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Drab winter nights prompt dreamy thoughts of warm balmy evenings in a setting more tropical than December in the UK.
Winter sun destinations like the Dutch Caribbean Island of Aruba are ready, willing and able to make those desires come true and even offer a new twist.
Anyone visiting Aruba and looking for authentic experiences and local vibes should add a visit to the historic Rancho neighbourhood on the outskirts of island capital Oranjestad.
Once a village of fishermen and their families in the mid-1800s, the area’s population grew in the 1920s when a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell built a small refinery in the area. Needing to accommodate its workers and their families, the area saw the addition of stone houses, traditional to Aruba’s architecture at the time.
But the closure soon afterwards of the refinery – thanks to the construction of a larger one elsewhere on the island – started Rancho’s decline. With the exception of a lime kiln, operating from 1892 to 1949 (currently preserved as a national historic monument), there was little activity in the area and eventually the residents moved away.
But this ghost neighbourhood found new life. Revival began in 2010 when it was marked for historic preservation by the non-profit Rancho Foundation. Now it is starting to bloom, with the help of an eclectic collection of bars, cafes and restaurants, adding a lively nighttime ambiance for culture seekers and foodies.
A lynchpin for this renaissance is Flor de Oriente, a Dutch-style café housed in the oldest bar in Aruba. Originally established in 1935, this gem of a relic was lovingly restored in 2018. Attention to historic detail left much of the original building intact, with a fascinating collection of antiques decorating just about every corner, while outdoors, guests can relax under sparkling bistro lights, enjoying the colourful streetscapes of this area.
In 2021, live music began filling the air with the addition of Hard Grooves Jazz Café, where some of the island’s best musicians, as well as visiting guest musicians, are highlighted. Owned and operated by local jazz musician, Erik Eman, the café features music events, impromptu jam sessions, and music trivia nights paired with craft cocktails, a selection of local and craft beers, wine, and a light menu of sandwiches and typical Dutch snacks.
Most recently, two new additions to this up-and-coming area of hospitality and entertainment opened. Nusa Indonesian Restaurant is an al fresco Balinese garden, offering a traditional rice-table experience, as well as classic Indonesian favourites like sate and rendang.
Nearby is Beer Garden Aruba, boasting vintage charm and a fresh boho beach-house vibe. The interior pays homage to its over 100-year-old history, with one side of the house functioning as a beer-tasting room, while the other is dedicated to private events and groups. The original rock walls were opened up in several areas, offering a window to this bygone architectural era of Aruba. The outdoor garden offers several relaxation spaces to chill or wander up to the bar and strike up a conversation with the friendly and knowledgeable bartenders.
Continuing preservation efforts are set to encourage more dining and nightlife options in Rancho, helping to fulfil the dreams of those looking for balmy and fun evenings outdoors.
We’re just getting started with the amazing effects Aruba has to offer. Dig into your trip details below to unlock a Caribbean experience that will leave you sunnier, happier, and (of course) a little more tanned.