From the moment you arrive at the customs station in Aruba, the locals are so glad you’re here. When you arrive, listen carefully as the island whispers, “You, fair traveler, are welcome.”
To explore how the island expresses its hospitality, look no further than the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. If you opt to bring the entire family, there is a pirate sand playground, specifically built for children of all ages, within sight of the beach, where slides and water features are plentiful. This is in addition to the two distinct pool areas that feature prominently in the resort’s center.
But if the gleeful cries of children at play as soundtrack isn’t the vibe for your vacation, guests over 18 years old have access to a private pool, completely separated from all other areas. Cabanas and cushioned lounge chairs feature prominently throughout this area, as do a few exclusive top-shelf rum offerings. (The Bodega Papiamento reserve is unparalleled.)
They call the lazy pace, “island time,” and it doesn’t take long before it kicks in. The generous staff is always on hand and the concierge is happy to recommend the best places outside the resort for fresh grouper at dockside, or where to find the best local nightlife (Zeerover’s and walk south from Aruba Marriott on beachside, respectively).
Nearly everyone speaks and understands English, even though a hybrid Dutch-Caribbean-English language, Papiamento, is the official language. Arubans make it easy to understand and be understood, in speech and activity. If you prefer less adventure and more beach lounging, they’ve got miles of public beaches. If, you like to push your vacation to the edge, Aruba hides more than a few thrills.
The Two Arubas
There are two different pairs of dominant influences on Aruba. Half of the island is settled, bright sand beaches, while the other half is desert and rocky shoals.
For discovering the calm and sandy side, walk no further than out of the Marriott to get your feet in the sand and the clear cerulean water. Shoes are optional, here. Walking away from the resort, the fofoti tree begins taking the place of resort palms. The recently completed Palm Beach Sightseeing path ensures that a safe and easy walk, jog, run or bike never lets the coast out of its sight, from the resort to the California lighthouse. (Named after the ship that wrecked on that end of the island and necessitated its construction.)
The Rock and Roll Side
For a little more rock and a lot more roll, head to Aruba’s other side. The concierge at the resort can help secure a UTV tour from De Palm Tours. Adventurous sorts can take an open-air, all-terrain journey into the bumpy and thrilling side, trekking through tall cacti and over some adrenaline-generating hills, punctuated by stops at an abandoned gold mill and the surreal Alto Vista Chapel.
Sights and thrills notwithstanding, the tour’s real diamond is the pause at a secluded black rock beach, Andicuri, that could easily take up every possible megabyte of photo storage on your phone. Both cove and beach, the scene can only be described as idyllic. Waves and sun, violent spray and calm ebbs, sand and sea, the beach is a dichotomy that creates, in its paradoxes, a paradise.
Aruba also serves as a haven for the daring artists of the island and the world. The mid-century design and utilitarian construction of many of the buildings provide the perfect canvas for muralists from across the globe. Far different from the graffiti that you might think of, this is city art, elevated; and that is the most understated way to describe it. Aruba Mural Tours of San Nicolas provide a guide through the city and the opportunity to witness how seamlessly art can blend into a city, doing so – quite literally – more than a few times.
Eat All the Things
What is true for all who visit Aruba is that, no matter what your pace, there’s cause to work up an appetite; and Aruba has the best of the Caribbean on offer. For culinary excellence, however, there is hardly a more innovative spot in the U.S. that can compete with Chef Teddy Bouroncle of Lima Bistro, a casual dining setting with food that can only be called fine. There are no misses on Chef Teddy’s menu, and some true crowd-pleasers throughout. The salchipapas are not to be missed, and the grilled tuna steak with shoyu butter would command the attention of any foodie.
Your Hands On
To eat more locally, you don’t need to leave the resort. Aruba’s signature dish is the Keshi Yena. (Literally, “filled cheese.”) Born of the hollowed wheels of Edam and Gouda that came to Aruba, the wheels are filled with vegetables and meats (and more cheese) and baked into a cheesy, hearty melange. The chefs at the Aruba Marriott host a regular class in their kitchen (during off-hours and all within pandemic protocol) to teach just how to make it, and the results will never disappoint.
The Dutch heritage has another culinary delight to offer, in pancake form. The Dutch pancake is topped by whatever a diner desires. Sweet, savory, or a mix, it’s the Choose Your Own Adventure of breakfasts, and the highest form of the dish can be found at Linda’s Dutch Pancakes. (Get there early to avoid the demanding crowds.)
When it is time for “island time” to end, there is only one way to say goodbye to Aruba. Atardi, Aruba Marriott’s beachfront restaurant, is born at around dusk every day. Tables and lighting are set out on the sand of the resort’s beach, and guests can take in an amazing array of seafood and five-star entrees. All with the sunset as backdrop. It’s only fitting to thank the island for what it has to give.
To which, Aruba whispers in response, “You, fair traveler, are welcome.”
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Cover photo courtesy Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
Daniel Ramirez is a native Texan, who has written about the life, leisure and legends of the Lone Star State. From music to food to film, he is always looking to remind the world that the cultural epicenter of the U.S. is just as rooted in Texas as it is on either coast. With his own roots firmly established in Houston, Austin and Central Texas, his nomadic pursuits are always grounded in a familiar mantra – Texas Forever.