White sands, impossibly blue water and picture-perfect weather draw beach-lovers to Aruba. Warm and welcoming, the island is what the locals call “dushi.”
Of course, they call just about everything dushi — at least everything that’s good, sweet, fine or delicious. It’s all dushi.
The west side of the island offers miles of beautiful beaches, perfect for long sunset walks. Resorts line Palm Beach. During the day, it looks like half of the state of New Jersey (including the cast of Jersey Shore) is soaking up the sun on resort lounge chairs lined up like dominoes. East Coasters are crazy about Aruba.
As Texans used to wide open spaces, our favorite spot is the Westin Resort and Casino; it’s the last of the big hotels on Palm Beach, making it easy to escape the crowds. Point your lounge chair to the south, and you’ll think you have the beach all to yourself.
Of course, you’ll also want to take in the scene and walk north to Malmok and Arashi beaches. That’s where you’ll find the snorkelers and the windsurfers. It’s a long walk; stop at Bugaloe, a friendly bar right on the water, serving tropical cocktails and featuring live music most evenings.
You’ll want to rent a Jeep so you can see the island. For a quiet getaway, take an early morning excursion to Baby Beach for swimming and snorkeling. This pristine cove is filled with fish and seashells. Tour buses pull up around noon, so plan a morning trip. Eagle Beach is another beauty. Walk this mile-long strip of white sand and stop under Aruba’s famous gnarled Divi Divi tree for a photo on the beach.
To see Aruba’s other side, take a Jeep trip along the rough and jagged northeast shore. While the west is calm water and scenic beaches, the east is turbulent tides whipped around the rocky windward coast.
Boca Prins is the fiercest of the inlets, but there are many coves and caves to explore. Take a hike in Arikok National Park for a taste of Aruba’s flora and fauna. Cadushi cactuses loom. Wild goats rule the rocky hillsides. Look closely and you might see a kododo, Aruba’s cobalt blue lizard. Check out the park’s primitive “cunucu,” or old Aruban house. Bring water and snacks on your excursion; this area is remote.
Adventure tours offer off-road excursions to hard-to-get places like Natural Pool, a remote swimming hole protected from the rough seas by a wall of rock. Another way to see this small island is via mountain bike; guided cycle tours are available.
Animal lovers might want to visit Aruba’s donkey sanctuary, home to the island’s abandoned donkeys. Brought to Aruba 500 years ago by the Spaniards, they were the main form of transportation before cars were introduced. At one time, 1,400 donkeys roamed the island. This nonprofit shelter feeds and protects the remaining wild donkeys.
Aruba has more civilized entertainment as well. Luxury shops pack the mall in Oranjestad. But it’s more fun to shop the souvenir and clothing stores housed in the ice-cream-colored, Dutch-inspired buildings of the historic district. Language is not an issue here; most Arubans speak some English — as well as Dutch, Spanish and their native Papiamento. For a fascinating history of Aruba, stop in at the historical museum in Oranjestad, housed in a traditional yellow manor house with red-tiled roof.
While walking around the historic district, look for one of the kiosks that sells pastechis. The tasty little meat-, egg- or cheese-filled empanadas are an authentic Aruban breakfast or snack.
Papiamento Restaurant in Noord offers a true taste of Aruba. Diners can sit outdoors poolside for a romantic dinner and music, or inside the colonial cunucu furnished with Dutch antiques; take a tour to see the wine cellar and tiled kitchen. The place gets packed, so it’s best not to be in a hurry here. Seafood grilled and served on a sizzling stone is a specialty; so is Keshi Yena, a classic Aruban dish of spiced meat baked in the scooped-out shell of Edam cheese.
Finally, don’t miss dinner on the beach with your toes in the water at the Flying Fishbone. It’s out of the way in Savaneta, but this beautiful restaurant sits on a piece of paradise and serves great seafood. The romantic setting is worth the drive. It’s dushi.