Beyond Aruba’s Beaches
While the beaches are an obvious choice, there’s so much more to Aruba than just sun and sand. The island’s distinct topography and semiarid climate allow for an array of activities, many of which aren’t available on other Caribbean islands: ecological explorations, desert safaris, horseback-riding tours, and undersea and over-water adventures.
Begin exploration right at Palm Beach. Across from the Divi Aruba Phoenix Beach Resort, the Butterfly Farm’s tropical garden is aflutter with a multitude of the gracious species. Arrive early in the morning to witness butterflies emerging from cocoons to take flight for the first time.
Continue the nature tour at the Aruba Aloe Museum and Factory. The influence of the aloe vera plant touches many aspects of Aruban culture, especially health and healing. It was introduced to the island in 1840, and shortly thereafter, the leafy wonder covered nearly two-thirds of the island. Aloe vera’s natural healing qualities are intensified by the southern Caribbean sun and Aruba’s desert-like climate. The science behind it all is explained during a tour of the factory, the highlight of which is the chance to purchase soothing Aruba Aloe lotions and creams. Stock up on pre- and post-sun skin-care products. The southern Caribbean sun can be scorching, but the deceptive breeze keeps many visitors from noticing until it’s too late.
Arikok National Park, an ecological reserve to the north, makes up nearly twenty percent of Aruba. The park showcases a cross section of untouched landscapes harmoniously hosting a variety of habitats and their microclimates. About twenty-one miles of well-marked hiking trails wind past the most interesting sites in the park. One trail leads travelers by a century-old adobe home known as the Cunucu Arikok and past oversized stone outcrops marked by ancient rock drawings. Along the Miralamar trail, hikers encounter bicoastal vantage points where the drastic differences between the northern and southern seaboards are visible.
Nearly fifty species of native trees are represented in Arikok, some of which are so scarce they grow only within the park’s boundaries. The untilled territory offers refuge to native wildlife such as the Aruban whiptail lizard, Aruban burrowing owl, and Aruban parakeet—species found only on this island.
The Caribbean Sea constantly ebbs and flows with fervor against the limestone cliffs on the park’s northeastern border. Over time, the pounding waves carved out a series of shallow caverns such as Fontein Cave, where ancient pictographs prove the Amerindians once took shelter there. At the Guadirikiri Cave, two large chambers are punctuated by holes in the roof that allow sunlight to stream in, negating the need for flashlights. The third cavern worth exploring is Huliba Cave, where a heart-shaped entrance earned it the Tunnel of Love nickname.
Aruba’s central region is known as the cunucu, a quaint countryside filled with curious divi-divi trees, towering cacti, and enigmatic clusters of gigantic tonalite boulders. The stones at the Casibari and Ayo rock formations weigh several tons apiece yet appear to be haphazardly strewn about the land. This condition perplexed the ancient Amerindians and continues to puzzle modern geologists today.
Further north on the east coast, a winding road lined with white crosses leads to the charming, bright-yellow Alto Vista Chapel, the island’s first Roman Catholic church. This seaside edifice, built by native Indians and Spanish settlers in 1750 and reconstructed in 1953, exudes a deep sense of tranquility and history.
At the northwestern tip of Aruba, the California Lighthouse stands guard over land and sea from its cliffside perch. The scenic landmark is named in honor of a ship that sank in 1916 in the rough waters a few miles offshore. The lighthouse offers rewarding 360-degree views of the rippling sand dunes and weather-beaten coastline to the east and of the marshmallow-white beaches backed by the opalescent blue sea to the west.
Embark on a scenic sunset cruise with tropical views, Caribbean music, and unlimited cocktails and snacks.
Enjoy a picturesque island tour of the Casibari rock formations, gold mill ruins, beaches, and the former Natural Bridge.
Visit three of Aruba’s most famous landmarks in a colorful open-air bus. Then hit Palm Beach to lunch and relax on a complimentary lounge chair.
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