What I knew about Aruba before going was that it was a small Caribbean island nestled in the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Venezuela. I also knew that it was a place of tropical weather with very few mountains and beautiful white sand beaches. As a person from the Caribbean myself, I knew that all islands have certain “things” they are known for. Jamaica is known for dancehall and reggae; while Barbados is known for Rihanna, flying fish, and over the top carnival celebrations. When it came to the island of Aruba, I innately knew that it was known as a vacation destination, for aloe, and for having very beautiful people. This island was influenced by the Dutch, but also by the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Africans. When it came to language, almost everyone spoke Dutch and English, but the local language is Papiamento; which is a mix of English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. This made it very easy to communicate because they are such a multi-lingual society. Aruba’s openness is also seen in the number of currencies their vendors can accept. While I was there, I hardly had the need to convert much of my US dollars, currencies such as Euros, Pounds, the Canadian Dollar and their local currency known as the Aruban Florin were all accepted. The island is gorgeous, the people are friendly and always willing to give advice. I stayed in the Noord area at Palm Beach at the Ritz-Carlton, there were other hotels, bars, casinos, and shops along the beach so, walking was always a fun activity.
The number one thing on my to-do list was to become a beach bum, and I fully achieved that by going to the beach every day. The beach space in front of my hotel was always crowded with sunbathers, but most of my time was spent in the water. The water was warm and shallow for a reasonable distance away from the shore, I walked half-a-mile into the water before it was above my belly button. The ocean was clean, crystal clear, and very relaxing. There was a lot of beach activities such as kayaking, windsurfing, banana boat ride, surfing & paddling, and much more. The only downside about my time at the beach was the inability to find sand space, but that could be remedy by getting up early but who wants to do that on vacation.
I rented a jeep and drove to the California Lighthouse. The lighthouse was named for the steamship California, which was wrecked nearby in 1891. In this location, I found a ton of tourists on sightseeing tours, but I also found the treasures of the island, “the local food vendors” selling fresh coconut water and local coconut treats. Yes, I was there to see the lighthouse, but I enjoy the snacks as well.
We drove along the coast and visited the Rock Garden; it was a rocky area along the beach, leading towards the natural forming rock bridge. The rock garden displayed miles of stacked rocks neatly placed upon each other. It seemed like most of these rocks were stacked by visitors as I saw several tourists dismount a bus to stack rocks.
I was told that it was for good luck, but if you visit the visit Aruba site, they advised visitors not to do this. From there, I went to the Aruba Natural Bridge, which is formed out of coral and limestone. After that, we drove the rocky terrain that took us to a cliff area that led down towards the natural pool. The natural pool was made from coral, limestone, and rocks; and looked like a perfect whirlpool. I spent about 30 minutes there before all the other tourist showed up. My advice to anyone traveling to popular places like this is to try to go during low season or super early in the morning or later when everyone has vacated the area. There were so many people in that natural pool it was insane. There were 3-bus loads of Asian tourists all clamoring to get to the pool. The tour guides all repeatedly told them to stay off the high rocks and not to feed the fish with leftover lunch. None of these tourists listened, as I saw one of the guys from the Asian bus tour pull out an entire sandwich to feed the fish, causing the fish to start feeding in a frenzy. Once I realized that no one was listening to their tour guide, I decided it was best to exit the natural pool.
The following day I ended up at the Aruba Aloe farm and museum. This was perhaps the only place with a small crowd of tourists. That day I learned that cultivation of aloe on the island started as far back as 1840 and that Aruba was one of the most significant exports of aloe. The tour guide gave us a rundown of the history and how aloe is harvested and told us about various products made using aloe. Inside the museum, we saw photos, equipment, and older machinery used to process Aloe vera. After the tour, we went to the gift shop and purchase lotions, sunburn gel, and soap.
After that, we drove around the island just looking at the passing landscape. We drove until we got to Arikok National Park, where we paid a small entrance fee. We drove all over the park, soaking up the scenery, and observing the vegetation. To be honest, at this point, we were exhausted from the day before, so we had no intentions of getting out the vehicle to do anything extra. We just wanted to relax and only exist in the moment. It was tranquil and felt like we were on a planet of our own until we got hungry. To deal with our rumbling bellies, we ended up at Boca Prins Bar and Restaurant, which was a very chill casual spot serving a wide range of food.
Outside of the major sites, we spent a good bit of time walking around Oranjestad; we took pictures and stopped at various art stores. Our favorite thing to eat as we wandered around during the day or night was gelatos. There were gelato shops everywhere, and I loved every moment of it.
I went to a lot of restaurants during my 7 days in Aruba, but sadly, there was only one that stood out to me based on food and ambiance. It’s not that the menu at the other places wasn’t good, they were all marvelous. I just couldn’t remember the names, but I could describe them all in detail. Since I love seafood, I made it a point to go to a place called Barefoot Restaurant in Oranjestad. The restaurant was set on the beach and opened right before sunset so the guests could eat and watch the sunset. It was a casual but elegant place that didn’t seem to take themselves seriously, but the taste of their food was burnt into my taste-buds for L I F E! The only thing that could beat the food was the feeling of sitting on the beach absorbing what mother nature had to offer. The sunset that day was brilliant orange’ ish yellow and looked like a ball slowly being pulled down from the sky to the sea.
The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba
Since I was only staying a few days merely for relaxation, I decided to splurge and stay at the Aruba Ritz-Carlton at Palm Beach. I’ve always enjoyed my stays at other Ritz-Carlton so I couldn’t wait to experience my stay at Palm Beach. Plus, this Ritz-Carlton was opened in 2013, so it was a newer hotel with about 320-rooms. When we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted with smiles and a cold glass of Champaign, which is often the standard greeting. After that, we were asked to wait as a few other guests were ahead of us. We waited for about 45 minutes before the guests ahead of us were completely satisfied. While I was impatient about getting to my room and starting my vacation, I wasn’t bothered by the wait. When it was our turn to check in it seemed like there were issues that they weren’t telling us about as I could see the front desk attendants were furiously looking up our reservations. We received a room on the ground floor next to the kiddy pool in an area of the hotel that appeared to be exclusively for families. Upon entering, we instantly heard kids screaming, crying, laughing, and playing in the pool and running down the hallway. We stayed in that room for about 5 minutes before we decided to request a room change. The room change was granted an hour after we asked for it, so we went for lunch at one of the bars while we waited. In the end, we were upgraded to the fifth floor, which was much more prominent. It had a sitting area, a large bathroom, and an even bigger bedroom with a large balcony facing the sea. I felt lucky, but I still had to pay an extra $500 on top of the $3,000.00 I paid for the flight and hotel. I know I said this trip was mostly to relax, but I had work to do that required internet, so I dedicated about 2 hours a day to get it done. Unfortunately, the internet didn’t work in the room, and we ended up on the phone with the front desk for 2 hours trying to resolve it. Then the front desk insisted that we call the internet provider who provided Wi-Fi service to the hotel. This was the strangest request I had ever had from a hotel.
When it came to the hotel, it was beautiful and well put together as most Ritz- Carlton’s are. The only downside was that it was crowded because of the time of year (March) I visited. Every morning the breakfast lines were super long and even with the discount we got for breakfast over the Wi-Fi incident we didn’t see the point in going. We ended up not doing many activities at the hotel because it didn’t feel welcoming. We had a lot of issues with poolside service, room service, and service at the bar. At any of these locations, we realize whenever we ordered anything, it would take very long to arrive or would not arrive at all. After a while, we got so sick of fussing with them, that we would literally get up and walk away.
Overall, I would say that the hotel was only a place to rest our heads and go to the beach, and it was not worth the money. I was extremely disappointed, and I wasn’t the only person. I met a couple from New York who was taking a trip before the birth of their baby. The wife told me her stories dealing with the hotel staff, and it put my complaints to shame. Talking to a staff member I also uncovered the hotel was even more disorganized behind the scene. The one positive thing that I can say about the Aruba Ritz-Carlton at Palm Beach is that the subpar service forced us to spend more time out on the economy looking for places to hang-out, eat, and explore to avoid having to deal with the chaos. In the end, the manager of the hotel upon request spoke to us and offered a discount if we returned, but to be honest, I don’t think I would return to Aruba Ritz-Carlton at Palm Beach.
Before I left for the trip, my co-workers were somewhat shocked that I selected Aruba. They all told me how unsafe it was, and most of this came from the infamous Natalee Holloway case. The strangest part about their concerns was the fact that none of them had ever visited Aruba. To be honest, I felt very safe while walking out at night and during the day, but this could be because I always had another person with me. Walking the beach at nights trying to get from one hotel bar to another, going to the club or restaurants; we ran into a few dark areas, but overall nothing felt suspicious or out of place. There was only one incident where we were approached by a guy selling drugs on the corner of a street in an area that was filled with restaurants, a night market, and a bar. I am not a drug user or a heavy drinker, so these temptations never bother me. I recall that night we were walking a reasonable distance behind an American couple who were walking hand in hand. We saw the dealer approach the couple, then once they accepted his offer, he pointed them to a car parked on the other side of the road in a dimly lit area. I then saw the couple who also looked like tourist walk across the street, and both dip their heads down to the driver side of the car to perform the transaction of drugs and cash. Once we got to the point where the dealer stood, he tried to offer us a taste of his delights, but we declined, and that was that.
Overall, I really loved my trip to Aruba and would do it again, but this time I wouldn’t stay at the Ritz-Carlton. All the restaurants were excellent, and the seafood was on point. The island is small, so once you have explored the popular areas, it’s all about relaxing and sucking up the local culture. I felt safe on the island, but I was not about to buy drugs from street dealers, I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone. I would highly recommend visiting Aruba and when do visit try the local food, especially the small coconut cake treats.