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With its array of duty-free shops and casinos, the island is a favorite port for cruise ships, but visitors also lodge here to take advantage of upscale restaurants, lively nightclubs, and some of the best windsurfing in the world. 

Dutch Treat

Most visitors concentrate their exploration of Aruba to the northwest coastline between Oranjestad, the island’s capital, and Palm Beach, the long strand fronted by high-rise resorts. The bustling city of Oranjestad has a distinct Dutch feel. A few colonial houses, built in the 1800s and painted in various shades of pastel, line the streets. Newer buildings are striking, composed in the colorful historical Antillean style.

Most of the action centers on and around L.G. Smith Boulevard, which buzzes with pedestrians when cruise ships are in port. Shopping is a major diversion on Aruba, with clusters of duty-free stores offering good deals on jewelry, perfume, linen, liquor and designer clothing. Chopard, Vuitton and Ferragamo are recent additions to the long list of high-end retail options.

Oranjestad loves nightlife. Discos and nightclubs typically open at about 10 p.m. and some don’t close until just before sunrise. You can find a variety of music here – everything from fiery Latin rhythms to sultry jazz. Several “party buses” will transport visitors from club to club. Gaming is on offer at 11 resort casinos.

On, Off, In or Under the Water

Most of the beaches are found along Aruba’s Northwest coast. The main road leading north from Oranjestad takes visitors through the two main resort areas – one with low-rise buildings, the other with high-rises – with a series of glorious beaches: Druif, Eagle and Palm, much of it fronted by a pedestrian walkway  where strolling honeymooners and families alike parade in a carefree fashion in the evening. 

The Palm Beach area offers the greatest concentration of sun ‘n’ fun possibilities. You’ll find parasailing, where you’ll hang from a parachute while being towed by a speedboat; glass-bottom boat rides; and excursions aboard the submarine Atlantis. Or, you can sign up for high-octane thrills aboard a turbocharged jet boat that screams along the open sea at bracing speeds. Just north of Palm Beach is a world-renowned windsurfing and kite-surfing mecca. 

Scuba diving is popular, with good visibility year-round. A coral reef extends along the southwest coast, beckoning with a multitude of fish along with hawksbill, green and leatherback turtles. A couple of wrecks lie offshore, most notably the Antilla, a German freighter sunk during World War II, which is the largest in the Caribbean.

Rock On

Located just 20 miles north of Venezuela, Aruba is noteworthy for its arid interior lands where unusual rock formations create caves, sea cliffs, natural bridges, and even forests of boulders inhabit the cunuku, or countryside.

Casibari and Ayo boast curious rock formations, where wind and the ravages of time have exposed and carved huge diorite boulders into strange and mysterious shapes. At the Fontein cave, visitors find natural stone pillars and a 100-yard-long tunnel that features Amerindian paintings. Nearby, the Guadirikiri caves have a long tunnel that is home to hundreds of bats. 

Bus tours are a popular way of exploring the 20-mile-long island, but you can also tour the cunuku in a convoy of Range Rovers or ATV’s – with you at the wheel, if you like – or on a guided excursion. In addition to the geological scenery, you’ll visit the Chapel of Alto Vista, built in 1750 on a desolate hillside by Spanish missionaries, and the Bushiribana gold mine ruins. 

Explore the island in a rental car to see the summit of 541-foot Mount Hooiberg; Arikok National Park, a 13-square-mile preserve laced with nature trails and filled with iguanas, rabbits, migratory birds, goats and donkeys; and Jabaribari, where parakeets hold a cacophonous party at dusk daily.

Swinging in Island Style

While the island’s beaches and water sports get most of the attention, Aruba goes out of its way for landlubbers. At the north tip, duffers will enjoy Tierra del Sol, an 18-hole championship course designed by Robert Trent Jones II or the new nine-hole Divi Links near Orangestad.

Visitors can sign up for a half-day horseback tour that takes them along beaches and into the cunuku. Several rock-climbing outfitters host regular trips for those who want to try their hand scrambling along the craggy cliffs that dot Aruba’s east coast.

You’ll probably work up an appetite after a busy day on and off the water and, with 200 restaurants to choose from, Aruba’s lively dining scene offers a great variety of international cuisines. You’ll find the foods of China, Indonesia, Argentina and Japan, for starters. Local specialties include pastechi, a fried ham-and-cheese turnover you’ll even find on the menu of the local McDonald’s; keri keri, a fish hash made with cumin and garlic; and spiced Aruban fish, which is typically sautéed in olive oil and served with a hot sauce made from local peppers. For dessert, try quesillo, the island’s version of caramel flan. Local liqueurs worth investigating include Ponche Crema, made with eggs and rum; and Coe Coei, concocted from the kukwisa plant, better known as agave. Sign up for the Aruba Gastronomic Association’s dine-around or wine-around programs, which sell discounted meal and wine tasting packages redeemable at 25 island restaurants. 

Aruba boasts the highest penetration of internet use in the region. Most hotels and beaches are wi-fi enabled which is good news for those visitors who cannot entirely break away from business.

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