As mentioned in last week’s photo-gallery based post, I recently had the blessing of vacationing on the beautiful arid island of Aruba. The trip was made all the better by the company: my husband, my best friend, and her fiancé.
For my readers contemplating their own Caribbean getaway, I wanted to offer reflections on what made our Aruba trip a successful escape:
- Anticipate Expense: Before our trip, a friend who’d just visited Aruba warned me about the expense of everything: food, accommodations, souvenir shopping, etc. And I’m so grateful she did. Some destinations are like that; Hawaii, Paris, and London are all spots where you know you’ll have to pay to play. But just knowing that financial reality pre-vacation helps on two fronts: A) It lessens the sticker shock during your trip. No one wants to be fretting about funds instead of enjoying the balmy beach breeze. Pre-knowledge of prices won’t lower them… but it will make them feel less like a slap across the face during your vacation, making it easier to maintain your good times vibe. And B) You can build into your trip ways of saving where possible. For us, this meant opting for AirBnB accommodations instead of beach-side hotel rooms. The value for money was awesome. (Each couple paid approximately 150 USD/night for a large house with 3 beds and 3 baths, a washer and dryer, grill, and private pool vs. 250ish USD/night for a small hotel room). And, because we had access to a kitchen, we were able to further lower our costs by buying groceries and preparing our own breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and cocktails. Sure, we splurged, eating out intermittently. (The Flying Fishbone is worth treating yourself to. Call and reserve an in-the-water table!) But not having to eat out every meal helped us manage costs.
- Rent the Ride: Aruba is a small island, just 19 miles long and 5 miles wide at its broadest. All along the coast are breathtaking beaches–both wild (impressive to look upon if not safe for swimming) and serene (perfect for splashing around). After hemming and hawing, we finally decided to bite the bullet and rent a car. It was the right choice. The fee was reasonable, and having an independent form of transportation meant the ability to explore those beaches to our hearts’ content and on our timeline. The drives were enjoyable, too, offering dramatic views of the island’s beach-y, desert-y beauty (as well as random sightings like goat herders). Getting to fully explore Aruba was worth the extra dollars surrendered for the privilege. Having a car also meant we could rent a house in a quiet neighborhood, rather than having to stay at a more chaotic (and expensive) beachside hotel in order to have access to the sea.
- Party at the Natural Pool: I’ll be honest: when the idea of visiting Arikok National Park and its Conchi Natural Pool came up, I was more mildly intrigued than enthused. But this activity wound up being the favorite of all four people in our party–we liked it so much, we did it twice! The first time around, we hiked to the Natural Pool. Starting our walk from the Sheti Entrance, we enjoyed a very manageable hike (albeit with some uphill patches and rocky terrain) that gave us an up-close-and-personal view of Aruba’s rugged desert beauty. The second time we visited the Pool, we rented a UTV, allowing us to more quickly reach the swimming hole, then explore Arikok’s other offerings: gorgeous, rugged coastlines, scenic vistas, and a small cave with intact indigenous art. Of all this, though, the Pool remained the highlight. An inlet cupped out of the ocean, the Pool is ringed by rocks that create a serene swimming hole. It’s full of fish for the snorkeling enthusiast. And if you have a daring streak, you can dive off one of the higher rocks into the Pool below. But beware: if the surrounding ocean is wild enough, the Pool becomes unsafe for swimming. Under such circumstances, it’s better to view the pool from afar.
- Stop & Snorkel: As mentioned, Aruba has tons of easily accessible beaches, many of which have AMAZING snorkeling directly off the beach. I’ve heard great things about the snorkel cruises–some even include boat-side lunches and champagne brunches. But our crew just visited beaches like Malmok and Baby Beach and waded in straight off the sand. Even going no further afield than this, we saw eels, nudibranchs, reef squid, and filefish, along with oodles of other colorful fish. We spent hours popping in and out of the water at our leisure, oohing and awing over these exotic beasties. And we didn’t have to drop any more money that what we paid for our snorkels. As snorkel rentals can be expensive and sets can be purchased for between 15-30 USD on Amazon, or in Aruban grocery stores, I’d recommend investing in your own set. That way you’re ready for your next Caribbean adventure!
- Love the Leisure: If you’re an American tourist looking for that exotic cultural experience, Aruba may not be your spot. Really, it’s almost a mini-America, complete with U.S. franchises and an English-speaking population. Certainly, it felt more familiar than my current home base of Suriname. But what Aruba lacks in foreign flare is counterbalanced by ease of access. Want to drive? No problem–it’s right-hand traffic. Afraid to venture from familiar restaurants and hotels–there are Holiday Inns and TGI Fridays available. Want to chat with the locals? Go for it; they’re fluent English-speakers. If you’re seeking a foreign excursion that won’t involve much in the way of language barriers or culture shock, Aruba may be a good fit. Lounge back on your beach chair and enjoy the easy version of exotic vacationing. You can enjoy a more adventurous vacay next time you’re in China or Romania.
Aruba might not be everybody’s ideal destination. But for us, it struck just the right note. And if you have a passion for sea, sand, and sun (and are willing to walk away with a notably lightened wallet), Aruba may sing that vacation melody for you, too.
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