I love the Caribbean. It’s beautiful, cozy, crazy, and they don’t seem to take themselves too seriously, which I appreciate. So when Peter’s parents offered to fly us from Austin to Aruba for a 10 day vacation to celebrate their pending retirement, I was like “Helllll yeahhhhh, boooiiiii!!!!” and they were like “Yaaaaaayyyy” and we were like “Raddddddd.” Or something less ridiculous but similar.
So after a week of adventures in Texas and a one day layover in Chicago, we arrived in Aruba. WHOA. Peter’s family has traveled to Aruba almost yearly for the last 21 years, so they knew what to expect, but not only did I not know what to expect, I definitely had to look up this tiny slice of paradise on a Google map.
Aruba: One Happy Island
Here’s what’s up: Aruba is part of the ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao. It sits only 15 miles north of Venezuela and was formerly part of the Netherlands (or Dutch) Antilles until it seceded on January 1st, 1986. The official language of Aruba is Papiamento, and the only place in the world where they speak this language is in the ABC Islands, and Aruba even has a different dialect than Bonaire and Curaçao. Also, most people on Aruba speak multiple languages, including Dutch, Spanish, English and Papiamento. Crazy!
Aruba is 19.6 miles long, 6 miles wide and has a total area of 70 square miles. To put it in perspective, Maui is 48 miles long, 26 miles wide and has a total area of 727 square miles, more than 10 times the total square miles of Aruba. To sum up, Aruba is tiny. But awesome.
The first two nights of our trip, we stayed at the Tropicana, which had an awesome slide pool and was only a four minute stroll to Eagle Beach. I don’t recall ever being somewhere with palapas on the beach, but I’ve got to say, well done. I love me some palapa.
Aruba is a fan of partying. Looking at their Events Calendar for 2014 alone, there is an Aruba International Film Festival, Carubbian Festival, Bon Bini Festival, Soul Beach Music Festival, Grand Carnival Parade, Aruba’s Torch Parade, Tivoli Lighting Parade, Electric Festival, Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival, Aruba Food, Wine & Art Festival, Dandesong Festival and more. Snap! The legal drinking and gambling age is 18, and they do like to drink and gamble. And so do I.
I was not expecting it to be so desert-like. As opposed to the rainforest, waterfalls and jungles of Maui, the majority of Aruba is dry and barren, but in a totally beautiful way.
Although the island received lots of bad press from the Natalie Holloway disappearance, which I had totally forgotten even happened on Aruba, I will say that I never felt unsafe on the island one time. There are some areas that are clearly more sketchy than others, but there are areas like that everywhere I’ve ever been! Peter’s family said that tourism definitely suffered after that happened, but honestly, that kind of thing can happen anywhere. Even since we’ve lived on Maui, two women have gone missing. It’s not to say that you shouldn’t be concerned when traveling certain places, but you definitely shouldn’t let one news story keep you from going somewhere. The people we met were some of the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met on a vacation, and if I were to recommend the island to someone else, that’s a huge part of what makes it so great.
After two days of exploring some areas of the island, including the gorgeous Baby Beach on the more remote southeast tip of the island, as well as several varieties of slot machines, we moved to the much ritzier Marriott Ocean Club for the rest of our stay. Thanks to Peter’s mom being a total badass, we got a total badass view.
Just so you know, white sand + bright turquoise water + boats + cocktails + palapas + good company = one happy Kelsey. The Marriott fronts the sweeping Palm Beach, where your ocean wish is Aruba’s command. Jet skiing, boat tubing, parasailing, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, scuba diving, ocean trampolining, drinking and laying. If any or all of those things appeal to you, this is the spot to find it. Ahh…
Food-wise, I’ve got to recommend two of the best places on the island: The Old Cunucu House – try the Escargot, Johnny cakes, Calco Stoba (stewed conch) and Keeshi Yena (local specialty with chicken and gouda cheese), and El Gaucho, an Argentinean steakhouse that knows what it’s doing with a slab of meat.
Activity-wise, besides relaxing on the beach, gambling and consuming adult beverages, check out scuba diving and snorkeling tours with Red Sail Sports and Jads, where Peter got some awesome shots of shipwrecks, plane wrecks and beautiful, brightly-colored sponges and coral.
My favorite activity, however, was the Kukoo Kunuku party bus. Hosted by the fabulous “Mama”, an older Aruban woman adorned in toe socks and full of raunchy awesomeness, the Kukoo Kunuku picks you up at your hotel in a brightly colored party bus with loud music and maracas before driving you to a nearby beach for a champagne toast, dinner at a local restaurant and a dance party tour of 3 local bars before dropping you back off for the night. Large amounts of fun (and intoxication) to be had.
Another activity I’d highly recommend is getting lost. On a drive to meet up with the rest of Peter’s family, Courtney and I never found the people we were looking for, but I think we found what we were really looking for after all… <looks into distance> Ha! JK. That sounds like it came from a bad episode of Modern Family. But seriously, get lost.
I’ve been to my fair share of the Caribbean: Antigua, Barbados, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, the Virgin Islands, whatever. And if there’s one thing you need to know about Aruba, let it be this: it rocks.