Believe it or not, the Spanish colonists who settled in Aruba and her sister islands of Bonaire and Curaçao in 1513 nicknamed them the "Islas Inútiles," or Useless Islands. They couldn’t have been more wrong. Centuries later, this southern Caribbean cluster is using an arid climate and minimal rainfall in their favor; Aruba in particular lures tourists with its blindingly white beaches and craggy limestone landscape. And with its extensive underwater visibility, this island is a preferred getaway for divers looking to explore buried shipwrecks or to study some magnificent coral reefs up close.
Inflated room rates and airfares (some of the most expensive in all of the Caribbean) have nurtured Aruba's reputation for exclusivity, but just take one look around Palm Beach and you'll see that's not the case. College kids, honeymooners, young families and baby boomers are all jockeying for their own piece of shade under the nearest divi-divi tree. Those colonists be damned: Aruba is indeed being put to good use.
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The best time to visit Aruba is from April to August – a huge window of time when the island's high prices take a holiday. And since the island sits well outside the hurricane belt, there's very little threat of tropical storms at this time. January to March features pleasant weather, but the room prices can soar. You can also find discounts if you travel in the early fall. Whenever you visit, keep in mind Aruba is prone to high trade winds, which makes for a great experience for windsurfers.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Aruba's motto is "One Happy Island," and by all accounts, the residents prove this is so. Arubans are unanimously described as friendly and helpful. Dutch and Papiamento (a patois of Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, English, French and African languages) are the official languages, but most everyone also speaks English.
Like the residents of other tropical islands, Arubans dress casually much of the time. The finest establishments have an "elegant casual" dress code, which means long pants for men and sundresses for women. Call ahead to find out if your restaurant enforces a dress code and also inquire about the service charge – some restaurants include a 10 to 15 percent charge on the bill that's distributed among the staff. To specially tip your waiter, leave the money on the table. Ten percent is considered acceptable.
Aruba's official currency is the Aruban florin (AWG). However, the U.S. dollar is widely accepted and most items and services are priced in both currencies. One U.S. dollar is equal to about 1.80 Aruban florin. Since the exchange rate fluctuates, be sure to check what it is before your trip. Traveler's checks and major credit cards are also widely accepted.
Aruba is renowned for both the quantity and the quality of its restaurants. Stick to the high-rise area (around Palm Beach) for Caribbean, French, Argentinean, Japanese, Italian, Mexican and even Indian cuisine, or head south to Oranjestad for Dutch-influenced dining. According to most, the excellence of Aruba's restaurants is largely due to competition; restaurant owners are always looking for ways to lure new clientele, whether it's putting a different spin on a traditional recipe, bringing in live entertainment or taking the time to thank diners for their visit. Don't leave the island without sampling some of its local favorites like giambo, a thick gumbo chock full of fresh seafood and flavorful meats, kesio, a rich caramel custard, pan bati, a cornbread pancake, keshi yena, a stuffed cheese, or carni stoba, a type of beef stew.
If you're looking for an upscale experience, Fred Restaurant and 2 Fools and a Bull win over visitors for their international menus. On the other end of the budget spectrum, Eduardo's Beach Shack and Kamini's Kitchen are equally lauded for their healthy options and fresh fruit.
Safety has become a concern for some tourists, particularly following the disappearance of Natalee Holloway in 2005. However, Aruba continues to be a safe destination to visit. Nevertheless, stay in well-lit areas – especially in the evening and around the nightlife activities – and stick close to a friend while exploring Aruba. However, because Aruba lies outside the hurricane belt, you're less likely to have a natural disaster ruin your trip.
The best way to get around Aruba is by bus. Although, many visitors stay close to their resorts and respective beaches along the northwest coast. Fixed-rate Aruban cabs are another hassle-free way of getting around. Renting a car is a good choice for exploring the island's east coast, while renting an all-terrain vehicle for off-roading in the Arikok National Park is another option for the more adventurous crowd.
Aruba is also a popular port of call for cruise ships. Ships dock at the Port Authority in Oranjestad. From there you'll find car rental agencies and taxis ready to take you to your destination.
To get from Aruba's Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA) to your hotel, it will be easiest to take a taxi. Fares are fixed. For example, fares to the high-rise area will cost $25; rides to low-rise properties generally cost $22.See details for Getting Around
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