MatadorU student Jessica Festa spends four days getting to know this small Caribbean island.
Basics

Aruba is a tropical island in the south Caribbean, around 20 miles north of Venezuela. It’s a territory of the Netherlands, and the official language is Dutch, though most locals speak a European- and West Africa-influenced creole called Papiamento.

Travelers fly into Queen Beatrix International Airport, just to the south of the island’s capital and largest city, Oranjestad. Palm Beach, with its white-sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts, and tourist nightlife, is ~30min north of the airport.

While the southern coast is pretty heavily developed, the less-sheltered north shore is nearly desolate.

Trip highlights
  • Snorkeling with Jolly Pirates: Allowed me to not only snorkel three different spots — Boca-Catalina, Malmok, and the Antilla wreck — but also dance and drink on a pirate ship.

    The MS Antilla was a WWII German U-boat that the captain destroyed himself rather than surrender it to the Dutch. The wreck is 400ft long and, although it’s now covered in plants, I could still make out windows, smokestacks, decks, and the interior.
  • North shore tour with ABC Aruba: This land rover safari tour is the best option for checking out “off the beaten path” Aruba — getting around to these places on your own is tough.

    We drove and hiked around Arikok National Park, swam in a natural beachside pool called Conchi, and visited the Ayo Rock Formations.

    Another place of interest for me was the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, a site from the 1890s that’s right on the beach and which you can enter to see dilapidated rock stairs, drill holes, and furnace components.

Sleeping
  • Tamarijn All-Inclusive Resort, Manchebo Beach: My room greeted me with a bottle of wine, dove-shaped towels, and a patio door that opened to the beach. Tamarijn is partnered with the Divi All-Inclusive next door, so you have access to their infinity pool, restaurants, and bars as well.
Eating
  • Papiamento, Palm Beach: My absolute favorite, set in a converted 19th-century Aruban farmhouse. The restaurant is well known for its hot-stone entrees. Be prepared to pay; prices reflect the quality of service and food.
  • Pincho’s Grill & Bar, Oranjestad: Located right on the pier at Surfside Marina, this one has great nighttime city views. I enjoyed the open-air kitchen that lets you watch the chefs at work. “Pinchos” means skewers, and theirs are delicious. Also recommended is the pork tenderloin stuffed with boursin and apple, served with a Kahlua and cream sauce.
  • Hadicurari, Palm Beach: A location on Fisherman’s Pier pretty much guarantees fresh seafood. I usually don’t like fish but tried a bite of my friend’s mahi-mahi and wished I had ordered it.
Partying
  • Cafe Chaos, Oranjestad: Cheap drinks and live music. I got to see Honeypot, a well-known ska-punk band that recently toured the US.
  • MooMba Beach Bar, Palm Beach: This is a Sunday night beach dance spot. I loved the extremely social atmosphere, and the fact that the DJ played every single song request I made.
  • Salt & Pepper, Palm Beach: A cafe-cum-nightclub. While some people stay at their tables to drink, I chose to dance the night away on the tiled dining room floor.
Local medicinal tips

Because I was hanging out with Jonathan, a local from the Aruba Tourism Authority, I got to learn a lot about natural remedies. Apparently, slurping the gel from inside the aloe plant not only aids in digestion but also cures asthma, as does boiling a gecko and drinking the stock.

Trekking through Arikok National Park, I was informed that the Bushi cactus, which looks like a prickly coconut, is delicious, that the Walishali plant clears your sinuses if you stick it up your nose, and that a small tree with winding branches and small clusters of pointy green leaves known as Basura Preto is “like the abortion pill.”

Personal score

I’d tried windsurfing before but never really got the hang of it. However, after a half-hour lesson with Big Joe from De Palm Tours, I was actually able to stand longer than 10 seconds without catapulting myself into the water.

Bonus tip

The island is super laid back. There are no private beaches, and even the nicer restaurants and clubs have friendly staff and a casual dress code.

I should have left my heels at home.

[Editor’s note: Jessica’s trip was sponsored by M. Silver Associates and the Aruba Tourism Authority. Her opinions are her own.]

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