The Netherlands are great and all, but unfortunately they just don’t have the climate or the views to sustain too many dream trips away. Certainly, Amsterdam has much to offer the intrepid traveler, but when I think of a dream trip, a real bucket list trip, I conjure up images of beaches, palm trees, seemingly eternal sunsets and lazy, relaxed living. Well, you can still visit the Netherlands and get that experience, implausible as that may sound. You just have to travel to somewhere a little bit further than…well, the Netherlands.
Aruba is an island located smack bang in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, meaning that you’ll hear a bizarre and often jarring mix of Dutch and Papiamento, both counted as official languages. Apart from that, it’s got nothing at all in common with the Netherlands and everything in common with those beautiful and mystical Caribbean countries that you and everyone else dreams about visiting. Log on to the BUCKiTDREAM app to see if any other travelers have managed to follow their dreams all the way to Aruba then start jotting down some ideas and inspirations in your handy BUCKiTDREAM planner.
We’ll be taking a look at the capital of the island, Oranjestad, so keep that planner ready and check out this list of activities to get your Oranjestad juices flowing!
Kick Back on Eagle Beach The jewel in Aruba’s beach crown, Eagle Beach is located in downtown Oranjestad and offers a peculiar mix of seclusion and relaxation combined with all the urban amenities of the city, mere minutes walk from its sandy shores.
Make Friends with a Donkey While Amsterdam might be notorious for one type of ass, Oranjestad is famous for another – an ass in the plain old biblical sense of the word. The Aruban Donkey Sanctuary is located on the outskirts of Oranjestad but is most definitely worth the journey.
Scuba on the reefs Being a Caribbean island, there is no better place to explore the fascinating and vibrant reefs in its crystal-clear Caribbean sea.
Check out the German wreck If you really take to the scuba diving and aren’t content with just skimming around the reefs looking at colorful fish, specialized tours will take you to some of the more left-field underwater attractions, such as the sunken wreck of the WWII German freighter, the Antilla.
Catch up on Aruba’s Past The National Archaeological Museum presents an interesting double-view of the island; on the one hand you have the European settlers, and on the other you have the indigenous natives that were there originally. You can learn about both in intriguing and informative trip.
Hike Up the Hooiberg It’s not the highest point on the island, but the volcano formation known as the Hooiberg (meaning ‘haystack’) is a popular destination with outdoorsy tourists who want a day away from the beaches. It’s also very close to Oranjestad, making it a handy option when you’re staying in the city.
Shop in the Renaissance Hall Many weird and wonderful delights await you in the Renaissance Hall, located right in the midst of downtown Oranjestad. It’s got over sixty shops, an array of different restaurants and even a casino to boot!
Pay Your Respects at Saint Franciscus Church This peculiar little church makes for a beautiful and serene stop during your stay in Aruba. It’s a little way out of the capital, but the scenic journey there and back makes the trek worthwhile.
High End If you’re after luxury, the Ritz-Carlton Aruba is the place to go. Sitting on the steps of Palm Beach, this hotel comes with all the high-end trappings that go with the brand name. With spacious rooms complete with stunning ocean views, you won’t be disappointed if you allocate more of your budget towards this one.
Medium Another beach-set hotel, the Tamarijn Aruba All Inclusive sacrifices none of the scenery or location of some of the higher star hotels, but is a little more manageable for those unconcerned with plush hotel rooms.
Budget Hostel Room Aruba is located right in the downtown district of Oranjestad and makes for some great budget living among fellow travelers. If you want to spend no money at all, you can always sleep on the beach.
The cuisine on Aruba is, much the same as its national tongue, a strange mix; Dutch-influenced but still retaining some of its unique island flavor and specialities. For example, Linda’s Dutch Pancakes and Pizzas will give you a taste of the island’s authentic Dutch heritage; it’s located just off Palm Beach and features an open air front porch. It serves a mouth-watering array of thinly-made crêpes with both traditional and Caribbean-inspired toppings.
For a truly local flavor, you can head to Gostoso, which features a mix of Portuguese and indigenous dishes such as Creole shrimp and a spicy, home-brewed Aruban stew. You can round off the day with an intimate meal at the European-inspired 2 Fools and a Bull (and if there’s a story behind that name, I’d love to hear it), whose cozy dining room seats just seventeen people and gives the meal the atmosphere of a jocular dinner party.
Drinks and Nightlife
Luckily for those visitors who favor a few wild nights out on their travels, Aruba is generally regarded as having one of the best nightlife scenes on the Caribbean. The seemingly never-ending mix of bars, clubs, casinos and beachfront lounges will keep you dancing and drinking all the way until the small hours, where you might be lucky enough to catch a beach sunrise.
Soprano’s Piano Bar (based thematically on that most excellent of HBO series) serves up the island’s most extensive list of connoisseur wines, and tops it off with some luxurious garden surroundings. For something completely different, hop on board the Banana Bus, which is a movable party on wheels. Stopping at some of the best drinking spots in town, the Banana Bus is one surefire way to see the best of Aruban nightlife.
Tips and Culture
Aruba has a pretty consistent climate, so you can be assured that any time of year you choose to go, you’re going to be spoilt with sun. And let’s face it, if you weren’t blitzed by heat on your dream Caribbean island trip, you’d demand your money back.
You’ll feel it as soon as you get there, but the atmosphere on Aruba is certainly relaxed; it’s island living at its finest. The streets of Oranjestad are generally safe and secure, with crime a relative rarity. Everyone’s got it good in the Caribbean, so why ruin the fun?
As we already mentioned, Dutch and the local Papiamento are the official languages, but it might surprise you to learn that most inhabitants of the island can speak a minimum of four languages, including English and Spanish, so you should have no problem getting around.
Aruba is a melting pot of cultures and despite the seemingly at odds clash of the Netherlands and indigenous Caribbean, for some reason it just works. Kick back and enjoy your time on this unique little island; the natives will no doubt give you a warm welcome.
For Oranjestad’s must-see, flutter over to the Butterfly Farm to see some of nature’s most beautiful creations in their natural habitat. Take a simple stroll through the peaceful gardens or fall in with a guided tour and let your host tell you more about these fascinating creatures; whatever you do, just make sure you go.
The Butterfly Farm is located just off Oranjestad’s Palm Beach, so it’s nice and convenient to visit and if you arrive early enough, you might just be treated to the breathtaking site of a newly-transformed butterfly hatching from its cocoon.
You can discover all this and more during your own dream trip to Oranjestad, but you have to start planning to make it a reality! Hopefully you’ve been taking notes in that all-important BUCKiTDREAM planner, and are now ready to start kicking those plans into gear. What are you waiting for? It’s a lot warmer than the Netherlands!