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We've already established why you should visit Aruba, but what should you do when you get there?
I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to try a huge host of varied activities, and I've chosen my seven favourites to create a list of must-do adventures. As I've said before, this happy island really gave me a sense of empowerment, so I tried a lot of things that I never would have considered before. It's amazing how much you can achieve when you push yourself beyond your comfort zone!
The Caribbean Sea is truly the thing of dreams. It's a beautiful sparkling azure that just doesn't look real, but somehow is. Not only is it stunning, but it's also home to a diverse mix of sea life making it perfect for snorkelling. We sailed out to the Spanish Lagoon with Tranquilo, a family-run boat expedition. Captain Anthony was warm, friendly and funny, while crew mates Dwayne and Roos made sure we were in safe hands throughout. And let's not forget the most important member of the crew: Buster the boat dog! Snorkelling in Aruba, watching fish darting amongst coral below me, was the most magical experience. Having only snorkelled in the shark pool at Walt Disney World before, I was a little nervous about getting out in the open sea, especially with Aruba's wind, but Dwayne explained everything thoroughly and gave some great advice (swim into the currents so if you get tired, you can allow yourself to get swept back to the ladder). I was also relieved to find the area we were snorkelling in was only about 4ft deep, so it was easy to put my feet down and stop for a breather. After our snorkelling, we returned to the boat for some delicious homemade soup and sandwiches, before taking a leisurely sail back to the harbour. It was the perfect way to start our trip and was without doubt one of the highlights of my week.
When I found out I was going to Aruba, I definitely did not envisage bumping around in the back of a jeep flooring it over dusty dirt tracks. I tell you what though, I'm glad that happened because it was the most fun adventure of my time on the island. When we were climbed into the back of our tiger-striped jeep from ABC Tours, we were told to buckle up. Believe me, you need to fasten that seatbelt because you'll be bouncing around all over the place! It's terrifying, but in a laugh-so-hard-you-cry kind of way. Our guide, Brandon, was super chatty and helpful, giving us little tips and allowing flexibility in the tour to adapt to our needs. I'm pretty sure we covered the whole island, from Alto Vista chapel on the north west coast, right down to Baby Beach on the southeastern tip. For me, the highlight was splashing around in a natural rock pool, feeling like Ariel as waves crashed on rocks around me and crabs danced on the slippery surfaces beside me. I also very much enjoyed getting a pedicure from those fish that nibble on your feet, only here they're in the wild and happily swim free in streams. The jeep safari is the perfect way to explore all that Aruba has to offer. Just make sure you bring sunglasses and a hairband, because it's very windy and very sandy!
San Nicolaas, on Aruba's southeastern tip, is the second largest city but is much quieter than the capital Oranjestaad. It's noticeably less tourist-orientated, but this is the cultural hub of the island. With a rich industrial history, it is now the focal point of the art scene, with a weekly carnival and annual art fair. You only need to step foot in the city to discover this artistic community, as street art covers buildings everywhere you look. We were shown around by staff from the Museum of Industry, who are committed to preserving and revitalising the heritage of San Nicolaas. With our guide leading the way, we were shown artwork by designers all over the globe, from local Aruban artists, to those from Europe and beyond. This gives the city a bright, vibrant aesthetic and is well worth a visit.
Remember that bit I said about how Aruba encouraged me to push my boundaries? This was one where I was really tested! I've never done yoga before. I can't touch my toes (I can barely even touch my knees- I blame this on my tiny little dinosaur arms!), let alone try a downward facing dog. So let's really make my first experience of yoga an unforgettable one by doing it in the sea. On a paddle board. Bobbing about all over the place. I'd love to say "but you know what, I was brilliant at it!" but we'd all know that's a lie. I was terrible, of course! BUT I had a lot of fun, and that's the most important thing. The teacher, from Vela Aruba on Palm Beach, was as chilled out as you'd expect a yoga teacher to be and was perfectly cool with me making up my own version of the poses on my knees. I did try standing up, but when the board got flooded, I had to concede defeat. I didn't feel at all out of place though, and was perfectly happy doing my best. At the end, our cool down exercise involved lying flat on our backs with our eyes closed, hands trailing in the water either side of our board, listening to the soft waves and feeling the ocean bobbing up and down. It was absolute bliss!
On our arrival in Aruba, we were told about a last-minute addition to the itinerary: we had tickets to the following evening's Soul Beach festival, which was headlined by Alicia Keys. She was absolutely incredible and really seemed to connect with the audience. Her whole vibe was chilled and relaxed, giving the sensation of an intimate gig, even though we were outside with a whole crowd of other attendees. Aruba has frequent music festivals and live music resonates from bars all over the island, making this the perfect way to spend your evenings.
What's better than a massage? A massage on a Caribbean beach! On our last morning, we were treated to a massage at Spa del Sol which, conveniently enough, was located at my hotel- Manchebo Resort. My treatment was the 50 minute relaxing massage and it was just what I needed after an action-packed week exploring Aruba. When I arrived, I was assigned a locker to keep my belongings safe and asked to get completely naked. This was not something I'd experienced during a massage before but my massage therapist, Onis, was so reassuring and friendly that I didn't feel at all uncomfortable. Of course I was covered up during the massage so it's not like I was just lying there in the buff for the whole thing, so it wasn't really much different to any other massage I've had. The massage took place in a hut on the beach, in which the upper half of the back wall was open shutters looking out to the ocean (don't worry, the height of the bed and the position of the hut means nobody can look in and see you!) Having the room open to the elements meant that throughout my treatment, I could hear the waves lapping against the shore outside, and feel the Aruba breeze dancing over my skin. It was certainly the most serene massage I've ever experienced in my life!
Finally, I have to include the big draw of Aruba- the award-winning beaches! From the quiet, idyllic paradises of Eagle Beach and Mangel Halto, to the bustling Palm Beach and family-friendly Baby Beach, there's a beach for every taste. Of course it's fun racing around the island on a jeep, or stretching your muscles with yoga, but sometimes all you need is to just lie in the white sand and soak up the Caribbean sun.
This isn't even a complete list of what you can get up to in Aruba. From art classes to chilling with flamingoes, the possibilities seem to be endless. Whatever you decide to spend your days doing, though, I know it will be amazing!