Aruba-One Happy Island

ARUBA

Overview

Mini getaway to this Caribbean island was quite a spontaneous decision. I was waiting for my new Lithuanian passport, which took over three months to make, so we could not plan anything ahead without knowing when I will receive it. We wanted to go somewhere for the long weekend to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary, so as soon as I had the passport in my hands, I felt it needed a new stamp 🙂 !

Aruba is one of the Lesser Antilles islands located in the Southern Caribbean Sea, only a few miles away from Venezuela. It’s part of the Leeward Antilles together with Bonaire and Curacao. Aruba is independent country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and has a population of around 104 000 people. Official languages are Dutch and Papiamento, but English and Spanish are spoken everywhere and as you will see later in my post it feels like you are in the USA. The best part of this island is the weather. There is no bad season and average temperature year round is 88F (31C) during the day and around 78F (25C) at night. There is always a pleasant breeze and it does not get hit by hurricanes as it’s below the hurricane belt.

We arrived Friday and left Tuesday afternoon, so the time spent in paradise was short but rewarding. Upon arrival we unpacked, enjoyed dinner with the sunset view and had an early night. We were exhausted from getting up at 3am to catch our flight. Saturday we took our time to unwind and enjoy the beach/pool right near our hotel. Sunday was a full day of adventures with a jeep around the island. Monday morning we booked a half day snorkeling cruise followed by more relaxation at the beach. On our last day we went to Renaissance Island for some pampering before the flight and of course for the beautiful flamingos. Here is our four night stay in Aruba in more detail.

R & R AT PALM BEACH

We picked our hotel based on the availability, location and the cost. Most of the hotels are located in the so called High Rise area along Palm Beach and Eagle Beach. Holiday Inn Resort has simple rooms, but is right on the beach and has two nice pools. If you don’t have a car it is very convenient location, as you can walk to multiple restaurants and shops nearby.

Our room had a balcony with a corner view of the beach and we were happy with the decision to stay here. Being tired and hungry after the flights,  we chose to eat close by and went  to the Pelican Pier– a restaurant on the beach right near Holiday Inn.

The food was fresh and the sunset – magical. Coming from cold Boston it was simply amazing to sit outside and feel the warm breeze.

We did not have breakfast included in our package because we wanted to try different places on the island. One of the recommendations was Diana’s Pancakes Place – short walk from the hotel. That was our first stop on Saturday morning before the beach day. Owners are from Holland and the Dutch pancakes were great start to our day. They are somewhat similar to crepes, but thicker. Many options to choose from- savory or sweet, take your pick (or get one of each like we did).IMG_1863Enough about food, time to finally go to the beach! But before that, we have one more thing to do- blow up our giant flamingo floatie that we brought from Boston 🙂 . Yes, we are that crazy and yes, it was absolutely worth it. We initially used a hair dryer to blow it up in the room (huge pain in the butt) and when we brought it down to the beach, we found out that kids center connected to the hotel has a automatic pump meant just for these type of items!

We got our pink bird fully inflated and enjoyed it for the rest of the day. The water is super calm, so you can float around (just don’t fall asleep, I almost sailed into the ocean, Sean swam just in time to pull me back in : ) ) . It’s also perfect for the pool as well, so it was a very good and fun investment.

For dinner we decided to walk around 45 min along the water to a Peruvian restaurant close to Eagle Beach.

The sunset colors were gorgeous and the walk was nice, we passed beautiful hotels and it only got a bit deserted towards the end. Eagle Beach area is definitely a lot less busy than Palm Beach, more condos than hotels, so it would be a place for those that prefer quiet vs the hustle and bustle. Asi Es Mi Peru restaurant was great!

Not on the water, tucked in across the street the place serves amazing Peruvian dishes and we left very full and happy. We took a taxi back to Palm Beach as there was nothing to do in the area and walked around the busy street.

That’s where it felt like we never left the USA- all American stores, restaurant chains, even New England football team memorabilia – it’s essentially America with perfect weather! Not what one would expect in a Caribbean island near Venezuela. Amongst the American stores we found an amazing gelato place that we dutifully came back to every night for the rest of the trip- Gelatissimo.IMG_1828 Their pistachio and hazelnut, as well as coffee-chocolate gelato in a fresh waffle cone were irresistible 🙂 .

JEEP RIDE AROUND THE ISLAND

Aruba is small, but to see it all takes longer than expected. There are more places of interest that we did not get to see, but I think we covered the main points. If you choose to explore the island on your own, I would highly recommend renting a 4×4 Jeep. Unless you don’t care about Arikok National Park, but then you will miss out on all the fun. There are numerous companies that rent ATVs/UTVs or organize guided tours. We considered renting one of those, but the cost was significantly higher than the Jeep, so we chose the latter.

In retrospect, that was the best decision. The day was hot and having an air conditioned car to get back to was very nice. We also avoided the dust that comes from unpaved roads in the desert- people in open vehicles had face masks and looked not that comfortable. Since this trip was sort of last minute, we did not even book a car in advance- we asked hotel to call the local Value Car rental company and they had the Jeep available for us for the following day.

 

We grabbed breakfast (acai bowls) and egg wraps to go at the local Garden Fresh Cafe and set off to explore the island.

CASIBARI ROCK FORMATION

Our first stop- Casibari Rock Formation– the cluster of big rocks sitting together with the path to go up and see the view from above. It’s a quick stop – walk up, take a few pics and move on.

 

I would not say it’s a MUST see, but if you are already in the area, it might be a nice little visit for a slightly elevated view of the island.

IMG_2058

HOOIBERG STAIRWAY

A pointy mountain that is visible from virtually any place on the island is 165m high volcanic formation called Hooiberg, meaning haystack in Dutch as it sort of resembles a stack of hay. Because it’s only 5 min drive from Casibari Rock Formation, I insisted we check it out. Sean did NOT want to climb it. He was quite grouchy and thought it’s a waste of time. Well, I would say if you go with expectations to see some incredible view from the very top, then it might be disappointing.

BUT- the view along the way is nice AND it’s a great workout- our calves hurt for two days after this climb 🙂 . You don’t need any special footwear- we went with sandals as it’s man made stairs all the way till the top. It sounds very easy, but the stairs are steep and it was a hot sunny day (typical for Aruba).

If you do go, bring water and enjoy the 500+ steps hill.

NATURAL BRIDGE

We continued our journey and before we got into Arikok National Park, we made a quick stop at the Natural Bridge. There is part of the road that is unpaved to get there, but any car would make it. There were a few busses with tour groups, so we did not stay long.

The landscape is beautiful and just past the bridge on the left side there are a couple of blowholes where the waves crash and splash the water high up in the air.

ARIKOK NATIONAL PARK

NATURAL POOL (CONCHI)

We really wanted to see the Natural Pool and this was part of the reason why we rented a Jeep. The road leading up to the pool is rugged unpaved terrain and regular car would never make it up there. There is an option to park at the Visitor Center and hike for 45 minutes, but we did not bring any sneakers and frankly had no desire to hike in the hot desert sun. Before you can drive up to Conchi, you have to stop at the Visitor center and pay the entrance fee- 11 UDS per person. You get a wristband that you show at the gate and then you are allowed to explore the park. German couple traveling with a small car approached us and asked if they could ride with us to the Natural Pool- their little car was definitely not equipped to handle the rough terrain.

We were happy to meet new people and had a fun drive and good conversation along the way. They had a drone and shared a few pics with us from this road trip as well!

Natural Pool is a pool of water formed by rock and volcanic stone. Highly recommend bringing water shoes as the rocks are slippery and quite sharp. It was very rewarding and refreshing to swim there after the bumpy ride.

I think this was one of the highlights of the day and if all possible, don’t miss this Aruba attraction.

FONTEIN CAVE

We brought our new friends back to their car and continued the drive through Arikok National Park. Next on our itinerary- Fontein Cave. It’s not very big, but the cool part about it is the ‘face’ on the right side as soon as you walk in.

Park ranger told us about it and it was fun taking pictures. There is a hole in the rock formation where you can stick your head in and standing from the front looks like you have a face of an old man with your body:) .

Cave itself is not too deep, but has interesting formations.

GUADIRIKIRI CAVES

The next cave was a short drive away and in my opinion was a lot more spectacular and much bigger.

A couple ‘rooms’ to explore and great opportunities for photos.

If I had to chose, this cave was my favorite.

BABY BEACH

We left Arikok National Park and headed down to the Baby Beach. A few people recommended it and we were looking forward to relaxing there. However, when we showed up around 3pm the place was crowded, beach chair/cover was 60 USD (!!) and the view of the oil refinery in the distance sort of put us off.

 

The water was clear and blue, we definitely would’ve loved to spend the afternoon there, but it was simply too many people and not much shade. We were not going to rent the chairs with the cover for a couple hours that were left until sunset.  We had lunch at the Big Mama’s restaurant and decided to move on.

Their fish sandwich was amazing- if the place is busy as it was when we came, just sit at the bar and order food there- it will come MUCH faster than table service, trust me.

SAN NICOLAS

San Nicolas is the second largest city in Aruba, but when we arrived the streets were empty and it felt like a ghost town. Maybe because it was Sunday and most of the places were closed. We came here because the German couple that we gave a lift to the Natural pool said that there is amazing wall art in this town.

It was not hard to find- park anywhere in the main street and walk around, definitely worth a visit!

We strolled, took pics and then it was time for dinner. We picked a place based on our friend’s recommendation and it was great decision.

Pinchos Grill and Bar is located at the Surfside Marina, right on the water and an unobstructed view of the sunset.

 

We enjoyed the fresh catch of the day, Argentinian chorizo, the pork and the creme brulee cheesecake- all of it was delightful and even better with the nice ambiance. 

After dinner we walked around the port area where the cruise ships dock and decided to go back to Palm Beach for our gelato ‘nightcap’ 🙂 . Yes, there is always room for gelato.

ARUBA BY SEA

It’s already Monday, we have one more night left in this warm island. We are near the Caribbean Sea, so how can we leave without some snorkeling?! On our first night on the island we stopped by the Pelican Adventures desk (there was one right at our hotel as well as at the Pelican Pier entrance) and booked a so called Champagne Brunch and Aqua Safari half day tour. It only goes on certain days of the week, but Monday was one of them, so it worked perfectly for us. The tour is from 9.30am till 2pm and had three stops- Boca Catalina, Antilla Shipwreck and Malmok Reef.

It had breakfast and lunch plus unlimited alcohol included in the 79 USD+tax per person price. Not a very cheap excursion and do not expect a spread of food. Breakfast consisted of fruit, croissants, ham and cheese. Lunch was slightly better- had chicken potato salad and warm seafood paella. For those that like to drink a lot, it may have been more worth it than for the others, but either way we enjoyed the trip.

There was around 30 people party, crew was fun and we all had a great time snorkeling and doing back flips off the boat into the warm waters. We saw a lot of fish, but I am sad to report that the coral is pretty much dead. There are a lot of tourists and the nature is getting destroyed…

Once the boat trip was over we decided to relax at the pool and make more use of our floaty- it’s the last day to enjoy it- and so we did!

 

Since the lunch on the boat was not very filling, we walked over to the MooMba Beach Bar and restaurant– a few minutes walk from the hotel, right on the beach, and had amazing lunch. Highly recommend it. IMG_2737This was our 2yr wedding anniversary day, so we wanted to have a special dinner as well. We’ve heard great things about the italian Faro Blanco restaurant located right near the California Lighthouse, so Sean made reservations for us there. We took a taxi and made it just before dark- the view was spectacular!

I cannot say the same about the food though. Call me picky, but for the place like this you would not expect lasagna to arrive cold and then wait 20 minutes for it to be reheated… I would say it’s only worth going for the beautiful view and the set up, not the gourmet Italian dinner.

RENAISSANCE ISLAND- FLAMINGO TIME

Call me silly, but what I associated Aruba with was the pink flamingos near the beach. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen too many pictures online, I wanted to experience these birds near the blue water with my own eyes. Before the trip I did my research and found out that the only place you get to see the pink flamingos in Aruba is on Renaissance Private Island owned by Renaissance Hotel. There are three ways (that I know of) of getting in:

  1. Stay at the Renaissance hotel and  the boat ride is free of charge. Well, we did NOT stay there so that option was out. We tried to make reservations for one night, but they require a two night minimum, so that was not suiting us either.
  2. Book tickets online for 125 USD per person. Yes, that IS the cost and that is not all. The tickets are released a day prior at 7am Aruba time and sell out in minutes. We also heard that if hotel is booked over 80%, they don’t release any tickets, so you could be waking up at the crack of dawn for nothing. I tried booking it the day of our flight and I lost service at 6.59am as the plane took off at that exact time. By the time we got on Delta’s wifi at 7.20am the tickets were all sold out (if there were any released at all).
  3. Reserve a spa treatment! This genius way was presented to us by a taxi driver upon landing in Aruba. We wanted to take a taxi to Renaissance, talk to the front desk and see if we can negotiate a way to the island. Taxi told us that there is a spa on the island and we can simply call from our hotel and book a treatment. We did that and voila! We had secured access to see the pink flamingos for our last day in Aruba! We managed to get 9am one hour massages in the beautiful open air spa and the boat ride was now only 25 USD per person. Yes, we still paid for massages, but they were amazing and it was not 250 UDS spent only for the access to the island. 

For the sake of full disclosure- there are only 6 flamingos on this beach and their wings are clipped, so they cannot fly away.

Now I am sure there are various opinions about this and believe me, I love all animals. I must say, the birds did not look one bit mistreated or abused. Flamingos had multiple options to be away from people- they could have been far away on the rocks, but instead they chilled around on the beach. Nobody was touching them and they did not seem to be in any kind of distress.

I offered fresh water from the cup and a few of them drank it repeatedly, while others shook their heads and walked away. There was special food for sale for those that wanted to feed them, but again- those that wanted to eat- ate, others would walk away or stay still sleeping/looking around. It was a beautiful sight, we took hundreds of photos and I was very happy we managed to get on the island. We had lunch, relaxed, showered and took an afternoon boat back to the mainland where we picked up our bags and went to the airport. This hotel was actually a lot closer to the airport than Holiday Inn, so it worked out perfectly.

CONCLUSION

Aruba was a beautiful warm long weekend getaway. I have mixed feelings about it. My first impression was a slight disappointment on how americanized this place is. I wanted to feel the culture of the Caribbean island, but there really is none left. They even celebrate Thanksgiving and Halloween, because there are so many American tourists there. On the other hand- I LOVE the weather. There is no bad season, no matter the time of year, you always have guaranteed perfect weather. It is VERY safe. Crime rate is very low and there were no homeless or beggars anywhere on the streets. That brings us to the downside- it’s expensive. Everything is imported, so prepare to pay the premium price for food, drinks, anything else you want to buy there. All in all, we loved the experience and had a lot of fun on this island. It’s perfect for a shorter stay when you just need to have that change of scenery, sunshine and the warm blue water.

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