Spring is here! Even though I’ve still seen some random snowflakes the last few days, I think it’s safe to say that we’re finally on the other side of winter. That wasn’t the case earlier this month though. We were sick of snow, Josh particularly since he works outside, and wanted to go somewhere warm to soak up some sun. After getting lost in a vortex of internet searches for sun destinations, Josh came across a list of the best beaches in the world. Aruba’s Eagle Beach landed at #3. After some more poking around the interweb (the Aruba tourism website was a great resource!), we decided that Aruba sounded like the kind of place we wanted to spend some time in.
We knew we wanted the freedom to travel around the island so we rented a car for our entire stay in Aruba. Travelling was easy since they drive on the right side of the road and there are no big crazy highways. We also knew we wanted a quiet place to stay that wasn’t packed with drunken tourists so we found an apartment at Bluewater Suites. A little complex with just a few apartments and a private pool area (coincidentally, owned by a fellow Canadian!). It was the perfect spot for us since we wanted to be able to cook most of our own meals and also wanted a quite place to retreat in the evenings when we wanted down time.
Even though Aruba is a small island (just 178.9 km²!!!), we packed in so many activities that I’m going to split this post up into three parts so I can cover all the amazing activities Aruba has to offer.
Day 1: Arrival, Oranjestad
We arrived at the Queen Beatrix International Airport in Aruba late in the afternoon after some delays leaving Toronto earlier in the day. The advantage to visiting a smaller island is how fast you are able to grab your bags, get your car, and get going! We walked directly across the street to Budget, grabbed our car, and were on our way! Our apartment was in Noord, so we drove north through the capital city of Oranjestad on our way to “check-in”. Our first impression was how laid back everyone was and we knew we were in the right spot for our vacation. After dropping our bags, getting changed, and doing a full covering in sunscreen, we decided to drive around to get our bearings and then try to find something to eat. We drove all around Oranjestad admiring all the cacti, fancy hotels, and high-end stores. In the cruise ship port area there are open air markets set up, so you can wander and shop for local goods are your own discretion. We wanted to check out the markets and also enjoy the view, so we stopped at Iguana Joe’s Carribean Bar & Grill for supper since they had a great outdoor deck overlooking one of the markets and the waterfront. I’m not a big fan of fish, but when I go south I always make a point of trying the fish since they always seem to know how to cook it perfectly. I ordered the mahi mahi topped with a traditional Aruban Crioyo sauce along with the island vegetables. It definitely didn’t disappoint!!!! After supper we walked around the market across the street, then stopped in to the grocery store to get all set up for the first couple days. The Super Food Plaza was a short drive (~5 km) from our apartment and it had everything we needed. It was cool to see that they no longer pack groceries in plastic bags to try to cut down the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean (also good that our apartment came equipped with reusable grocery bags). Once we got back to the apartment we hung out on our deck while planning out what we wanted to do with our first full day in Aruba (we had the loft apartment so we had a beautiful little deck up there all to ourselves) and then called it a night early to try to catch up on some lost sleep after a long day of travel.
Day 2: California Lighthouse, California Lighthouse Sand Dunes, Arashi Beach, West Deck, Natural Bridge
As you may know, we’re early risers. Vacation or no, we’re usually up by 6 am. Since we were well rested, we hopped out of bed nice and early, made some coffee, and sat out on our deck listening to roosters crowing. There are few things I love more than sitting outside early in the morning with a warm drink while listening to the birds (yes, roosters included)! After making breakfast (B&E for the win!!!) we drove up to the California Lighthouse to check out the north end of the island since it was near by. It was so early in the day so we missed the tourist rush and we took a look around but didn’t feel the need to come back and go up the lighthouse tower since it wasn’t that big. The real treat was parking the car across from the lighthouse and walking around the sand dunes and shoreline.
I am obsessed with cacti. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always had several around the house and for some reason I am oddly fascinated by them. It was so cool to walk around seeing the different cacti and all the little lizards running around under them. The shoreline was beautiful and it was our first introduction to the ocean in Aruba. Since the wind is always blowing and the waves are always rolling, there were lots of crabs well adapted to life in the pounding surf. We climbed a small rock formation in the water and watched the crabs run around in between waves. Early morning beach combing reminds me of being a kid and exploring the shoreline near where we camped every summer, so the nostalgia was strong while we wandered around the shoreline.
We left the sand dunes and started back south to stop in to Arashi Beach. Josh loves snorkeling and Arashi Beach is rated as one of the best snorkeling beaches in Aruba. While I WANT to love snorkeling (I mean, I AM a marine biologist), some part of my brain will just not allow me to breath through the snorkel, so I typically take my mask and join in for a little while just holding my breath so I can see all the cool local fish species. While Josh snorkeled I mostly just hopped in an out of the water and enjoyed laying in the sun while watching all the birds dive for fish (pelicans, terns, and frigatebirds!).
When we finally got hungry we went for a drive and found the West Deck Island Grill & Beach Bar. Being an avid foodie, I had been looking up places to eat in Aruba on Instagram and had been looking forward to visiting the West Deck for weeks! Turns out they made fresh passion fruit juice just that morning so it wasn’t hard to convince me to try a passion-rita while enjoying the shade and the view of the beach. Josh and I decided to split a few different appetizers instead of getting big meals so we went with the arashi chicken, island mahi mahi, and tostones! This was our first introduction to the pickled onions and papaya hot sauce that accompany most meals in Aruba. Lunch was fantastic but the best part was our waiter, Raoul. Not only was he great at helping us pick out our meal, but he went ahead and wrote down a week’s worth of things for us to check out while on the island. He included all the local favourites and what days to avoid some of the favourite tourist destinations. This list ended up guiding much of the res of our trip!!!!
After lunch we decided to head to the east side of the island for a drive. We ended up at the Natural Bridge so we walked around for a while. I could have sat and watched the waves along the rocky shoreline all day, unfortunately, we arrived at the same time several bus loads of tourists did so we cut our visit short since we knew we’d be back this way later in the week. We made a few little stops to take pictures along the way and kept out eye our for the “new” natural pool that Raoul had told us about, but without doing an internet search for it, we had little to go on at that point.
We made our way back to the apartment and decided to go BBQ by the pool. After a big day exploring, it was nice to have a relaxing evening reading a book and doing some research on some of the places and activities that Raoul had suggested!
Day 3: Aruba Butterfly Farm, Boca Mahos Natural Pool, Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, Ostrich Farm, Boca Catalina
Once again we started off the day with coffee, breakfast, and crowing roosters! We got ready early and headed out to the Aruba Butterfly Farm and arrived just as they were opening. We were greeted by the owner, who as it happened, was also Canadian. He explained that with our entry fee, we could come back as often as we liked during our stay in Aruba. He also told us that two days a week he comes in early so people can come in to see the butterflies emerge from their chrysalises. After a great chat with him we went in to explore before taking part in a guided walk through the butterfly area. If I had to describe it in one word I would say that it was magical. The vegetation, fish pond, and butterflies pretty much made this place like my own personal heaven. The guide for our tour was extremely knowledgeable and very friendly. We decided we’d come back the next day to see the new butterflies emerge, so we took off to get on with the rest of our day. I can honestly say that I think the visit to the butterfly farm was one of my favourite things we did in Aruba!
We hopped in the car and headed east again, with directions, to the “new” natural pool in Boca Mahos. This time we found it with no troubles and climbed down the wooden ladder on the side of the cliff and then navigated our way over the rocks to find the natural pool hidden along the shoreline. Being so early in the day, and also being hidden, we had the pool to ourselves. The tide appeared to be high and the current in the pool was pulling a little strong than I liked. While Josh jumped in and out and snorkeled, I ended up settling in on a rock in the water and hung on for dear life. I was disappointed that I didn’t get in to swim but I also didn’t want to get caught in a bad situation since I’m a nervous swimmer. At least I was able to get in and I was also able to put my mask on and check out the fish swimming in the pool with us.
When we had climbed back up to the car and were reasonably dry, we headed over to the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins since you could actually see them from the natural pool. We had driven by on Day 1 and there were fewer tourists around this time so it seemed like a good time to take a look. We climbed around the ruins and took in the view from the top, when we walked back down we wandered around the hundreds of inuksuit that people had built along the coast.
When we left the gold mill ruins, we were driving by the Ostrich Farm so we decided to stop in to have a look. The next tour was about to begin shortly, so we grabbed some beers and enjoyed our beverages in the shade while we waited. Unfortunately our visit at the ostrich farm wasn’t as good as our butterfly visit. Our tour guide rushed us through the tour and wasn’t very friendly. We did learn some cool facts and get to feed some birds, but felt like it wasn’t worth the entry fee. It would have been cool if we could have taken on our time on the way through; there was a male courting a female that we breezed right by, emus that we ignored, and I would have liked to have taken some pictures along the way but we went through so quickly that we didn’t get to take pictures or even watch the birds. Having said that, I did get do to feed some young birds!!!
After our big morning of exploring we headed back to the apartment for lunch before heading to Boca Catalina Beach. A bunch of the other guests, as well as the owners of our apartment were heading there too. Josh went snorkeling for the afternoon and I hung out under a divi divi tree for a while before finding the rest of the gang from our apartment out in the water. It was fun to meet the others and learned that we had diverse group of guests, with people from Ireland, England, and Slovakia all staying at the apartments.
After our big afternoon at the beach we headed back to the apartment, where we had a dip in the pool. When we got out, we ended up chatting with the guest from Slovakia. We learned that he often traveled for business and ended up visiting Aruba as often as he could. We ended up sitting around the pool chatting for the entire evening and learned so much about Slovakia that I think it’s now on our travel “wishlist”!!!!
And that concludes our first three days in Aruba! Stay tuned for a recap of the rest of the trip!