Welcome to the first in a series of posts detailing some of the great trips I've been able to take, along with my tips for you if you're heading in the same direction. Since this is the beginning of this series, I figured we'd start at the top, with "a" for Aruba. In the interest of illustrating how beautiful this island is, I will promise you now that none of these photos have been edited. At all.
My trip to Aruba was based largely on advice gathered from family and friends, and was a more spur-of-the-moment trip than I usually take. We knew we wanted to take a week-long vacation in October but didn't really know where. Budget, hurricane season, and a general sense of fatigue that only a beach and a daiquiri could mend steered us towards Aruba.
We found great prices on flights out of JFK airport into Aruba. The main airport there is called Queen Beatrix International. When you land, you will be greeted by friendly women handing out free tote bags filled with coupons. I'm not sure if this is common in other vacation destinations, but Aruba was the first place I ever encountered it.
Aruba has a reputation for being "one happy island," and I would say I found that to be largely true. Everyone was very friendly, and the service we received everywhere we went was quite good. Aruba is also very easy to navigate as a native English speaker. Amazingly, most residents of the island speak English, Spanish, Dutch, and the island's native Papiamentio. Most jobs on the island are somehow related to the tourism industry, and most visitors come from English-speaking countries. You will most likely be addressed first in English by anyone
you come across.
There are taxis readily available everywhere in Aruba, so there is no need to rent a car unless you want to explore the wilder terrain of the north side of the island on your own. I would suggest taking a bus tour to get your bearings instead, and then focusing the rest of your vacation on the beach. We took a half-day tour of the island through De Palm Tours, which seems to run about half of the transportation and tour options Aruba has to offer. Our bus driver was also our tour guide, and narrated the entire trip in multiple languages. We were shown the Butterfly Farm, Alto Vista Chapel, California Lighthouse, Hooiberg Mountain, the Natural Bridge, and downtown Oranjestad.
After our bus tour, we stuck mainly to the beach. Most of the hotels on Palm or Eagle Beaches are in a strip along the water, and you can easily walk from one to the other. There is a boardwalk that runs in between the hotels and the ocean. Behind the hotels is one of the major roads in Aruba (J. E. Irausquin Boulevard), which is actually a very small thoroughfare by American standards. You can easily cross the road to access the many shops and restaurants on the other side.
Restaurants that particularly stood out on our trip included Gianni's Ristorante Italiano and its affiliate, Gelatissimo, and Elements restaurant at the Bucuti and Tara resort. Pictured here is the room service we got upon arrival; it was the first time I ever ordered room service, and I was pretty excited about it. Also, it was delicious!
Gianni's was a very well-appointed Italian restaurant in the shopping area on the north side of J. E. Irausquin Boulevard. I had a four cheese rigatoni there that was quite delicious.
Gelatissimo serves what is quite possibly the best gelato on the face of the planet. My husband had a flavor called dragonberry, while I tried both the Ferrero Rocher and Nutella flavors. If you're ever in Aruba, just go. You won't be sorry.
We splurged for one night during our trip and reserved a private cabana at sunset at Elements, a beachfront restaurant at the Bucuti and Tara resort. Our waiter was unbelievably friendly, talking to us about our favorite NFL teams and giving us his family's personal recipe for beer chicken. He was from Peru, making this sort of conversation all the more impressive--why did he know so much about the NFL? It's amazing; the world is really a very small place. The meal included wine, bread, soup, salad, a sorbet, an entree, and dessert. It was quite the experience.
The beaches themselves were quite lovely. I will say that despite Aruba's relatively safe location in relation to the hurricane belt, we managed to travel at just the right time. Hurricane Matthew became the closest storm to Aruba in many years, hitting the day before we arrived. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, known as the ABC islands, are very close to the top of South America, and are usually protected from major storms. This is a pretty big reason we traveled to Aruba, since the vacation slot we had available was in early October, deep in hurricane season. Even still, during our trip, the waves were just a bit rough. Our scuba excursion on a pirate ship was regrettably cancelled due to the rough surf. On the bright side, we got to sip frozen drinks while watching our resort crew build huge walls of sand to keep the ocean out of the pool. And that was actually pretty interesting.
All in all, I would say that Aruba is a lovely place to vacation if you don't mind being surrounded by people from your home country and if you like to relax on the beach. If you enjoy a more active or exotic vacation, you might want to consider a shorter trip to Aruba, as the beach really is its main attraction. But it's a short flight over from the east coast of the United States and is fairly affordable. The weather is great and the people are friendly. Oh, and the ocean looks like this.
A few other notes: it is extremely hot, and you will get sunburned even when you think you won't. It's very windy. Wear a hat and not a skirt. There are lizards and wild dogs all over the place. Also, the sunsets are just absolutely gorgeous.
Have you ever been to Aruba? What did you think?
Also, it's Friday! Yay!