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Introduction to Aruba

Aruba Flag

This parched speck of an island off the coast of Venezuela has guaranteed sunshine and is blessed with beaches that make you say 'ahhh'. Tourism is the big business here and it's served in a double scoop of Latin coastal coasters and sun bunnies from North America and Holland.

Although large-scale tourism dominates the island (read: luxury resorts from here to sunset), there are still undeveloped areas on the exposed northern coast, and much of the interior is inhabited by nothing more than goats and contorted divi-divi trees.

In this region, a triple whammy of a dry climate, salt-loaded seaspray and relentless trade winds has created a wonderfully surreal landscape with more than a passing resemblance to the images Pathfinder sent back to Earth from Mars.

Traveler Facts

  • Time Zone: GMT/UTC -4 (Atlantic Standard Time)
  • Dialling Code: 297
  • Electricity: 127V ,60Hz
  • Weights & measures: Imperial
  • Currency: Aruban Guilder, Florin (AWG or f)

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Best time to Visit

Aruba offers constantly warm weather. Summer never ends here. The temperature difference between June and December or midnight and noon is rarely more than four degrees either side of 82F. A dependable cooling trade wind blows from the east, and fewer than 22 inches of rain fall anywhere on the island during a year.

Since the equator runs about 12 to south, the sun is strong, especially between 11 am and 3 pm, and visitors enjoy morning sunrises and evening sunsets at roughly the same times each day, regardless of the seasons.

From January to March, the trade winds provide ideal windsurfing conditions off the windward coast. Since the terrain is almost flat, these same winds sweep clouds quickly over the island without allowing moisture to build into rain showers. Therefore, the sea off the leeward coasts is rarely stirred up by a storm, and visitors may count on ideal conditions for scuba diving, snorkeling and swimming.

The peak tourist season is between mid-December and mid-April, but this has more to do with the weather in North America and Europe than it does with the weather on Aruba. It's therefore best to visit outside this period, when you can expect room rates to be almost halved.

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Attractions

Oranjestad

Aruba's bright, breezy, pastel-coloured capital is on the island's southern leeward coast, southeast of the main resort area. It has a distinctly Dutch flavour, thanks to the modern vogue for fake colonial architecture. It has some good shopping options and three small but interesting museums.

Arikok National Park

Aruba doesn't have a lot of land to play with, so it's heartening that almost 20 percent of the island has been set aside as the Arikok National Park. It encompasses a significant chunk of the interior and a long stretch of the northern windward coast.

The park contains traces of nearly all the significant forces that have impacted on Aruba's history, including Arawak petroglyphs in the Fontein Cave, the remains of Dutch peasant settlements at Masiduri, plantation houses in the Prins Valley and the ruins of an old gold mining operation at Miralamar.

Natural Bridge

Natural Bridge was formed by millions of waves beating a hole under coral rocks near the shore east from Boca Mahoe. At 30m (100ft) long and 7m (23ft) tall, it's not the eighth wonder of the world, but everyone goes to see it and it's quite possible you're not allowed to leave Aruba without first standing on it and having your photo taken.

Palm Beach to Eagle Beach

Take an exquisite slice of nature, add a bunch of concrete monoliths, a forest of palm-thatched beach umbrellas and a flotilla of watersport toys, and you'll get some idea of the adventure playground that the resort area stretching from Eagle to Palm Beach has become.

There's no denying that the sand is as soft and fine as you could wish for, or that the water shimmers like a Hollywood movie sunset, but there's also no ignoring that this entire stretch of coast is devoted to the business of providing a Caribbean beach experience for as many people as possible.

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Events

Aruba's Carnival takes place over several weeks prior to Lent (usually in February). It's celebrated with children's parades, masquerades, musical competitions and plenty of dancing. The most intense celebrations take place in Oranjestad. New Year's Day is welcomed with midnight fireworks to ward off evil spirits, while wandering minstrels serenade outside of houses and hotels. There's a Summer Jam at the end of April with a carnival and jazz bands. The Hi-Winds Pro-Am Windsurfing Competition is held at Eagle Beach in June. In late June, there's the harvest festival of Dera Gai - it used to involve the burying of a rooster, but these days a gourd is substituted. Sint Nicolaas Day (5 Dec) is a Dutch transplant: Sint Nicolaas is a Santa Claus figure who arrives with his un-PC Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) who help him distribute candy and gifts to children gathered in Oranjestad.

Public Holidays

1 Jan - New Year’s Day

25 Jan - Betico Croes Birthday

18 Mar - National Anthem and Flag Day

Mar-Apr - Easter

30 Apr - Queen’s Day

1 May - Labour Day

20 May - Ascension Day

25-26 Dec - Christmas

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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Aruban Guilder, Florin

Meals

Budget: US$5-10

Mid-range: US$10-25

High: US$25-40

Deluxe: US$40+

Lodging

Budget: US$60-80

Mid-range: US$80-150

High: US$150-300

Deluxe: US$300+

No one comes to Aruba looking for a cheap holiday. Most visitors come to the island on package tours to luxury resorts. At these establishments pre-booked package deals are considerably cheaper than the quoted rates, which for accommodations alone can easily top US$250 a day. If you plan to stay in this kind of comfort and indulge in gambling, shopping and watersports - the three most popular tourist activities - you'd better have a platinum credit card in your wallet. Staying in a moderate hotel and eating in modest restaurants will cost around US$175 per day. Independent budget travelers can squeeze by on around US$100 a day by tracking down inexpensive B&B accommodations and concentrating on the free pleasures offered by the beach.

Aruba has its own currency but the US dollar is widely used. They'll take your greenbacks in even the tiniest local bar, though your change is likely to be in florins. Major credit cards and travelers' checks are accepted at all businesses catering to tourists. Many ATMs accept international debit cards, but not all - some of the most prominent likely-looking autotellers are for locals only. Look out for ABN-AMRO bank ATMs, which will dispense cash in local currency or US dollars.

There's a 7% government tax on hotel rooms. Hotels add a 10-15% service charge, plus other energy surcharges. Restaurant service charges are also in the 10-15% range; there's no need to tip on top of this.

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