Aruba, the westernmost of the so-called Dutch "ABC islands:" Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, is less than 20 miles from the coast of Venezuela. A small island, about 20-miles long and six-and-a-quarter miles wide at its widest point, Aruba could be said to be where the desert meets the sea.
The island lies below the hurricane belt and is thus, generally arid--not much is found in the way of rainforests, but instead, visitors find cactus and iguanas. One interesting aspect of the vegetation are the divi divi trees, large shrubs that are Aruba's "compass," as they are bent by the constant trade winds that blow from east to west.
Recently in the news due to the disappearance of Alabama high school graduate Natalee Holloway, who came to the island with classmates to celebrate their graduation in 2005, Aruba is a frequent stop on Southern Caribbean itineraries. The island's largest city and cruise port is Oranjestad with a Caribbean-Dutch ambiance and buildings in bright colors. Oranjestad offers varied shops and malls, restaurants and bars.
The city's main thoroughfare, L.G. Smith Boulevard, runs along the waterfront where there are a variety of marinas. Oranjestad highlights include the Queen Wilhelmina Park, near the Seaport Markeplace shopping mall, with manicured gardens and views of fishing boats; and the Archaeological Museum of Aruba, J. E. Irausquinplein 2A, with exhibits relating to the island's Amerindian legacy, including pottery and tools.
Aruba is chock-full of beaches, with Palm Beach being the best of the island, and among the best in the world, a stretch of sugar-white sand and aquamarine waters, home to the island's high-rise hotels. Eagle Beach, next to Palm Beach, tends to be less crowded and quieter.
Popular cruise ship excursions include island tours taking in such points of interest as the California Lighthouse with panoramic views of the sea and shoreline; the quaint Alto Vista Chapel, a pale-yellow structure on a cactus-studded promontory facing the sea; the Natural Bridge, a pretty rocky bridge; caverns like Quadirikiri Cave, inhabited by small bats; the Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations, with gigantic boulders and petroglyphs; and, for animal lovers, the Ostrich Farm and Donkey Farm.
Other shore activities and pastimes include diving, snorkeling, windsurfing and other water sports; submarine rides; shopping; horseback riding excursions and gambling in nearly a dozen casinos. Some of the casinos are within walking distance of the cruise ship pier, including the Seaport Casino on L. G. Smith Boulevard 9.
Aruba boasts a variety of restaurants serving international cuisine including Mathilde (French, on Havenstraat 23) and Cuba's Cookin' (Cuban specialties, on Wilhelminastraat 27). Seafood dishes including red snapper are served at the Waterfront Crabhouse (Renaissance Marketplace, L. G. Smith Boulevard). For burgers, drinks and a party atmosphere, there is Carlos 'n' Charlie's and a Señor Frogs (on Westraat).
Among the cruise lines that visit Aruba are Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Star Clippers.
IF YOU GO -- For additional information on Aruba, log on to www.aruba.com.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times