“Offering up the Caribbean stereotypes, but with a personality all of its own, this Dutch isle has an extra dimension.”
Aruba has all the qualities a Caribbean island should have – white sands, swaying palm trees and bath-warm waters. The best swathe of coast is the 11-kilometre stretch that connects Palm Beach and Eagle Beach on the island’s western side. Eagle Beach was even voted one of the top ten beaches in the world at the recent TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Beaches Awards.
Aruba is actually part of a trio of islands known as the ABCs – Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao – and, together with Holland, they make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. As such, the island has got a strong Dutch influence. Nowhere is this showcased more than in the capital, Oranjestad. It’s packed with gable-topped houses and cobbled squares that could have been lifted straight out of Amsterdam.
Over in Palm Beach – one of the island’s most popular coastal resorts – high-rise hotels and swish casinos line the sands, turning the town into something of a Las Vegas once the sun has gone down. At the other end of the spectrum, there’s Eagle Beach. This is Aruba on a go-slow – think thatched beach hangouts serving up pina coladas beneath the stars.
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Aruba bagged the best of the ABCs’ beaches. We’re talking Caribbean classics where talcumy sands and bright turquoise seas come as standard. Most of them fringe the west coast, the leader of the pack being Palm Beach. This ice-white beauty fronts the island’s high-rise hotels and, as the name suggests, is edged by a curtain of glossy palms. Sailing boats, jet-skis and banana boats line up along its shoreline, and at one end you’ve got Palm Pier, a rush-thatched jetty packed with restaurants and snack bars. Eagle Beach is another of Aruba’s big-hitters. Less developed than neighbouring Palm Beach, it serves up sand-and-sea with a side-order of peace and quiet. Another noteworthy sweep is Arashi Beach. Tucked on Aruba’s northwest tip, near the California Lighthouse, it’s really popular with the locals and is a good spot for body boarding. Not far away you’ve got Malmok Beach. The glamour puss of the bunch, it’s backed by flash Miami-style villas and is a great place for windsurfing. Plus there’s a wreck of a sunken freighter here, so it’s a top scuba haunt, too. Down south, meanwhile, the aptly-named Baby Beach is a good place to head if you’ve got the kids in tow. Cue calm waters perfect for paddling and soft sands spot on for children’s construction work. It’s a completely different kettle of fish over on the windward east coast. The cliffs here have been carved out by the sea into blowholes and inlets so when heavy swells roll in, pounding spray is thrown up into the air. Along this wild and isolated stretch, you’ll find a clutch of near-deserted beaches like Boca Grandi and Andicuri. The latter of which has been the setting for many a photo shoot – its black pebbles provide a striking natural backdrop. The supermodel of Aruba’s beaches, however, is Renaissance Island. Only accessible by speedboat, this almond-shaped sliver belongs to the Renaissance Hotel. And it’s outrageously gorgeous. Think duvet-soft sands, aquamarine lagoons and nodding palms. There are even pink flamingos strutting their stuff along the shore. In fact, Renaissance Island’s so mesmerising, it’s the official screensaver on our computers here at Thomson.
Oranjestad is Aruba’s shopping bull’s eye. We’re talking designer boutiques, glam shopping malls and high-class jewellers. But while the capital’s residents are generally well-heeled, they’re not exactly dripping in diamonds - so why all the shopping hoopla? Every few days, colossal cruise liners dock here and hordes of splurge-happy passengers come ashore. And the citizens of Oranjestad lay on a shopping extravaganza to help visitors give their credit cards a workout. And what with Aruba being duty-free, that’s easily done. Well, technically speaking, only the airport departure lounge is duty-free but Aruba’s hijacked the phrase to describe the big discounts on offer. Duty-low is perhaps a better description. A good place to exorcise those shopping demons is along Caya G F Betico Croes and the streets that run off it. This is the capital’s main shopping drag and you’ll find everything from clothes to camcorders here. Not far away, on Lloyd G Smith Boulevard, there’s the kitsch Royal Plaza Mall. You can’t miss it. All bubblegum-pink gables, it looks as though it’s been airlifted over from New Orleans – all that’s missing is a barbershop quartet fresh out of Dixieland. Close by, you’ve got the Renaissance Mall. Tucked below the Renaissance Hotel, this one’s home to luxury stores like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Ralph Lauren. And just across the street you’ve got the more family-friendly Renaissance Marketplace, where you can break for a Haagen-Dazs pit stop. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Other retail temples include the Port of Call Marketplace and the Paseo Herencia in the High Rise - an open-air shopping area not to be missed. You get the picture – this place isn’t short on shops. It’s all about glitz, glamour and big bucks. On the subject of which, take American dollars with you currency-wise as they’re accepted everywhere.