Since the island is Dutch, much of the architecture is purely European. This is particularly true in the capital of Oranjestad, located on the southern coast at the west end of Aruba.
Farther out, you get white sands with a bit of cacti thrown in, offering more of a desert -like landscape. In Arikok National Park, which covers 20% of the island with a nature preserve, you will see wildlife, dramatic rock formations and a rugged coastline coupled with a soft wind that always seems to be blowing.
On the northeast coast of Aruba stand the island’s unofficial mascots. The Fofoti trees are plentiful, and the constant trade winds have sculpted them into graceful, southwesterly bending art forms.
Under Spanish rule before the Dutch took over, Aruba was originally a fishing outpost. Nowadays, the island’s roughly 110,000 inhabitants are an international mixture of islanders. In fact, the modern Aruban’s heritage is often a mix of Caquetio Indian, African and European.The languages spoken here include Dutch, English and Spanish, but also the local language of Papiamento. Papiamento is said to be a language that personifies the friendliness of the people, and it is also spoken on the two other ABC islands, Bonaire and Curacao. It evolved from a pidgin language and it’s origins are a mixture of Afro-Portuguese Creole with words borrowed from Dutch, English and Spanish. It became the best way for people of many different native languages to communicate.
Aruba at Carnival Time
One of the most exciting times to visit Aruba is during the Carnival season. It is an over-the-top showcase of pageantry. Carnival began as a mix of small street festivals. The Tivoli Club, Aruba’s oldest private social club, was the first to hold a pre-Lenten celebration in 1944. In 1955, various clubs and neighborhoods decided to bring all of the smaller celebrations together, and crowned the first Carnival Queen.It was not until 1957 that the large parade was put together for the first time. Nine years later, in 1966, the first Carnival organizing body was created, bringing a cohesiveness and tradition that lasts today.
Tivoli still plays a big role in the Carnival every year in Aruba. Since 1981, the club has produced the Lighting Parade, Carnival’s nighttime gala. After the Lighting Parade kickoff, there are celebrations and events including Children’s Parades, the Pajama Party, a Grand Carnival Parade in San Nicolas, and the finale Grand Carnival Parade in Oranjestad. To signal the end of the Carnival season celebrations, a life-size King Momo is burned at midnight.
The Capital City
Aruba’s capital city of Oranjestad is the best place to get a sense the pulse of the island. There is a busy harbor and plenty of shopping, catering to both the locals and the international crowd.
There are many restored landmark buildings in Oranjestad The green “stadhuis” building is a must-see, and now serves as City Hall.
Fort Zoutman is the island’s oldest building, circa 1798, and was in use back in the days of pirates. The Willem III Tower was added in 1868. A visit to the Historical Museum explains much of Aruba’s history. If you are in the area on Tuesdays at 6:30, there is a Bon Bini Festival in the outdoor courtyard with dancers dressed in traditional folkloric clothes, and plenty of music, food and local art.
The Cas di Cultura is Aruba’s national theatre, and the Aloe Museum is another must-see. It offers an historical look at the island, and visitors learn how aloe has played a large role in Aruba’s history since 1890. Aloe is one of Aruba’s biggest exports. It is known to provide 12 vitamins, 35 minerals, and 20 amino acids, and has many healing qualities. Aruba Aloe is one of the oldest aloe companies in the world. To taste aloe in a special drink, head to the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino for Aruba Aloe cocktails. The hotel offers an Aruba Mule at their lobby bar, which is basically a Moscow Mule with an Aruban twist - it’s infused with aloe from Aruba Aloe. There is even a “skinny” version of the drink, prepared without sugar and with gluten-free liquor.
Oranjestad offers visitors a tram system in the downtown area. The tram connects the cruise terminal with the downtown, as well as the pedestrian mall on Main Street. There are six stops along the route so riders can enjoy the monuments and museums as they ride, and see all the sites in the capital city.
There is plenty of history on the island of Aruba, and there are also many ways to enjoy the outdoors, both inland and on the ocean. From Jeep tours in the National Park, to windsurfing, kitesurfing and diving, there is never a dull moment. There are endless ways to spend your time in this tiny Dutch paradise.