Aruba, located just north of South America is an arid, almost desert-like island with a long stretch of white sand beach, a number of international resorts, a constant breeze, and predictably good weather. The Dutch colony is just less than 20 miles long and much of the island is taken up with the many oil refineries located there. In addition to oil, the major industries on Aruba are tourism and gold mining.
Aruba was first "discovered" by Spanish explorers in 1499. The island was conquered by the Dutch in 1636 and remains a part - albeit a self-governing part - of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Dutch influence can be seen in the island's architecture, cuisine, and customs. Although English is widely spoken, Dutch is the official island language.
Aruba's attractions revolve around the island's natural wonders, such as the interesting rock formations and beaches found there. Among the island's sights are:
- Natural Bridge - On the island's northern coast opposite Oranjestad, this limestone arch is the nation's most photographed attraction. The formation stretches twenty-five feet in the air and spans approximately one hundred feet of water.
- Arikok National Park - Covering twenty percent of the island, this ecological preserve includes many caves that were once inhabited by various Amerindian tribes. Fontein Cave is decorated with primitive drawings, and nearby Baranca Sunu cave has a quaint heart-shaped entrance giving it the nickname the "Tunnel of Love."
- Wilhelmina Park - Within walking distance of downtown Oranjestad, this small park includes a meticulously maintained tropical garden with a statue of Queen Wilhelmina as the highlight, emphasizing the island's Dutch heritage.
- The Beaches - With less than twenty inches of annual rainfall, Aruba's beaches are perfect for serious sunbathers. Many beaches can easily be accessed by taxi for a moderate fee (taxi rates in Aruba are all flat fees - agree on a price before beginning the drive), and hotel beaches offer a variety of watersports including scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, and water skiing.
Shopping and Dining
Aruba's Dutch heritage can be seen in the island's shopping and dining options. Oranjestad is known for its duty-free shopping. Among the best buys are chocolate, cheese, Dutch liqueurs, jewelry, crystal, and china.
Dutch and Indonesia food combine with island specialties to form an interesting variety of food choices. In addition, traditional American and Continental cuisine are offered at the larger international resorts.
Aruba is easily accessible via non-stop flights from New York, Miami, San Juan, and Amsterdam, among other cities. In addition, visitors from hundreds of cities around the world can reach the island via connecting flights. Most of the island's hotels and resorts are located on the eastern coast of Aruba, along Palm Beach, and in Oranjestad, the island's capital city. Popular resorts include the Marriott, the Hyatt Regency, and the Bucati Beach. All-inclusive resorts are also becoming popular on the island.
A car rental is a plus for vacationers wishing to explore the island and to go to Oranjestad for shopping and for meals. Those just wanting to relax on the beach can do without a car.