A CARIBBEAN ISLAND WITH BARELY ANY RAINFALL AND MORE THAN 340 DAYS OF SUN SOUNDS LIKE A FAIRY TALE, BUT IT DOES EXIST…AND IT’S CALLED ARUBA

BY NUBIA DUVALL WILSON

Aruba is nicknamed “One Happy Island,” and once you get there, you’ll understand why very quickly. Nestled outside the hurricane belt, this 70 square mile constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is climate paradise, with low humidity, an often arid, cactus strewn landscape, and more sunny days than any other Caribbean destination. From hidden beaches with clear azure water to five star luxury hotels, casinos, and contemporary restaurants, this community of 102,484 residents encompassing ninety two nationalities (according to the 2010 Census) is small, yes, but filled with experiences that cater to discerning travelers. (And U.S. tourists can take advantage of an expedited Department of Homeland Security pre clearance facility at Queen Beatrix Airport). So, pick between the glitzy, bustling high rise area on Palm Beach for your hotel stay, or opt for the more laid back, quiet, low rise area ten minutes south on the expansive Eagle Beach. No matter what you select, it’s difficult to go wrong just remember your sunscreen, because the island is directly above the equator!

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Aruba is one of the A.B.C. islands (Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao), all part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The average temperature is 82°F, and so consistently sunny that locals are known to say that they never check the weather report. Higher temperatures (on average) are between May and October, slightly lower between December and March. Out of roughly 700 islands in the Caribbean, Aruba consistently ranks as having the least amount of rainfall, averaging about 15 inches for the entire year. Although the official language is Dutch, and you’ll occasionally hear the indigenous Papiamento (a Spanish Creole mash up with admixtures of Portuguese and Dutch), most Arubans speak English and Spanish fluently. The currency is the Aruban Florin, but the U.S. Dollar is widely accepted. Get there by flying nonstop from Newark or JFK into Queen Beatrix International Airport. Early January flights from Newark on Delta and JetBlue start at just over $400 round trip, and upon arrival you can either rent a car or jump into a taxi. U.S. customs is in the airport, too, and is fairly quick which makes for gratifyingly few depressing lines; just grab your luggage and go.)

Aruba Bob Snorkeling-shutterstock_682950964

WHERE TO STAY

RITZ CARLTON ARUBA, $$$
On Palm Beach in the high rise area sits this stunning luxury resort. The hotel offers guests rooms and suites with private balconies overlooking the sea, four dining outlets, a spa, two swimming pools, and a 24 hour casino. Book a Club or Ritz Carlton Suite and gain access to the exclusive club level, with complimentary food offerings, a selection of gratis beer, wine, and cocktails, and a dedicated concierge. Oh, and we just love the The Ritz Carlton signature featherbeds L.G. Smith Boulevard 107, ritzcarlton.com

Where to Stay-Ritz Carlton Aruba

KINGS THEATER SPREAD

BUCUTI & TARA BEACH RESORT, $$$
This boutique “sustainable luxury” hotel, on the expansive and secluded Eagle Beach, is one of the most romantic accommodations on the island, and it’s adults only too! It is the first carbon neutral resort in the Caribbean (Green Globe and LEED Silver certified) the most eco friendly resort on the island.

Guests have access to a plethora of complimentary amenities, including breakfast, plush sunbeds by the freshwater pool and beach, wellness activities, and Wi Fi. There is also a spa on site, along with two restaurants, a fitness center, a “romance concierge,” and wellness specialists, who create customized dietary and fitness programs for guests. L.G. Smith Boulevard 55B, bucuti.com

Where to Stay-Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort

WHERE TO PLAY

ARIKOK NATIONAL PARK, $
At Arikok, you are surrounded by desert, wildlife, caves and sweeping island views. It’s best to rent an SUV (instead of a Corolla) to navigate the winding roads and their multiple deep dips. Explore Conchi, a natural ocean pool sheltered by craggy rock formations (where no swimming is allowed, be advised). Walk around Fontein Cave and marvel at the Caquetío Indian rock paintings on the walls, and/or Quadirikiri Cave, where there are openings in the roof that let in natural light. arubanationalpark.org

BABY BEACH
For Instagram worthy photos, head over to this crescent shaped stretch of sand in the southern part of the island, where swimmers can wade out into the shallow water for quite a ways, yet still safely touch the bottom. It’s great for families and those who like to lounge in float ies all day, as well as perfect for snorkeling. Bring your own chairs, or rent beach loungers from the attendants on duty. There is a terrific restaurant and bar called Big Mama’s Grill right at hand, but service might be a little slow (get used to living on “Caribbean time”)

CALIFORNIA LIGHTHOUSE
One of the most famous landmarks on the island is this marvelous structure, located near Arashi Beach on the northwest tip of Aruba, and restored in May of 2016. It was named for the wooden steamship California, which was wrecked nearby in 1891 while on a voyage from Liverpool to Central America. Take a tour to climb to the highest lookout point on the island. The surrounding area has a rocky terrain (wear sturdy walking shoes) with interesting rock formations that make for great photos. Next to the lighthouse is an Italian restaurant called La Trattoria el Faro Blanco (the sea bass fillet gratin is incredible). Tour tickets start at $10. arubalighthouse.com

ARUBA BOB SNORKELING, $$
Take a staple water activity to new levels with this outfit, which uses handheld “scooters” that enable you to enter the water from the beach (versus a boat). The adventure starts at Mangel Halto Beach, which features an array of fish, coral, and the Kappel shipwreck— a small steel boat and the nation’s newest dive site.

Aruba Bob provides all necessary equipment—including masks, snorkels, water shoes, and fins—sized and fitted to your needs. Group tours start at $100 per person, while private tours area bargain at $120, which include equipment, the scooter, and photos of the experience. Hotel pick ups can be arranged, too. arubabob.com

Dutch Architecture-shutterstock_612934487

WHERE TO EAT

ATARDI RESTAURANT, $$$
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino’s pop up sea food establishment on the beach offers five star American cuisine, attentive service, and beautiful views of the Caribbean Sea, complete with sailboats coursing by. There’s also a place to neatly place your shoes in cubbies before walking across the sand to a prime spot next to the ocean. Try the salmon ceviche appetizer, lobster tail with potato alligot (along with a lobster tarragon Pernod sauce), and the apple crumb casserole with a butterscotch sauce. L.G. Smith Boulevard # 101, marriott.com

Where to Eat-Atardi Restaurant

MADAME JANETTE’S, $$
This award winning Caribbean fusion restaurant, inspired by various international cuisines, has been an institution in Aruba since 1999. There is an indoor bar area, while the dining seating is outside and mostly protected from the elements. A mini outdoor stage is graced by acoustic and jazz musicians throughout the night. Chefs Helgers and Gesing create a diverse menu, with offerings like Dutchinspired gratin featuring lobster, shrimp, Gouda cheese, and a splash of Hollandaise. Be sure to try the famous sweet and spicy Bang Bang Shrimp served with fresh cut pineapple concassé and sesame seeds. Cunucu Abao 37, Noord, madamejanette.info

SALT AND PEPPER TAPAS BAR & RESTAURANT, $
A diverse menu, live music in a laid back atmosphere, and outdoor seating is what to expect at this oasis, nestled on a strip in the high rise area by Palm Beach. At the pass are tapas and various other international dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try the grilled chorizo with chimichurri sauce, fried brie with mango chutney, or the grouper ceviche for apps, while the six ounce tenderloin and garlic shrimp Surf and Turf is a perfect larger course. Wash it down with a frozen margarita! J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 370 A Arawak Garden, Palm Beach, saltandpepperaruba.com