Ahhhh, Aruba, you mesmerized me! As a 15 year veteran of the travel industry, some were surprised that I had never set foot on the island Aruba. The opportunity did not present itself until recently. A cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Adventure of the Seas included a call in Oranjestad from 8 am until 11 pm. Here’s how we spent our day.
While it would have been easy to book a tour through the cruise ship, I wanted more flexibility. I have suggested to clients that renting a jeep soft-top 4X4 is the best way to explore this desert island, so I did just that. Since the entire island is roughly the size of Washington DC, it’s easy to navigate.
The Western coast is ‘wild”, with waters that are rough and not safe to swim, and the Eastern shores have beautiful powder-sand beaches and calm, shimmering aqua blue waters. As the morning broke, we met our jeep and contact with Royal Car Rental in a parking lot just beyond the pier and to the right. It was as easy as could be, and after a brief lesson on the vehicle, off we went, top down and hat securely tied to my head!
The day began with overcast skies, and my plan had been to snorkel (we both had our gear with us, but you could stop and rent some at a dive shop, too) at two different beaches. Arashi Beach in the North and Baby Beach in the South. As I often do, I allowed my instincts to switch the plan, and we detoured into the national park called Arikok. The park encompasses 32 KM on the Western shores, and provided us a fabulous view of the island’s nature and history.
The bat cave was really cool…there’s a sign explaining that this variety is endangered and they are providing nesting areas. We read a story about a native princess who was a Goddess of the Sun who was so beautiful that all the men wanted her. She fell in love with a man that her father, the chief, did not approve of, and was banished to this very cave. It is said that when she died, her soul returned through the hole in the cave to the sun. Quiet is requested when entering, and, as we walked through, bats would hear our footsteps and fly across to another resting point. It was eerily spiritual to be there. Be sure to find it if you decide to visit.
We stopped at a second cave site where a naturalist was there to describe the cave, the stalagmites and stalactites, and the ancient cave drawings. Here is one example. It was extremely warm and humid in this one, so we did not stay very long, but it was fascinating!
Did you know that Aruba is the leader in the Caribbean with it’s alternative energy use? Ten windmills are perched on the shore of the park, high above the sea on a cliff. The country also utilizes the energy of the sun with thousands of solar panels. These and other methods are providing the island 30% of it’s energy, and other islands are following their lead now. Love that!
From the caves, the road took us to the Dunes of Boca Prins, where we found a gorgeous beach (still no swimming!) and some really interesting blue and pink crabs hiding in the brush of a tidal pool. From there we rode back through the interior to the visitors center, observing cactus, hills, valleys, and a zillion speed “bumps”, which were actually dry flash-flood beds. Warning: Though there is no open container law in Aruba, this in NOT the time to carry a beer between your legs!
Once past the visitor’s center, (we did not stop…I had snorkeling in mind, remember!) we hit the dirt “road’ meant only for ATVs and true 4×4, 4 wheel drive vehicles. Although we never actually put it into 4-wheel drive, the rocky ascent and descent to the beautiful Conchi swimming hole was rough and much like an amusement park ride! Never the “Nervous Nelly”, I asked Dan to go faster, but I knew the risk to our not so new vehicle, so I backed off quickly. It would not be fun to wait in the hot Aruba sun for someone from the car company to rescue us from ourselves!
It was an adventure getting there, to be sure, but even more fun to watch the various vehicles navigating themselves. A bicyclist walked her bike up the long hill back. We even saw some hikers braving the long walk…and I only hoped they had plenty of water. Once we parked our jeep and looked over the hill and stairs to the “pool” and noticed that there was a man parked there with cold local beers to reward us after the hike down and back, we felt a renewed sense of excitement. Oh my gosh, it was stunning!
Lots of Kodak moments and a luxurious and romantic swim later, we were back to wet our lips with those beers, as our water supply was nearly dry. We left just in time…a large group had arrived and they were going to fill the approximate 20 by 20 yard natural pool with noise and splashing. I don’t know about you, but when I am enjoying nature, I love to hear the sounds of natural beauty like birds and waves, not a radio and loud, obnoxious people. There is a time and a place, my friends. And that place deserved more respectful treatment.
Beers in hand, we took a gentler exit from the park to go South towards Baby Beach. Our little detour had taken hours, and the sun was getting lower in the sky. Another swim would be glorious, and the drive through the town of San Nicholas was short. The water was a beautiful shade of blue…several shades, actually! And just beyond lay a shallow “stream” of coral and fish, the reef having been protected from the surf by a long breaker wall of rocks. It was warm and lovely, and so nice to be back in the ocean again. While not the most pristine coral reef, the fish were interesting and it was the first time I had snorkeled with Dan, so that was a special time. When I am in the ocean, I feel a calm that is not easily found by me in my crazy, fast-forward existence. Perhaps you understand?
After our swim, we ordered a yummy fresh fish sandwich at Big Mama Grill. The Fred Flintstone theme was cute, but the sandwich was amazing! A second local beer to wash it down, and I was a very happy girl on “One Happy Island”!
To end our amazing day on Aruba, I had arranged a hotel inspection of a lovely 4 star beachfront resort called Bucuti Beach Resort. It was just past the cruise pier a couple of miles, sits directly on Eagle Beach. and we loved it! We took photos of a couple of the rooms, the beach, the pool, and the lovely bar area where they comped us some delicious cocktails. We watched the sun go down, enjoyed the steel drum music, and decided we wanted to come back one day. And it wasn’t just the physical property and land we loved…it was the friendly Aruba people, the five star service, and the amazing weather that beckons me to return. Thank you for your kind hospitality, Aruba!