This is an article by guest author and Aruban resident, Billy Parker.
Aruba is a different kind of island compared to the rest of the Caribbean destinations. Sure, it shares in similar features of sun (and there’s a lot of it), sand, and fun. But, once you arrive, you can feel the differences. Once on island and taking a glance at a map, you’ll notice Aruba is an island of sectors.
Staying on the western coast, north of the Beatrix Airport, you’ll find the tourist and commercial heart of Aruba. The downtown area of Oranjestad, with its traditional Dutch architecture, has many bars, restaurants, shops (most notably jewelry stores), and even a couple of casinos.
The downtown area receives a steady stream of cruise ships on a daily basis so this part of the island is often busy with pedestrian traffic. However, the government invested in a brand new trolley system to help ease the traffic and also help out businesses that aren’t located on the main strip.
Aruba’s High Rise and Low Rise resorts
Heading North out of Oranjestad running parallel to the ocean, you’ll begin entering the resort areas. Aruba has divided the resorts into “High Rise” and “Low Rise” sections.
The first section is the Low Rise areas with various hotels, long term apartments, and townhomes. All are within a 5 minute walk to Eagle Beach, one of the main beaches on the island.
Leaving the Low Rise area, you almost immediately enter the High Rise section of the resorts located in the area of Noord. These resorts (Marriot, Westin, Radisson, etc.) line Palm Beach and offer all the amenities you’d expect from beach resorts in the Caribbean.
All are open to the public, although you may buy a drink out of courtesy for using their beach chairs or pool. Located on the western coast means that virtually every evening guests are treated to a spectacular sun set.
Behind the high rise resorts is a plethora of restaurants, shops, and bars.
Venturing to the most northern point of the island, leaving the High Rise resorts you will find a continuous stretch of beach accessible to the public. Many Aruban families and other locals will pack up their cars with lunch and drinks and have a nice day next to the blue waters.
Boca Catalina and Arashi beach offer endless opportunities for snorkeling and sunbathing. However, at the very end as you wind your way north, you find the island’s lone lighthouse. The lighthouse draws tourists for its elevated position and 360 degree look at the island.
Outside these resorts and commercial areas, Aruba has a very different feel. In these sectors you find a more authentic Aruba. Staying west, but traveling south from the Beatrix Airport to St. Nicholas, you will find mostly residential areas. However, the beaches of Mangel Halto and Baby Beach are not to be missed.
In addition to the beaches, there are a couple restaurants (Flying Fishbone and Zeerovers) that offer a fantastic dinner away from the cruise ship and resort crowds.
St. Nicholas doesn’t have the experience that Oranjestad and Noord do. A lot of the buildings are vacant as businesses have moved north in recent years. However, there is a certain charm about the town as it invokes a feeling of a past time.
As you move further inland, away from the west coast, you find a lot of Aruba’s residential districts. However, beyond the neighborhoods lies the rugged and barren landscape of the east coast.
The physical terrain sets Aruba apart from other islands. There aren’t the lush jungle canopies that you might imagine. In fact, a lot of the island is rocky with cacti and the native Divi Divi trees taking up most the vegetation.
The majority of the southeastern side of the island is a part of Arikok National Park which gives guests a nice drive through the physical environment. It’s a good idea to have your camera ready as wild goats populate a substantial part of this area.
Aruba really is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The main attractions are the pristine beaches and the endless water activities available. In addition to kayaking, paddle boarding, windsurfing, and sailing, Aruba has established itself as a player on the kite-boarding scene. The consistent winds provide extreme sports enthusiasts with the opportunities to accelerate and grab air.
However, you can’t ignore the endless treasures beneath the water as Aruba attracts scuba divers throughout the world. There are a number of dive shops that offer a variety of dives that gives you a look at a very diverse and exotic underwater experience.
For many visitors, simply wading out in the water and enjoying the sand is enough. Aruba offers many sites all throughout the island worth taking the drive to go see. Besides the lighthouse in the north, many people drop by the quaint Alto Vista chapel that sits up on a hill overlooking the eastern coast.
For those that consider themselves nature lovers, Aruba has a bird sanctuary, ostrich farm, butterfly farm, and even a donkey farm! History lovers should check out the abandoned gold mine left over from Aruba’s colonial past as well as the Indian caves with its numerous mural paintings throughout. If you want to get a sweat in, a journey to the island’s Natural Pool on the east coast gives you a great workout and an even better reward!
Whatever your pleasure, Aruba has a little taste of everything. It’s an easy island to get around on. And the Arubans will make you feel welcome with a quick ‘Bon Dia!’ and a smile.
*This article is a guest post by Billy Parker, an expat teacher currently working at the international school in Aruba. He just wrapped up a two year stint in SE Asia and is new to the travel writing world. You can check out his blog on all things travel and teaching at parkstick-ponders.blogspot.com