In 2012 we took our last overseas vacation as a family of two. Compared to the Bahamas and Jamaica, Aruba felt much more accessible without staying at an all-inclusive resort, and relying on tours to venture outside the resort. We used public buses, taxis, and drove rental cars. The island is small enough for us to feel like a week was a perfect amount of time to see the major sites, and also have ample beach time. Aruba, we learned later, is actually considered South America. Which, not that we are counting, means that I have visited just as many continents as Alex. Not that it’s a competition. He thinks that seeing Africa from a ship should count, but obviously it should not, so we are currently tied (in our not a competition).
Eagle Beach is a stretch of Aruba with smaller resorts and residences. We spent most of our stay at Bucuti and Tara; a boutique luxury resort, but without the grandeur of many larger hotels. The minimalism was fine with us; it only highlighted the natural beauty of the beach. At four months pregnant, it was nice to have a place that was quiet after dark, with no late-night bar scene. The resort also had excellent eco-tourism practices and educational opportunities. We attended a sea turtle talk, and guests could register to be called to assist if any nests hatched during their stay.
Arikok National Park
The landscape of Aruba isn’t as lush with vegetation as other Caribbean islands. The semi-arid climate, succulent plants, and rocky landscape felt almost desert-like. That’s not a complaint; we felt transported to somewhere completely unique; spending our days exploring the rocky terrain and returning to our palm tree beach oasis at night.
For a day trip, we rented a jeep to explore Arikok National Park. Four wheel drive and high ground clearance were needed to reach most of the expansive park, where at times we felt like we had landed on the moon. We were lucky to catch a guide for a tour of the caves, and he was happy to take our photos (that did end up looking a bit like an oddly located maternity shoot).
Noord & Palm Beach
Noord, the northern side of the island, is the most tourist-oriented section. A short drive from Palm Beach took us to the California Lighthouse and Alto Vista Chapel.
Palm Beach was a more crowded beach destination than Eagle Beach, with large resorts, restaurants, and shopping. Resort grounds were open to non-guests, and many had casinos and public restaurants, and bars. From this area, we set sail on a boat cruise that took us to snorkel over shipwrecks.
Because it was easy to get around the island, we were able to find restaurants outside the tourist strip for authentic Aruban food. Gasparito was our favorite dining experience, a bit off the beaten path in Noord, away from the beach resorts.
Ostriches & Donkeys
Aruba is home to a roaming population of wild donkeys. Those that are unable to live on their own or are injured are moved to the Donkey Sanctuary. We learned about their history on the island and fed them. Again, not your standard Caribbean Island experience, but pretty on par for our type of vacation activities.
The Ostrich Farm had a much better restaurant than one might expect at an Ostrich Farm. We went on a guided tour, fed the ostriches, and left knowing way more about ostriches than we ever thought we would learn in our lifetime.
We spent our last two nights at the Renaissance Resort in Oranjestad. The iconic Aruba pictures of flamingos on a beach are taken on the resort’s private island, only accessible by boat. And, while the birds don’t disappoint for the view, the novelty wears off a bit when you try to share the ocean with them.
From our resort on them mainland we were able to watch the large cruise ships come and go in the harbor, allowing us to time our in-port shopping for when it was less crowded.
We had planned to spend our last day lounging on the flamingo island, but decided we would rather see more of Aruba. We found the last car rental available on the entire island, a tiny Chevy Spark. (Or maybe it just felt tiny because I was feeling much larger by the day.) Then went out to see big rocks. The Ayo and Casibari formations were pretty epic to us; being two people who live on a coastal plain with, literally, no natural rocks to be found. We finished the day at the Natural Bridge. We especially enjoyed the retro gift shop that architecturally replicated a traditional Aruban Cunucu home structure.