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Alluring Aruba

Aruba

Mingling with the locals on the Caribbean island of Aruba can make you feel a bit like an underachiever. Ask any of them how many languages they speak and they’ll often respond “four or five,” in a tone that says it’s no big deal. And for them it’s not, considering the country’s multicultural roots.

Aruba’s first inhabitants were the Caquetio Indians from South America, followed in the early 1500s by the Spanish. Then, in 1636, the Dutch arrived and stayed in power (aside from a brief period of British control) until Aruba seceded and became an autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1986. Today there are more than 90 nationalities represented on the 70-square-mile island and two official languages, Dutch and the native Papiamento—although English, Spanish and Portuguese are also widely spoken.

The other elements of the island—from its landscape to its restaurants to the activities available—are colored by the same diversity. The only thing that remains relatively homogenous is the weather: Average temperatures range from 75 to 88 throughout the year, with few rainy days (the island is outside of the hurricane zone) and an almost constant, cooling breeze.

The south and west coasts are a playground for water enthusiasts, with miles and miles of sandy beaches and nearly endless options for aqua sports, including waterskiing, kitesurfing and parasailing. Standup paddleboarding is also popular. It may look easy, but sign up for a lesson with Dennis Martinez at Aruba Surf & Paddle School and you’ll soon learn just how much effort the sport takes—especially when the Aruban winds begin to kick in.

For some of the area’s best snorkeling, travel to the southeast tip of the island to Baby Beach, a half moon-shaped lagoon named for the shallowness and calmness of its waters. There you won’t have to venture out too far to see parrot fish, blowfish and maybe even an eel or two.

To experience one of Aruba’s most idyllic sites in near solitude, you’ll want to get up early. At conchi, a small natural pool in Arikok National Park, waves crash over the rocks producing dancing sprays of water while crabs scuttle across the jagged volcanic stone. The pool is impossible to reach by car, but you can hitch a ride on a horse from Rancho Daimari.

Afterward, explore the Guadirikiri Cave on the outskirts of the park. This two-chamber cave presents amazing photo opportunities as sunlight filters in through holes in the ceiling and bats flit in the shadows. Then get a taste of Aruba’s mining past by visiting the 19th-century Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins. As you head back into the main town of Oranjestad, consider stopping at the Donkey Sanctuary Aruba, a nonprofit that cares for sick and injured animals.

Dining in Aruba runs the gamut from casual beachside cafés to restaurants serving molecular gastronomy-influenced cuisine. One of the top experiences is the 16-seat The Kitchen Table by White. Dinner starts with a cocktail on the rooftop deck at the adjacent El Mirador (as the sun sets, if you’re lucky). Then, diners take a seat at the large U-shaped table that surrounds the chefs, who create and plate an artful eight-course menu built around locally sourced ingredients. The meal unrolls at a leisurely pace, allowing guests to unwind after a long day of exploring all that Aruba has to offer.
 

WHERE TO STAY: The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba’s newest luxury hotel, offers gorgeous views of the Caribbean Sea from each of its 320 rooms. Guests can take advantage of the 15,000-square-foot spa, two pools, four restaurants and a casino. Across the street, the Boardwalk Small Hotel Aruba provides a more intimate atmosphere, with 14 independent casitas with full kitchens and patios.

WHERE TO EAT: Get your fill of giant sweet or savory pancakes and poffertjes, silver dollar-sized versions, at The Dutch Pancakehouse. Try keshi yena, a local dish of meat and other ingredients stuffed into a baked Gouda shell, at The West Deck on the beach in Oranjestad. Screaming Eagle Restaurant-Lounge offers French fusion cuisine indoors, on a terrace—or in a canopy bed.

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