Aruba is the consummate tropical paradise – perfect warm weather tempered by cool breezes, stunning white sugary beaches that rival any other in the Caribbean, turquoise-emerald waters that make your heart just wanna melt, and some of the best surf, scuba diving, snorkeling, and windsurfing spots you’ll find in the world. But add to that pretty picture a gorgeous interior landscape of limestone cliffs, rock formations, and sand dunes and Dutch-flavored cities and towns full of baroque architecture, themed casinos, and thumping nightlife, and Aruba really has it all! Not surprisingly then, this exotic dreamland has the highest-repeat visitor rate in the Caribbean. Most of the tourists hail from the United States and Canada, but you’ll also find a mix of Dutch and South American vacationers.
Aruba, unsurprisingly, is the most developed island for tourism in the Caribbean. It has certainly come a long way. The island was first populated by Arawak Indians, but the Spanish arrived in the late 15th century, claiming Aruba. Like other Caribbean islands, the Arawaks of Aruba were unfortunately wiped out by disease, enslavement, and harsh treatment, although there is still evidence of Indian ancestry on the island today. In the mid-17th century, the Dutch took over the island from the Spaniards with little opposition or resistance. Aruba was made a part of the Netherlands Antilles and a governor was appointed to rule the island. For a brief period during turn of the 19th century, Aruba was occupied by the British, but reverted back to Dutch control by 1816. Since then, Aruba has relied on tourism, gold mining, the export of aloe, and in the last century, petroleum. It was in the 1920s when Lago and subsequently Standard Oil built an oil refinery in Aruba to process the oil extracted from nearby Venezuela. The refinery shut down in 1985 and reopened soon afterwards but on a smaller scale. Aruba, today, however, remains economically strong, one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean largely due to its thriving tourism.
Attractions by Region
The capital of Aruba is Oranjestad, which is characterized by colonial architecture, duty free shops, open-air markets selling produce and seafood, and cruise ports that welcome international visitors. Outside of the main town of Aruba, you’ll find a countryside of cacti, divi-divi trees, jagged coasts, rugged and windswept terrain, and craggy cliffs. Don’t miss the Pirate’s Castle built in 1499 by the Spaniards in the northeast, or the abandoned Gold Mines there.
In the southwest coast of Aruba, you’ll find the most stunning beaches, colorful aquamarine, and glamorous resorts. Palm trees surround thatched cabanas and man-made pools. Casinos run 24/7 and the nightlife beat raving tunes from out of strips of bars and clubs. And there are classier joints too – go to the smaller hotels where they provide musical entertainment.
If you enjoy sailing, you’ll love Aruba. The trade winds are incessant, providing “fuel” for sail boats and windsurfers. Scuba diving is also an underwater adventure in Aruba; there are underwater shipwrecks like at Antilla where a German freighter during WWII was intentionally self-sunk and lies 55 feet underwater with its mast still visible from ashore. When the war broke out, the German captain was docked in Aruba and had no way of protecting the ship, so he sunk it to prevent it from being used by the Allies.
If you enjoy climbing and hiking, Aruba offers Mount Haystack, located at the central heart of the island. Its peak rises over 540 feet high and can provide views of Venezuela on a clear day. You’ll also find caves south of Hooiberg where Arawak Indians and Caribs have left prehistoric drawings, sketches, and markings. Northeast of Hooiberg features stacks of boulders that look oddly out of place, puzzling geologists to this day.