Author Shelley Seale in Aruba
This is the 4th article in my new series on Caribbean destinations. Every Wednesday for the next several weeks, I will be sharing a new facet of this glimmering jewel to our south - Click here for the first article.
This week, I move from the charming island of Curacao to its neighbor in the Dutch Antilles - Aruba. Although the islands are separated by only a few miles of blue Caribbean Sea, they could not be more different in many ways.
While Curacao struck me as very much a "lived-in" place, with a strong local culture and history and where tourism was not the primary industry - Aruba is built much more for the foreign visitor. Tourism is Aruba's biggest economy, and as opposed to Curacao's 13% of American visitors, in Aruba 85% of the tourists are American.
This can be both good and bad, depending on the type of vacation you are looking for. Many people come to Aruba to simply relax, in a laid-back place with incredible resorts (we stayed in the fabulous Marriott resort), where the watersports are great and the atmosphere is conducive to both romance and kid-friendly vacations.
Aruba definitely offers all that, and if you're looking for a friendly place to get away from it all and relax in an easy-going tropical destination, you found it. But what I also found were a few things I didn't expect, and I'll share those with you here, for those times you might get tired of sitting on the beautiful white sand beach with a mai-tai in your hand (hey, it could happen). Because Aruba can be an adventure vacation, as well.
I wasn't expecting Aruba's arid desert topography. Once you get away from the stretch of land that runs just along the coast, with its definite tropical, palm tree, beach scene from the postcards - most of the rest of the island looks a lot like Arizona. There are some great places where you can get out and explore this - it can be a hiker's paradise. Try getting out there in a fun off-road adventure, by taking a jeep over the volcanic rocks and sand dunes to find tucked-away sights like an old abandoned gold mine. The Bushiribana Gold Mill sits on the north end, where gold was discovered on Aruba in 1824. This mine once processed 3 million pounds of gold, before being abandoned and falling into disrepair. It's a fascinating place to discover.
Other places you can get to off-road include the Natural Pools, on a deserted stretch of wild coastline inaccessible by car. This unique formation of volcanic rock created a natural depression to form a tranquil pool, where you can swim. The California Light House, built in 1910 after the ship California ran aground on Aruba and sank; and the Alto Vista Chapel are worth a visit, and can be reached by any vehicle as they are located at paved roads. Don't miss the Ayo Rock Formations, an area of mysterious, monolithic boulders dating more than 80 million years ago.
Stayed tuned next week, when I will let you in on some of the best places to snorkel and dive in Aruba!