First visit to Aruba - Tamarijn, Aug 7th to 21st 2010
This was our first visit to Aruba. Prior to our visit I found the Forum to contain a wealth of information about the island, what to do, where to stay, and so on. I posted a couple of questions prior to our visit and received comprehensive and informative replies almost immediately, for which I was very grateful. Hence I wanted to contribute to the Forum after our visit, and I hope that at least some of the information and views will be of benefit, although probably more so to Forum users new to Aruba rather than to the “old hands”.
Anyway, the information and views below are in note form, not really in the form of a diary (as I have seen done with some previous posts). It is a lengthy post, but I have tried to separate the information out into related topics so that the reader can skip over topics that are not of interest.
I will gladly provide additional information if anyone has any questions.
Dates: 14 nights, Saturday 7th through Saturday 21st August 2010 – not nearly long enough!
Hotel: Tamarijn All Inclusive – our first AI holiday.
Party: Family of 4, including 2 children, boy 16, girl 13.
From: UK, London area.
Booked with: First Choice (UK package holiday company) – I am sure that it won’t be long before other UK travel companies discover Aruba and start to offer holidays there.
Flights: Direct from London Gatwick with Thomson Airways – not exactly British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, but they got us there and our luggage reasonably on time and intact. Reasonable flight time of 9:45 hours there and 8:45 hours back – another reason why more Brits seem to be holidaying in Aruba. It really isn’t that far.
Holiday summary: PARADISE, what more can I say!
Weather: Hotter and more humid than we expected, and the famed Trade Winds didn’t seem to blow as vigorously as we had anticipated. The lack of winds probably contributed to the overall heat, but it also meant that it wasn’t a problem keeping a towel on a sun lounger! Overall, we had terrific weather for two weeks, with 3 short, sharp rain showers (two at night), and two spectacular thunder and lightening shows at night.
Weather-related: Previously I had read that Aruba does not suffer from mosquitoes due to the Trade Winds. Perhaps due to the lack of wind during our stay we experienced a number of bites from these pesky creatures. No matter how hard you try to keep them out, they somehow find their way into your room.
Summary: We loved it. Palm Beach may have some swish 5* resort hotels (eg. the Riu), but you just cannot beat the location of the Tam – room to beach in no more than 10 steps! Good facilities, some excellent food, good bars, reasonable pool, friendly staff, perfect beach and calm sea, with some excellent snorkelling too. The children met some similarly-aged, like-minded children too from both the UK and the US, so that took the pressure off a bit with respect to “what shall we do now?”
Rooms: We stayed in block 24 on the ground floor. Perfect location, with a wide-ish grassy strip between the patio and the boardwalk and beach, with a mango tree and several palm trees. Away from the hustle and bustle of the Bunker Bar and main pool area, but an easy, short walk away (5 mins) from almost everything at the Tam (although nearer 10 mins to the gym and the watersports centre), and only 15 mins from the Sandpiper Bar at the Divi AI. We would get the shuttle if it was there, or if it caught us up en route we would hail it, but generally we just enjoyed the walk through the grounds or along the boardwalk. The rooms were well appointed and clean, although a “little tired”, and they would be very cramped if you had two teenage children in with you (which we didn’t – we had two interconnecting rooms). Overall, I would say that the rooms were of a good standard for the class of hotel (which is 3* or 4*, depending on what you read).
The view looking out to sea from our patio, block 24.
The view looking towards the Bunker Bar from block 23.
Generally very good, including the buffets, and the themed a la carte restaurants were not particularly difficult to book – although we tended to eat at 8:30pm or later – I believe that they were busier earlier on. We rated the restaurants with a maximum of “five smiley faces” when we ate in them. Results and comments below.
Red Parrot (Divi): Excellent (Caribbean) food. In our opinion, the best restaurant at the Tam/Divi. We ate there 3 times. Excellent service, we could not fault it.
Paparazzi (Tam): Very good (Italian) food. Second best, narrowly beaten by the Red Parrot. We ate there twice, the service the second time letting it down ever so slightly. But it is definitely recommended. You can also use the bar at the Paparazzi if you are not eating, if you fancy a drink in the air-conditioning.
Sandpiper (Divi): Only recently opened at the Divi, right next to the Sandpiper Bar. A limited menu but the location on the beach made up for that. Ate there twice. Very friendly staff, and great food, the main course being cooked on a BBQ.
Palm Grill (Tam): A novel way of cooking the main course, and good food, but not up to the Red Parrot or Paparazzi. Only tried the Palm Grill just the once, but we did enjoy our meal there. Watch out for the hotspots on the table, particularly if you are sitting near the gas on/off button.
Ginger (Tam): The least favourite restaurant for us. Asian food, but not of great quality (in our opinion), and the service was not great either when we ate there. Consequently we only ate there once.
Buffet (Tam): Good selection of food, and quite varied throughout the week. The meat, and particularly the fish, were good. However, I would not want to eat at the buffet three times a day, seven days a week, but with the themed a la carte restaurants it means that you don’t have to!
Buffet (Divi): Same comments as for the Buffet at the Tam, same range and quality of food, although everything was slightly more presentable at the Divi.
Pizza Per Tutti (Tam): Good for snacks and drinks throughout the day. A good selection of pizzas, and a pleasant alternative to the buffet on occasion at lunchtime. There is a similar establishment at the Divi which we did not use.
Generally very good, with good service. It was never a problem to get a drink, even when the bars were busy. Premium brands are stocked, and the local Balashi beer is very refreshing! Do try the daily cocktail specials – Aruba Ariba and Pink Panther recommended!
Bunker Bar (Tam): Great location, and our nearest bar. However, it was rowdy at times and hence we did not use it a great deal. Great views of the sunset in the evening though.
Sunset at the Bunker Bar.
Coconut (Tam): Very good, and a pleasant bar at which to relax by the pool. Soft drinks were available at any time of the day.
Sandpiper (Divi): Great location, and always fairly quiet and relaxing when we were there.
Pelican (Divi): The advantage of the Pelican bar was that they provided a table service. Also a very pleasant setting overlooking the beach or the pool (depending on which way you were facing).
Divi All Inclusive: Whilst we were staying at the Tam we did visit the Divi, particularly for meals at the Red Parrot and Sandpiper. The Divi had a more “upmarket” feel to it than the Tam, but the rooms were not all directly on the beach, as they are at the Tam, and the majority of the activities are at the Tam anyway (gym, watersports etc). Overall, we felt it was better to stay at the Tam and visit the Divi when we wanted – the best of both worlds!
Watersports: We tried the windsurfing and the kayaks. Windsurfing sessions were hit and miss (not enough wind some days, not enough staff on others) and they only have 2 windsurfing boards. The 4 kayaks are used a fair amount of the time but we never had to wait too long for them – you hire them for the hour but no one ever seems to stay out there too long. We did not try the sail boats, and in fact we did not see them in action at all.
Snorkelling equipment: You have to pick this up at 9am and hand it back in every day by 5pm from the watersports centre at the Tam. The hire equipment is of a good standard, but they do run out quickly, particularly of some sizes of fins. In the end we bought masks and snorkels at the shop at the Tam (very reasonably priced) and snorkelled without fins, as I couldn’t be bothered with the hire ritual every day.
Tennis: Two good courts at the Tam, with a good playing surface, although the nets have seen better days. The racquets are not great but then it is the same for both players – it brought my son down to my level for a change! Because the courts are lit, we played in the evenings between 6pm and 8pm. The courts did not appear to be greatly used. We never had a problem booking them.
Bicycles: Standard hire bikes are readily available, but with no gears. However, they were roadworthy and functional, and unless you venture inland, the roads are pretty much flat. We all went on one organised cycle/snorkel trip with the Tam Funmakers (see later), and then I did a fair amount of cycling up and down the island after that, which was a great way to see and get a good feel of the island. However, watch out for loose dogs when off the major roads – I was chased three times, but they give up pretty quickly, probably because of the heat! As mentioned, the roads are pretty flat around the coastal routes, but it gets hilly inland, and the 1A is surprisingly undulating by the airport and 4A. The roads are good, and local drivers are considerate to cyclists, tooting their horns to warn you that they are approaching, rather than warning you off the road (as UK cyclists are more used to). Road signs leave a lot to be desired, if they are present at all. Take a good map with you, and review it regularly. Also, take plenty of water and an energy snack. The heat not only dehydrates you but it saps your strength too. However, there are many roadside places where you can buy drinks and snacks along the way.
Gym: The Tam has a well equipped gym that never seemed to be busy. I never had to wait for a running machine or piece of gym equipment. The gym is air-conditioned, clean, and with a good supply of clean towels available.
Shops: The shops at the Tam were reasonably priced for most items, although Cadburys chocolate was expensive. There are supermarkets a short walk away where you can buy just about anything, but on an AI deal, why would you want to, apart from chocolate of course.
Entertainment: The entertainment at the Tam and Divi is varied, and rotates, so you can end up seeing the same show on consecutive evenings if you are not careful. Our favourites were the limbo dancing, acrobatic dancers, and some of the salsa, meringue and tango dancing. Even the less entertaining shows were worth watching, with a Balashi or cocktail in hand of course!
Funmakers: The Funmakers at the Tam worked very hard to get people involved in pool games, beach volleyball, bingo, etc. They were all great characters, and I admired their patience on the cycle/snorkel trip (see later).
Staff: Overall, the vast majority of the staff were very friendly, helpful and accommodating. We did not have a problem with anyone at all.
Atmosphere: Really friendly, staff, locals and guests alike. The Tam is not the liveliest of hotels, if that is what you are after, but it was perfect for us. A great place for families and couples alike.
Tipping: As noted elsewhere on the Forum, not everyone tips at an AI resort. However, tips were always gratefully received, got you remembered/recognised next time, and hence probably resulted in a slightly better service or slightly more prompt attention.
We only went on three organised trips, one with the Tam and two with De Palm through First Choice. There were many more that we could have gone on, but the family wanted to relax, and I prefer to see the island under my own steam (which is an appropriate expression on a bicycle in the heat). We also ventured into Oranjestad three times, which is great if you want to shop for jewellery – there must be a hundred such shops – but was otherwise a little quiet. I understand that it does get busy when the cruise ships come in during the high season.
Bon Bini Festival: On one evening in Oranjestad we went to the Bon Bin Festival at Fort Zoutman – it is every Tuesday evening from about 6:30pm. This featured local dancing and music, which was interesting to see, and there were some local craft stalls and some wonderful local food.
Discover Aruba (De Palm): Stopped at California Lighthouse, Alto Vista Chapel, Natural Bridge, B55 for lunch, and Baby Beach for snorkelling. A good way to see some of the highlights of the island in the comfort of an air-conditioned coach. The guide was very knowledgeable and informative, and we had a full hour of snorkelling at Baby Beach.
De Palm Island: We initially thought that this would not be worth the money, but we were wrong. The blue parrot fish are a treat, the restaurant serving Caribbean food was very good, and the waterpark is not too “childish” for teenagers (and mums/dads) for an afternoon. However, the highlight was the banana boat ride, which is included in the admission fee. We did not try the Sea Trek or Snuba, but I am sure that they are great. We were on the island for over 5 hours, and the time whizzed by, which is always a good sign.
Cycle Trip: This runs weekly, on a Wednesday, from the Tam cycle hire hut at 8am. However, with a large group (32 on our trip) it was after 9am before we departed. The group composed a wide variety of shapes, sizes, ages and levels of fitness. Do not go on this trip if you cannot cycle 6 miles there (and back) in the heat. The trip is also not advisable for persons of an impatient nature, as obviously the group proceeds at the speed of the slowest cyclist! The snorkelling was great (at Boca Catalina) and the major advantage of the organised trip is that all of your equipment (including soda and snacks) is transported there and back for you in their van, which also acts as a recovery vehicle in the event of mechanical or bodily breakdown. The Tam Funmakers have to be admired for running this trip once a week – it cannot be easy for them, but they remained enthusiastic and cheerful throughout, which is more than can be said of some of the other cyclists! In addition to the great snorkelling, the trip gave me a taste of cycling on the island, which I then took full advantage of during the remainder of our stay (more of that later).
California Lighthouse: Worth visiting for the views. Unfortunately you cannot climb to the top any more as it is closed. There is also a good Italian restaurant there, overlooking the golf course, sea and Arashi Beach – this is meant to be a great location for dinner and sunset.
View from California Lighthouse looking out to sea towards Arashi Beach.
Alto Vista Chapel: Again, worth a visit, with lovely views out to sea, but not much else.
Natural Bridge: The original Natural Bridge is now a ruin but there is a new one being formed by the forces of the sea. Good views, a rugged coastline, and a bracing breeze when we were there.
B55 Restaurant: This is where we stopped for lunch with the De Palm trip. A pleasant, basic meal, in the middle of nowhere really – lots of cacti and lizards. I am not sure that B55 would remain in business if it was not patronised by the large number of De Palm tour buses that stop there.
Baby Beach: Great snorkelling, but a bit of an anticlimax really as it was very busy and hence the waters were quite cloudy with sand. However, a large number and variety of colourful fish in a safe environment. If you do venture out beyond the reef (where it is quieter and there seems to be more to see) then beware of the strong currents.
Some of the fish at Baby Beach.
Ayo Rock Formations: The De Palm Discover Aruba tour passes by the Ayo Rock formations but does not stop there. I cycled there one day (en route to the Natural Bridge ruins) and it is quite an interesting site to visit. Set on a hill, it can be hard work to explore the whole site.
Casabari Rock Formations: I stopped there en route to the Ayo Rock formations and Natural Bridge. Not as interesting or extensive as Ayo, but worth a stop if passing by. Good views of the island though.
Arikok National Park: This is a long cycle from the Tam but well worth the effort – it is downhill most of the way home! The Visitor Centre is interesting and there are some very good trails around which to hike. Because of its location, and the difficulty in finding it, not many visitors appear to visit, so you are made very welcome when you do. I would recommend hiring a car for a visit as this is part of the island that not many people get to see.
Hooiberg: I visited Hooiberg twice, once on the way to Casabari, Ayo and the Natural Bridge and then again on the way to the Arikok National Park. Climbing the 561 steps to the top is an effort but the views are superb from the top. Just beware of loose rocks and cables slung low between the assortment of mobile and TV antenna at the top.
View of Hooiberg from the Casabari Rock Formations.
Snorkeling: This was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the holiday (certainly for me anyway). The variety and number of creatures below the waters surrounding Aruba is literally amazing.
Tamarijn: I had read that there was not much to see along the shores by the Tam. However, there was plenty to see. The number of fish by the underwater pipes near the Bunker Bar was unbelievable – literally hundreds and hundreds. Also, there was much to see along the public beach to the left (south) of the Tam, including a sea snake (possibly a colourful eel) and a shoal of barracuda.
A bit murky, but an example of the fish at the Tamarijn.
Boca Catalina: We snorkelled here on the Tam cycle/snorkel trip. Not a great beach but if you snorkel out towards the buoys (or the snorkel boats if they are there) then there is much to see.
Shallow Reef: I went there when I cycled up to the California Lighthouse. There was no one else there and the sea was quite rough so I made a tactical retreat to Arashi Beach (see below). However, plenty of fish to see.
Arashi Beach: A lovely beach for sunning, with great snorkelling at either side/end. I was there on a Saturday and it was busy with many locals with BBQs etc. which made for a great atmosphere. If you swim to the left along by the private residences then you end up at Boca Catalina. There are plenty of fish along this stretch.
Malmok Beach: My favourite location for snorkelling in terms of the number and variety of fish. An easy cycle from the Tam. Not really a great beach, but many little coves to explore from the water.
Mangel Halto Beach: My one bad experience on Aruba. Whilst snorkelling I had my rucksack stolen. It had been padlocked to the bicycle so the thief obviously came prepared with a knife or other sharp implement to cut through the strap. Luckily there were only a few dollars in the bag, plus water and suntan lotion. All my clothes etc were on the shelf under a palapa and these were left as they were, as was the bicycle. Hence, a difficult cycle back back to the Tam, carrying all my gear under one arm, with no water or money to buy any. However, this certainly is not typical of Aruba and did not spoil the holiday in any way. As for the snorkelling, not that great really, so this is one location that I would not recommend, for more than one reason! Lesson learned.
Baby Beach: See earlier. Visited on the De Palm Discover Aruba tour.
Other Wildlife: Iguanas and other reptiles abound, and they like bananas if you fancy feeding one! The birds at the buffet were not too much of a problem as long as someone remained at the table to keep them away – tip: don’t leave a plate of food unattended on the table while you head back to the buffet for something else. The only snakes I saw were behind glass at the Arikok National Park – two rattlesnakes and a boa constrictor – so they don’t really count. I saw many varieties of birds including pelicans, cormorants, magnificent frigate birds, troupials, bananaquits and green parakeets. Unfortunately I did not get to see a burrowing owl, although I did look for them. Goats and donkeys roam the more remote parts of the island, and unfortunately there are many loose dogs too, luckily most of whom show little interest in cyclists!
One of the friendly locals!
To close: A brilliant holiday, a lovely place to visit, truly one happy island. I would recommend Aruba to anyone who likes a sun holiday, whether you just want to relax on the beach or by the pool, or want to venture out and see the island – there is plenty to see if you want to explore. For us the Tamarijn was ideal, but again, it depends what you are after. Anyway, a terrific time was had by all, and we hope to return one day soon.
Last edited by GHM; 08-27-2010 at 03:57 PM.
Reason: Tidy up
Crikey Mate! Awesome trip report. As for Mangel Halto, to me it is the best snorkeling on the island. You just have to go out far enough. Underwater sea-doos help too! And yes there are a lot of thieves in that neighborhood.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your wonderful trip with all of us! And your photos as well. I especially loved the underwater shot at Baby beach with all of the Pompano and Sergeant Majors!
It sounds like you appreciated the "funmakers" as much we do!
I have to ask about the tennis courts. They have rackets there to use? You do not have to bring your own?
How did the children enjoy the resort? Were they able to meet up with other kid their age and find enough things to do to keep themselves busy?
Ah, Pompano, that's what they were. I have so many photos of fish that I don't have a clue as to what they are. I will put some more up on the Gallery later - I have a few good ones of individual fish, including the blue parrot fish at De Palm Island.
Tennis Courts: yes, they can supply rackets and balls, which is handy as we did not fancy bringing ours all the way from the UK. The rackets are fine, unless you fancy yourself as a Roger Federer or a Williams sister. The balls are of good quality. If you play in the evening then you just pick the equipment up by 6pm and return it the next day from the Activities Hut near the courts.
The children really enjoyed the resort. It took them a few days to meet up with other children, but once they did we hardly saw them. They had a great time. Plenty of children of all ages from US, UK and mainland Europe, plus some families from South America.
The beach was generally pretty good, certainly at the end where we were. Outside blocks 23 to 25 there were no rocks, just good sand. Further up towards the Bunker Bar there were a few rocks. At the other end (up by block 11 and towards the Divi) the sand was very good too.