Pristine White Sands
Lying in the Caribbean Sea a mere 17 miles off the coast of Venezuela, yet an autonomous region of the Netherlands, beautiful Aruba boasts a prim colonial town centre, luxury resorts, miles of pristine white sandy beaches, 300 cruise ships a year... and one of the highest standards of living in the region.
Bargain hunting is a popular pastime on Aruba, thanks to the low-duty prices. Oranjestad has a busy shopping district centred on LG Smith Boulevard and Caya GF Betico Croes. There are boutiques, shopping centres and street vendors selling everything from jewellery and electronics to Cuban cigars, linens, china, perfume, designer clothing and local aloe skincare products. The Renaissance Mall (LG Smith Boulevard 82) and Royal Plaza Mall (LG Smith Boulevard 94) are good for designer names. The Oranjestad marina has a range of market stalls selling souvenirs. Most big hotels also have their own shops.
Food & Drink
The Aruban restaurant scene is remarkably international, with plenty of variety. Serious foodies can book an evening at Carte Blanche (JE Irausquin Boulevard 330) – booking ahead is recommended. The beachside Passions (JE Irausquin Boulevard 252) has excellent seafood, glorious sunset views and a romantic atmosphere. Chef-owned Amadeus (Tanki Leendert 249) is another favourite for its 17th-century ambiance and international flavours. Many Aruba restaurants shut on Sunday or Monday so check ahead, and make bookings in high season. Set lunch menus can be very good value. Self-caterers can also get fresh fish from the docks at Barcadera in the morning.
Why party for just one day when you could for a whole month? Carnival is Aruba’s biggest and longest knees-up, and folks here milk it all they can. The street ‘jump-ups’ (parties), calypso and costume parades climax in the run up to Shrove Tuesday with the dazzling Grand Carnival Parade in Oranjestad.
National Anthem and Flag Day
Aruba’s national day sees local talent serenading the flag in a big folkloric show in Plaza Betico Croes in Oranjestad, and typical island sports played all over the island.
Soul Beach Music Festival
Beach parties? Check. Live soul and R&B music? Check. Stand-up comedy and club events? Check. This internationally famous music festival takes place every year on Memorial Day weekend in San Nicholas.
Hi-Winds Windsurfing Championships
The feisty trade winds lure top windsurfers and kiteboarders to Aruba from all over the globe in summer. Hi-Winds is one of the world’s leading windsurfing competitions, and there’s a parallel contest for amateurs too.
St Nicholas Day
Thousands of little shoes appear in the streets of Aruba on St Nicholas Day, and thousands of children hope St Nicholas (Sinter Klaas) will fill their footwear with gifts. He is the local Father Christmas figure who rides a white horse and wears bishop’s robes.
Aruba is best known for its mega-resorts with private beaches, but also boasts many boutique guesthouses and private villas. For a taste of luxury, try the seafront high-rise Westin Aruba Resort & Casino (JE Irausquin Boulevard 77). More affordable but no less classy is the beachside Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort (LG Smith Boulevard 55B), with cool, modern rooms and a loyal clientele. On a more moderate budget, family-run Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort (JE Irausquin Boulevard 252) offers Dutch-Caribbean charm across the road from Eagle Beach.