First-time Aruba tourists descending to land at the island’s airport shouldn’t worry about the arid landscape they see from their windows.
The interior is hot, dry and bare, but the rest of the island is full of energy and things to do. The relaxing warmth of the island extends beyond the weather into its people, beaches and festive atmosphere.
Aruba, which lies 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela, is famous for its Dutch culture and lengthy, powder-white beaches.
On our first night there, we sat in the outside space of a restaurant in Oranjestad, listened to a live band in the park next to us and relaxed with the breeze that washed over us. The island won us over in a matter of hours.
Here are five travel tips based on several lengthy visits to the island:
Visit Oranjestad in the morning for shopping before the day gets too hot.
Take an eight-minute water taxi over to Renaissance Island.
Spend afternoons and evenings at Palm Beach, one of the best beaches in the Caribbean.
Pick a southern Caribbean cruise that includes Aruba as a port of call.
January through October are the best months to visit.
The capital city of Oranjestad is only 10 minutes from the airport. Most visitors will drive through it on their way to their hotels. It has several of its own hotels plus shopping, dining, a major casino and an active nightlife.
One of the better experiences is the adults-only Renaissance Island, the only private beach on Aruba. Take an eight-minute water taxi from either Renaissance hotel to get there. It is free for Renaissance guests but costly for non-guests.
The main hot spot of Aruba is Palm Beach. The beach is long, white and lined with resorts, hotels and restaurants. The beach strip is active day and night.
Land activities include the California Lighthouse and Arikok National Park. The park attracts visitors for caves, ATV rides, horseback rides and natural features such as The Baby Bridge. It is a natural bridge at the location of a much larger land bridge that collapsed in 2005.
Besides the beautiful beaches, Aruba has 42 major scuba-diving spots and the usual array of other water-based recreational activities including deep-sea fishing, parasailing, boating, snorkeling and windsurfing.
Tourism / When to Go
Passports are required of U.S. and Canadian citizens. Cruise visitors simply need to have their ship ID cards available when leaving the ship and returning.
The island ranks 11th among the 31 major islands in total tourism visitors, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. The peak months for visitors are April and December. The low months are May and September.
Stopover tourism by month in 2010 source: Caribbean Tourism Organization
Aruba receives more than 800,000 stop-over visitors a year and another 500,000 cruise visitors.
The best months to go depend on the Caribbean hurricane season. Historically, the island receives the fewest visitors in September at the height of the hurricane season and the most visitors in March and December.
December is a popular month because the island still has temperatures in the 80s Fahrenheit despite the winter season.
The best way to get there is by air. For residents of the United States and Canada, Aruba is one of the longest flights to take in the Caribbean because it lies about 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela in the southernmost part of the Caribbean. But the flight time is usually worth it.
The average high temperature stays in the upper 80s Fahrenheit all year. Seawater is usually comfortable for swimming, although we found the water too cool during a February trip.
Rainfall averages about one inch a month -- the lowest in the Caribbean -- from January through October. It averages three inches a month from September through December.
The trade winds are wonderfully cooling and just as consistent as the temperatures. The island is part of the southern Caribbean ABC islands -- Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao -- and generally escapes the worst of the hurricane season, so there are many good times to go.
Currency / Tipping / Taxes
The local currency is the Aruba Florin. But we never faced a situation where dollars weren't accepted. A service charge of 10-15 percent is usually added to a bill. A 6 percent accommodation tax is added to hotel bills.
Culture / Landscape
Aruba landscape is arid because of low rainfall
The official language is Dutch, but English and Spanish are widely spoken and understood. The currency is Aruban florin, but U.S. dollars are widely accepted.
Although English is widely spoke, the dominant language is Papiamento (a Spanish-Portuguese-Dutch-English dialect).
Tourism is the mainstay of the small, open Aruban economy, with offshore banking and oil refining and storage also important.
Aruba landscape is flat, riverless and renowned for its white sand beaches. Its tropical climate is moderated by constant trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean.
Don't visit Aruba to see lush vegetation like Jamaica. The island is flat with a few hills and scant vegetation. This is an island for enjoying the white beaches, the active nightlife and the appealing Dutch influences.