Roughly 80% of Arubans are Roman Catholic, and parish churches dot the island. In Seroe Pretoe, near San Nicolas on the way from Arikok National Park, the Lourdes Grotto, a shrine to Our Lady of Lourdes, was built in the limestone rocks in 1958 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Virgin Mary's purported appearance to a peasant girl, St. Bernadette, in the south of France. Another grotto lies directly across the road. Neither is particularly noteworthy, probably because the local parish prohibits anyone from leaving candles, statues, pictures, or testimonials. Chartreuse parakeets inhabit the area.
Farther along the same road, the outback suddenly gives way to Aruba's second-largest town, San Nicolas. A phosphate-exporting port from 1879 until 1915, this town landed Esso's Lago oil refinery in 1924. Once the world's largest, the refinery attracted workers from other Caribbean islands, South America, and Europe. In 1942, U.S. troops landed to protect the complex, which supplied much of the Allies' aircraft fuel during the war. By 1951, the town had a population of 20,000, far more than Oranjestad at the time. The refinery closed in 1985, devastating the town and the island. It reopened in 1990 with a new owner, Texas-based Coastal Oil. It was then sold to Valero in 2004. Now that tourism has replaced oil as the island's major business, San Nicolas has waned in importance. One remnant of the town's "port atmosphere" remains: Prostitution is actually legal in San Nicolas.
The center of Aruba's fishing industry, Savaneta is the island's oldest town and original capital. During the early Dutch period, its harbor was the safest place for ships, and in the mid-1800s, the area was known for breeding cochineals, insects that were crushed to produce the dye carmine. Retaining its salty tang, the town boasts a couple of good restaurants and a beachside spa.
On your way back home, you'll pass Hooiberg. At 162m (531 ft.), it may not be Aruba's highest hill, but it's the island's favorite landmark. If you have the stamina, climb the hundreds of steps (15-20 min.) to the summit; on a clear day, you can see Venezuela.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.