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Aruba: One Happy Island is a Caribbean island 15 miles north of the coast of Venezuela, and is one of the four "countries" that together form the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is 30 km (19.6 miles) long and 9 km (6 miles) across at its widest point giving it an area of approximately 70 mi² (184 km²). This flat island with no rivers is renowned for its white sand beaches and tropical climate moderated by constant trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean. The temperature is almost constant at about 27°C (81°F) and the yearly rainfall usually does not exceed 20 inches. Aruba lies outside the Caribbean hurricane belt. This beautiful island offers many activities and attractions for people of all ages.
Aruba is divided into the northeast and southwest coasts. The southwest has the white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and warm waters. The northeast coast, exposed to the Atlantic, has a few white sand beaches, cacti, rough seas with treacherous currents, and a rocky coastline. The time in Aruba is Atlantic Standard Time; it is the same as Eastern Daylight Savings time all year round.
The climate is tropical marine, with little seasonal temperature variation. Because of its location south in the Caribbean there is very strong sun, but a constant light breeze keeps the temperature pleasant. (These persistent winds out of the east shape the island's distinctive, lop-sided divi-divi trees.) The divi-divi trees have become a signature tree to Aruba's landscape. The weather is almost always dry, with most rain showers coming at night and lasting only a little while. Temperatures in Aruba do not change dramatically. Between the months of January and March the temperatures stay around 76-85 degrees; this being their high season. However starting in April and through December this is considered off season and temperatures do not change much beyond 79 and 88 degrees. It lies outside the zone usually affected by hurricanes.
The island is flat with a few hills, arid with mostly desert vegetation and negligible natural resources other than white sandy beaches. Highest point: Mount Jamanota (188 m).
Discovered and claimed for Spain in 1499, Aruba was acquired by the Dutch in 1636. The island's economy has traditionally been dominated by three main industries. A 19th century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by the opening in 1924 of an oil refinery. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry. In 1986, Aruba seceded from the Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire and Curacao, which together with Aruba form the ABC-Islands) and became a separate, autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba's request in 1990.
In 1986, the oil refinery closed, which severely impacted Aruba's economy and accelerated an already-evident shift towards tourism which is now almost complete. The oil refinery reopened in 1991, closed again in 2009, reopened again in 2011, and closed again in 2012.
Today, tourism is the mainstay of the small, open Aruban economy. The rapid growth of the tourism sector over the last decade has resulted in a substantial expansion of other activities. Construction boomed, with hotel capacity five times the 1985 level. The 1980s tourism boom led to a bad hangover, in that several projects ran out of money during construction and sat as half-completed eyesores until they were eventually picked up by other investors and completed during the 1990s and 2000s. To prevent a recurrence of that situation, the government imposed a building moratorium in 2007.
Papiamento and the national flag, anthem, and coat of arms are the most important national symbols. They stress the inhabitants' love for the island, the close connection to the Caribbean Sea, and the multi-cultural composition of the population. The national anthem is played and sung on many occasions. The Dutch flag functions as a symbol of the unity of Aruba, the Netherlands, and the Netherlands Antilles.
Aruba uses 120V at 60Hz, which is identical to the US and Canadian standard. Outlets are NEMA 5 grounded outlets identical to standard wall outlets in the US and Canada. Occasionally non-grounded outlets may be found, which do not accept the third, round pin present on grounded plugs and require an adapter. Older North American outlets may not be polarised (with one slot wider than the other). Otherwise, adapters are available which accept a polarised plug and adapt it for use with a non-polarised outlet.
Currency & Money
Aruba's currency is the florin denoted by the letters 'Awg.' but also widely known as 'Afl.' The official rate at which banks accept U.S. dollar banknotes is Awg. 1,77 and checks at Awg. 1,78. The rate of exchange granted by shops and hotels ranges from Awg. 1,75 to Awg. 1,80 per U.S. dollar. U.S. Dollars are widely accepted in Aruba, and banks may exchange other foreign currency. Traveler's checks are widely accepted and there is no charge for using them in hotels, restaurants and stores. Major credit cards are accepted at most establishments while personal checks are normally not accepted.
Cash may be obtained with MasterCard, Visa and American Express cards at credit card offices, banks, in some casinos and via Western unnion. ATM cards and credit cards are accepted by ATMs of Aruba Bank, Banco di Caribe, RBTT Bank, and Caribbean Mercantile Bank. The card must have either a Cirrus or Visa Plus logo. ATM instructions are normally given in Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamento. Cash is normally dispensed in local currency.
Get around in Aruba
Like most Caribbean islands, Aruba's transportation network consists primarily of two-lane paved roads.
Oranjestad is often jammed with traffic when Aruba is full of tourists, which means that if you are staying north of Oranjestad, you must budget at least an hour each way to transit through Oranjestad. A glance at the map will reveal several possibilities for going around the worst of the traffic by heading inland, but there aren't any really good shortcuts, just long detours where the time spent going out of your way to bypass Oranjestad is almost as long as the time it would have taken you to just sit through bumper-to-bumper traffic passing through it.
You can conveniently get around Aruba by car, bus, or by foot. As a tourist, it is not completely necessary to rent a car because many restaurants, beaches, and shopping areas are within walking distance. If something is not within walking distances, taxis are always available and the ride is never very long. There is also a bus line that can take you close to major tourist areas.
Driving in Aruba
The most important thing U.S. drivers need to remember is that there are no turns on red. Also, there are several roundabouts (circles), which can be frustrating to some drivers but are quickly gotten used to. Unlike conventional roundabouts which either lack lanes altogether or have very confusing lane markings, Aruba has extensive signage and asphalt curbs which precisely indicate available movements through roundabouts and you will get used to them very quickly.
Aruba uses international road signs under the Vienna Convention standard, which generally have no words or any obvious relation to their meaning. Fortunately, tourist maps usually contain quick references explaining their meaning if you are unfamiliar with them. Aruba also marks roads in the European style, meaning they use only white lines and do not use yellow lines to divide two-way opposing traffic as on the North American mainland.
The island's most important road is LG Smith Boulevard (also known as Sasakiweg north of Oranjestad). Sasakiweg between Oranjestad and Palm Beach has been improved so that it is the island's only major four-lane divided highway, on which the speed limit is 80 kph (except at roundabouts, where it drops to 40).
Because the island is so small, everything of interest is close to everything else of interest, and it takes special talent to get lost—if you don't know where you're going, you can basically just keep driving, and statistically speaking you are likely to end up where you need to go eventually. It should be noted, however, that most street names are not identified by signage. Even worse, many rural streets are unnamed, meaning you have to navigate them by dead reckoning or landmarks.
The lack of street name signs can be especially frustrating in downtown Oranjestad. The best approach is to park in the parking lot across LG Smith Boulevard from the Renaissance Mall and Royal Plaza Mall and simply walk to your destination. A cab might also be easier than navigating the narrow unmarked streets. Take a map with you to determine what road signs mean because they are not immediately obvious.
You should also be cautious when driving, as there are certain "bus only" roads that are not marked but that feature large pits in the road designed to trap normal cars while letting buses drive through.
International road signs are used in Aruba. Foreign driver's licenses and International Driver Permits issued by a member country of the Geneva Convention on Road Traffic are generally valid. If your driver's license is already written in English from such a country, an IDP is not necessary. Car speedometers and road signs are in kilometres. The speed limit in urban areas is 40km/h; out of town it's 80km/h, unless a higher or lower speed is specifically indicated. Much of Oranjestad's traffic is one-way and at intersections, where there are no road signs, traffic from your right has the right of way. Aruba follows the European approach to intersection signage, where stop signs are used only when absolutely necessary and the yield sign is the predominant traffic control device. If you do see a stop sign, it really does mean stop completely (not slow to a creep or roll), usually because it's a blind intersection.
Languages spoken are Dutch (official), Papiamento, (also official) (a creole of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch origin), Spanish, and English (widely spoken).
What to see in Aruba
Natural Pool (Conchi) - On the northern side of the island and only accessible via ATV or Trail Rated 4x4. This is a small pool of water hidden in natural rock formation that jut into the ocean, just off the shore of Aruba. This location makes for a great day trip - make sure your vehicle has a spare tire.
California Lighthouse - On the northernmost tip of the island. Many scenic views and is also the location where you can access the dirt trails to travel down the northern shores of Aruba.
Our Lady of Alto Visto Chapel - On the northern side of the island. The chapel is very picturesque and historic.
Aruba Aloe Factory – You can take a short tour and learn some interesting facts about aloe farming, production and uses.
Casibari Rock & Ayo Rock Formations – You can climb and explore these formations, the tops of which provide a great view of the countryside.
Natural Bridge @ Boca Andicuri – There are 7 "Natural Bridges" in Aruba. The original (biggest and most famous bridge that people are referring to when they say Natural Bridge) collapsed in 2005 leaving a pile of rubble in the bay. There is a smaller bridge right next to the fallen bridge that still stands.
Bushiribban Gold Mill / Smelting Station – The ruins of the smelting station are the way to the Natural Bridge. Climbing the ruins you can get great photos of the coastline.
Aruba Ostrich Farm – The tour walks you around the ostrich pens and incubator. The Aruba farm is more for educating people, while the meat that is used for food in Aruba actually comes from the sister island of Curacao. (Ostrich is a red meat, which is high in protein and low in fat.)
Boca Catalina and the Antilla Shipwreck – These are 2 of the many sites snorkel tours will take you. The Antillla Shipwreck is the remains of a scuttled 400-foot German cargo ship that was anchored off of Aruba during WW2. Antilla is the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean. It was thought that this ship was supplying German U-Boats in the Caribbean and after The Netherlands was invaded in 1940, the captain was given notice to surrender the ship. Instead of surrendering the ship to the Dutch Marines the captain sunk the ship by blowing up the boilers. (The crew swam to shore, and were taken POW and shipped to Bonaire.) The joke you will hear is "They did not want to surrender the cargo and they also wanted to provide future tourists with a site to see." The remains are off of Malmok beach. After the war, the captain and his crew purchased their former POW camp and converted it into a hotel. Today the site is the
Divi Flamingo resort. This shipwreck can be explored either by diving or by submarine.
Arikok National Park - The park consists of lava formations, a quartz diorite formation and a limestone formation extending inward from the coastline. These formations have played a pivotal role in the history of Aruba.
The Palm Island
Hooiberg (Haystack Mountain) a.k.a simply "the Haystack" – Standing over 500 feet, the haystack is in the center of the country and provides a breathtaking view of Aruba. People suggest going on a cool & clear day because it will be easier to climb the 561 steps required to reach the top and you can see the coast of Venezuela to the south!
Butterfly Farm - set in a tropical atmosphere, tour guides at the Butterfly Farm will elucidate butterfly habits and metamorphosis.
Bubali Bird Sanctuary - over 80 species of migratory birds reside in the sanctuary. Get the best view of the birds, by using the observation tower.
De Oude Molen/ Windmill First built in 1804 in Holland then shipped to Aruba in 1906.
Donkey Sanctuary, (Take route 4A from the hotels. At the Pizza Hut in Paradera take a left turn. At the second intersection, just before Ayo Rock formation, you will find the white/brown road signs to the sanctuary and within 5 minutes you can pet the 59 (total of 135) donkeys.). 9 am-4pm. A home for many rescued donkeys, who roam wild on Aruba and are often killed by cars or dogs. Staffed by volunteers who offer information about the donkeys and the sanctuary program. For a small fee, you can feed the donkeys pellets or apples--petting them is free! All proceeds from the feeding program and the small but well-stocked gift shop are used to care for and rescue the donkeys. free.