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Aruba: One Happy Island

June 15, 2017

 

Flamingo Beach 

  

Visiting Aruba has been on my bucket list for a really long time and I finally pulled the trigger and went this year — and am so glad that I did! The island has quickly become one of my favorite places to visit and I cannot wait to go back for so many reasons. 

 

The beaches are absolutely magnificent with soft, white sand, barely any shells to step on (ouch!), or sea life (like jelly fish) to be scared of. The water surrounding the island is positively mesmerizing with countless shades of turquoise and teal that glitter in the sun as the waves roll in. Then there's the desert part of the island that's known as the "rough side" — where you'll find rocky terrain, long-armed cactuses, steep cliffs and stunning coves. Both parts of the island are incredibly beautiful and worthwhile. 

  

 Some of the impressive long-armed cactuses you'll find around the island. 

 

There's a constant breeze across the island that keeps you cool and comfortable even in the 80 to 90 degree heat (the average temperature is 82) and because it's located on the fringes of the Caribbean's Hurricane Belt, Aruba has more sunny days than any other Caribbean island! 

 

The Basics

 

Getting there — You'll fly into Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA) — most major cities have direct flights.  

 

Language — You will hear all sorts of different languages while you're visiting Aruba — it's truly diverse with more than 90 nationalities represented on the island. Locals tend to speak Dutch, Papiamento, Spanish or Portuguese. I found that most people do speak English, so you won't have to worry about a language barrier.  

 

Getting around — I highly suggest renting a car to explore the island. While it's only about 20 miles long, there's a lot to see and do within those 20 miles and taking a taxi from place to place can quickly add up. They drive on the right-side of the road, but road signs are different so you'll want to memorize them before getting behind the wheel. Here's a great site to help learn what each road sign stands for (print one and take it with you — just in case). Also, be aware that there are a lot of traffic circles instead of traffic lights, make sure you're comfortable navigating them. I rented a car from Alamo at the airport and had no problems. If you don't want to rent a car there are taxis and public buses available. 

 

Tip: I always use Ebates when I am renting a car, because I get a decent amount of money back. Use this code to get cash back on your next rental.

 

Money — As far as currency, the island uses the Aruban florin, but also accepts the American dollar everywhere. 

 

Water — Aruba's water is safe for drinking. 

 

Cell phone use — Call your phone provider and see what options they offer for international travel. It can be a bit pricey, but I used my phone every day to help navigate the island and book dinner reservations, etc., so it was worth it. You can also download the WhatsApp for free calling and text messaging when you're on Wi-Fi. 

 

Electronics — If you're traveling from the U.S. you won't need a converter. 

 

Cruises — Aruba is a popular destination for cruise ships — which means the island's population can double (if not triple) when a cruise ship docks — making it harder to get reservations around town for dinner. Excursions like snorkeling and boat rides also get booked up faster. I highly suggest looking at the docking schedule to see what days cruise ships will be at the port during your stay to avoid crowds. 

 

What to Do

 

Aruba has no shortage of things to see and do — so there's no excuse to ever get bored. 

 

Relax on the beach — You really can't go wrong visiting any of the island's beaches — they're all amazing — but Eagle Beach is extraordinary. The beach consistently wins awards for being one of the most beautiful beaches in the world — and with all of the accolades I expected the beach to be extremely crowded, but was pleasantly surprised to find it wasn't crowded at all. It's a tranquil retreat with calm, refreshing waters and shade provided by small huts, colorful umbrellas and divi divi trees. You'll definitely want to spend at least an entire day at Eagle Beach. If you're looking for more of a party scene, then head over to Palm Beach where you'll find plenty of beach bars to enjoy during the day and an active nightlife scene. 

 

Tip: There's plenty of convenient parking at Eagle Beach if you're staying somewhere else on the island and want to visit.

 

With views like this it's no wonder Eagle Beach is so popular.

 

Activities — From every water sport you can imagine to ATV rides, walking tours and a national park to explore — there are so many activities to choose from while you're visiting. One activity that I would highly recommend doing is parasailing! The panoramic views of the island and ocean from above are phenomenal. My friend and I even spotted turtles swimming from the air. 

 

Tip: Find Art's Watersports on Eagle Beach. Art does it all including — parasailing, jet ski rentals, banana boating, tubing, snorkeling trips and catamaran cruises with an open bar full of delicious rum punch. Not only are Art and his staff extremely welcoming and helpful, but their prices are very fair and they go above and beyond to make sure you have an enjoyable time. 

 

Mingle with flamingos — If you only go on one excursion during your trip to Aruba, you have to visit Renaissance Aruba's private island — where you can soak up the sun and spend the day mingling with flamingos on Flamingo Beach — a truly incredible experience that you won't find many places. Be aware that Flamingo Beach is an adults only beach, but the other side of the private island — Iguana Beach is kid-friendly and just as beautiful, but without the flamingos. It was fun trying to spot all the vibrant colored Iguanas roaming around! Day passes to the private island are $99 and can be purchased at the Renaissance Aruba Hotel (if you're staying at the hotel it's included in your stay). Once you have your day pass, you'll hop on a boat that will take you from the hotel to the island. Boats leave every 15 minutes. Find out everything you  need to know about getting to Flamingo Beach, here.

 

Tip: Take plenty of quarters to Flamingo Beach if you want to buy food to feed the flamingos. There are gum ball machines around the beach full of flamingo food and they'll eat right out of your hand! (Don't worry, it doesn't hurt.)

 Where else can you just hang out with flamingos for a day?

 Aren't they beautiful? 

For a truly relaxing spot, find these hammocks at Flamingo Beach.

 Relaxing under the huts and palm trees that line the shores of Iguana Beach.

 Refreshing drinks from one of the island's bars. There are several bar and restaurant options on the private island.

 

Get Pampered — For ultimate relaxation, call Okeanos Spa and book a massage in their luxurious Spa Cove, located on Renaissance Island — and get pampered in your own private cabana with only the sound of waves crashing, lulling you to sleep. 

 

Tip: Your Island Cove massage appointment includes access and transportation to Renaissance Aruba's private island.

 The view from Island Cove's private cabana. 

 Such a peaceful retreat. 

 

Visit Natural Bridge — Natural Bridge is a popular island attraction that was naturally carved out by waves pounding against coral limestone over thousands of years. Unfortunately, the original bridge collapsed in the early 2000s, but was later reconstructed to replicate its original state. It's still worth a visit even if the name is really ironic, considering it's no longer natural. The drive to the bridge is also a great way to see the rough side of the island and all the incredible cliffs and rocky coral shoreline along the way. You might even get to see some of the wild donkeys that roam the island. There is no admission fee to visit. 

Stop into the gift shop for a cold drink or snack along the trip.

 Natural Bridge 

 A peek at the cliffs and coves you'll discover on the way to Natural Bridge.

Another look at the rough side of the island.

 

California Lighthouse — Another great place to sight-see is the California Lighthouse, that sits high above the island giving 360 degree views of the entire island below and a perfect spot to enjoy a sunrise or sunset. Tickets to tour the lighthouse are $8, click here to purchase

 

Tip: Take some cash — you can often find a vendor selling fresh coconuts and frozen drinks at the lighthouse.

 Heading up to the lighthouse you'll see all sorts of cactuses.

 A peek at the California Lighthouse! I love the stark contrast of white against the blue sky.

After checking out the lighthouse stop in for a cold beverage and this view that's only a few steps away at El Faro Blanco

 

Gamble — If you like to gamble, then you're in luck! Aruba has countless casinos spread across the island for you to choose from. For a list of casinos, click here

 

Shop — You'll find everything from high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton and Cartier to markets full of local goods and crafts in downtown Oranjestad and the Palm Beach area (which is also known as the High Rise district, because of all the tall hotels). As an added bonus, several shops are duty-free. 

 

You'll find plenty of traditional Dutch architecture throughout Oranjestad. 

 Catch a ride on the trolley to go from one store to another. It's free!

 

Tip: Make sure you visit an Aruba Aloe store (there are several around the island) — especially if you get burnt — they make the most incredible products that help alleviate the pain and discomfort of sunburn, as well as sunscreens, chapsticks, lotions and luxury bath items. I bought the Alcoholada gel (it's a bright blue color in case you can't remember the name once you're there) after getting severely burned and it was an absolute miracle worker! It took the pain away immediately, kept my skin well-hydrated and helped the healing process significantly. I was back in the sun the next day. The company has been in business since 1890 and it's no wonder, as well as ALL of their products work — I basically bought one of everything and a few of my favorites besides the Alcoholada gel include the Aruba Aloe Vitamin E gel, lip balm with spf 15 and After Sun Lotion.

 Just a few of my favorite things. Image: Aruba Aloe

 

Where to Eat & Drink

 

When you're traveling to a new place it can be hard to know exactly what to expect when it comes to food and dining options — especially when you're going to an island — but the only thing that might be better than the beautiful beaches in Aruba, might be the food. I was highly impressed at how much variety the culinary scene offered and the number of upscale dining options there were on the small island. From each restaurants' unique ambiance to the attentive waiters and expansive menus — every meal was exceptional. Below I've highlighted a few favorites that you'll want to add to your itinerary: 

 

Tip: If there is a restaurant that you're really looking forward to visiting — call or make reservations online before you leave on your trip — a lot of places book up ahead of time.

 

Chalet Suisse — This was the first restaurant we discovered after arriving — it was located directly across from where we were staying and it did not disappoint. Chalet Suisse's menu is extensive with lots of great seafood options as well as high quality steaks to choose from. I opted for the Lobster Thermidor — lobster tail in cream sauce combined with cognac — the lobster was cooked to perfection and I could not have been happier. I honestly still daydream about this meal; it was that good.

Chalet Suisse is a personal favorite. 

 

Diana's Pancakes Place — For traditional Dutch pancakes (reminds me of something similar to a crepe) stop by Diana's Pancake Place one morning for breakfast. The menu boasts tons of sweet and savory options as well as delightful glasses of fresh-squeezed orange juice. Have your camera handy — Diana's is located right beside The Old Dutch Windmill — an authentic windmill from the Netherlands that was built in the 1800s. 

Dutch pancake with strawberries and chocolate and a cold glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice. 

 While you're at Diana's stop by Old Dutch Mill.

 

Dutch Pancake House Restaurant — By the end of the week I was craving Dutch pancakes again and stumbled upon the Dutch Pancake House Restaurant while exploring Oranjestad. It was absolutely delicious and incredibly filling. My friend ordered their special — the Seaport Breakfast — that included poffertjes (silver dollar pancakes), scrambled eggs, hash browns, toast, jam and bacon. I snuck a few bites and it was equally delicious. 

 

El Faro Blanco — On a tropical vacation it's really easy to overindulge in seafood — so it's always nice to have some other options and El Faro Blanco delivered the perfect alternative — fresh PASTA — and lots of it! Their specialty is the Fettucine Con Gamberoni Alla Vodka and it's to die for. The dish is the perfect combination of marinara and creamy Alfredo sauce on fettuccini noodles, topped with jumbo shrimp. The portions are huge, so you won't leave hungry when you eat here, that's for sure. The restaurant also delivers a relaxing atmosphere with breathtaking views of the island below and live music. (I'm always a sucker for a steel drum band.) Another perk — it's located right beside the California Lighthouse — so you can knock out two birds with one stone.  

 El Faro Blanco is a must visit!

 The incredible view of the island below.

 

Flying Fishbone — For a truly unique dining experience visit Flying Fishbone restaurant, where you can enjoy a delicious meal with your feet in the ocean — and don't worry they provide a stand to hold your shoes while you dine. My entire party enjoyed the novelty of the experience — especially when ships sailed past. Plus, we had a front row seat to an amazing sunset. (As you can imagine, ocean seating does fill up quickly, so make sure you make reservations.) Not interested in getting your feet wet? There's plenty of beach seating, too! The menu offers a combination of European and Caribbean cuisine with options like ceviche, caviar, foie gras and escargot.  

 

Tip: Give yourself plenty of time to get to the Flying Fishbone — even though it's not far away from the beaches and popular resorts, traffic often backs up making the trip a lot longer. (It took us almost an hour to get there because of traffic and we were told it's a regular occurrence, so the restaurant offers daily tequila specials to counteract the stress of getting there. Haha.) 

 What a view!

 Opted for lobster again — this time with herb risotto, spinach and lemon garlic butter.

 

Screaming Eagle — While researching restaurants in Aruba, Screaming Eagle was the one place that came up time and time again. Reviewers raved about the food and swanky bar atmosphere. I was excited to try it and enjoyed dining on the outdoor terrace. The Miami-style lounge boasts an impressive wine list, scrumptious desserts and offers guests the opportunity to dine in one of their comfy lounge beds. 

 

Craft — For craft cocktails or sangria stop by Craft located in the High Rise district. They serve up delicious concoctions and the location is great for a night out on the town. 

Craft is the perfect place to grab a cocktail and enjoy Aruba's nightlife. 

 

Super Food — If you aren't staying at one of the resorts on the island it's important to know where to go for groceries, etc. — and Super Food is the place to go. It's a massive grocery store with just about everything you could need from fresh fruit and cereal to coffee and deli meats. They also have an amazing selection of Dutch cheeses and breads. The store is extremely well kept, easy to maneuver and the staff is very helpful. Oh, and there's a liquor store inside the supermarket for all your cocktail making needs! 

 

Tip: Like craft beer? Try Balashi — Aruba's very own beer brewed right on the island. Almost everywhere carries it, so it's easy to find. 

 

 

Where to Stay

 

While I enjoyed my stay at a fantastic Airbnb right across from Eagle Beach, there are also several incredible hotels and resorts to choose from on the island. Here are a few I'd suggest to help get your planning started: 

 

Costa Linda Beach Resort — Costa Linda is located right on Eagle Beach and offers one, two or three bedroom suites with full kitchens and ocean views. There's also a restaurant on-site for days when you don't feel like cooking!

 

Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino — There are many perks to staying at the Renaissance including access to their private island which includes Flamingo Beach and Iguana Beach, several infinity pools, luxury accommodations, shopping on the premises and a convenient location in the middle of Oranjestad. 

 The view from one of the Renaissance's infinity pools overlooking the harbor. 

 

Ritz-Carlton — Bask in the warm sun and regal luxury of the Ritz-Carlton Aruba located on beautiful Palm Beach. Along with top-notch amenities and unbeatable ocean views the hotel also has four different restaurants to choose from, an amazing spa, 24-hour casino and daily fitness classes like yoga. With everything you need on the property — there's no need to leave the resort — unless you want to. 

 

If you want to go the all-inclusive route consider Divi Aruba and RIU Palace. 

Eagle Beach sunset 

 

From the pristine beaches and magnificent scenery to the delectable food and exciting adventures — Aruba offers something for everyone.

 

See more Flamingos from Flamingo Beach in the slideshow below. Love the pictures? You can have them made into greeting cards, journals, tote bags, phone and laptop cases, stickers and canvas prints, here

See more from Aruba and other trips by following me on Instagram at SouthernDeparture.

Check out another favorite Caribbean island by clicking here.

 

 

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