Travel Feature: Aruba
It’s fair to say when Londoners are considering a trip to the Caribbean, Aruba isn’t necessarily the first thing in our minds.
Jamaica, Barbados and even Cuba seem to feature more prominently in the nation’s collective holiday consciousness.
And this is very much our loss – Aruba is a true island paradise, with world-class snorkelling, a bustling nightlife and idyllic beaches where unbelievably clear azure waters lap gently against the white sand.
It lies about 18 miles north of Venezula and this location affords it a dream climate: the average temperature is 27C all year round with a constant cooling breeze that stops pasty Europeans getting overheated.
Getting there is a cinch too – a legacy of its colonial heritage means that Royal Dutch airline KLM fly there about five times a week.
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Though you have to change in Amsterdam’s impressive Schiphol airport, the journey seems a piece of cake and KLM is a very luxurious way to fly, with a wide choice of entertainment and very friendly air stewards who keep the free drinks flowing at a good old pace.
For those who don’t know, Aruba is part of the Dutch Caribbean but was originally “discovered” by the Spanish in 1499 who quickly forgot it again when they couldn’t find any gold or other desirables.
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The Dutch turned up in 1636 and took more of a shine to the place and their influence is very much in evidence today. There are five main areas you tend to visit as a tourist: the capital Oranjestad, which has high- end shopping, yachts and casinos; the high-rise district, with big hotels and raucous nightlife; the low-rise hotels, where couples relax; St Nicholas, the second town and home to the famous Baby Beach, and the striking Arikok National Park.
We stayed in the Bucuti Beach Resort in the low-rise area, an adults-only boutique hotel on the breathtakingly beautiful Eagle Beach.
The whole place is built with comfort and luxury in mind and things like champagne while you’re checking in help set a happy mood for the holiday.
You literally step out of your room on to shimmering sands which are regularly voted one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
The place has a gym, a great pool, spa facilities and private, romantic dining on the beach. But my favourite thing was the sunset. Sitting at the beach bar sipping a frozen margarita as the glorious globe hit the water was a truly spiritual way to start an evening.
But there is more to Aruba than relaxing in beautiful surroundings and a great way to get to know the island is a Jeep tour.
These huge off-road beasts take you on a bone-shaking whistle-stop tour of some of the island’s noteable features, including the historic California lighthouse and 14th century Alta Vista chapel, as well as the amazing natural bridge.
The hair-raising off-road adventure takes you through the Arikok National Park, which illustrates the stark contrast between the north and south of the island.
While the former is all beautiful beaches, the latter is a harsh, desert-like landscape in which huge waves break on the jutting, rocky shore.
If that sounds a bit high-octane, a more relaxed afternoon can be had on the private De Palm Island.
While the place is slightly Blackpool-esque, everything is inclusive – food, drink, the banana boat and even the brilliant snorkelling, where playful bright blue parrot fish investigate you as you swim by.
And if snorkelling tickles your fancy, Aruba is a great place to be. After a fantastic lunch of red snapper and grupa at the Old Fisherman in Oranjestad (beloved of locals, I am told), we went on an afternoon boat trip to some of the hot spots in the surrounding seas.
After exploring some coral, we snorkelled over the Antilla, a sunken Second World War ship, which was one of the most exhilarating aquatic experiences of my life.
Following the shipwreck along its 400ft length was an eerie journey, as large fish swam out of portholes and sea cucumbers reached skywards from the turrets.
In terms of eating out, Aruba is spectacular and we had some truly fabulous food. Grilled fish is the order of the day and, at Pinchos Bar and Grill, they do some of the best.
This popular restaurant is on a little wooden pier, allowing you a delightful sea view as you dine. My mixed seafood platter, featuring big juicy prawns, swordfish and lobster tail, was absolutely phenomenal.
Another eaterie worth a look is Papiamentos, which is housed in an old cunucu manor crammed full of Dutch antiques. We ate outside next to the pool, amid the trees, and it’s hard to imagine a more romantic setting. The food is also excellent; we had the hot stones, which are shoved in flames for two hours making them hot enough to cook your own meat, exactly as you like it, at your table.
Due to jetlag, we didn’t party as hard as we would in London, but worthy of note is the Boogaloo Bar, a pub on a pier in the high- rise district, which has live music most nights a week and an easy mix of tourists and locals.
And every Thursday in St Nicholas, the Carubbian festival is a charming mix of live music, street food and dancing in the street.
In fact, a constant theme of the holiday was how friendly the people were. Mix that with the divine beaches, superb snorkelling and outstanding food, it’s a heady mixture. And one which Londoners will find hard to resist as more discover this postcard perfect paradise.