The most popular island in the Dutch Caribbean, Aruba draws droves of honeymooners and sun worshippers to its sandy shores. This small, 20-mile long island dances to salsa, dines on red snapper, gambles in glitzy casinos, and surfs and sunbathes year-round. Aruba's past unfolds in the Dutch architecture of its bustling capital, Oranjestad, and on a hike past the abandoned gold mines in Arikok National Park. Platinum-blonde sandy beaches line its west coast, but the east coast is rugged, with craggy limestone cliffs, sand dunes, and crashing breakers.
Things to Do
Some of Aruba's best white sugary stretches are found on the western and southern shores, including Palm Beach and Eagle Beach. For something secluded, head for the shallow, half-moon cove of Baby Beach, where the locals go. Slip through the heart-shaped entrance of the Tunnel of Love cave system in Arikok National Park, picnic on a boat, then dive with parrot fish around rusting wrecks. East of Oranjestad, trek around the mysterious Ayo and Casibari rock formations and see the wind-swept Divi-divi trees.
Spend your florins on hand-painted boxes of dominos (the national game), Delft china, and plastic iguanas in Oranjestad's relaxed harbour-side market or splash out on diamonds along Main Street -- the gingerbread, pastel-colored buildings are impossible to miss. To soothe your sunburn, you'll want cooling aloe vera from the Aruba Aloe Museum & Factory. Buy something dazzling for a night at the casinos from the couture boutiques at the Renaissance Mall.
Nightlife and Entertainment
At night, the air is filled with the infectious sounds of salsa, reggaeton (South American raga), meringue, and the island's own Tumba in Oranjestad. Down an Aruban Sunset cocktail at Mambo Jambo, one of the island's liveliest clubs, or don heels for a waltz at Bon Bini Festival every Tuesday at Fort Zoutman. Play a game of Caribbean stud poker at one of its casinos. Remember: Locals love to dress up and don't appreciate beachwear in the clubs.
Restaurants and Dining
Dining in Aruba is a ritual of indulgence and romance. Its proximity to South America brings escabeche and Spanish spices. Stewed green papaya is a specialty, as is crispy-yet-soft corn bread. Fresh seafood is abundant, especially in the comfortable confines of Old Fisherman, an island institution. Whether you dine at a beachside bar in Palm Beach, or an opulent antique house in Oranjestad, you are guaranteed to stagger back to your hotel room sated and happy.