Aruba is expensive as fuck. That was my thought when I hopped my ass on Expedia looking for all inclusive deals after seeing the commercial for this little island for the umpteenth time and deciding to call them on their bluff when they say, “One Happy Island.” I wanted to see exactly what makes Arubians so happy and I was willing to get there by any means necessary. That is, any means I could afford on a social worker’s paycheck. After seeing those vacation package prices it seemed like I had to do something I thought I would never do: check out Airbnb. I’d always heard horror stories from people who stayed in strangers’ homes and had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t for me. The realization that staying in someone else’s home may be the only way I could go to Aruba and still have money for food and entertainment is all it took to put things into perspective. But there was no way I was staying in some stranger’s home without backup, so 10 of us (4 couples and twin boys) headed to Aruba for a week of galavanting.
Where to stay
Merlot Villas is a small gated community in Noord. The villa had 4 master bedrooms (one of them being a suite) and a half bath. The owner of the property even threw in a 9 seater van for an extra fee and his associate, who greeted us when we arrived, provided the boys with play pens and a crib. The villa is s beautiful and comes with a pool, BBQ grill, and a laundry room. It even has a Sonos sound system that allowed us to blast soca throughout the house.
What to see
Absolutely gorgeous. We spent our first full day here. It’s easy to see how it got on the list of the world’s most beautiful beaches (it’s #3 by the way).
We went on a 9 hour Aruba off road island tour with ABC Tours which took us to all the landmarks. We had to drive through Arikok Park so we rode in a 4×4 Land Rover, the only way to safely navigate the rough terrain. We poked fun of people who took their rental sedan and got stuck. The ride was hella bumpy but it was so much fun. Our tour guide Ray is quite knowledgeable and this was when I finally learned just what makes Aruba such a happy island.
1. Alcohol. I mean this is pretty self explanatory. We Trinis love liquor, so i completely understand why. Rum is life.
2. The economy is up 86% due to tourism.
3. Because of their great economy, Aruba’s unemployment rate is at 3%.
4. And their crime rate is only at 1%.
5. Health insurance for everyone. And everything is covered except for cosmetic surgery.
6. Their educational system is top notch. When you’re 6 you are mandated to learn Dutch. If you do not learn Dutch you will not proceed to the second grade, where you will learn English. In the 5th grade you learn Dutch, English and Spanish. By the 6th grade you learn Papiemento, the native tongue, which is a combination of Dutch, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Creole (am I leaving anything out) . Papiemento is only spoken on four islands: Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, and Cape Verde. In high school you get to choose between German, Spanish, or French. After junior college you can migrate to another country to further your education. If you get a loan, you have five years after graduation to pay it off. They give you time to settle down. Or, you can make a case with the government to get a full scholarship that covers EVERYTHING.
7. The drinking water. According to the World Health Organization, Aruba has the best drinking water. Because their water is so tasty Arubians drink a lot of it and water has been proven to improve your mood.
8. Arubians stick together. I would not go so far as to say they don’t see color, but there is a one for all, all for one sentiment.
Here are some highlights from the tour.
Casibari Rock Formations, also known as Aruba’s Stonehenge.
Ray! He’s the best.
California Light House
Gold Mill Ruins
The Quadirici Cave
Alto Vista Chapel
Natural Pool, a coastal swimming hole, was so crowded. My face just fell when I realized I had to wait for people to come out so I could go in. But when I got in I did not want to leave, so I understand.
They took us to two beaches:
The water here is mostly shallow and the fish were abundant. I snorkeled for hours.
Here is a drone shot of Baby Beach
And another small beach. The name escapes me but there was a small jump off point.
We even made a surprise stop at a grotto not too far from the Gold Mills.
They gave us lunch. And I’m not talking a sandwich. A real meal at their own Waka Waka Adventure Cafe and Cantina.
The day was well spent. We pretty much covered the entire island, which I believe is about 18 miles around according to Ray.
We took another shorter tour with Red Sails the following day. They took us out to a shipwreck. Now, when I booked this tour I was excited. I was like, “Yes, a shipwreck!” But when we pulled up to the wreckage of the SS Antilla, one of the Caribbean’s largest at almost 400 feet, I hesitated to get in that 60 foot deep blue water. It was freaky. And the captain of the catamaran did not help when he said to be careful with the current. It could carry you away if you’re not paying attention. But I said fuck it. I grabbed my life jacket and flippers and slid into the cold water. When I put my face under the water I was in awe. I just floated face down and stared at the wreckage. I stared at it for so long that my mind started playing tricks on me and I could have sworn I saw a shark emerge from the wreckage and make his was in my direction. But it turned out to be someone riding one of those under water jet thingies. When I raised my head up from the water I was almost under the catamaran. The captain wasn’t lying about the current. After snorkeling they treated us to greasy pastries stuffed with meat. My favorite kind of food. I took full advantage of the open bar and drank about 5 or 6 rum punches. I lost count. The DJ put on some great music and it was a fun ride back. I was three sheets to the wind by the time we pulled back into De Palm Pier. What a glorious Sunday. (My grandmother just rolled in her grave).
This sad image directly above is the only one of the shipwreck we could save after our gopro files were corrupted. We are still working on retrieving the rest.
Where to eat
La Vista at Aruba Marriot
We went to a live carnival show here. For a flat fee of $59 we had access to the buffet and were treated to a beautiful show in which masqueraders showcased costumes from their carnival season. We had a great view as we dined. One of the masqueraders pulled me from our table and I was forced into a conga line, which turned out to be quite fun.
You cannot go to Aruba and not eat at Zeerover. At least that’s what the people of YouTube said. So I had to see what all the fuss was about. I was not disappointed. At this restaurant fishermen bring in fresh catches every hour. You simply place your order, take your number, sit and enjoy the scenery and someone will bring your food. We were lucky enough to have a great view of the sunset during dinner.
The Old Cunucu House
This restaurant is so cozy and inviting. I felt like I was having dinner in someone’s home. It was not near any of the other restaurants on the strip. It was on a back road in Noord. It was peaceful and quiet, except for our table. The lighting was soft on the veranda where we ate and laughed and got drunk…again. Or maybe I was still drunk from the shipwreck tour. I don’t remember. That entire Sunday was just one great drunken blur of rum and food that I should not be eating but fuck it I was on vacation.
We are not avid clubbers. We found a strip that was obviously put there for tourists. There are a lot of restaurants and clubs to choose from. We ended up at Senior Frog and had a decent time. When we got there there was hardly anyone there. But the place was getting lively when we decided to head out. The music was great, the drinks were better and we had a great time. We walked about the strip and walked pass a live performance at Hard Rock Cafe (extra touristy) then settled in at an outdoor dance floor because the DJ was playing reggae. I did not take a lot of pics.
Needless to say I love Aruba. The climate is amazing. It’s dry and very windy so you never feel uncomfortably hot. The people are warm and friendly. I went to Aruba thinking of it as just another Caribbean island to check off my list, but at the end of my six nights I did not want to leave. Seriously, I was googling houses for sale and social work jobs. Usually when I leave an island I’m thinking onto the next one. But with Aruba I knew I would return. Especially now that I know it can be done without breaking the bank.