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Aruba is an island that has a friendliness that can't be beaten, beautiful azure waters, a rich and diverse cuisine, and year-round sunny weather.
It's the perfect destination for first-timers to the Caribbean and is a special place to visit. I recently visited as the guest of Aruba tourism and here is my post on the top things to do in Aruba.
Aruba has some of the best beaches in the Caribbean. All the beaches are clean and the sand is a fine almost white, coloured powder, safe to walk barefoot. In fact, Eagle Beach has been voted the third best beach in the world by Tripadvisor travellers.
If you don't want to relax on the beach, you could also consider one of the watersports for which Aruba is known. The trade winds cool the heat and give the added benefit of making perfect weather conditions for sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing. Don't forget the high factor sun cream though as it's easy to get burnt, I recommend at least a factor 30. The sea is also warm and the water crystal clear so perfect conditions for snorkelling too.
Nearly 20% of Aruba, to the north, is a national park and it a great area to get off the beaten track and go exploring. On my recent trip, I took a jeep safari by ABC Tours. We explored the north of the island, a rough and ready landscape with towering green cacti, jaw-dropping limestone cliffs, the historic Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins and the beauty of the 'Conchi' Natural Pool.
The Natural Pool can only be accessed by a 4 wheel drive vehicle, horseback or on foot due to the rough terrain but it's worth the journey to get there. The locals know it as 'Conchi' which means bowl, and it's a beautiful swimming hole, just be careful of the slippery rocks you have to cross to get there.
Sint Nicolaas or San Nicolas is a town on the south-east of the island and was home to an oil refinery which closed in 2012. To attract more people to the area, street art has been encouraged and each year more murals cover old shops and buildings. I thought it was the best street art I have ever seen, some of it even looks three-dimensional and it is a great reason to visit this town.
Cosecha San Nicolas is also worth a visit if you are in the area. Here you can find artwork and crafts by local artisans such as jewellery, paintings and ceramics. If you want to support the local artists, buy something, even if it is small as the money goes to the talented craftspeople.
Terrafuse Aruba is a non-profit organisation that promotes the art of glass making, ceramics crafting and bronze sculptures in Aruba. Marian and Ciro Abath, have many years of experience as artists and they run workshops from their home for people from beginners to more experienced artists. I participated in the glass making workshop during my stay and found it fascinating.
Marian taught us how to manipulate glass in the simplest terms, how to make glass beads by building up the layers and how to heat the beads to the correct temperature to shape them. Safety is taken seriously as the glass melts at 1300 F/700 C, and you need to wear goggles. After making tiny seed beads (the most difficult step in the workshop!) you make several bigger beads with different designs. Marian was very patient with me which I think is the mark of an excellent teacher and I was amazed at the result - a beautiful leather bracelet with individual glass beads.
When you are in Aruba take a visit to Aruba Aloe. Aruba Aloe make products from Aloe Vera, a succulent (like a cactus), known for its caring and healing properties, and it is especially good for sunburn, skin care and stomach problems. At the small factory, you can take a short 15-minute tour, find out about the properties of this fantastic plant, read about Aloe Vera in the museum and then buy products in the gift shop too.
It was interesting to find out that the juice of the unprocessed plant smells like onions and that unless it is treated, it has a laxative effect! All products here are, of course, treated and made of the finest quality. I can particularly recommend the sun cream which has a lovely subtle coconut smell and feels very nourishing on the skin.
Aruba has some interesting architecture, from buildings with a colourful Caribbean vibe to architecture that reminds you of Aruba's Dutch influence. One building worth visiting if you are in the north of the island is the Alto Vista Chapel. The island's first Roman Catholic church was built in 1750 and reconstructed in 1953. A small, winding road dotted with cacti leads to the chapel – the white crosses on the road mark the way. Inside it's simply decorated, the altar and small lighted candles being of significance.
The California Lighthouse is also worth a stop if you are doing a tour of the north of the island. The lighthouse was named after the S.S. California - which sunk previous to its construction in 1910. For a small charge, you can walk to the top and see the amazing views. Also, there are refreshments stands and a cafe in front of the lighthouse. I had some amazing fresh coconut milk here, the vendor just cut off the top of a coconut, gave me a straw and let me drink the sweet and refreshing milk. The perfect drink on a hot day.
Ah Aruba, I fell in love with your delicious fresh seafood and fish! The most common fish found includes mahi-mahi, red snapper and grouper, and the shrimps are outstanding in Aruba, so large and juicy. Also try the local hot papaya sauce, which tastes amazing with fresh fish.
If you want to try a traditional Aruba cocktail, I recommend the Aruba Ariba, a mix of vodka, rum and fruit juices. The local beer which is called Balashi is very light and refreshing and in my opinion, tastes a little like Kronenburg lager.
For a taste of traditional Arubian cuisine, try the Keshi Yena a spicy mix of chicken, peppers, capers, olives and tomatoes, baked with a shell or topping of Gouda cheese. Why Gouda you may ask? Well Aruba is part of the Kingdom Of The Netherlands and its citizens are Dutch nationals, so it's only right that the traditional Dutch cheese Gouda, be incorporated into one of its dishes. I tried Keshi Yana at Papiamento and it's an incredibly tasty dish but very filling, so have it only if you are hungry.
Other restaurants to recommend include Elements for the best beachside location, Caribbean music played on kettle drums and high end beautifully presented food and Pelican Nest, a laid-back beach shack place, think fish tacos, conch fritter, chicken sandwiches and pan-fried mahi-mahi.
Lastly, take in the famous Caribbean sunset on this beautiful island. You can't miss it, just look out of your hotel window, or take a stroll on the beach. I saw the best sunset at Elements restaurant. Eating delicious seafood outside with the warm orange glow of the sun makes an unforgettable experience. My only disappointment is that I didn't have my husband with me to share.
Aruba is such a vibrant and amazing destination for a holiday. I hope you get the chance to visit one day.
I stayed at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort and Casino, a luxury hotel, right on Palm Beach. With a spa, casino, kids club, beautiful pools and plenty of places to eat and drink, it's a great place to stay and highly recommended.