Aruba, a tiny Dutch Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela, has dry, sunny weather, blond beaches and gentle surf. Constant trade winds keep things cool and cause the divi-divi trees to slope southwesterly. European influence shows in both its architecture, in which Dutch gables mingle with tropical pastels, and language, with English, Dutch and Spanish spoken alongside the local tongue, Papiamento.
This small island is a true jewel for tourists seeking out a tropical destination with a touch of European flair. Although many nationalities have shaped the culture, the Dutch influence is particularly present in the language, the architecture and the windmill-turned-restaurant. Aruba has a wonderful culinary reputation and a bold and exciting nightlife with numerous clubs, evening shows and casinos. Oranjestad, the island's capital, is a paradise for shoppers.
Sun seekers will rejoice. Aruba's coast is surrounded by beaches of pure white sand which are particularly rugged and beautiful on the northern side. The unusual shape of the divi-divi trees, trunk bent by constant trade winds, is also a symbol of the island. Inland Aruba is more reminiscent of a desert landscape with cacti, aloe and dramatic rock formations.
Oranjestad Currency : Aruban florin Driver's License : International license recommended. Must be 25 years old and have a credit card. Electricity : 110V, 60Hz Entry Requirements : A passport, valid 3 months beyond intended stay, and an ongoing or return ticket are required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -4hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Parliamentary democracy, as an autonomous part of Kingdom of the Netherlands.Kingdom of the Netherlands. Land size : 180 km2 Language : Papiamento and Dutch. English and Spanish are widely spoken. National Airlines : none Population : 110,000 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 82%, Protestant 8% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : December through April Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada : Consult the "Country Travel Advice and Advisories" of Aruba
Seafood is the main staple of the Aruban diet. Fresh fish is still brought in by the local fishermen and is best prepared in the unassuming restaurants tucked in backstreets of residential areas. The catch of the day, mainly barracuda, grouper and snapper, is grilled, broiled, baked or fried and served with a Creole sauce. Such traditional dishes include keri-keri (seasoned with achota seed, curry and a local type of basil) or balchi di pisca (fish cakes). Meals are accompanied by rice, pan bati (corn bread pancake) or funchi (polenta).
Other favourite dishes include stews of goat, beef or comcomber (vegetable). Aruban BBQ is popular with ribs, chicken or steak, topped generously with their own spicy BBQ sauce. Local ingredients were combined with imported products, such as Dutch cheeses, to create dishes like Keshi Yena (stuffed cheese).
Many hip restaurants have mixed international culinary influences with the island's Aruban kitchen to create fusion food trends.
The island is famous for its pure drinking water, nicknamed Balashi cocktail. The Balashi National Brewery makes the Balashi Malta (a sweet, non-alcoholic drink) and Balashi Beer. Palmera Rum, Aruban Coecoei liquor (derived from the agave plant, rum and cane sugar) and Ponche Crème (a potent eggnog mixture) are some of the ingredients used to mix cocktails such as the Aruba Ariba or the Aruba Sunset.
Culture Today's Aruban culture is a melting pot of 40 distinct nationalities, ranging from South America, North America, Europe and Asia, all mixed in with the island's natives. The native Aruban is a mixture of Dutch, Spanish, and Caquetio Indian ancestry.
Food has always played a central role in celebrations and family reunions. This would explain the wonderful culinary reputation enjoyed by the island. Simple hidden family bistros will enchant your epicurean repast.
Aruba's folklore is strongly present also in the music and dance. The island's first popular songs were of European influence, like the waltz, which is still evident in the rhythm for Aruba's national anthem. Latin music is common as well, such as the Gaita and Aguinaldo groups heard during Christmas. Calypso sounds rule the Carnival, and New Year's Eve is accompanied by the traveling Dande musicians. Traditional Aruban music is known as Tumba is heard only in the ABC islands.
Art was often defined in the paintings of hobbyist who often occupied spots in Aruba's upper echelon of society. Realistic renderings of island landscapes were dominant. The Dutch amateur artists influenced local Aruban artists but today the younger generation of artists, often having studied abroad, express themselves in a more contemporary voice.
The architecture found on the island was a tell tale sign of one's social standing. Farmers often built the countryside house known as Cunucu. This rectangular stucco house displays a peaked roof with orange tile and is positioned to best utilize the cooling flow of wind. Society's upper crust (merchants, clergy, government officials and the like) favoured the manor house. These manors are best identified by their porticos, colonnades and European ornamentation. These mansions can be admired in downtown Oranjestad.
Geography Located in the southern part of the Caribbean, Aruba is part of the coined term ABC islands, along with Bonaire and Curacao. These three islands form the Lesser Antilles islands and are just north of Venezuela. It is a small island measuring 30 km long and about 8 km wide.
The terrain and vegetation are unusual. The south western coast offers kilometres of pristine beaches. The northeast coast is much more rugged and wild. But most surprising is the desert inland with cacti and dramatic rock formations. The watapana, or divi-divi tree, with its trunk bent by constant trade winds, is also a symbol of the island.
History Populated by the Arawak Indians of the Caquetio tribe since the Stone Age, it was officially discovered by the Spaniards in l499. The island was soon declared useless, just like its neighbours Bonaire and Curacao and the Spanish immediately shipped off the Arawaks as slaves to Santo Domingo. The remaining Arawaks quickly regained power as the Spanish lost interest of the island.
In 1636 the Dutch laid claim to the ABC Islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao). Fortunes were made with horse and cattle breeding as permanent Europeans settlers arrived in the late l700s. Oranjestad was founded and named after the reigning Royal House of Orange. Over the years, waves of immigrants from various countries, such as Venezuelans, arrived and enriched today's Aruban culture. During the l9th century, gold was discovered in Aruba and aloe plantations flourished. The 20th century saw the beginning of the oil industry. The Lago refinery was established and became the main employer until l985. Today the Texan Valero Oil Company has taken over 60% of the refinery.
The last decades saw the birth of tourism industry. On January l, l986, the nation left the Netherlands Antilles to become a Status Aparte within the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Nature Aruba's vegetation has adapted well to its dry environment with desert landscape covered by rare cacti and aloe. The watapana (divi-divi tree), the kwihi (mesquite tree) and the druif (sea grapes) are among other particularities of the island.
Aruba is home to many colourful birds, such as the endemic shoco, a burrowing owl, many of which can be observed in the Arikok National Park. Harmless lizards abound on the island and donkeys have their own sanctuaries. The marine life is mesmerizing with several species of coral, tropical fish and sea turtles.
Sports There are a multitude of sports available for practice in the many resorts and beach areas, mostly involving water of course. Popular activities include snorkelling, kayaking, water skiing and sailing. This island is ideal for windsurfing fanatics. Scuba divers will love Aruba with its magnificent coral reefs and some of the world's most fascinating wrecks.
Horseback ridding, biking or hiking in Aruba's Arikok National Park is always a delight. You will find two wonderful golf courses on the island: the Tierra del Sol and the Aruba Golf Club. Paintball has gained much popularity.
Soccer and baseball are the most popular sports in the country.
Banks & Money
In Aruba, the legal tender is the Aruban florin. Although prices are listed with the national currency, US dollars are accepted readily so you may not need to exchange your money at all. Carry small bills since you may have difficulty changing US $50 and US $100 bills in shops and restaurants.
Other currencies can be exchanged in the banks and change offices. Bank ATMs are available throughout the more populated areas of the islands. All major credit cards and traveller's checks are accepted.
Climate Aruba is blessed with year-round warm tropical weather that is gently cooled by breezy trade winds. The average annual temperature is 28° C with very few tropical storms. Although there is a defined rainy season, from May to November, the annual rainfall is a mere 41 cm.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication Telephone services have been modernized as have cellular roaming service and GSM capabilities. The country code for Aruba is 297.
Internet dial-up access can be found in hotels or Internet cafes. Cable TV is available in most hotels. Aruba publishes several newspapers in Papiamento, English and Dutch.
Health Aruba has pure water, distilled in the world's second largest saltwater purification plant. The water is completely safe to drink.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines are recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Mosquitoes and flies can be bothersome during the odd rain shower.
Official Holidays January 01 - New Year's Day January 25 - Croes Day March 18 - Aruba Flag Day March/April - Easter April 30 - Dutch Queen's Birthday May 01 - International Labor Day May - Ascension Day December 25 - Christmas
Safety Aruba is considered relatively safe and enjoys a low crime rate. However as a tourist you are more likely to be a target of petty crime.
Use good judgement, take advantage of the safety deposit boxes provided by the hotels, do not leave valuables unattended in public and carry your wallet and camera discreetly. Also make sure to lock your hotel room and rental car.
Shopping Tasty souvenirs include the island's hot sauce, Hot Delight, or the Madame Jeanette scotch-bonnet pepper. For those with a sweet tooth, the cocada is a coconut and tamarind candy. The Tropical Bottling Company sells the famous tap water. Libation purchases are Balashi Malta, Balashi Beer, Palmera Rum, Aruban Coecoei liquor and Ponche Crème.
Dutch porcelains, figurines, hand-embroidered linens and cheese make wonderful gifts.
One of the most successfully locally-grown crops remains the aloe plant. Lotions, suntan creams, hair care products and fragrances are made locally and make great buys to bring home.
Stamp collectors will rejoice with the many stamps series created by the island's most respected artists to commemorate local events, holidays and flora and fauna. The post office always keeps recent and past series on hand.
The many unusual materials found in nature have influenced the types of handicrafts created here. The djucu nut is polished and accented with gold filigree to create unique jewellery pieces. It is interesting to note that the djucu plant does not grown on Aruba, but the nuts washes up on shore from nearby Venezuela. Pottery craft, decorated with scenes of divi-divi trees and cunucu houses, is very popular, as are tables, benches and plaques created from Aruba's Kwihi tree.
Taxes & Tips Hotels add 19% in tax and service fees. Several categories of goods are duty-free but the taxable goods already include the 6.5% tax in the price.
Restaurants usually include a 10% to 15% service charge on the bill, make sure to inquire first. Taxi drivers may be tipped 10% to 15%, porters should receive $2 per bag and maids $2 a day.
The departure tax of around US $37, per person, is usually included on your plane ticket, but if not added it will be payable at the airport Please verify.
Transportation There is one international airport on the island. Short flights between other islands are easy and affordable with small charter companies. Marinas abound as well for boaters and several ferry companies offer service to and from the islands of the Caribbean.
Taxis are plentiful and have fixed government rates so make sure to ask the price before the ride. Drivers are often eager to give you a commented tour of the island for about $35/hour. Car rental are available at the airport and mopeds and bicycles can be rented in town. Arubus is the name of the public bus system and it is an inexpensive and reliable way to travel between the districts and hotel areas.