Aruba – a tiny Dutch Caribbean island just 32 km long off the coast of Venezuela; an idyllic, sun-kissed piece of paradise, a highly educated, extremely friendly multi-lingual (they can all speak Dutch, English, Spanish and the local dialect Papiamento – at least!) population, fantastic hotels, great shopping, buzzing nightlife, rum on the piers, and catamaran sunset tours…..Aruba – ‘One Happy Island’ is the motto, and one happy island it seems to be, and one happy couple were we who had the good fortune to spend our honeymoon there.
We flew from Caracas, a short flight of less than an hour. The savvy Venezuelans, and the Americans arriving on other flights all headed straight to the car hire places opposite the airport, while I waited in line at the ATM to get out a fistful of American dollars, most of which I would spend on exhorbitant taxi fees around the island. If you go to Aruba, make sure you hire a car.
We took a taxi to the Holiday Inn, which seemed to take forever as it crawled through the gleaming, well-paved streets of the capital, Orajenstad. “Welcome to Aruba rush hour!” smiled the friendly lady driving the taxi, her accent carrying that exotic tinge of the Caribbean. It was nearing the time of the huge cruise ship departures, and so traffic was building up with tourists heading back to their floating cities. We arrived at the Holiday Inn, that Pitbull (“everybody go Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn”) rap song doing loops in my head. It certainly sounded like a fun-place, and this one had a range of bars, a big pool, and an onsite casino. It is one of a number of mega-hotels that dominate the landscape in the touristy Palm Beach area, the high-rise area of town.
Checking in, we informed the receptionist it was our honeymoon (it really was our honeymoon), and so we were upgraded to an ocean view room. The rooms at Holiday Inn are nothing fancy, but they do the job, and the view onto Palm Beach and the Caribbean Sea certainly did the job. It was a beautiful, sunny day, the palms were blowing softly in a sweet breeze, and Great Big Mable, a kind of inflatable donut water ride in which people sit and are pulled by a speedboat, was hurtling up and down, twisting round and round, and throwing people off into the sea spectacularly. We never did try it – though I really wanted to.
Vero and I headed straight out onto the beach for a long walk. Ah, the first walk on a new beach. There’s nothing quite like it. New sights, sounds, smells….previously untrodden, unexplored sand underfoot, camera in hand, everything fresh, everything worth a photograph. Palm Beach is an incredible powdery white, two-mile strip full of excellent restaurants and lively pier bars. Activities abound, numerous watersports are available, and it wasn’t voted one of the Top 10 Beaches (together with neighbouring Eagle Beach which has even finer, deeper sand) in the world for nothing.
After a long walk up and down, getting our bearings, we stopped for a delicious seafood dinner on the beach at the Hadicurari restaurant and watched our first sunset of our honeymoon whilst also serving as supper for the sand flys around, so much so that we had to move indoors. It was still perfect, and as the energy of the day faded away, the new energy of night slowly started buzzing into life. Vero and I headed across the main street and walked down to Palm Beach Plaza mall – a fascinating place with lots of colourful little shops and kiosks, and plenty of excellent dining venues and watering holes. We took our time here, wandering around slowly, just getting a feel for the place where we were to spend the next week. Horses and carriages were trundling up and down the main street dropping tourists off, ice-cream sellers were doing a roaring trade, open-air street side restaurants and other little restaurant zones were filling up, and it was an altogether pleasant experience. Until we went to Senor Frogs.
Veronica seems to have an obsession with recapturing days of her youth. With friends in Margarita island, she regularly went to the wild club Senor Frogs – a place of jam jars, tequila slammers, oversized American portions of food and people, and pounding, trashy ‘put your fucking hands up’ music. She’d spotted a Senor Frogs next to this mall, and was determined to go in. And so we bought our tickets, I bought us both a cylinder of some colourful alcoholic concoction I’ve forgotten the name of, and bought syringes full of flavoured vodka off the ‘nurse’ doing the rounds. The place was full of loud young Americans, absolutely trolleyed, and having the time of their lives. People were dancing on the tables, they were ‘throwing their fucking hands up in the air’ they were partying hard, and so did we, it was our first night, and suddenly Veronica was in Margarita again. I had a great time despite myself, and may have even thrown my hands up in the air at one point. The last part of the evening involved an unsuccessful trip to the casino at the Holiday Inn (I should never go there inebriated, never mind sober). Oh well, here in Aruba, it felt like we’d won the jackpot anyhow.
The next day we checked out of Holiday Inn – it was far too pricy, but the night had been worth it. We took a taxi with a Venezuelan who had been living in Aruba for 20 years. I know why. He makes a fortune over here. He took us to a few of his out-of-the-way suggestions, the kind of places that would be fine if you had hired a bloody car, then finally we found a hotel quite a bit further down the road in Eagle Beach called La Cabana, which had decent rooms for a decent price. For the short journey, the taxi driver charged us $60. I got a bit pissed off, and we had a bit of an unsavoury shouting match outside the hotel, but at least I got a $10 discount – so $50 in the end. I wasn’t angry with the taxi driver really – it’s his living and I’d probably overcharge stupid tourists like myself too if I could get away with it. I was angry with myself for being so naïve and not asking the price before I jumped in the taxi outside Holiday Inn, like a fool on his first trip abroad. Lesson learned. For now.
La Cabana cheered me somewhat, and not just because of the sunny, tropical colour scheme. The hotel was a lot cheaper than the Holiday Inn, you could tell just from the slowness of the service, but the room was nice. It was more like an apartment, with a living room with a sofa, and a small kitchenette, with a pool (and waterfall!) view (Eagle beach being a 5 minute walk away). It was absolutely fine.
There was a big shopping mall nearby, so we went there for a sandwich, then headed to Eagle Beach for a very fine sunset. Eagle beach doesn’t have hotels right on the beach, they are all across the road, and low-rise. Instead, the main road runs by the beach for a stretch of it, giving way to smaller, more boutique style hotels as you get closer to Orajenstad. The sand is deep and fine, white and beautiful. The sunset here one of the finest I have seen, and we spent around an hour splashing around in the sea, doing cartwheels on the beach, and generally thanking our lucky stars to be here. Later, we went down to the harbor in Orajenstad, lovely in the evening, and we had dinner at a nice Belgium place in the mall there next to the boats. We stopped at Iguana Joe’s bar on the way back for a very good mojito and a dance, and the place was simple and fun, dripping with energy, and the wooden beams whispered tales of rum-soaked nights of passion and of people getting a little ‘carried away.’ Brilliant.
The next day we spent on Palm Beach. We walked there from Eagle Beach – a long way, but a lovely walk past all the glimmering beacons of wealth that are the opulent 5-star hotels, places like Rui Hotel, the Marriot, Movenpick etc, and the connecting timeshare apartment blocks full of vacationing Americans. Palm Beach looked incredible under the brilliant blue sky, the sun loungers were all the way down to the waters edge – indeed, some of them were half in the water, and other people were relaxing on the water in floating beds with places to put your beer. The sea is so calm and shallow here, the current so soft, that it is possible to just idly float around all day topping up your tan – you won’t drift too far. This evening we took a catamaran sunset cruise with Pelican Adventures, a trip with free-flow rum, vodka, and gin, as well as some very scrumptious canapés. The young South African and the Australian working as crew were very friendly, and made sure our glasses were never empty. We went all the way up to the lighthouse, and back again on the beautiful calm ocean. A beautiful, 2-hour sunset cruise, highly recommended.
Indeed, we liked the cruise so much we took their snorkeling cruise the next day, again departing from the lively Pelican Pier. There was excellent snorkeling over a German WWII ship – the Antilla, and another spot, Arashi Reef. The catamaran tour included drinks and snacks, and was a great way to spend a day. We drank in the wild pier bars afterwards….all in all a blast of a day.
The days that followed involved much walking up and down both Eagle Beach and Palm Beach, a short windsurf, a shopping trip to the colourful capital, and some very fine lunches and dinners, with some fun nights out to boot. We left Aruba feeling very refreshed – it really is One Happy Island – a great honeymoon spot, and we will definitely come back. This time we’ll rent a car so we can explore more of the island.