advertisement

You'll be hard-pressed to find a lemon among Aruba's hotels and resorts. At the very least, accommodations on the island are above average; in many cases, they're downright amazing. Hotels appreciate your business, and it shows, from the bend-over-backward service to the endless array of amenities.

Lodging is a competitive business on the island. When one hotel introduces a new feature, the others scramble to match or beat it. As a result, all of the upscale resorts have a casino, a fitness center, some kind of spa, coffee bar, an assortment of dining and drinking venues, lush gardens, and magnificent pools. Even modest lodges have amenities you wouldn't expect for the price.

So how do you decide where to stay?

If you'd rather be in the middle of the action than on an expansive beach, stay in Oranjestad. It's not a big town, but it has big-town casinos, restaurants, shopping, and nightlife. And it's no more than a 10-minute drive from the best beaches.

A 15-minute walk northwest from Oranjestad, the Low-Rise area has the feel of an unpretentious beach town. It's a mix of boutique hotels, peaceful timeshares, and large, low-lying resorts. Rooms here are generally a good value. As the lengthy, uncrowded beach continues up the coast, its name changes from Bushiri to Druif to Manchebo to Eagle. Not all the Low-Rise hotels are beachside -- a small road separates several from the water -- but that keeps the beach tranquil. Drink and snack bars are few and far between, motorized watersports are generally not allowed, piers are nowhere to be seen, and the beach is wide and generally uncrowded, but restaurants and other amenities are just across the road.

A brief limestone outcrop separates Eagle Beach from Palm Beach and the High-Rise area. A mix of Miami Beach and San Juan's Isla Verde, the glamorous High-Rise hotels usually have several stars next to their names in travel-agent brochures. Most front the beach, all boast amenities that go on and on, and some rise as high as 18 stories. Despite the glitz associated with the area, moderately priced options are readily available. The mile-long strand here is as dazzling as Eagle Beach, but it's narrower and there's less room for isolation. Smart bars and beachside restaurants line the strip. Piers projecting into the sea serve diving and fishing boats as well as plentiful motorized equipment.

Hotels and timeshares inland from the Low-Rise and High-Rise areas lack the allure of instant beach access, but most are still within a 10- to 20-minute stroll of the sea. Naturally, their rates are lower.

In general, you'll find more Americans and a more mature crowd during the first 4 months of the year. After April, families, budget-conscious travelers, and Europeans make up an increasing part of the mix. South Americans have a greater presence during their winter (June-Aug). Just a hop, skip, and a jump away from Aruba, Venezuelans and Colombians pop over for holiday weekends year-round. Recent economic and political crises worldwide have hurt Aruba's businesses, and according to reports a few restaurants, including Le Dôme -- a virtual institution -- have closed their doors. On the other hand, a plethora of new restaurants and hotels and malls have opened in the past few years.

A word about rates: Some hotels have extremely complex rate schedules, with prices varying within certain months and several times a year. I've condensed some of these schedules in the listings below; of course, you'll always want to confirm rates before you book. Also know that the prices quoted are rack rates. Rack rates are the published prices that hotels charge customers who walk in off the street. In most cases, you can get an infinitely more affordable rate by opting for a package, offered by tour operators or the hotels themselves.

In the same vein, although hotels are grouped by price category, think of the groupings as ballpark figures. Hotels change rates at different times during the year and spontaneously to reflect supply and demand, so an "expensive" hotel could be more affordable than a "moderate" resort during a seasonal window of opportunity. Also, lumping traditional hotels and all-inclusives together is like comparing apples to mangos. To determine the relative value of an all-inclusive, you'll have to add the estimated cost of food, drink, and other amenities offered by the all-inclusive to the price of accommodations alone at a traditional hotel.

One last point: Every hotel listed provides guest room phones and safes, laundry services, tour and activity desks, and ample free parking unless otherwise stated.

Off-Season Savings -- Although occupancy rates during the low season (about mid-Apr to mid-Dec) remain high, prices plummet by up to 50%.

Spa Retreats

The Mandara Spa at Marriott's Aruba Ocean Club, L.G. Smith Blvd. 99, Palm Beach (tel. 297/586-9000), re-creates the tranquility of a Japanese rainforest with Thai silk wall hangings, soft Balinese gamelan music, and the scents of clove and cinnamon. Personal attention is the hallmark of this meditative retreat, which offers state-of-the-art massages, body wraps, and facials. Programs cater to couples and men, who make up a hefty portion of the clientele. Other upscale spas can be found at Tierra del Sol (tel. 297/586-4861), the Hyatt (tel. 297/586-1234), and the Okeanos Spa at the Renaissance (tel. 297/583-6000). For a more rustic pampering experience, try Spa del Sol at the Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 55 (tel. 297/582-6145), a garden sanctuary by the sea featuring massages, yoga, reflexology, and other treatments in beachside cabanas. The training of masseurs and masseuses on the island varies greatly. Be sure to ask for the most experienced person available.

Sustainable Tourism

A kind of environmental Good Housekeeping seal of approval, the Green Globe certificate recognizes hotels around the world that develop and implement sound, ecofriendly policies. The Amsterdam Manor Aruba Beach Resort was Aruba's first resort to be certified, followed quickly by the Aruba Bucuti Beach Resort and Tara Beach Suites & Spa, Costa Linda Beach Resort, Manchebo Beach Resort & Spa, and Playa Linda Beach Resort. The Aruba Beach Club is the latest hotel to make the list. Bucuti guests and nonguests alike are invited to join in on beach cleanups at 8:30am on the third Wednesday of every month. Volunteers are rewarded for their efforts with a hearty free breakfast and a group photo. Log on to www.greenglobeint.com to learn more.

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.