Monday, November 7, 2016

Destination Aruba: One Happy Island

We dodged and danced past Hurricane Matthew for a visit to the island of Aruba. The island is only six miles wide, but packs in plenty of hospitality and attractions.

A Visit To The Dutch Caribbean

When we were invited to attend a conference in Aruba, we leapt at the chance. Who wouldn’t want to visit the sun-kissed sands of this tiny island 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela? What we hadn’t planned on was the destructive path of Hurricane Matthew. As we were preparing for our trip, Matthew was wrecking Haiti and plotting a threatening course up the east coast of the US.

Luckily for us, Hurricane Matthew missed Aruba. As we flew south, Matthew twisted north. Our flight into Queen Beatrix International Airport was uneventful and were soon rolling towards the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino. The Hyatt Regency is a top shelf property located on the beach in Noord.

Aruba is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities. It is part of the Netherlands Kingdom (along with Curacao and Saint Maarten). The currency is the Aruban florin – however, US dollars were accepted everywhere we went. English is also widely spoken, although Papiamento and Dutch are the official languages. Papiamento is a mash up of Portuguese, West African languages, Dutch, and Spanish.

Our hotel was the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort and Casino. The Hyatt is right on the beach and has an amazing pool. Our room had an outstanding view of swaying palm trees and the ocean. There are nine different restaurants or bars – so no one is going thirst or hungry. The Alfresco lobby bar gives a spectacular view of the sun setting on the water.(The lobby is open-air, and so the lobby bar is outside.)

The Palms Beach bar is perfect for relaxing after a day of activities. Mexicado or Ruinas del Mar are perfect for dinner or lunch. Outside the restaurant you’ll see black swans (yes, they do exisit) floating in a nearby waterway.

The pool is outstanding and features the swim-up Balashi Bar. Balashi is the locally brewed beer. The pool was important because Hurricane Matthew, although it bypassed the island, left the usually pristine beaches a mess – with piles a seaweed and debris and an unpleasant odor.

Be sure to make a reservation for a spot at the pool. If you wait too long, you could end up without a lounge chair.

Activities Abound In Aruba

As part of our conference activities, we had a Jeep tour of the area. A word of caution, use only reputable outfitters for tours such as snorkeling, fishing, and sightseeing. At the Hyatt, they have a concierge that can make arrangements for you. You might save a few bucks (or Florians) by going with a discount operation, but there is no guarantee of the quality of your experience, vehicles or equipment.

Our Jeep tour took in the beautifully rugged western coast, the California Lighthouse, the Alto Vista ChapelBushiribana Gold Mill ruins and the Natural Bridge. We enjoyed climbing around the gold mill ruins, but the Natural Bridge is a bit anticlimactic. It collapsed in 2005, but that hasn’t prevented tour bus operators from continuing to visit the site (and the gift shop located there).

The landscape of Aruba is fascinating. It is mostly desert, rock and Yatu cacti. Of course, the water and beautiful beaches are a main attraction. So close to the equator (Aruba is about a dozen miles east of Venezuala) the climate is very hot, but the constant Trade Winds keep things comfortable. Aruba is outside the hurricane belt, so is mostly safe from the severe weather than rocks other Caribbean islands.

Beach lovers must visit Eagle Beach, one of the top beaches in the south Caribbean. The powdery white sand is perfect as you gaze at the multi-hued ocean waters. There are stands nearby if you wish to jet ski or do other activities. Our friends Jay and Sharon opted for the jet ski and soon discovered that ocean waves can make life very interesting! We also went on a snorkeling cruise, notable for its open bar and a chance to snorkel around the sunken German freighter SS Antilla. At various points we were surrounded by schools of hundreds of colorful, friendly fish.

Aruba Dining And Nightlife

You could spend your days and nights at the Hyatt Regency resort and casino and never feel you are missing anything. However, there’s an abundance of great food and night life in Aruba.

One of my favorites was Diana’s Pancake Place. It was a short walk from the Hyatt – but we must have passed at least a dozen bright green iguanas. They specialize in Dutch pancakes, which are the size of large dinner plates and they have goodies inside them (I had bacon and cheese in mine). Scrumptious!

In addition to the great dining at the Hyatt, we visited La Trattoria El Faro Blanco (next to the California Lighthouse). La Trattoria offers spectacular views and great Italian food. We visited at night, but would suggest having lunch there to enjoy the majestic view.

Le Petit Café was another dinner stop for us with a group of friends. We enjoyed dining outside while taking in the Aruba street scene. The café truly rocks by allowing guests to cook their own entree on hot lava rocks at their dinner table.

Our culinary pinnacle was Madame Janette restaurant. Located in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, the main dining area is open-air with strings of lights draped throughout. The service is impeccable but not stuffy. The food is superbly prepared and the menu unique.
I dined on Cordon Bleu, stuffed with ham and Dutch gouda cheese. Jay ordered the signature Burgerloin, which is beef tenderloin cut in half and stuffed with onions, mushroom and cheese topped with Béarnaise sauce.
The wine list was superior and very interesting. Since we were near South America, the old standbys you see on US wine lists were absent. I opted for a 2013 New Zealand Sileni Pinot Noir from Hawke’s Bay since our spouses were having seafood.

For evening entertainment, there is Senor Frog and a variety of bars and clubs. We ventured to +297, a hip bar and restaurant with ultra-modern design. We were able to enjoy a bottle of Prosecco from their outdoor, sunken seating area. Very cool and just steps away from our hotel.

Aruba is a carefree travel experience with exotic touches and familiar luxury. It’s natural beauty and inviting climate make it an ideal destination for sun-seeking travelers.

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