Discover a hidden foodie gem on the Caribbean island of Aruba
Starting to get sick of Britain’s bitterly cold winds and icy temperatures? Although December was bordering on balmy this year, January and February has certainly made up for the winter season’s lack of cold weather, in one fell swoop.
February is by far one of the best times to escape the UK’s winter chill. The romantic allure of winter starts to dwindle, with skies painted a constant shade of charcoal grey. New Year resolutions are all but obsolete and your mind begins to wander with flashing images of winter sun and far away beaches. If you’re desperate to escape the daily grind, a winter escape could be all you need to get your mind back on track and bursting with energy.
So if you’re dreaming of flying off into the sunset in search of sunshine and white sandy beaches, the tiny Caribbean island of Aruba could be all you need to shake off those gloomy winter blues.
Aruba is an idyllic former Dutch colony located just 15 miles off Venezuela’s Paraguana Peninsular, boasting stretches of azure waters, pristine white sands and glorious, blazing sunshine.
If you’re after a holiday in the sun that offers a little more than your average beach break, Aruba is the place to visit. The island gets guaranteed sunshine every single day and with soaring temperatures to boot, it’s the ideal holiday hotspot for beach and sun worshippers.
But Aruba isn’t just about the beaches – beautiful they may be – there is so much more to the island than very first meets the eye.
Like many Caribbean islands, Aruba is geared up for flocks tourists. It’s probably worth noting that at some point during your trip, you’ll encounter swarms of American families and package deal holiday groups. In truth, this is my idea off hell on earth. On holiday I relish tranquility. The last thing I want is to be crowded by troupes of tourists when I’m beach-bound and supping on cocktails.
But if you venture off the beaten track, avoiding the larger chain hotels, you can easily avoid the hordes of holidaymakers and explore the cavernous creaks and hidden treasure troves Aruba has to offer. Quite quickly you’ll see Aruba in a very different light.
Explore the real Aruba
One thing that will undoubtedly take your breath away is Aruba’s jaw-droppingly beautiful beaches. With pristine aquamarine waters and soft white sands, Aruba plays host to some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Boasting spectacular skylines with towering palm trees, immaculate blue skies and a blistering tropical heat, Aruba is an unparalleled picture of pure paradise.
Aruba is such a charming island that has so much more to offer than your average beach dweller’s break. Boasting beautiful, balmy weather, dramatic coastlines, natural scenic wonders, exceptional dining, luxury shopping malls – you name it, Aruba’s got it.
But the key to uncovering the real Aruba is to explore the island’s many hidden gems. Immerse yourself in the island’s friendly culture and you’ll witness a rare sight of untamed, natural beauty.
What to do in Aruba
Just 19.6 miles long and six miles wide, the island of Aruba is fairly easy to navigate around – even for those (like me) who seem to lack any sense of direction. We hired a car for a day to explore the island’s recommend hotspots, and we were hard pushed to get lost along the way. The few wrong turnings we did take, the friendly locals were more than happy to help with directions to get us back on the right tracks.
The main focus for hiring a car was to explore the infamous National Park. Aruba boasts surprisingly arid landscapes with widely sculpted backdrops of rocky deserts, cactus clusters and hidden coves, surrounded by a sea of crystal turquoise seas stretching as far as they eye can see. Having the freedom to explore the park’s scenic views and vast array of wildlife is a great way to spend a morning, but it’s worth noting that a number of the trails are only accessible by off-road vehicles, so if you’re planning a whole day, you might want to consider hiring a 4×4.
Then, once the mid-morning heat has died down, you can follow it with a trip to the nearby Baby Beach to stretch out weary legs and bask in the balmy sun.
If you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker, then another way to explore the island’s desert-like terrain is by open-air jeep, where you can go off-roading until your heart’s content. ABC Aruba Tours offers an exhilarating jeep adventure where you can explore some or Aruba’s secluded spots. Surprisingly the island boasts an array of jagged volcanic rocks covered in cacti – a bumpy ride to say the least!
We stopped off at a few historical sites including Blackstone Beach, Twin Bridges, Eyes of God, Natural Bridge, Andicuri, Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, Wish Garden and the famous California Lighthouse.
Other beaches on the island that are well worth a visit include award-winning Eagle Beach and the secluded Catalina Beach.
If tropical beaches are high up on your holiday checklist, then Aruba will tick every single box. The beaches are everything you’d expect from a Caribbean island, and so much more. The glistening seas will take your breath away, and the blazing sunshine warrants nothing but pure relaxation – oh and a few cheeky cocktails of course.
Baby Beach is a gorgeous half-moon sandy expanse in a beautiful lagoon on the Southeast coast of the island. The waters are shallow so the beach is ideal for families with young children, and the snorkelling area is perfect for those who are afraid of deep unknown waters.
For the more intrepid traveller keen to try out the water sports on the island, the list of activities are endless. With stretches of crystal clear waters, you can snorkel in almost any of the beaches, but in truth the waters are so unbelievably clear you can just peek through the rippling waters and you’ll be able to see swarms of fish without even dipping your head.
If you really want to make the most of the perfect diving conditions, you can head off by boat and snorkel around the Antilla ship wreck – the island’s notorious snorkelling hotspot. Here you can look forward to a wonderland of tropical fish including angelfish, stingrays and parrotfish swimming amidst a carpet of colourful coral. And there are plenty of diving schools to choose from if you want to take your snorkelling skills to the next level.
For something decidedly different, you can always try your hand at one of the various watersports to pass the time – there are plenty to choose from. We decided to spend an afternoon attempting to windsurf. ‘Attempt’ being the operative word. It really is harder than it looks! During a two-hour lesson you may just about master standing up on the board, but trying out a turn was near enough impossible, so if you’re keen to excel, I’d recommend booking a half day lesson instead.
To book visit Aruba Active Vacations
Where to eat
One thing that took me completely by surprise was the island’s vast of array of worldly culinary delights. If you’re a fanatical foodie, then you are in for a real treat. Not only does the island serve up some of the best seafood I’ve ever tasted, there are endless restaurants and seaside shacks offering up the most delectable dishes from all over the world. But unlike other tourist traps, Aruba really does it well. Even the Italian, Spanish and Belgian dishes we sampled were impeccably authentic.
Pinchos Grill in particular was a favourite of ours, not only because of its incredibly romantic setting – it’s located on a private pier overlooking the water – but because the food was also devilishly delicious. Think Caribbean seafood with lobster tails and juicy sirloin steaks – divine.
Another popular evening haunt is the Screaming Eagle, which serves up a fine selection of local seafood – the swordfish was exquisite.
For a romantic evening of intimate dining, you simply must try The Wine Room. A rustic and homely wine bar that serves up local and world wines paired with plates of cheese and charcuterie.
Hosted by the lovely and very knowledgable owner Monrick, prepare to be taken on a tantalising tour of world wines and tasty cuisines with his food and wine pairing package. The package includes 6 small dishes of home-cooked rustic food each carefully paired by Monrick himself, and served with an accompanying complementing vintage. Dishes include garlic and herb escargots, steak strips cooked in blue cheese sauce and gooey chocolate truffles that are perfect served up with a rich, bold port. It’s an intimate venue and only open a few days a week, so booking in advance is highly recommended.
And finally, if you’re hankering for a hungry breakfast, start your Sunday with a champagne all-you-can-eat brunch at A Taste of Belgium. For just $42 you can enjoy 3 hours of bottomless bubbles and an entire menu of brunch and lunch dishes that you can order until your belly is about to burst!
For a less indulgent affair head next door to the Pancake House to enjoy an array of traditional Dutch pancakes with gloriously moreish toppings.
Where to stay
There’s a swarming sea of hotels and apartments to choose from on the island, so it really depends on what you’re looking for. There are the usual chain hotels like the Marriott, Holiday Inn and Ritz Carlton but if you’re looking for a hotel that has a little more character, then head to the Renaissance Hotel.
With pool parties, casinos, shopping malls and its very own private island, the Renaissance really is a hotel fit for the most glamorous of Hollywood celebs.
As a guest, you can take a short boat trip to their private island and languish on the sand with flocks of flamingos resting at your feet. Sun, sea and endless pina coladas – pure island bliss.
But if you’d prefer to escape the tourist bustle in the heart of Oranjestad, opt for a self-catering apartment instead. We stayed in the charming Paradera Park resort; a small boutique gem hidden away in the middle of the island. The spacious villas offer a private haven and perfect base for travelling around the island. Bursting with charm there’s a private pool festooned in tropical flowers, with loungers and hammocks to relax in and the friendly owners Deborah and Henk are always on hand to help with any recommendations or requests.
The one-bedroom suites are complete with kitchenettes, air con, wifi and a pleasant outdoor veranda that’s perfect for supping on sunset cocktails or to wake up and relax with your morning coffee.
Be sure to check out Deborah’s beautiful collection of handmade glass-blown jewellery, which is available to buy from the main reception.
Paradera Apartments offers 7 nights for two people from £860 in a Deluxe Studio including breakfast paraderapark-aruba.com
Flights can be booked with KLM via Amsterdam at klm.com