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“The Wild Side” of Aruba

“The Wild Side” of Aruba

The West side of Aruba is populated with roads, towns, hotels, etc. The East side of Aruba is the opposite. There are no towns or hotels, for a section of the area there aren’t even roads. Those sections can only be accessed by four wheel drive jeeps that can power over the rocks.

Before traveling to Aruba, we talked to different people who had vacationed here before. Some had taken jeep tours, some had done horse back rides through the area, and some knew people who rented their own jeeps and did it on their own. We were in favor of the go on our own route while planning the trip. But there are several problems with this. Many of the car rental companies that rent jeeps actually say in the contract that you can’t drive them to locations on the wild side. Plus, several of the going on their own stories included blowing out tires and having to have the company come out and exchange them cars.

Once actually in Aruba, we decided to do a tour. I’m really glad we did. Our tour guides were excellent, filling in a lot of the background information on what we were seeing. Truthfully, I’m not sure we could have driven the East coast on our own. It’s not rocky like a gravel road in the United States; you are driving around and on top of boulders. Granted, our driver took the hardest route everywhere… we were actually sideways at one point! It was like tossing a salad, except we were the lettuce and the jeep was the bowl. Almost impossible to shoot photos while we were driving.

It was our second to last full day in Aruba and we chose the Island Safari by ABC Tours, because it went to everywhere that was left on my “to-see” list and more. We snorkeled twice on the all-day trip and drove the ENTIRE East coast. Our drives were excellent, the noon meal was OK (nothing fancy, but not bad), and it was nice that they provided cool water the whole day. They grouped the jeeps well after observing us. We were in a jeep with a younger family and two couples on their honeymoon; clearly the “young adult” group who got the wildest ride.

The day started out at the California Lighthouse and we admired the views from La Trattoria El Faro Blanco restaurant. From there, the jeeps drove over the sand duned area of the island and along the coast, giving us our first looks at the rocky coast line and the stacks of rocks that appear everywhere.

   

Our second stop was the Alto Vista Chapel. A chapel was originally built on the location by a Venezuelan missionary in 1750. It is said that was the first church on the island. After falling into ruins, a school teacher headed up the rebuild and the church as we see it now was completed in 1952. Weekly services are held here and a yearly pilgrimage is made by many of the island’s residents. In fact, while we were there a small service was taking place. The roads out to the chapel are not paved, but they are only dusty not rocky, so you could visit this stop on your own.

   

Gold was first reported on the island in 1824. Aruba has a long history with gold mining, many companies and countries have come through attempting to harvest the metal. The Bushiribana Gold Mill was built in 1874, but they still used old-fashioned methods to collect the gold. The Mill eventually shut down in 1915, due to the lack of materials available during World War 1 and the high cost of operation with low efficiency.

      

   

Every where on Aruba was SO windy.

While you’re at the Gold Mill, make sure to stop on the other side of the road too. This is one of the best places to observe the rock towers. Tradition is you stack at least 3 rocks up, making a wish on each one. If you can get the tower to stay, they’ll come true. This is not local belief, instead being started by tourists, who I’m sure also found the broad flat stones everywhere as crazy as I did.

      

Aruba has several natural bridges on the island. The largest one, however, collapsed back in 2005. The area where it stood is still considered a tourist site. On our trip we visited an actual natural bridge and the area where the old one stood.

The actual natural bridge was a fairly small one. The shore line next to the bridge was covered in crazy flat stones. We climbed up on top of the bridge and had a nice view of the shoreline from there. The area under the bridge was only a few feet taller than I am.

      

      

The area where the largest bridge once stood is now just a small area of sand along the rocky coast. Our drivers took us up on the mountain behind the bridge, instead of down along it. From here we were able to get spectacular views. I could not get enough of this coast line.

 

   

   

   

  

After the bridge, they took us back to their office for lunch. It was nice, but nothing spectacular. The frightening part was when they said the first half was the gentle part!

The Natural Pool is the center of a ring of rocks just off the coast. The ocean waves slamming into the rocks spray the water over and into the pool. With the water, fish and other sea creatures get thrown into the pool. It has created a small eco diverse world that is great for snorkeling! This is the main go-to feature of the Wild Side and it was worth it. Not as many fish when we went as some of my friends reported. Make sure to look up while walking to the pool too, the views were wonderful!

   

      

Coming off of the Wild Side was drove through the Arikok National Park. We made a quick stop at Fontein Cave. It was just an in and out stop, probably not a must see. Exiting the park you drive through a ton of wind mills.

Finally the tour ended on Baby Beach. They handed out snorkeling gear and gave us time to explore. This beach was right by our Air bnb, but we didn’t go snorkeling on our own, so it was still nice to experience it in a different way. They also brought bread for us to feed the fish. Not exactly sure on the fish health ramifications, but they sure did gobble it up.

Snorkeling in Aruba

Snorkeling in Aruba

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Aruba has several areas with decent snorkeling. I read articles before going about snorkeling on your own. We chose to do snorkeling with both the tours we took. In all, we snorkeled in 5 places around the coast of Aruba. I felt safer snorkeling in a group (I’m not exactly an Olympic swimmer) and it was really helpful having people tell me where to look!

Our ABC Island Ultimate Safari tour took us to the Natural Pool and Baby Beach for snorkeling. The Natural Pool is a really special area of Aruba, but it’s only accessible with a 4×4 vehicle and a brave driver. You can reach it with a Jeep rental (if you can find one that doesn’t ban going there in the contract), but I was more than happy to have our tour guide navigate the rocky “road.” Read more about those locations in the Wild Side of Aruba post!

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The other tour we took while in Aruba was Sail, Snorkel, Swim Aruba with the Jolly Pirates. We had an energetic group of people go out with us and loved the tour! It made three snorkeling stops.

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Another snorkeler spotted this in the shallow water before we got on board. Shows how BIG the starfish were!

The first stop was for the Antilla a WWII Shipwreck. This stop is the furthest from the coast and the waters were really rough. The wreck was far down, the big waves were going down my snorkeling tube, and it was very hard to swim against the current. Even with a lifevest, it made me panic a bit and knowing our limitations we got back on board fairly quickly.

If you want to see the wreck, you can look at it on google maps!

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These were our only views at Antilla.

The second and third stops were at Boca Catalina and Malmok. These were both closer to shore and I’m happy to report there was much calmer water! We were easily able to snorkel around! Our underwater finds included starfish as big as our heads, a couple long eels, plenty of fish, rocks and coral.

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Shorelines of Boca Catalina and Malmok!

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The Jolly Pirate ships.

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The starfish look small, since they were far below us, but they were huge! The two eels were spotted were also several feet long.

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I would recommend this tour to anyone looking for a half day spent among the fish!

 

Note: These photos were taken with a GoPro instead of my normal DSLR.

Aruban Beaches

Aruban Beaches

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Aruba, as you might expect, is covered in beaches and most of them are beautiful light sand beaches stretching out into turquoise waters.  The great thing about Aruba’s beaches is they are (almost) all public, so you can enjoy any beach no matter where you are staying. The only privates ones are Renaissance and DePalm Islands; you have to pay a lot to get out there for the day.

The left side of the island is covered in sandy beaches. Eagle Beach and Palm Beach are what you’ll read the most about online, because all the hotels are located along them. They are beautiful beaches, light sand, turquoise waters, but they are packed. Many people come to Aruba, stay at an all inclusive hotel, and spend all day at the beach right outside their hotel. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad way to spend a couple days, but there’s a lot more to Aruba.

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Here’s a beach just North of the crowded hotel area.

The southeastern side of the island, Seroe Colorado where we stayed, had two main beaches: Rogers Beach and Baby Beach. They were fairly busy during the weekends, but full of locals not so many tourists. On the weekdays, we had the whole beach to ourselves at times.

Baby Beach is a crescent shaped cove with shallow waters almost all the way out of the crescent shape. I could wade out a long ways and still have the water only at my shoulders. It’s popular for families, since the kids can play in the shallow water. If you drive a ways past the crescent shaped beach, there’s a rocky reef.

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Roger’s Beach is next door to Baby Beach, but even less crowded. We came here on the weekdays, sat in the shade of a cabana, and had the beach to ourselves for stretches.

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There are also some beaches with snorkeling off the shore. We visited Boca Catalina, Malmok Beach, and Baby Beach to snorkel. Although there are other sites as well such as Mangel Halto and Boca Grandi.

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The right side of Aruba is also covered in beaches, but they are not suitable for swimming. This side is exposed to the open Caribbean Sea and has a strong undertow. Aruba is not in the Hurricane Belt, making it great year round for vacations, but they still get huge waves set their way from it. This coast is more divers with some sand beaches, others exposed cliffs with huge waves crashing against them, and other areas are rocky beaches.

We spent one morning along the Grapefield Beach coast, wading in the water, and watching the kite surfers perform tricks.

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Other areas we visited during out “Wild Side” tour of Aruba.

Like the Andicuri BeachDSC_0236c2

 

the Natural Pool inside the Arikok National Park

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and the long expanse of rocky coasts.

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We had a great time laying out on the Aruban beaches we visited. You really can’t go wrong. Just make sure to put on a lot of sunscreen. The constant trade winds make it so you don’t realize how hot you are or how burnt you’re getting!

Bon Bini a Aruba!

Bon Bini a Aruba!

Ocean Memories

Aruba is a funny little island. It’s a lot of desert and sand surrounded by the Sea. I have never seen so many cactus in one place. It’s also an island of friendly people, colorful houses, and a diverse culture. The island stays a constant 78-88 degrees year round, but doesn’t even feel that hot thanks to the constant trade winds (although your hair will look ridiculous in every single picture).

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Today it is owned by the Netherlands and the primary language is Dutch. Although most locals also speak Spanish, English, and Papiamento (the local little-bit-of-everything language). We were there over King’s Day (4/27), which is the Netherlands’ King Willem-Alexander’s birthday. All the shops were shut down for the holiday.

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 I’m assuming this is the King and Queen since their picture was everywhere.

It’s slogan is “Aruba, one happy island.” It’s pretty easy to be happy there. A normal day was beach all morning, then some cultural/island sights in the afternoon. We rented a house through airbnb and it turned out great. The house was bigger than we thought, bedrooms with air conditioning, wifi, and a porch to eat our meals on overlooking a slice of the ocean.

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We used our car A LOT since we were staying on the very southeastern tip of the island and most restaurants and hotels are located on the northeastern side. It was a 20-50 minute drive anywhere. I’m not one for crowds though, so I enjoyed staying in the less populated area. Baby Beach and Rogers Beach were both 2 minutes driving from our house. We were the only ones at time during the weekdays. On the weekend it was us and Arubans. Plus Rogers Beach has wonderful shaded cabanas we made great use of.

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We cooked one meal and ate out the other meals. The food we ate was pretty fantastic the whole time, although it had better be for the prices. I know I’m a mid-western girl and it’s more expensive elsewhere in the world. I expect my meal to only cost $8-10. Meals in Aruba that were rated “cheap” online were $15-20 a plate. We did not go to any restaurants that were rated more expensive.

Some of the places we ate at were:

  • Bavaria – delicious German food. I had fantastic chicken schnitzel, Donovan tried the special of stuff beef, and we shared a gooey cheese soup appetizer.
  • Red Fish – I had great shrimp, Donovan had a delicious cheese stuff chicken dish, and we shared a fried rice covered in cheese appetizer
  • B-55 – fun views of the center of the island, good food, bad service
  • Ritz – sort of has an old fashioned diner feel, but local food. I had orlog fries. I had no idea what they were just picked something and ordered it. They were fries, covered in peanut sauce, mayonaise, and chopped up onions. Mayo and onions were a great idea. Peanut sauce… not so much.
  • La Trattoria el Faro Blano – only disappointing place we ate at. They have pretty views at sunset, so everyone goes there around 7. Charge $18+ a plate and neither Donovan nor I liked our meals.
  • Iguana Joes – touristy place in downtown Oranjestad, good food

 Fried Rice  Shrimp  Cheese Soup  Orlog Fries  Donovan Dish

Things we did in Aruba (broken up by my [soon to come] posts on them):

Bon nochi! (Good night!)