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North of Venezuela, the island of Aruba is famous for its stunning blonde beaches, wind-sculpted desert landscapes, and some of the best wreck diving in the Caribbean. Aruba is a relatively dry island with consistently fine weather. Its location in the far south of the Caribbean puts it out of reach of most hurricanes, so sun seekers can enjoy the island's outdoor attractions and water sports at any time of year.
Aruba, the "A" in the ABC islands cluster (with B for Bonaire, and C for Curaçao), is a tiny Caribbean Island spanning only approximately twenty miles long by six miles wide. However, don’t underestimate the small size of this hotspot. It is a comprehensive and much sought after tourist retreat featuring beautiful beaches, with clear cerulean waters, exotic restaurants and throbbing nightclubs, along with a variety of other activities to make your stay nothing short of fantastic. Once part of the Netherlands Antilles, Aruba became an independent state in the late 19th century.
It has glorious history in the 20th century owing largely to its oil refineries that made oil resources available to the Allied forces in WWII. Since the last few years, the livelihood of Aruba's 100,000 residents relies mainly on the tourism trade. Locals here are amiable and hospitable.
Aruba sports a landscape that is starkly different from other Caribbean hotspots. There are cactus jungles, deserts, indigenous tropical birds, secluded bays and coves, all in a moderate climate setting; a climate that averages 8- degrees through the year, with moderate humidity. The construction of resorts has also been kept in check to preserve the impeccable beaches and other natural attractions.
Oranjestad is a flourishing capital that features a nice mix of Caribbean, Spanish and Dutch touches. Here you will find everything from nice restaurants to bargain street shopping to swanky casinos, to exciting local adventures, such as horse riding,  days trips, parasailing adventures, and more. 
Once the sun sets over this Caribbean paradise, it’s an all night party here.  Glitzy bars and discos, along with themed parties are quite the norm here. Party animals will never get tired of the island’s bustling vibe and vibrant spirit.
Aruba's quaint capital, Oranjestad, is a charming cruise ship port. Visitors can stroll among brightly-hued Dutch colonial buildings and browse the shops and museums. Scattered around the island are many enticing beaches. The north coast lures swimmers with its calm waters and seemingly endless sweep of glittering sand, while the rough and wave-battered east coast offers dramatic vistas and dangerous surf. Adventures abound on this rugged island. Away from the resort strip, visitors can slide down towering sand dunes, ride the swells on a kite surfer, discover unique rock formations, swim in natural pools, fish for wahoo and tuna, and explore some of the island's rocky cacti-cloaked terrain in four-wheel-drive vehicles or on horseback. In late January and early February, Carnival ignites with dances, parades, contests, and other festivities.
Aruba is a tiny Caribbean Island spanning merely twenty miles in length and six miles in width. The small island can be exceedingly deceptive though if you go just by its size. It is a one stop tourist shop offering everything from beaches to welcoming waters, fine restaurants and glitzy nightclubs, along with an array of other activities to help tourists have a whale of a time. 
Aruba gained independence only in 1986. It is historically known for its oil refineries which were made available to the allied forces during the WWII. Off late however, their primary source of income has become tourism. The locals here are courteous and helpful, and there’s plenty to do and see.
Aruba has a very unique and interesting landscape that is not characteristically Caribbean.  There are cactus jungles, deserts, tropical aerial species, secluded beaches, isolated coves, a pleasant year round climate, and much more. A suspension order on large-scale construction has made ensure that there are limited resorts on the island, and that it’s idyllic and attractions are well-persevered even in the face of frenzied tourism. 
Docking & Local Transportation
Cruise ships dock at the port situated next to the capital city of Oranjestad. There are many transportation options, to get visitors on their way to exploring this breathtakingly beautiful Caribbean hotspot. 
Taxis are easily found in Oranjestad. They do not have a hassle-free fixed price system, so ensure that you fix up a rate with the driver beforehand to avoid being swindled later with inflated fares.  In general, taxi drivers here are helpful and have a good knowledge of the area, thus making for great guides. Visitors can organize a guided tour of the island for about $30 an hour. Apart from taxis, Aruba has a smooth functioning bus system, with daily buses plying from 6am to midnight. A round-trip bus fare from the most popular beaches to downtown Oranjestad for a mere can cost just about $2. Aruba boasts of a level terrain, which makes it easy to hop around the island on a rented moped or motorcycle.
Things To See and Do
Explore the region’s spectacular underwater life through submarines. Atlantis Submarines offers four departures that leave the harbor every hour. A half an hour catamaran tour takes tourists to Barcadera Reef, where you can spot beautiful corals reefs, exotic tropical fish, and intriguing shipwrecks. Prior reservations are recommended, since these tours can get quickly full.
Spaans Lagoen (Spanish Lagoon) is another much sought after local attraction. Located in the South of Aruba, this was the hiding place for pirates. Located inside the island is the fascinating Arikok National Park. Spanning almost 20 percent of Aruba, the park is a breathtaking natural preserve, offering everything from adventure-packed hiking trails to bird habitats to ancient art and more.
The vibrant and buzzing harbor lures several tourists for its innately classy Caribbean vibe. Walk from the Schooner harbor to market, or visit the lush Wilhelmina Park showcasing a nice tropical garden.
Oranjestad is a flourishing Capital, which is a fascinating combination of eclectic Caribbean, Spanish and Dutch touches. There are plenty of elegant restaurants, shopping options, casinos, and local adventure activities such as horse-riding, kayaking, parasailing, and more. The nightlife map here is dotted with classy bars and clubs, theme parties and an unflinching spirit of merriment. 
Oranjestad is a charming city and the capital and cruise port of this tiny island. The most striking feature is the Dutch colonial architecture. Pastel-hued buildings with a Spanish and Caribbean twist jostle along the tidy streets, and tourists will find many shops, restaurants, museums, galleries, and entertainment options. Well-maintained Wilhelmina Park, on the waterfront, is one of the city's main attractions, particularly in June, September, and October when many of the plants are in bloom. Built as a lighthouse and pirate-spotting vantage point, the King Willem III Tower at Fort Zoutman houses the Aruba Historical Museum with artifacts related to the entire history of the island. Other Oranjestad highlights include the National Archaeological Museum, Aruba Aloe Factory, Access Art Gallery, Butterfly Farm, the harbor market, and the Numismatic Museum with displays of world currency dating as far back as 221 BC. Overall the city is simply a fun place to walk around and soak up the atmosphere.
Arikok National Park
Outdoor enthusiasts will love exploring Arikok National Park with its cacti-covered landscapes, caves, sand dunes, and unique rock formations. Large boulders adorned with Indian paintings make up the odd rock formation known as Ayó. Weathered by trade winds, the Casibari Boulders, are strewn amid dry scrub. Visitors may walk the trails and steps ascending through the rocks for great views and photo opportunities. Wave erosion carved the 30-meter Natural Bridge at Anicouri, which stands 7.3 meters above sea level. This is a great spot for a picnic. On the picturesque waterfront, the old stone walls of the Bushiribana Ruins are the remains of a 19th-century gold smelter. Parakeets, goats, lizards, snakes, and iguanas are just some of the creatures found in the park. Since the roads can be rugged, jeeps are recommended, but visitors can also explore on horseback and hike the many trails.Address: San Fuego 71, Santa Cruz

Boca Prins
In Arikok National Park, near the Fontein Cave and Blue Lagoon, Boca Prins is a dramatic stretch of coast backed by massive sand dunes. Trade winds sculpt these shifting sands and adventure seekers love to slide from their peaks. At the narrow sliver of beach, crashing surf and soaring limestone cliffs create dramatic coastal vistas. Swimming here is too dangerous, but it's a great spot for a picnic. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended.Address: Off 7 A/B, near Fontein Cave

California Dunes and Lighthouse
At the northern tip of the island, the California lighthouse stars on many Aruban postcards and tourist brochures. It was named for the S.S. California, which sunk off the coast here. The surrounding area is rugged and beautiful with sand dunes, cacti, and even some grazing goats. Although the lighthouse is closed to the public, it's a great spot to compare the calm waters of the western shore with the rough waves of the east. Sunset is a beautiful time to visit the lighthouse and enjoy panoramic island views. Many guests linger for dinner at the nearby restaurant.Address: Northern Aruba, Palm - Eagle Beach

Alto Vista Chapel
The small Alto Vista Chapel is one of Aruba's cherished landmarks. Often called the "Pilgrim's Church", Alto Vista was built in 1750 by the Spanish missionary, Domingo Antonio Silvestre. Alto Vista means "highest view" in Spanish and, true to its name, the church sits high on a hill with beautiful views over the island's north shore. The Stations of the Cross mark the road leading to the chapel.
Address: Alto Vista, Noord

Natural Pool
The Natural Pool is just that, a protected swimming hole filled by waves crashing over the slick rocks. Visitors can swim and snorkel here although the area is really not that big. The challenge comes with accessing the natural pool, which is best reached by four-wheel-drive vehicle down a rugged road. Visitors can navigate the area themselves, although the road is not well marked, or hire a guide. Horse riding and ATV tours are also available. Address: Windward Coast

Rancho Daimari
On the remote northeast coast of Aruba, Rancho Daimari offers scenic horseback tours to sites such as the Natural Pool, Arikok National Park, Andicuri Beach, and the sand dunes. The ranch overlooks Daimari beach on the site of a former coconut plantation, originally established in the 17th century. Guests of all riding abilities are welcome, although the terrain can be rocky and steep.
Address: Sabanilla Abao z/n, Official site: http://www.arubaranchodaimari.com/

Philip's Animal Garden
The non-profit Philip's Animal Garden is a sanctuary and rehabilitation center for more than 52 species of animals including snakes, kangaroos, monkeys and ocelots. Animal-lover Philip Merryweather poured his passion for exotic animals into this popular tourist attraction, which runs educational and interactive tours. Visitors can touch and feed some of the creatures, and all funds go towards their welfare.
Address: Alto Vista 116, Noord, Official site: http://www.philipsanimalgarden.com/

De Palm Island
A five-minute ferry ride from the mainland, De Palm Island is a small private splotch of sand packed with activities. For all-inclusive rates, guests can swim, snorkel, or zip around on banana boats while land-based activities include beach volleyball, basketball, bingo, salsa lessons, and card games. Families with young children will enjoy the small water park with spiral waterslides and splash pools. For additional fees guests can try the Sea Trek underwater helmet walk, SNUBA, or indulge in massages.
Address: Port de Palm, Aruba, Official site: http://www.depalmtours.com/de-palm-island
Aruba is small -- maybe too small for cyclists who think nothing of biking 97km (60 miles) a day. The exotic terrain is flat for the most part, but heading into the wind is a challenge, and the sun is intense at midday. You know to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen. The most scenic roads trace the northern coast. They're not paved, so think mountain bike. Bring a bandanna, too, to cover your mouth against the dust. To rent a bike, stop by Pablito's Bike Rental, L.G. Smith Blvd. 234 (tel. 297/587-8655). Prices start as low as $15 per half-day. Rancho Notorious, Boroncana 8E, Noord (tel. 297/586-0508; www.ranchonotorious.com), offers a couple of guided mountain bike tours that visit Alto Vista Chapel and the California Lighthouse. One's 2 1/2 hours long ($47); the other tacks on a bit of snorkeling ($55, snorkeling gear included). Bikers must be at least 8 years old to take the tours.
Although no organized tours are offered, ardent birders have the opportunity to spy 170 different species in Aruba. In early winter, migratory birds swell the number to about 300. In the High-Rise area, the Bubali Bird Sanctuary's ponds and wetlands attract more than 80 species, including brown pelicans, black olivaceous cormorants, herons, and egrets. Arikok National Park, which makes up much of the island's north-central region, is home to hummingbirds (common emerald and ruby-topaz), rufous-collared sparrows, ospreys, yellow orioles, American kestrels, black-faced grassquits, yellow warblers, Caribbean parakeets, long-tongued bats, common ground doves, troupials, crested caracaras, and Aruban burrowing owls.
In the High-Rise area, the Bubali Bird Sanctuary attracts more than 80 ornithological species to its nutrient-rich ponds and wetlands. How many brown pelicans, black olivaceous cormorants, herons, and egrets can you spot? Farther afield, Arikok National Park (tel. 297/585-1234) features several diverse ecosystems in a compact area. Birds here include hummingbirds (common emerald and ruby-topaz), rufous-collared sparrows, tropical mockingbirds, ospreys, yellow orioles, American kestrels, black-faced grassquit, yellow warblers, Caribbean parakeets, long-tongued bats, common ground doves, troupials, crested caracaras, and Aruban burrowing owls. The Wyndham, Radisson, Hyatt, and Renaissance offer close encounters with a variety of showy tropical species such as toucans, cockatoos, and macaws.
Local fishermen use simple hand lines (fishing line, hooks, and lead weights) to bring up red snapper and dolphin fish. Most activity takes place along the southwest coast, although some anglers occasionally venture to the north coast, where the rough seas trap fish in small pools carved out of the limestone bluffs. To try your hand at deep-sea fishing, charter one of the many skippered boats. Typical catches include barracuda, amberjack, sailfish, wahoo, blue and white marlin, kingfish, bonito, and black- and yellowfin tuna. A few restaurants will even cook and serve up your day's catch.
On the island's northern tip, Tierra del Sol (www.tierradelsol.com) is one of the Caribbean's best golf courses. The championship 18-hole, par-71 course was designed by Robert Trent Jones II and features stupendous views of the ocean and the California Lighthouse. Bunkers, cacti, and coral rock come into play throughout the course, while water hazards are confined to holes 13, 14, and 15. Gusting to speeds of 64kmph (40 mph), the wind is the real challenge, though. The only competition is from the Links at Divi Aruba (www.divigolf.com), near Druif Beach, a picturesque 9-hole course surrounded by landscaped water traps, lakes, and lagoons, and boasting a camera that captures your final shot so you can review the tape over drinks in the clubhouse that overlooks the greens.
The sun is hot, and shade is scarce, but if you bring water and a wide-brimmed hat, traipsing around Aruba's hills and coastline is full of rewards: otherworldly rock formations, bizarre cactus groves, fluorescent parakeets, and dewlapped lizards. Hiking boots are nice, but sneakers are fine. Arikok National Park (tel. 297/585-1234)  has many clearly marked trails. Scale the island's highest hills, explore abandoned gold mines, tiptoe around plantation ruins, trek through caves, and comb sea bluffs for coral and bones.
Makuaku Hiking Tours (tel. 297/593-9873; www.makuaku-hiking-aruba.com) offers a number of guided tours. Free transportation from your hotel and snacks and drinks are included in the $50 per person charge. Aruba Nature Sensitive Hiking and Jeep Tours (tel. 297/594-5017; www.sensitivehikers.com) give ecofriendly tours led by former rangers. Tours cost $79, and include easy or challenging hikes to various caves, gold mines, or sand dunes.
Horseback Riding
Time to get back in the saddle, or just saddling up for the first time? Several ranches offer morning and midday excursions, and, if you're hopelessly romantic, rides off into the sunset. The horses are good-natured and calm (although the ranch hands have been known to get a bit frisky). Long sleeves, long pants, closed shoes, sunglasses, and sunblock are strongly recommended. Tip: Since helmets are required, despite being a bit musty, don a baseball cap before strapping on one of these well-worn numbers for a better (and no doubt cleaner) fit. The protruding bill will also afford you an extra inch or two of shade.
Aruba's coastline and outback are just as dramatic when viewed from the saddle. Several ranches offer early-morning and midday excursions, or you can ride off into the sunset. As you wend your way through cacti and random boulders in the outback, watch for iguanas and skittish cottontails. Stop at Alto Vista Chapel and California Lighthouse, and then ride along the shore. Or start at the crashing waves and sand dunes of the northern coast before heading for the Natural Pool. Keep your eyes open for bickering parakeets and hovering hummingbirds. That ominous bird circling over your head? Not to worry: It only looks like a vulture.
Based at a 17th-century coconut plantation on the northern coast, Rancho Daimari, Palm Beach 33-B, Noord (tel. 297/586-6285 ;), offers 2-hour trips through Arikok National Park and to the Natural Pool, where snorkeling and swimming in the restorative waters are encouraged. The price is $75, and for an extra $40 per person you can have a private honeymoon sunset or sunrise ride.
Rancho Notorious, Boroncana 8E, Noord (tel. 297/586-0508; www.ranchonotorious.com), offers several options. The 1-hour tour passes through the countryside for $45. The 2-hour tour covers more countryside, Tierra del Sol, the California Lighthouse, and Malmok Beach for $100. The Gold Mine Ranch (tel. 297/594-1317; www.thegoldmineranch.com) offers 2-hour tours starting at $65 and offers free transportation.
Jet Skiing
Harleys of the sea -- just as fast, just as noisy. Put on your black leather swimming trunks and head for Palm Beach, where several vendors have one and two seaters.
The leeward (south) coast's calm waters are ideal for kayaking. Starting near the old fishing village of Savaneta, guided tours hug the coastal mangrove forests before crossing a lagoon to a small island, where you can have a bite to eat and snorkel.
Land Sailing
This relatively new activity, which was developed in Australia, harnesses wind power to propel a lightweight go-kart frame across the flat dunes. Bonaire already has a large track built for this easy-to-learn and completely safe sport. Aruba still uses open dunes, which are sometimes too muddy after it rains. With luck, a track will be created to ensure good sailing conditions year-round.
All-terrain vehicles that look like a cross between a dune buggy and a tractor mower let you play road warrior, and can be rented by the hour or the day. For those who want the thrill of the ride without the fear of getting lost, guided tours embark from several tour agencies.
For those who want a rough-and-ready (if noisy and treacherous) island adventure, several places rent all-terrain vehicles. Georges, L.G. Smith Blvd. 124 (tel. 297/593-2202), next to the Harley-Davidson store in Oranjestad, rents ATVs for $30 per hour or $120 per day and scooters for $20 per hour or $50 per day. For an organized tour, check in with De Palm Tours, L.G. Smith Blvd. 142 (tel. 297/582-4400; www.depalm.com); Rancho Daimari, (tel. 297/586-6284 or 586-6285; www.ranchodaimari.com); or Rancho Notorious (tel. 297/586-0508; www.ranchonotorious.com). Tip: As with horseback riding, safety helmets are a must and work well over your own baseball cap, providing a more comfortable fit and feel. Select a helmet with the word "Bell" on the back -- these are actual safety helmets. It's best to avoid the ones with a message inside that reads, WARNING, THIS IS A NOVELTY ITEM AND NOT INTENDED TO BE USED AS A SAFETY DEVICE.
If a Jeep tour is too slow and an ATV is too fast, then a TomCar is juuuust right. These dune buggies drive like a car, have four-point seat belts, and are so stable, you can't flip them if you try (yes, we tried). Feel free to play Mad Max as your convoy snakes along gravel slopes, dirt roads, and sand dunes on one of two routes. Green Zebra Adventures (tel. 297/585-0027) is based at the Aruba Ostrich Farm and offers two daily tours. The morning drive costs $109 and takes you to Seroe Colorado, Baby Beach, and Quadirikiri caves and includes a tasty lunch at Boca Prins. The afternoon expedition is $99 and winds its way through Ayo Rock Formation, Bushiribana Gold Mine, Baby Natural Bridge, Alto Vista Chapel, California Lighthouse, and Boca Catalina Beach.
Aruba looks even better from 180m (591 ft.) in the air. Flight time is only 10 minutes, but secure in your boat-towed parachute, you're on top of the world. Several watersports centers along Palm Beach will be happy to put wind in your sails. Take a waterproof camera along to show your friends back home that you've been there, done that.
Sailing adventures are available day and night. Some include watersports, while others feature drinks, snacks, or a full gourmet dinner. For night owls, dance-and-booze cruises include a midnight dip in the sea. If you have something special to celebrate, charter a private yacht. Catamarans, trimarans, and ketches are available. The calm waters along the southern coast are also ideal for extra-buoyant individual sailboats such as Sunfish. At De Palm Island, the trimaran Windriders come complete with a captain to navigate the waters or give you a crash course in sailing.
Dive Sites
Aruba is famous for its excellent wreck diving catering to divers of all levels. Sunken vessels range from tugboats to cargo ships, and even plane fuselages. Lying between Arashi and Malmok, the Antilia is the Caribbean's largest wreck and one of Aruba's most popular dives. Snorkelers can also explore the shallow-water sections of this wreck. Other popular wrecks include the 250-foot former concrete freighter Jane Sea and the oil tanker Pedernales. Coral reefs lace along the island's leeward shore. Some of the best reef dive sites include Skalahein Reef, Plonco Reef, and Mas Bango Reef, which is also excellent for snorkeling. Those who prefer to stay dry can board the Atlantis Submarine to view marine life, coral formations, and shipwrecks.
Aruba offers enough coral reefs, marine life, and wreck diving to keep most wet suit-wearing folks happy. The water temperature averages 80°F (27°C), but during winter it can dip into the mid-70s. Due to currents and plankton, visibility varies, but at the leeward dive sites it usually ranges from 18 to 36m (59-118 ft.). The bountiful plankton nourishes a dense coral population, especially brain, sheet, finger, and mountainous star coral. Freshwater runoff is minimal. Sunken airplane fuselages and shipwrecks (including the largest in the Caribbean) are among the most popular destinations. In addition to snappers, grunts, angelfish, damselfish, and parrotfish, divers regularly spot less-common species such as frogfish, sea horses, nudibranchs, black crinoids, basket stars, scorpionfish, and eels. Barracuda, tarpons, and jacks also call Aruba's waters home.
Good visibility, several shallow reefs, and a couple of wrecks give snorkelers an array of options. All sites are on the southern, or leeward, coast. Slightly north of Palm Beach, Catalina Bay and Arashi Reef feature brain and star coral, sea fans, parrotfish, angelfish, and an occasional octopus; the 122m (400-ft.) Antilla shipwreck is impossible to miss. De Palm Slope, off De Palm Island, features some impressive coral as well.
Most of the island's beachside hotels have tennis courts, many of them lit for night play. Some also boast pros on hand to give clinics or individual instruction. Nonguests can make arrangements to play at hotel courts, but guests have priority. The island's best facilities are at the Aruba Racket Club, Rooi Santo 21, Palm Beach (tel. 297/586-0215; www.arc.aw), which features eight lighted courts, a swimming pool, a fitness center, and a bar and restaurant. The club is open Monday through Friday from 8am to 11pm, Saturday 9am to 7pm, and Sunday from 10am to 7pm. Rates are $10 per hour per court, or you may purchase a $20 day pass; lessons are $30 for a half-hour. The club is near the Tierra del Sol complex on the northwest coast.
Underwater Touring
Another way to experience life at the bottom of the sea is aboard a submarine, where you can descend 45m (148 ft.) to observe coral, shipwrecks, and some very curious fish. If you'd rather not have your vessel submerge completely, hop on a glass-bottom boat. The viewing deck is only 1.5m (5 ft.) below the surface, but a scuttled German freighter, encrusted with coral and teeming with other marine life, is just feet away. The sub leaves from a pier in front of the Crystal Casino in Oranjestad; the glass-bottom boat departs from Pelican Pier on Palm Beach.
Windsurfing & Kiteboarding -- Aruba's high-wind season is the longest in the Caribbean. Wind speeds are best in May, June, and July, when they average 20 to 25 knots. From December through April, they slow to 15 to 20 knots, and from September through November they range from 10 to 20 knots. Most launches are on the leeward side of the island, near the hotels and major beaches. The most popular site is off the northwest tip of the island on Malmok Beach, an area known as Fishermen's Huts. Near San Nicolas, both Rodgers Beach and Boca Grandi are alternatives to the hotel area. To avoid collisions, kiteboarders and windsurfers take turns throughout the day.
Aruba offers a buffet of delicious beaches. The northwest coast of Aruba, from Druif Beach to Eagle Beach, and Palm Beach to Malmok, is an 11-kilometer sweep of uninterrupted white sand and clear jade waters. Eagle Beach and Palm Beach are favorites. Near the California Lighthouse, Malmok Beach and secluded Arashi Beach are great for swimming and snorkeling. On the windward east coast, Bachelor's Beach, Boca Grandi, Boca Prins, Dos Playa, Black Stone Beach, and Boca Andicuri have stronger currents and larger waves. Although they are not recommended for swimming, windsurfers and kite surfers can tackle the swells. The beaches in the southeast are less populated. Locals' favorite, Baby Beach, with its shallow basin and calm waters, is great for inexperienced swimmers.
Aruba has no dearth of strikingly beautiful beaches, featuring a nice range to choose from for all kinds of tourists. Families with young kids make a beeline for Baby Beach, while those looking for some adrenaline soaring surfing fun will want to make Fisherman's Huts their hub.
Eagle Beach
Strolling the plush, deep sands of this wide strand — which is the longest on the island because it connects Manchebo and Druif — offers your calf muscles a surprisingly strenuous workout. But it’s a small price to pay for a day spent on the bone-white soft sands at this family-friendly beach. There’s an international flavor courtesy of a contingent of expats who come for months at a time to eat, sleep and drink within paces of the beach. Other popular activities include zoning out under the shade of swaying palm trees, palapas or umbrellas and, for the more energetic crowd, hitting up one of the many water-sports outfitters that offer catamaran sails, snorkeling excursions and dive trips.
Palm Beach
Aruba’s interior is arid and rocky, peppered with scrub and cactus. But the west coast is graced with sandy shores that are the pride of area islands, and the most famous of these is Palm Beach. Strolling the high-rise-lined two-mile stretch is de rigueur on this tourist-friendly island and provides ample opportunities for people watching. A palpable carefree vibe encourages lazy afternoons spent napping on a float bobbing on gentle waves.
Fisherman’s Huts
Long before the appearance of the tall hotels that buffer the offshore winds so cherished by windsurfers, this beach was festooned with brightly colored sails. And even before that, fishing boats laded with the day’s catch lined the shore, their captains sharing fish tales and negotiating fish sales. Today both parties share the sand: Seasoned windsurfers and kiteboarders streak across the horizon while beginners hang close to shore, trying to avoid close encounters with the boats anchored along the coastline.
As you head northwest toward California Lighthouse, this is the last stretch of sand before the terrain begins to resemble a rugged moonscape. Bring your own umbrella or make this a morning stop, as only a handful of palapas dot Arashi’s sands. Brave those scorching beige sands, and you’ll find yourself in one of the island’s best snorkeling spots, with the wreck of Antilla, a 400-foot German freighter.
Baby Beach
On most days, there isn’t much of a scene here, and for some that’s the big attraction. (Note, however, that this tranquil spot is less so when cruise ships are in port, and it’s popular with locals on weekends.) Aptly named, with placid, bathtub-warm waters and soft, silky sand, the shallow bay invites even the most timid swimmer. A man-made reef enhances the allure of the natural coral formations, making this one of Aruba’s best snorkeling spots. Grab a mask and look for parrotfish, blue tang and the occasional octopus.
Eating Out
Aruba’s landscape is dotted with several fine restaurants. Marandi (L.G. Smith Blvd. 1, 297/582-0157) is stylish and elegant, and whips up nice entrees in laidback Caribbean atmosphere. Chalet Suisse a thoroughbred Germanic joint at Irausquin Blvd. 246 scores for its unique and inventive creations. Visit Chalet Suisse on an empty stomach, since they serve really scrumptious and heavy Swiss and German preparations.
The buzzing nightlife here is a mix of touristy Caribbean style resorts islands and more local party destinations. The Crystal Casino at the Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort is where most tourists flock, while Euphoria is where you can hobnob with the local crowd.
Aruba has goodies galore in store for the bargain hunter. The multitude of influences the island has witnessed has made it a much sought after hub of a collection of goods Casa Hannsi stocks up a nice collection of Venezuelan crafts, while Access Art Gallery showcases Aruba’s most varied influences and goods.
Although Aruba boasts a plethora of shopping opportunities, the days of Caribbean bargains are waning. The 1.5% sales tax may be absorbed directly into the price of merchandise or show up as a government tax on your bill. Nevertheless, the island's low 3.3% duty can make prices on certain items such as jewelry and fragrances attractive, although comparison shopping indicates the prices on many cosmetics are priced the same as in the U.S.
Dutch goods such as Delft porcelain, chocolate, and Gouda cheese are especially good buys. Items from Indonesia, another former Dutch colony, are reasonably priced, too. Although Aruban souvenirs tend toward cheesy resin casts of cunucu (farm) houses or divi divi trees, some impressive works by Aruban artists can be viewed or purchased at the local art galleries or jewelry shops. Skin- and hair-care products made from locally produced aloe are popular and practical. If you're looking for big-ticket items, Aruba offers the usual array of Swiss watches; German and Japanese cameras; gold and diamond jewelry; Cuban cigars; premium liquor; English and German china; Spanish porcelain; French, Swedish, and Danish crystal; and French and American fragrances. If you plan to make a major purchase, do a little research so you know you're getting a good deal.
If you are looking for something unique, head for one of the many outlets of Aruba Aloe, a product line of lotions and creams produced on island. These moisturizers come in every formulation and are so gentle they are used for skin graft and burn patients. For shoppers who want to do good while finding the perfect gift, head over to the gift shop at the Donkey Sanctuary, where you can find everything from plush stuffed donkeys to French milled donkey soap. All purchases go towards supporting the care of the many donkeys. For gifts that are a little higher end, there are several shops selling hand-crafted boxes, masks, and figurines covered in a colorful metallic overlay called mopa mopa. These dyes are derived from boiled leaf buds using an ancient South American Indian technique that involves stretching the rubbery pigmented overlay with the artisan's hands and teeth. The colorful products are pricey but well made.
Great Shopping Areas
Although recently eclipsed by the new malls in the High-Rise area, Aruba's other retail activity center is in Oranjestad. Half-mile-long Caya G.F. Betico Croes, better known as Main Street, is the city's major shopping venue for Arubans, office workers, and families. Downtown also teems with contiguous shopping malls that stretch for several blocks along the harborfront. The gingerbread pastel-colored buildings are impossible to miss.
Renaissance Mall (L.G. Smith Blvd. 82, Oranjestad; www.shoprenaissancearuba.com/mall) is adjacent to the Renaissance Hotel and marked by a distinctive clock tower that also indicates the presence of the Crystal Casino. On the other side of L.G. Smith Boulevard and just past the marina is the Renaissance Marketplace; both the Renaissance Mall and Renaissance Marketplace feature more than 130 stores, 2 casinos, 20 restaurants and cafes, and a movie theater. Just up the road, adjacent to the Renaissance Mall, the bright pink-and-white fanciful-looking Royal Plaza Mall on L.G. Smith Boulevard is occupied by several popular restaurants and generally midscale boutiques. Port of Call Marketplace, also on L.G. Smith Boulevard, is the first complex that cruise-ship passengers encounter on their way downtown and is directly across the street from the main bus terminal. An adjacent mall stands complete but empty, awaiting resolution of final legal matters before stores can fill the vacancies and open for business.
Merchandise stands clutter Oranjestad's waterfront, most selling garden-variety T-shirts and souvenirs at bargain prices. Many wares are imported from nearby Venezuela, though others are made in the Caribbean.
High Rise/Palm Beach Shopping -- A sizeable shopping center called Paseo Herencia (Aruba's Pride) is on the High-Rise district's main street (J.E. Irausquin Blvd.). Across the street from the Holiday Inn, it contains a multiplex cinema, a fountain with water shows every evening, an indoor parking garage, and dozens of shops and restaurants.
A small mall called the Village, across the street from the Radisson also on J.E. Irausquin Boulevard, is just down the street. More meeting place than mall, here you can find a few retail souvenir shops, and the headquarters of Red Sail Sports on the second level. There are a handful of restaurants, including the infamous and highly visible Señor Frog. This colorful and loud eatery serves food as well as drinks, attracting families with kid-friendly meals and a balloon toting clown. For a more subdued meal, try the open-air, French fusion bistro called Papillon (tel. 297/586-5400; www.papillonaruba.com).
South Beach Mall is a two-story shopping and eating complex adjacent to the Hard Rock Cafe. The prominent escalator carries diners and shoppers to the restaurants and shops above, flanked below by a row of vendor stalls.
In keeping with the beach theme, Palm Beach Plaza was built right around the corner from Paseo Herencia. Christened as the largest mall in the Southern Caribbean, this three-story behemoth is an entertainment mecca. In addition to its stores, there's an enormous kiddie arcade, bowling alley, mega multiplex movie theater, and food court. Oh yeah, and a wave machine where pre-teen boys hone their body surfing and high-speed wipeout skills.

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