Aruba is a study in contrasts: Pastel houses and glitzy high-rise hotels. Creole seafood and classic Dutch cuisine. Crystalline blue waters and rugged desert. But at just 20 miles long, this compact Dutch Caribbean island makes for a perfect day of exploration.
Breakfast: Linda’s Dutch Pancakes – Hop a taxi from the port up to this Palm Beach eatery for a taste of the island’s Dutch heritage. On its open-air front porch, the charming café serves a staggering variety of crêpe-like pancakes, from island-inspired mango, papaya, and pineapple to brie with walnuts and honey. The hubcap-sized pancakes come out piping hot and are served with a cup of the island’s strongest coffee.
Lunch: Gostoso – Tucked amid the historic streets of Oranjestad, you’ll find Gostoso, a local favorite decorated with a quirky mix of island tchotchkes, souvenir plates, and vintage furniture. As much as the décor charms, it’s the food — a delicious mix of Portuguese and Aruban fare — that’s the draw. The bargain three-course lunch includes choices of Portuguese salt cod fritters, Creole shrimp, spicy Aruban beef stew, and creamy coconut flan.
Dinner: 2 Fools and a Bull – A meal at this intimate 17-seat restaurant, set in a historic house off Palm Beach Road, feels like a lively dinner party. Start with champagne in the backyard while chatting with the gregarious owners before moving inside to a bar around a restored French firewall, which the chef uses to roast everything from lamb to Cornish hens. The tasting menu includes European fare like field greens topped with pine nuts and Iberian ham, followed by creamy leek soup with smoked eel and a shot of sherry. Entrees usually comprise roasted meat, sliced with a flourish from large skewers, and local seafood that might be served over risotto, whipped into a mousse, or tossed with pasta. Consider yourself warned: Reservations are a must.
Drinks: Moomba Beach – Whether you’re looking for a rum punch or a bucket of ice-cold Chills (the local beer), Moomba Beach is set right in the sand under giant thatched palapas. Kick off your flip flops, throw back a cold one, and play a round of beach paddleball.
Tip: The big meal for locals is lunch, so restaurants aimed at Arubans often have great midday specials.
For Everyone: The trade winds of Aruba make it an ideal place for sailing, so we’d suggest taking to the water on Roberto’s Watersports’ 41-foot catamaran. The well-priced, three-hour sails stop at the Boca Catalina Reef, a tranquil spot ideal for beginning snorkelers, before heading to The Antilla, a deeper-water World War II wreck. Tours include all equipment, an open bar, and a picnic lunch.
For Couples: Near the tiny town of San Nicolas on the east end of Aruba sits the curved Baby Beach. Aim to wallow in the placid waters of this crystal-clear lagoon. Brightly colored fish dart about, palapas offer shade from the sun, and you can wade far out in the silky soft sand.
For Families: A small isle just a 10-minute bus and five-minute ferry ride from the port, De Palm Island is a one-stop, all-inclusive shop for island activities — from snorkeling to banana boat rides, water park fun to salsa classes, along with use of a beach palapa, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and an open bar for the adults.
For the Adventurous: For serious bragging rights, strap on a Jetlev® water-propelled jetpack at Red Sail Sports, and you’ll fly up to 30 feet over the water. So how does it work? An engine pumps up to 1,000 gallons of water a minute, propelling you up into the air for seriously killer views and photo ops. Most first-timers are able to fly within the first five to 10 minutes of the 45-minute experience.
Tip: Aruba’s roads are notoriously difficult to navigate, so the best way to cover a lot of ground in minimal time is to take a Jeep safari. ABC Aruba Tours offers a Natural Pool Safari in its fleet of Land Rover Defenders. Stop off at a coral natural bridge and old gold mine ruins before tackling the cactus-studded Arikok National Park, where you can off-road and swim in natural pools formed from volcanoes.
Though the colorful buildings of Oranjestad are atmospheric, much of the action has migrated up to Palm Beach, where most of the big resorts are located. Head up there if shopping and dining are your aim.
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