Despite Aruba’s reputation as a micro Caribbean paradise, the tiny island is more than just the sum of its parts. Indian, Spanish, Dutch and Western cultures collide in a seemingly discordant mixture of hospitality and generosity. Only 70 miles square; a large portion of which is a rugged national park, plus limited road access and a unique topography make Aruba ideal for an impromptu road trip.
First the basics: Most resorts can arrange a rental car for you, but make sure it comes with a working spare before you leave; Aruban roads are notorious for causing mood-deflating flats. Once that’s all squared away, all you need is a basic map, a general sense of direction and a splash of island nonchalance. You might want to pack a tube of sunscreen and a bathing suit as well- the coastline beaches are awful tempting.
Most resorts are situated north of the airport, in the aptly named Noord district, making the California Lighthouse a natural staring point. Several shipwreck sites are visible from the road leading to the northwestern tip of the island, where the lighthouse stands. Named for a U.S. ship that sank two years previous to its 1910 construction, the lighthouse has become one of the island’s premier scenic photo-ops.
While you’re driving, keep an eye out for bizarre, wind-sculpted dividivi trees. They’re Aruba’s national tree and oddly provocative.
Arikok National Park is a living museum of the things that make Aruba unique. Lava and limestone formations, indigenous flora and fauna, and historic native settlements are obvious highlights. The park is home to several different species, (including the whiptail lizard and a burrowing owl) that are found only in Aruba. Spend a little time walking around, experiencing all the different micro-climates.
After your hike, it’s time to lay out, snorkel and wade in the waters of Baby Beach, located at the southeastern-most part of the island. A locals-only hotspot, the half moon stretch of white sand is flanked by small huts selling food and beverages. The calm, tepid lagoon is perfect for beginner snorkelers who can explore the coral reefs where the bay opens out into the ocean.
After you’ve had your fill of sand and sun, stop for a pre-dinner cocktail at Pincho’s Grill and Bar in downtown Oranjestad. A thin ramp lined with blue lights leads out to the dock-like restaurant, made up of a simple (but stocked) bar, several intimate tables and a handful of cushioned swings. Sunsets are gorgeous and if you’re there with a significant other, this spot is as romantic as it comes.
Finish the night off at the Flying Fishbone. Located in the old fishing village of Savaneta, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for the neon sign of a fishbone as you drive; trust me when I say this restaurant is well-hidden. A French Polynesian influence is evident in many of the entrees, but the shrimp, shitake and blue cheese casserole is the restaurant’s most popular dish. The real allure of the Flying Fishbone is the atmosphere- peaceful, isolated and exotic all at the same time. Tell the hostess you’d like to get your feet wet for a table right on the sand and the best view of the Caribbean before it transforms into a blanket of stars.