Ask the Locals Island Guide: Aruba
Peter is broadcasting his radio show from the Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa on the beautiful island of Aruba.
Even in the midst of hurricane season, this Dutch island in the southern Caribbean Sea is actually outside of the hurricane belt, so right now is a great time to travel.
We asked some locals to share their favorite spots for sun, surf and beer, as well as some surprising historical sites around the island.
Luc Alofs, anthropologist, curator of the Historical Museum Aruba
The National Archaeological Museum Aruba recently reopened its doors in downtown Oranjestad (Aruba’s capital city), and is considered one of the most modern and interactive museums in the Caribbean. The archeological exhibits focus on Aruba’s native history, from prehistoric times until the late 19th century.
Heading to the Caribbean? Try Ask the Locals: San Juan, Puerto Rico. Or check out some Beach Destination Weddings That Won’t Break the Bank. And elsewhere in the Caribbean, try Roadside Culinary Adventures in Jamaica.
Historical Museum Aruba, located in Fort Zoutman in downtown Oranjestad, sits in one of the oldest, most historic buildings on Aruba (c. 1798). The museum mostly covers Aruba’s 19th-century colonial history, and on Tuesday nights, hosts a traditional cultural experience known as the Bon Bini (welcome) festival.
Beyond the museums, Alofs points to several historic spots around the island where it’s easy to squeeze in some culture in between beach visits.
In downtown Oranjestad, Fort Zoutman was constructed by the Dutch in 1798 to defend the island from pirate attacks; within walking distance is the Protestant Church, which dates back to 1846; the Old School Building, built around 1870; and the island’s Census office which was built in the early 20th century.
The Chapel of Alto Vista, a tiny Catholic chapel dedicated to the Virgen de la Rosario, sits on the northern part of the island near Noord. Originally founded in 1750 and renovated in the 1970s, it’s a quiet, contemplative space open to both visitors and locals.
On the southeastern end of the island, Aruba’s second-largest city, San Nicolas, is an old industrial town with a very laid-back, Caribbean vibe. An oil refinery made this a boom town back in the day, but tourism is now the primary industry. Most locals will point visitors straight to Charlie’s Bar, a favorite hangout since the 1940s.
To get away from the tourist beaches, Alofs recommends Baby Beach, a man-made lagoon in the Colony behind San Nicolas. Located on the eastern tip of the island, Baby Beach is where the locals gather every weekend afternoon to swim or snorkel in the calm, shallow waters.
Other favorite sarea include Seroe Colorado, a hilltop on the very eastern tip of the island, which has magnificent views, and Arashi beach, north of the hotel strip, which offers perhaps the most beautiful sunset view on the island.
Did you know that Aruba even has its own national park? Parke Arikok covers as much as 20 percent of the island, with hiking trails, limestone caves and a natural pool. Another hidden natural pool, known locally as “Conch,” is located on the wild northern shore, which is accessible on foot (about 20 minutes), car or even horseback.
De Zeerovers (“the pirates”) in the southwest township of Savaneta is a favorite watering hole for fishermen and other locals. Odds are good that you’ll find some guys tossing back beers while playing dominoes there, and you’ll pay a fraction of the price for beer than you would in the touristy zones.
Get more local travel advice in our Caribbean Travel section.
Wim Eelen, owner, Aruba Active Vacations
Visitors might be surprised to know that Aruba is one of the top places in the world for wind-based sports. Eelen, whose company offers guided excursions and rental equipment, points visitors toward Fisherman’s Hut Beach, about a quarter mile beyond the hotel strip, to watch the locals taking on the elements while windsurfing and kite surfing.
Ever hear of land sailing? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like: relying on wind and a sail to carry you along the Aruban beaches. Both Fisherman’s Huts and the rugged north coast are ideal place to go land sailing without having to worry about crashing into sunbathing tourists.
Also an expert in mountain biking on the island, Eelan prefers taking visitors to the “real island” — areas that most tourists don’t get to see.
Head into the Aruban countryside toward the northwest tip of the island, where the old stone California Lighthouse stands.
Then ride along the north shore, through the stunning Tierra Del Sol Golf Course, and into the island’s rugged dirt roads.
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