Before I get started on all things Aruba, I would like to bring your attention to an article about Bahamian swimming pigs I recently read on CNN Travel. It feels awesome to read an article about a travel place and rather than add it to a bucket list of places to go someday, we can say, “Been there!” This is happening more frequently in our lives and I love that it is.
The best part about the CNN piece is it confirms my suspicions about how and why the pigs are on this Bahamian island. I wrote, “Big Majors Spot Pig Farm is the brainchild of an entrepreneurial ingenious farmer.” Even though I wrote that as tongue in check, it turns out I was 100% correct. Go figure! Chalk one up for me. To view the funny post I wrote, click here.
Meanwhile here on Aruba we are touring the touristy areas known to the locals as the Low Rise and High Rise areas. Low and high refers to the hotels. The low rise area was built as Aruba first started to become a destination sought after by sun worshipers. As Aruba grew in popularity, the high rise hotels were built as the number of island visitors continued to climb year after year. Now, just about all the major hotel chains are represented including the very high end Ritz Carlton. The building continues and we noticed Embassy Suites had just broken ground on a new property.
Sixty percent of the over one million tourists coming to Aruba are Americans. Although the total percentage of Americans has fallen, the actual number of American tourist has increased year over year with the exception of 2005. In other words, tourism continues to grow and Aruba has become more popular with other nations in addition to the USA. The hiccup in 2005 was due to the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, an Alabama 18 year old on a graduation trip who disappeared and was assumed murdered. Statistically, Aruba is by far the safest Caribbean island for tourists with almost no crime.
Besides being a very safe island to visit, Aruba is clean. And, I mean spotlessly clean! There is zero trash on the roadsides, no graffiti and the beaches are pristine. We thought Grenada and Martinique were clean but Aruba sets the bar for all others.
Because of the large number of American visitors, areas of the island catering to tourists look a lot like Florida. There are strip centers for shopping near the hotel districts and restaurant chains from the USA such as Hard Rock, Benihana’s, Hooters as well as various pizzerias and pancake houses. There is one huge Italian restaurant I am guessing seats about a thousand people called Gianni’s. We opted for a panini from the sister restaurant next door called Gelatissimo. It wasn’t very good. We should have stuck to our preference of mom and pop type restaurants and avoided the tourist trap. Now we know better.
We followed the west island road 1A to the northern tip and the island and the California Lighthouse. This is a beautiful classic looking lighthouse that underwent a recent renovation. It is now open again to the public who can climb the stairs to the light area and enjoy a view of the entire island. The fee for this view is US$10. Just as we arrived a large tour bus containing about 75 cruise ship tourists arrived and we decided we did not want to fight the crowd.
The area about the lighthouse offers some really great views without the need to go higher. The sand dunes to the north are restricted from motorized vehicles but there are access roads to the beach. This is the area where Natalee Holloway was said to have disappeared while in the company of the three local men. It’s a little sad this beautiful area still has the stigma.
Cindy found in the tourist information an article describing an old 1804 Dutch windmill that had been disassembled in Holland and reassembled in Aruba in the early 1960’s. The article made it sound very picturesque and featured a beautiful picture of the windmill on a hill surrounded by trees. We thought it might be kind of cool to check out. It wasn’t. It was a big disappointment. The truth is the old windmill was an attempt to lure people to a decrepit shopping mall and the windmill appeared to be in desperate need of some TLC.
There is absolutely no question Aruba offers some of the best beaches in all of the Caribbean. The fine white sands give way to beautiful clear turquoise water on the lee side of the island meaning there are no waves making idyllic swimming in the ocean. It is no wonder over a million people a year visit this island. If you like beaches, resort hotels and shopping for watches you should add Aruba to your travel bucket list. From a Aruba tourism website:
The unique crushed coral and shell composition of Aruba’s fine, powdery white beaches keeps the sand comfortably cool, even during the hours when the sun is most intense. That means long walks along the shoreline are perfect at any time of day…footwear not required!
If you are a regular reader of this blog you already know the above is a bit of a rosy outlook about how the sand is created. You already know sand is parrot fish poop.
Aruba is a very diverse island of about 110,000 people. It is home to over ninety nationalities and ethnic groups. Among them are sizable European, East Indian, Filipino, and Chinese communities, whose native traditions and cultures are all celebrated on the island. The local people are very friendly and when in the tourist areas almost everyone speaks English. It seems as most of the local grocery stores are Chinese owned.
The Boston Red Sox recent win of the World Series was a big celebration in Aruba. This might seem a little odd. Let me explain. Baseball is the favorite island sport, even more so than football (soccer). Several Arubans have made it to the major leagues in the USA. The current short stop and wearing number two of the Red Sox is The X-Man or Bogey. This is Xander Jan Bogaerts. He is a native of Aruba who grew up in Oranjestad playing local ball. Other major leaguers include: Sidney Ponson, Calvin Maduro and Eugene Kingsale.
You have probably noticed in most of the pictures Aruba is very dry looking. Like Bonaire and Curacao, it is arid. The island boasts the most annual days of sunshine of any island in the Caribbean. This seems to be true, even on the days where it has rained since we’ve been here, the clouds have passed and the sun has come out. Aruba is said to have only 20 inches (51 cm) of rain each year. Most of it is during November – January. So how do the residents and tourists get water? They make their water from the ocean using a process called reverse osmosis. They have perfected the process and have become leading experts in the world using this technique. The water here tastes awesome! The locals call a glass of ice water a Balashi Cocktail not to be confused with Balashi Beer. Both the water and the beer are named for the area of Balashi where the brewery and water treatment plant are located. Beside the great taste of the water, it is very soft meaning you need to use just a little bit of shampoo and soap. A little bit goes a long way.
Aruba is in the trade winds. The wind always blows from the east and most days is about 15-20 knots. This causes the trees to grow with a bend in them. We are finding this to be a great navigational aid when driving about the island. We can look at the tree and always know what direction we are heading. The locals say, “follow the bend of the divi-divi trees and they’ll lead you to town”. Renting a car and driving is easy. The roads are good and well signed. They drive on the right. It is hard to get lost since it is an island. It doesn’t really matter if you turn left or right at the intersection; you are going to wind up where you started, eventually.
If you are a SCUBA diver, Aruba is considered the wreck diving capital of the Caribbean. You don’t necessarily have to be a diver. The WWII wrecks of the SS Antilla and SS Pedernales can be seen when snorkeling the area off the leeward coast. There are daily tours to these sites. Being a sailor, this worries me a little bit since there are so many wrecks on the reefs. We will be sure to pay close attention to the nautical navigation charts when leaving so Cream Puff doesn’t become a SCUBA diving attraction.