Aruba – the A of ABC-Islands | Travel Diary
Together with Bonaire and Curaçao, Aruba forms the ABC islands. After some fabulous days on Curaçao, we wanted to visit the A of the naming. The tiny island (69 square meters) is famous for its long stretches of glistening white sand beaches that rank among the world’s most beautiful. The arid climate ensures Aruba to have better weather than other Caribbean islands, with sunny weather 365 days a year.
On the natural side, Aruba also differs a lot from the tropical destination pack. Windswept trees and rough shorelines on the northeast coast, dramatic rock formations, and desert-like landscapes in the interior make Aruba so different from other Caribbean islands, even from its neighbors in the Netherlands Antilles.
Where is Aruba, and how to get there?
Located only 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is one of the four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands but this doesn’t mean you can expect anything dutch, even the currency is different (Aruban florin). As lots of US-Americans are spending their holidays in Aruba, US dollars will do fine, too. Bonaire, for some reason, is a special municipality within the country of the Netherlands, but not part of the Kingdom. This might be the reason for KLM not flying to Bonaire, but only to Aruba and Curaçao.
Between the islands, however, you can hop by ferry and planes. Today I cannot remember why we would not consider going by boat. Instead, we had booked tickets for a 25-minutes flight with „Insel Air,“ a former partner of KLM. Apparently, KLM had decided to quit the cooperation in early 2018 and named „the poor operational performance of InselAir“ as the reason for suspension. Let me tell you, this booking caused some severe anxiety for me, and I have no idea how I managed to get on the plane eventually. Why? When googling the airline, there are plenty of negative comments concerning not only cancelations and delays but also the ages of the machines, weird smells, and smoke/fires on board. What an outlook.
Hence, I was literally shitting my pants when we boarded the airplane. But even though I was not opening my eyes during the whole flight (and making it even worse by continually thinking, „we’re gonna die, we’re gonna die, we’re gonna die“), there was nothing to complain about in the end. I don’t know if it was only luck (better not), but Insel Air brought us safely and on time from Curaçao to Aruba. They should probably consider working on their reputation…
Update February 2019: The airline doesn’t exist anymore.
We landed in Aruba pretty early. Conventionally, the airport is located in Oranjestad, the capital and largest city. Hence, it took us only a few minutes to arrive at our hotel. We have chosen the RENAISSANCE ARUBA RESORT & CASINO for our stay. The main reason for that was that one of the main attractions is part of the hotel. The „Renaissance Aruba Private Island“ has flamingos living in the wild. Well, they are not living the wildest life, as they can only be found in that one spot and their wings have been capped…
The Renaissance Aruba Private Island
Happening to be one of the guests of the Renaissance Hotel, rides to the island were included, while external guests are charged with approx. $99 (including drinks, lunch, and a water float). To reach the island, you need to take the water taxi which leaves every 15 minutes from the hotel lobby. Yes, right. The hotel is linked to the water and the boat drives into the hotel. The water taxi arrived quickly and brought us to the island that would not disappoint us!
When arriving on Renaissance Island for the first time, you might feel a little bit overwhelmed in the beginning. Some visitors obviously knew where to go and streamed to the left. Others would prefer to visit the flamingos, and those would turn to the right. And us, just having landed from Curacao, stood there for a while, a bit unprepared. Starring at the turquoise surrounding, we couldn’t believe that these colors were real. Thus we tried to soak in as much calmness and beauty as possible. It was pure magic!
Then, after one moment or two, we followed the people, first of all to the left-hand side to only recognize that there was a beach to hang out. We decided we could come back here later and went to the right side to find the main attraction of this island: the flamingos.
It’s indeed a highlight to see the flamingos. With their bright coral tone, they give a high contrast to the turquoise water. Nevertheless, they gave me some creeps, too.
After watching the flamingos and take the obligatory photos, we headed to the other side only to find fewer empty sunbeds than approx. 40 minutes ago. As said, the water taxi rides on a 15 minutes schedule, and even though the hotel will stop bringing more people at some point, it wasn’t too easy to find a good spot near the water and in the sun/half shade. Tourists behave the same at every part of the world, don’t they?
There is only one restaurant on the island and no kiosk or beach bar. So, make sure to bring bottled water! Since we literally had just arrived in Aruba, we didn’t have water at all. Hence we were forced to pay an exorbitant price for 0,5l bottles. At least you can refill your bottles with water running from a tab at the rental house. I haven’t had food on the island as it didn’t appeal to me and seemed a bit overpriced. I ordered some chips for a snack, though, and they were delicious and plenty of them, so it was a good deal eventually.
Fine Dining in Aruba
In the evening, we wanted to walk a little further down the coast to have dinner at Pinchos Bar & Grill. This restaurant creates a distinctive dining experience with its exclusive location right on a pier. We had tried to set up a reservation at 6.30 pm through the online system, though never received an answer. When we arrived and saw the restaurant, it looked so great. Our experiences rose when we walked over the jetty to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant was not willing to find our reservation and would not let us in, even though most of the tables seemed empty. We decided to leave the restaurant, and spend our money somewhere else. Very disappointing.
Eventually, we ended up in Que Pasa. The food was lovely, despite a little bit overpriced (as everything in Aruba), and there was only inside-seating, which I didn’t like too much. However, our hostess (Katharina) was genuinely nice and supportive, and so we had a great evening overall.
Exploring the Island
The next day, we got up early to spend some more hours on the Private Island. This time, we were among the knowing and headed directly to the left side and found a great spot right away. After a while, some American girls appeared on the beach and settled next to us. At first, it was fun to watch but when they were drunk around lunchtime, and entertaining the whole beach, we rather left the island to explore the actual island of Aruba.
We thought it would be the most convenient way to ask the hotel rental car station for a car for the remaining hours of the day. Well, it wasn’t the best idea, as the bell boy only had one car left for a ridiculous price ($150 a day?). We already thought of a change of plans (again), but going back where we just came from didn’t seem to be an option either. What next? Without any hope, we went to the front desk, which turned out to be a great decision. The concierge appeared to be somehow connected with a local car rental, somewhat away, but they would pick us up and return us in the hotel and only charge us $50 for 24 hours.
Unfortunately, our price sensitivity wasted some precious time of the day. To get the rental car, we had to wait for the staff to pick us up, only to drive somewhere north for quite a time. On the other hand, with this rental service we could keep the car for full 24 hours, which meant we wouldn’t need to return the vehicle in the evening of the same day, but at 3.30 pm next day for a fragment of the price we would have paid in the hotel.
Down in the South
Even though we were in the Northern part of the island, we decided we would drive to the South on this remaining afternoon. This way, we could explore the Northern region on the following day, where we also had to return the vehicle eventually. So we spent a full hour driving to one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. The ride was quite lovely. The streets mostly guide through the mainland but are framed with plenty of great succulents.
Besides the cactus, in all honestly, the nature of Aruba is dry and not as lush and green as you might expect it from the Caribbean. I didn’t mind as I do like this kind of nature a lot. The rugged desert-like landscapes remind me of the Californian or Arizonian deserts. With the difference, that in Aruba, you could spot crisp turquoise water here and there, which also increased our excitement for the beach.
We arrived at Baby Beach by around 4.30 pm and would enjoy some pleasant last hours in the sun. There was not much to do anyway, as local restaurants closed around 5 pm or were not open at all on that day. By the time we arrived, people would leave already, which leads to us having the beach on our own. We didn’t bother hanging at the beach, though, but walked around exploring the breathtaking nature. We spot some „Divi Divi trees,“ one of the famous trees in Aruba (actually they also grow in the rest of the Caribbean and even in South America, but Aruba claims to be the origin). Divi Divi trees grow with the wind, hence the untypical form.
We left the beach right before sunset. Hungry, we looked for a restaurant for dinner. Unfortunately, in the area around Baby Beach is more or less nothing, which is why we had to get back to the car, leaving the beach, even though we would have loved to watch the sunset there. The hunger, however, was too big. We didn’t have mobile data which made us a little bit desperate, as we had no idea where we could find a restaurant and also if it was good enough. After a few miles, we drove past a restaurant called Kamini’s Kitchen in a very remote place. Even though we couldn’t check reviews beforehand what we usually do, we decided to give it a try. When we entered the restaurant, there were only two other guests. The two girls could see our skepticism and waved at us, saying, „Hey, you!! Don’t be shy. The food is excellent! You have to try it!) Being very brave, we decided to give it a try and entered the restaurant. There were only two other guests, two girls who could see our skepticism and who immediately said, „The food is delicious! You have to try it“. So we did.
The girls left shortly after that, and as we were the only guests in the restaurant, we had time to speak with the waiter who happened to be from Europe. He told us that the chief would cook traditionally, hence she was caring about the proper preparation that would take its time. Ok, we had plenty of time, as we didn’t have to return the car that evening (there is always a reason for everything, isn’t it). It was nice to speak with this old guy, who would tell us a few stories, and we were glad that we had stayed. It’s always best to talk to local people to get a real impression of the country you’re visiting. Oh, and by the way, I just looked the place up right now, and it has an excellent review on google with 4,7 stars. We agree!
We kept our rental car until the next day and got up early (again) to explore the north-western part of Aruba. There were some famous beaches to see (Eagle Beach, Palm Beach) as well as the lighthouse. We decided to drive to the most northern point of our list at first and make our way down from there, eventually returning our car at the last station.
The first and most northern point on our list was the California Lighthouse (Love the name!). Getting up very early, we hoped the place wasn’t crowed yet. We were right and wrong. I bet there will be a way more people later in the day, but even in the early morning (I think we got there at 7.30 am?) there were already a few early-birds which made it impossible to have a picture of the lighthouse only. At least, the road was still pretty empty, and so we were able to take some nice pictures of the dry, almost desert-like landscape with its big succulents everywhere.
Beaches in Aruba
Afterward driving a little through the desert of Aruba, we went to visit a few different beaches that happen to be along the coast. And let me tell you: They were all different and yet equally beautiful.
The Arashi Beach was nearest to the Lighthouse and therefor happened to be our first stop. The water was crisp, clear, and of course very turquoise. With a few waves coming in and a steep slope of the beach, it was deep very, so I wouldn’t go in too far. But that’s only me, others might love the ability to swim properly. At the beach, there are a few public palapas that can be helpful for families or people that try to avoid the sun. For me personally, the sun is the whole point of beaching, so I prefer palms for lighter shade. Palms were not missing at the beach either, so it was all in all a great experience.
After a while, we drove a little bit further down the coast to visit other beaches. I did not take pictures on Eagle Beach and Palm Beach, shame on me! Firstly because when we arrived Eagle Beach, there was literally one cloud laying over the beach that made it very windy and fresh and also darkened the colours down. With sunlight, it is simply more beautiful. In Palm Beach instead were too many tourists and hotels so I didn’t bother to take a picture.
In between, we had lunch in a place called Garden Fresh Café. The service was a bit poorly, however, the food tasted really delicious and seemed to be pretty healthy. I had a smoothie that was fantastic and with that in one hand and a bottle of water in the other, we walked down Palm Beach a little bit and enjoyed ourselves before we had to return the car.
Shopping in Aruba
After returning the car, the staff would drive us back to the hotel (that’s such an excellent service!), and we spent some last remaining sunshine hours on the pool in our hotel, followed by a little shopping spree (not without the obligatory shower and dress up in between!). The shopping mall happened to be connected to our hotel, which was very convenient. I wouldn’t go so far and call the hotel the actual heart of the city, but in all frankness, it seemed a bit like that. Speaking of honesty, the shopping center and particularly the streets around didn’t appeal to us. So after a while, we looked out for a place to have a light dinner and some drinks.
Last but not least… a perfect place to hang out when the sun sets:
We found it pretty fast: Literally, in front of our hotel we’ve seen the Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant – how come we hadn’t noticed that place earlier? Living up to its name, the restaurant is designed very openly, living that laid-back style you know from surfers all over the world. You could walk barefoot through the area without attracting any attention. The food was delicious, and so were the drinks. And even better: Happy hour had just started! All over the place where hammocks hanging from the ceiling. After finishing our dinner, we took our drinks and laid back in one hammock each and… relaaaxed—what a cool place. Listening to the sound of reggae music (usually not a fan but matching the atmosphere of that place!), we spent hours gently turning back and forth in the chairs. The staff was cool enough to take orders from there, and other than that left us to chillax… When the sun went down slowly, the view of the harbor was a peaceful last picture.
Well done, Aruba!
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