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Aruba has all the earmarks of a Caribbean paradise: startlingly blue waters, white-sand beaches, and gentle breezes. But there are surprises, too. Rather than the waving palm trees that may come to mind when imagining a tropical island, Aruba’s landscape is arid and desert-like. This captivating volcanic landscape is dotted with cacti, scrub, and sculptural divi-divi trees, whose sinewy trunks are carved by the winds. It’s a beautiful and wild place, with clusters of civilization contrasted by a rugged and undeveloped side.
Aruba is a constituent country of the Netherlands, and its small but lively capital city, Oranjestad, contains colorful Dutch Colonial buildings. Beguiling beaches and fine dining can be found here, but also adventure. Snorkeling, windsurfing, and diving are popular pastimes. Aruba is considered a prime spot for exploring the ocean, and divers come here to see such fascinating shipwrecks as the SS Antilla, a German ship that was scuttled in 1940 and is one of the largest wrecks in the Caribbean. If you’re traveling with cash, note that although the island currency is the Aruban florin, you don’t need to exchange U.S. dollars here. American currency is widely accepted in Aruba, although you may receive change in florins.
Fly into Queen Beatrix International Airport (AUA), located in Oranjestad. Once on the ground, there are public transportation, taxi, and rental car options. A rental car can be a great way to see the island, especially if you plan to visit its more rugged side, but it’s not required. The public Arubus travels between downtown Oranjestad and major attractions: you can purchase day passes or pay a single fare. Taxis do not have meters, so inquire about fares up front. Bikes, motorcycles, and scooters are also popular transportation modes, and you can rent them on the island.
There really isn’t a bad time to go to Aruba. With some of the lowest rainfall of any of the Caribbean islands, and reliably warm and sunny weather, it’s a balmy paradise year round. The accommodating weather means there’s a steady lineup of outdoor entertainment. The Aruba Soul Beach Music Festival, on Labor Day weekend, brings a lineup of musicians, comedians, and beach fetes, and in the fall visitors arrive for the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival, one of the island’s largest events. But the marquee festival is Carnival, which takes up the whole month of February with revelry, musical performances, and parades featuring people in wonderfully elaborate costumes.
This windswept, picturesque park unfurls over nearly 20 percent of the island’s landscape. Marked by dramatic volcanic outcroppings, visitors flock here to bathe in the Natural Pool, a gorgeous ring of rock that forms a protected patch of ocean water, and to explore the Fontein Cave, an impressive network of limestone rock formations.
This stately white lighthouse, perched on the western tip of the island, provides breathtaking 360-degree views of Aruba. It's worth climbing the stairs to the top of this more than 100-year-old landmark, especially for an unparalleled view of the setting sun.
These two clusters of massive boulders delight visitors and confuse scientists, who aren’t sure how they came to be piled together in this way. Clamber over the bulbous Casibari, which rest inside a complex with a restaurant, and then head over to the nearby Ayo formations, which are decorated with ancient rock drawings.