Your Guide to Aruba
Todd about Town: Warm weather, seafood, and water activities await on this tiny tropical island.
It’s just about that time when we hear the Minnesotan anthem of chattering teeth. The skies seem perpetually dark, the windshield scraper has secured its regular spot in your car, and tantalizing travel commercials have replaced political ads. What to do the next four months? For those jonesing for tropical skies, there are options that don’t take up all your vacation time.
I went for three days (including a day and a half for travel). If this is your first trip to the tiny island off the coast of Venezuela, here are a few things to know before you pack your sandals.
A Quick Guide
Aruba is 19 miles long and 5 miles wide, technically part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands though they’ve been autonomous since 1986. You’ll need a valid passport. They use American currency. Most people on the island speak four languages: Dutch, Spanish, English, and their native Papiamento.
Aruba is in the southern Caribbean Sea, so it’s outside the hurricane zone. The weather is generally dry and sunny with a pleasant breeze. The island has a low crime rate, so it’s relatively safe for tourists.
They proudly call it #onehappyisland.
Seafood is, of course, the go-to. Wherever you dine, look for catch-of-the-day entrées—think: fresh grouper, shrimp, blue marlin, shark (!), or tuna.
I ventured out to try Aruban street food, too. My favorites? To start, keshi yena. This is basically a casserole dish, a ball of baked cheese filled with meat and vegetables. Then there’s the pastechi, a flaky fried pastry typically filled with cheese, raisins, meat, and seasoning. (It’s similar in appearance to an empanada.)
As a corn-fed Minnesotan, I had to try the island corn-on-the-cob. I must admit I was a little taken aback when I saw the corn floating in a milk bath. That’s right: In Aruba, they boil their cobs in milk, sugar, cream, and butter. And to tell you the truth? It was just okay. A bit soggy for my taste.
Restaurants to check out: The Marriott Hotel has a lovely location overlooking the Caribbean Sea. I enjoyed a sunset dinner at their beach-front restaurant Atardi. I ordered the scallops appetizer, presented on a corn-and-bacon puree. The jumbo scallops were perfectly prepared—light, grilled—and balanced with the smoky taste of bacon and the sweetness of corn. For my main course: a delicious, flaky, macadamia-crusted grouper.
If you want to eat like a local (and inexpensively), consider a casual lunch at Zeerovers. The menu is limited. Basically, everyone eats the catch of the day (we had wahoo), shrimp, fried plantains, cornbread, and fries.
SHRIMP AT ZEEROVERS
If this is a special occasion for you, head to Papiamento. You’ll get an al fresco poolside experience, nestled among trees in a natural setting. Here, I had the lamb chops with seafood chowder as my starter. The food is adequate; the setting is simply enchanting.
I bet you’re thinking about lounging at the pool with an umbrella drink from a swim-up bar.
You can do this. But with the ocean at your doorstep, water activities are abundant. So, I tried something new: windsurfing.
After strolling the beach, I stopped by Vela Sports to inquire about a windsurfing lesson and to rent a board. The one-hour lesson was well worth my time and money. Even after the lesson, I spent more time in the water than on my board. Regardless, this was great fun, and I intend to try and try again.
Do not leave Aruba without exploring the turquoise waters of the Caribbean on a boat. For a day of snorkeling and sailing, I spent an afternoon with Tranquilo Charters.
If you need a break from the ocean, check out ABC Tours Aruba. The guided tour takes you off-road, to places you would likely never see on your own. It’s a rugged adventure, with the ATV tour exploring the northern coast of the island and stopping at historical sights and natural wonders, including a cave pool where you’ll dive in and take a swim.
To be close to the ocean, dining options, and night life, I recommend the Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino. It’s centrally located, on the white sands of Palm Beach. A tranquil setting for those who just want to relax and enjoy hotel amenities, the Marriott Aruba has a luxury spa, a gelato scoop shop, two pools, a large workout facility, and a wide selection of dining options, including a Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
I also enjoyed the unique features at the Renaissance Aruba Hotel and Casino. The hotel is divided into two zones: one exclusively for adults, another for families. Transportation is included. You’ll get access to the hotel’s beautiful 40-acre private island.