A late summer vacation was just what Wayne and I needed. We both decided that this is the time in our lives to travel overseas, before we have children, and were so glad we did!
Aruba was truly tropical... the epitome of "Caribbean"... colorful... and full of happy people! - One Happy Island, as the locals say. We spent a bit of every day on the beach... Wayne read and I sun-bathed and the warmth and waves rejuvenated our hearts and minds. We took lots of adventures as well, exploring with the Jeep we rented, trying out amazing cuisines and eating up all the gelato, fresh juice & seafood we could find!
Our lodging was one of the key parts of our experience. I feel that it was truly a hidden gem in Aruba.. tucked all the way on the south side of the island, away from the high-rise hotel scene, amidst the quiet seaside with the locals.
Wayne and I often opt for the more local/ hidden gems rather than larger American named hotels. Since I have done a lot of traveling overseas, I prefer to experience countries from their point of view rather than being catered to by American services. The food tends to be better, company more intimate and service more personal. Almost always though, we get nervous upon arrival because these places are located out of the tourist areas and as we drive further away we start seeing run-down areas and more rustic affairs and wonder if we're going to regret our decision. And always, we arrive to the exterior of our reservation, usually un-prolific... and walk in to discover a, somehow disguised, paradise - clad with local servers handing us warm towels, a cold drink and delivered into our own private oasis'. This time was no different. (Side note: There were some amazing resorts in Aruba that Wayne and I walked through - and if that's your thing - no shame -do it!).
Upon arriving to The Old Man & The Sea we walked down the marigold-curtained walkway fostering a lush tropical garden of palms & flowers to our room, The Orquidea (a haven for orchids). A wooden doorway opened to the straw covered cabana, our bed in center, facing a glass lined wall looking out at the ocean. The front porch set on the sand of the small private beach amidst the other 5 villas, 3 of which were held over the ocean. The adorable bathroom off of the side was open-air to the sky, with a sea shell for a faucet. They had filled a glass dispenser with water and fresh fruit for us and set out a tray of hors d'oeuvres and a small bottle of champagne for our arrival. We did that look at each other with big eyes and silent squeals! Wohoo... the sweat from our trip and anticipation were all worth it.
We could hear the waves inside our villa as we fell asleep and when we woke up, enjoyed long mornings on our porch with coffee and wonderful breakfasts on the beach with our feet in the sand or over the water on the pier. A few nights we came back from dinner and enjoyed the company of some of the other guests at the bar as the stars came out. And on some nights, the sweet bartender/ server got his guitar out when the mood was right, played for us and we danced around in the sand.
We were recommended to rent a vehicle to get around in Aruba and were so glad we did. We spent the first day exploring the small island and landed at one of the Northern beaches, Arashi, for the morning. In the afternoon we rented a jet ski (which of course was a blast) and got some gelato before choosing a place to eat.
The economy in Aruba is based around tourism and I'd say they do it quite well. In result, there were A-mazing food choices of all kinds of cuisines - we enjoyed top notch sea food, Caribbean, Italian, & Spanish. I think our favorite overall experience was at The Flying Fishbone, a seafood restaurant in the quiet southern part of the island, where they have their tables situated, ocean front, upon a stone where with water comes in. We hung our shoes and let the cool water splash over our feet while we dined. Other favorites were, Salt & Pepper (Spanish Tapas), White Modern Cuisine (A truly fine-dining experience central island), The meal we had with the villa's private chef on the pier at The Old Man & The Sea, & the Caribbean Curry we had at Kamini's (a more casual setting but A-mazing curry). (Note: Many places in Aruba require a reservation for dinner).
On Monday we visited Baby Beach, close to our lodging, on the southern point of the island. It was the quietest, most beautiful public beach on the island, in our opinion. Like all of the beaches there, it had powdery-soft, white sand and amazingly clear aqua-blue water.. but here the beach front water was about waist deep for 150ft or more and protected from waves by a rock barrier. This made it soo pleasant to wade in, we spent the whole day here and came back another day with floats to lay on in the water. There was a lovely beach bar there to get food and drinks at and a fresh juice stand.
The Western side of Aruba is where most accommodations and resident beaches are located while the Eastern side hosts an amazingly rough tide against a cliffside amidst the desert, home to the Arikok National park. We spent Wednesday morning touring the park. There is a natural pool there, a gorgeous swimming hole lifted out of the sea inside of a rock cove, that you can swim in when waters are calm. It is a 3.5 mile hike from the visitor center or a 45min-1 hour (ATV or Jeep required) ride into it, so we opted to head out early before the tours started and get a quiet morning swim in by ourselves. The adventure back there was half the fun! - It was very rough (on a sharp rock-bed road) the last mile or so and we wished we had an ATV instead of our Jeep but we made it!
The desert path leading up to it, especially in the early morning, was beautiful. On top of the stairs down to the pool was a gorgeous view, worth it in itself for the trek. We stood and watched the waves crash against the cliffs for a long time. We only spent a couple hours in the park, as the tides at the beaches were too rough to go into, but it was lovely to see. We headed back to our villa for a late brunch on the beach and spent the day lounging there and at Baby Beach before dinner at the villa.
[Notes: You have to buy tickets into the park at the Visitor Center so we started out from there at 8 when they opened and had about 15min before the first ATV tour arrived. The pool had a rough tide the day we went, so it wasn't the calmest of swimming, you can ask the visitor center how it is before you go if you like. I would recommend having water shoes to go in as the rock bed is slippery underneath and you might run into a crab or sea creature].
Renaissance Island is the small sliver of paradise right beside the mainland where the infamous flamingo is found. It is a private island, owned by Renaissance Hotel. We stood in line early one morning to get passes (both a little grumpy), but once we got there forgot about all of our troubles. It was beautiful! We boarded a little speedboat in the hotel canal way to go to the island and got nestled in before there were many people there. The flamingos were every bit as beautiful as imagined - A light, warm, almost tangerine tinted, translucent pink... one leg pulled up and truly elegant. They ate out of our hands and we enjoyed watching them as everyone else fed and admired them throughout the day. It was so quiet & beautiful there we spent the majority of the day and had brunch at the restaurant which was my favorite midday dining experience! Wayne had berry brioche french toast with mascarpone cream and balsamic glaze and I had a Margherita flatbread. With it, came a tray of fresh fruit and basket full of assorted pastries - Win my heart over! We left around 4pm and spend the late afternoon walking around the shops in Oranjestad, a beautiful, pastel candy-colored outdoor plaza and got gelato.
NOTE FOR THOSE GOING TO THE ISLAND: Renaissance hotel guests have free access to the beach and they open up a select number of passes to non-guests daily. However, you cannot pre-book a pass and you cannot know how many they will give out each day, as it changes, so you have to show up to the hotel front desk when they open and hope you'll make it for the day. When I looked online before coming I read that they give about 80 passes a day however, during our trip (August 2018) they were only giving 20-30 passes a day. They start selling when the front desk opens for the day which was 7am when we were there. We had tried on Wednesday but didn't make it and were instructed to come earlier the next day at 6am. We came at 5:30 and were the second ones in line (would've cut it close at 6am, I'd recommend going a half hour earlier than instructed). Although who wants to do that on vacation - We had already booked our accommodation, but if you want to go to the island I'd recommend booking at least one night at the hotel in which you get access to the island the day you check in and check out (two days) and the option to reserve one of the private over-the-water lounges on the beach (not available to non-guests). You can also book a service with the spa through the hotel which gives you access to the island, however the spa does not open until 8am, so I'd recommend doing it the day before if you want to get their early. With a day pass or stay at the hotel you get free access to the beach chairs, snorkeling gear, and a free drink and meal at the restaurant. (Day passes ran at $125/ person when we were there so even if there are only two of you, one night at the hotel would be more cost-effective). Either way, I'd definitely say it is worth it for the beautiful beach, quietness, wonderful service and gorgeous flamingos - Wayne and I both loved it and spent the majority of the day there. There are two beaches on the island, one adult-only and one family-friendly. The flamingos are on the adult only side and is open to children until 10am to view. The water boat ride is 8 minutes long and leaves from the hotel lobby every 15 minutes. The island is open from 7am to 6pm and once a week until 7pm when you can book a beach front dinner there.
Thursday was the only day we didn't spend on the beach during the day. We decided to take a break from the sun, which was refreshing and I spent the morning in a spa (Wayne had talked me into a wild hare of dying my hair lighter blonde, like I've always wanted to do in the summer) and he found something for himself to do. It was a blast. We had arranged to go horseback riding in the afternoon, in which Wayne almost backed out of because he didn't have blue jeans/ only shorts (and being the former cowboy (horse trainer) he was, he would've rather been caught dead). BUT - we ended up having SUCH a good time!! We rode beautiful Palomino-mix horses, some trained with the noteworthy gait, others not, on a two hour trail along the desert into the cliffside/ beach. It was a such a beautiful experience. The horses were not so broken that it was boring, we got to trot and canter some of the way and Wayne loved the horse he got.
The last day we didn't make any plans beside hanging out on the beach and lounging. We were on Eagle Beach that day (a long beach near the low-rise hotel area), where you can do a variety of water sports. We decided to go parasailing! The locals have all got that Caribbean cool and we just loved hanging out with them. A couple guys took us up and I have to say I was a little bit nervous. We were lifted about 150ft above the water. I had so much fun though and it was such a beautiful view! (There are consistent 15mph trade winds in Aruba, which make the heat pleasant and great for sports like parasailing, flying kites, wind surfing and sailing). That evening we set out on a sunset sail. It was a great way to end the trip, over the ocean as the moon emerged.
Aruba has truly gorgeous beaches is a great island for relaxing, having fun and eating great food. We had a wonderful time & would go back again. Below are a few pics that didn't make it into the photo roll above. As always, thank-you for reading along - All my love!
Accommodation | Aruba Ocean Villas/ The Old Man & The Sea
Dining | Flying Fishbone, Salt & Pepper, White Modern Cuisine, The Old Man & The Sea, Kamini's
Arikok National Park | Visitor Center (Located at San Fuego 70, Aruba)
Flamingos | Renaissance Island
Horseback Riding | Rancho La Ponderosa Aruba
Sunset Sail | Red Sail Sports, Leaves from Hyatt Hotel Pier