Adventure in Aruba: The Heart of the Caribbean
The island of Aruba is a place where genuine smiles beam from local faces; where houses painted mint, magenta and turquoise line the sun-drenched streets; where the word “tourist” seems an improper term for the visitors, who after mere hours of gallivanting through the electric collage of sights and sounds feel to be more at home than on vacation.
My weekend-long tour of the island opens with a bang at the Carubbian Festival, an event that travels colourfully through the main stretch of Aruba’s “Sunrise City” in San Nicholas every Thursday night. An explosion of dialects floats on the warm evening breeze, along with the smell of traditional Aruban cuisine. Vendors stand by their tables selling unique souvenirs, such as engraved wooden pens, plates of coconut candy and cashew cake.
Hours later, I am welcomed with a sumptuous queen-sized bed at the luxe Hyatt Regency Aruba Hotel & Casino. It isn’t long before morning tiptoes to life and a new day rides in on the saltwater waves. My first full day turns out to be a bumpy one. On the back of a tour Land Rover, I spend the afternoon rolling through the island terrain. During my hours with De Palm Tours, I unearth a handful of local secrets — who knew that the island itself is the result of underwater volcanic activity? — and brush elbows with some of the nation’s most treasured attractions, from the eerie wonderment of the collapsed natural bridge to the natural pool at the Arikok National Park.
With shaky legs and a sun-kissed smile, I teeter off the luxury SUV and into the evening. The next stop is dinner at Papiamento, a restaurant named for the Aruban language. I am instantly smitten with the lush, sultry ambiance: an outdoor dining area engulfed by a garden of trees, turquoise light glimmering off a tiled pool, wooden torches playing with candlelight to create a luxurious island-chic vibe. Food, drink and laughter of the highest quality blend together at the table, and at the end of my meal, I find it challenging to set down my fork and slip out of my seat.
A few minutes’ drive from Papiamento, the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival is booming under the stars. By the time I arrive, Fourplay — one of the headlining bands of the long-anticipated festival — is in the midst of lulling a standing crowd to a peaceful sway with a smooth, elegant rhythm. The contemporary jazz quartet is among a lengthy crowd of jazz icons scheduled to perform at the weekend-long festival, including Oscar D’León and Pete Philly, and before the night is over, the legendary Chaka Khan.
The sun falls and rises, and I feel the kiss of salt water on my skin as I plunge off the edge of a catamaran. A shock of fluorescent blue and yellow greet me as I blink through my snorkel mask; a field of fish criss-cross before my eyes, browsing contentedly in and out of the largest wreck in the Caribbean, the Antilla. Simmering a mere 1,389 kilometres from the equator, Aruba’s waters have been baked to a luxurious temperature, making the swim feel more like a lukewarm bath in an endless tub.
Once back on-board, the catamaran begins gliding in the direction of Aruba’s high-rise district, where the Hyatt and my final night on the island await me. As we inch closer to the beach, I notice strands of white billowing in the soft breeze. Chairs are settled in the sand in neat rows, all facing west where the sun will soon hit the horizon. A woven archway stands in anticipation of a ceremony that will soon begin.
I look over a vacant wedding scene before turning to glance behind me. A watercolour sunset is beginning to splash across the sky. As the sun makes its descent, I vow to come back to this island, to relive the beauty and happiness and all else that Aruba stands for; to watch the Caribbean sun touch the water with a loved one sitting next to me. These thoughts drift through my mind as the seats on the beach slowly begin to fill.
Twenty hours later, I buckle into my seat for the flight home. The palm trees out my window shift out of view during takeoff, and before long they are hundreds of feet below me. Craning my neck to peer down at the tiny paradise, I catch a glimpse of the lights as they flicker to life, welcoming a fresh night of cocada, sequins and dancing in the streets. A cloud erases the island from my view, and it’s as though I’ve awoken from some sort of dream. Settling in, I put on my best Aruban smile and begin counting the days until my return.
Photos by Aruba Tourism Authority