as any entrée cooked tableside over hot stones. Papiamento Restaurant
Pincho’s Grill and Bar is at the Surfside Marina off of L.G. Smith Blvd. Tel +297 583 2666. Located right on the pier, all the tables and chairs are set over the clear Caribbean water and lit from underneath with twinkling blue lights. So romantic and inviting a final episode of The Bachelor was filmed here.
Even better than the sunset view is the excellent food, the majority of which is cooked on pinchos or skewers. I couldn’t make up my mind, even when Anabela (the gracious owner) offered her personal recommendations, so I had three deliciously satisfying appetizers and pinched some pork tenderloin stuffed with Boursin cheese and apples from my dining mates.
Bon Nochi Cocktails
If you go, try the tuna tataki, spicy fish cakes, and homemade chorizo sausage. Start with a couple of Bon Nochi cocktails and you’re sure to have a Good Night. These are made with vodka, fresh ginger, shredded cucumber peel, sliced lemon, cranberry, and brown sugar. Pinchos Grill & Bar | Aruba Restaurants
Hadicuraru Restaurant Fresh local seafood at the Fisherman’s Pier, Moomba Beach Tel: +297 586 2288. Share the fried calamari appetizer and then order grouper, mahi-mahi, or wahoo for a main course. If you go on a Sunday night, walk next door after dinner and dance the night away at the Moomba Beach Party. Hadicurari Restaurant at the Fisherman’s Pier – Aruba
Café Chaos on L.G. Smith Blv 60 in Oranjestad. Tel +297 588 75 47. Dutch-style, Caribbean bar with a variety of live music – Blues, Rock, Reggae, Ska, Pop, Funk. The theme is locals hanging out with tourists.
Salt & Pepperon J.E. Irausquin Blvd 370, Palm Beach Tel +297 586 3280
A café serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner- turning into a raucous nightclub after the sun goes way down.
I had an absolute blast learning how to salsa from a bunch of beautiful Papiamento speaking girls. They got a kick out of my stiff, uncoordinated steps while I was mesmerized by their strutting hip shakes and gliding feet. Bon boni and mi dushi indeed.
Laurieanne Wysocki is a professional guide who travels with groups all over Europe. She’s also an artist and writer, and lives in Western Massachusetts.