I have been incredibly lucky this year I know. Every so often we are offered the chance to visit some fantastic locations around the world to see for ourselves what destinations have to offer. So when I was offered the chance to visit Aruba with a group of fellow Travel Counsellors it was very hard to turn down, especially as it was a Caribbean island I have not visited before.
As the island is part of the Dutch Antilles we flew with KLM (the Dutch airline) via Amsterdam. Regional airports connect very well so I set off from Humberside Airport to Amsterdam for our connection direct to Aruba. I really like this idea of getting the short hop from Humberside Airport (25 mins from home) rather than the normal 4+ hour drive to London I usually have to do to get to the Caribbean.
Circling the island to land you can see the beautiful white sandy beaches, and also appreciate the island’s close proximity to the South American coastline of Venezuela! Location plays a key role for Aruba as it sits outside the main Caribbean hurricane belt.
On arrival the heat hits you! Love that feeling especially as I left the UK in autumn! My first impression of the island was that of wealth as we passed the designer shops in Oranjestad, the capital. Many cruise lines stop off here so the island likes to capitalise on this where possible. The architecture is a nice mix of old and new Caribbean with lots of Dutch influences as bright colours and shuttered windows adorn shops and houses. Some Caribbean islands feel quite poor with locals living in tin shacks – not Aruba!
Our first morning was an orientation half day island tour taking in the stunning California lighthouse, various stunning white sandy beaches with the famous Divi Divi slanted trees, the Alto Vista Chapel, the Natural Bridge, Casibari Rock formations and the Bushiribana Gold Smelter ruins. This was a great introduction to the island and its people, I really got a feel of the small size of the island and its friendliness. I would recommend this.
The next day was hotel visits taking in the Ritz Carlton which has some lovely hotel rooms and a buffet breakfast service that was superb. From there we made our way to the Renaissance Aruba Beach Resort which consisted of two sites, the first being on the beach and the second across the road in Orangestad’s main shopping complex where we had a lovely lunch. Then to our surprise we were whisked away James Bond style in a speedboat from inside the main hotel, through an underground tunnel, out to sea to their own private island for the afternoon to swim and snorkel and take pictures with the resident iguanas and pink flamingos! Lastly, we visited Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, which was a low rise, traditional Caribbean-style hotel with some lovely facilities including a beautiful Balinese style outdoor spa on the beach and a very intimate restaurant and bar.
The following day we were up early and off to see a varied selection of hotels this island has to offer. Firstly, we saw a wonderful privately owned, small boutique hotel called the Boardwalk Boutique Hotel which was so different. Set in lush small tropical gardens with roomy accommodation for families that included kitchen facilities on a self-catering basis. Perfect if you want to hit the beach all day, come back, put the kids to bed and then sit out on your balcony and terrace, BBQ, lounge in the hammocks and open the vino! I liked this one a lot!
From here we hit Palm Beach, known locally as the ‘high rise’ area. Here you have all the bigger hotels and our first hotel we visited was the Hilton which is currently going through a building upgrade, the artist’s impression of the final look was very impressive. Following lunch at the Hilton beach restaurant with some wonderful prawns cooked on the grill (highly recommended) we made our way along the beach path through the lush gardens and palm trees to the Grand Hyatt which is everything you would expect of a Hyatt property. There are good sized rooms and plenty of space to chill around the different pools! Our last hotel of the day was the Amsterdam Manor Beach resort, a Dutch style property with lovely apartment style rooms for families with the beach just across the road and their own beach bar and restaurant where you can sit and have a real sunset dinner experience.
This evening’s experience was a night to remember: Kukoo Kunuku: Aruba’s infamous party bus pub crawl! This was a lot of fun, a bus with no windows, lots of flashing lights, music blaring, we were all given maracas to shake and wave at the locals…. Singing and dancing you couldn’t help but enjoy the ride around the town, stopping off at four bars before being dropped off at the hotel just before 12.30 am. A great laugh, not for the faint hearted!
The next morning, and probably not best planned after the party bus experience, we were out on a catamaran cruise for the morning from 9am to 2pm. This included three stops for snorkelling around shipwrecks, and then closer to land to see some wonderful sea life. Lunch and drinks included in the tour, this a great excursion to enjoy the Caribbean Sea, sun, and the views back to the beaches and rock formations were stunning.
After an afternoon chilling back at our host hotel we were taken for our last hotel visit and for me, they had saved the best for last. The Bucuti & Tara Beach resort hosted us for an evening tour and champagne reception on the beach. This boutique hotel is an adult’s only hotel and the vibe was so relaxing and chilled. Couples who come for honeymoon are often repeat clients for anniversaries and birthdays in future years. The resort was lovely with great service, lots of space on the beach and around the pool. The beach restaurant with sunset views was a perfect place to spend our last evening. Very romantic, sparkly lights in the trees, a beautiful sunset and fabulous food, I would return here in a heartbeat.
In summary, although Aruba is a small Caribbean island it has so much to offer you in choice of accommodation for all budgets and for things to do; from golfing to water sports, to yoga or gambling. Whether you just come to relax on the amazing beaches or be active, there is definitely a spot on this island for you.
You don’t need to book all-inclusive hotels, there are plenty of restaurants for all budgets. From McDonalds to top steakhouses or exquisite Thai restaurants to KFC!
It is safe to drink the tap water.
Ensure you use plenty of sunscreen. The winds can make it feel like it’s not as hot as it really is. Take it from me you can easily burn!
The iguana is the local cat/dog! Weird to see them walking around the pool side or on your balcony!