Wednesday, October 25, 2017

I Heart Aruba

Aruba was an amazing vacation we took in May 2016! Stephen brought his DAT books and studied every morning, while I took forever trying out new hairstyles. It's not easy to figure out something that would hopefully stay in place in the crazy Aruban wind and also look good for the 'grams. 

At the time, Aruba was our first international trip together, besides our honeymoon cruise. It was my first time visiting another country when I didn't sleep on a cruise ship, and Stephen's first time staying in another country when he was allowed to go to the ocean! 

Now that we've experienced some other places, I have some awards to give to Aruba. 

Best Water
There is some good water in this world, but we still talk about how warm and clear the water is in Aruba. It is unreal. 

The Aruban wind is a little insane. In some ways, it's awesome that you can always count on a nice breeze! It's super-hot, but to me, it felt perfect with the wind always blowing. If you're laying out on the beach, sometimes it's annoying because sand blows up on you and it's hard to tell that it's time to reapply sunscreen since it feels so perfect. But it's not great for long hair. The first day, I tried to be cute and let my hair down.....that was a horrible life choice. Learn how to do some cool braids before you go!

Best Cookies
We like to try pancakes and cookies in every country we visit. The cookies in Aruba are our favorites so far! We especially liked these Kanjers they have in all the grocery stores. 

 We spent a week in Aruba. The island is so small and it's hard to pick a bad place to stay! We picked an Airbnb studio apartment, that was about a 10 minute drive into the main beachfront resort area. We typically don't like the more touristy areas and thought it would be worth it to rent a car and be able to explore the island at our own pace. 

Actually, I don't think we'll do this again. Our Airbnb was fine - no complaints! But if we were staying in the main hotel area, we wouldn't need a car. All the beaches in Aruba are beautiful, but they are sandy on the tourist side and rocky on the other side. Sharks like to hang out on the rocky side (some people told us that they throw raw meat on that side of the island to keep sharks away from the tourists!) and the waves are just too rough for humans to go swimming there. 

There are some other cool parts of Aruba besides the beaches. The Quadirikiri Caves at Arikok National Park made a fun day trip when we were both so sunburned and never wanted to see a beach again. It was awesome to be there by ourselves, without a guide. We sneaked back into the caves as far as we could go and found a chamber with hundreds of bats fluttering around on the ceiling. I realize not everyone would think this was cool....but I did! It was a little stinky, but worth it for the feeling of being allowed in this private world for a few minutes. 

If you know me at all, you know that I love wildlife, and always try to see the cool animals that live wherever we are traveling to. Aruba has wild donkeys on some of the beaches, although we didn't get a great look, and when there's roadkill in Aruba, it might be an iguana. Plus! Renaissance Island has flamingos you can hang out with if you stay at their hotel.

There is a day pass to go to the island if you aren't staying at the hotel, but it's about $100 / person, and they don't always have one available. If the hotel is 80% booked, guests get first dibs. 
I loved what we did instead. We stayed at our Airbnb all of the days except one night, which we spent at the Renaissance Marriott. We got a room for less than $200, checked in as early as we could, went to the island, spent the night, and then went to the island again the next day, before we needed to check out. It was perfect - and completely worth it! It helped that the hotel was in a perfectly convenient location and the room was beautiful. 

To get to the island, all you need to do is board a little boat in the hotel "lobby" (it kind of has a gondola feel) and scan your room key as you get on. The island is a quick ride away. The wind is a little crazy (as usual) and you might get wet, depending on the seat you pick! But I didn't feel sick or uncomfortable. 

Once on the island, there is one side where the flamingos like to hang out. No kids are allowed on this side. There are plenty of chairs, towels, and iguanas to look at, too. You can buy food for the iguanas, and that is really fun. One guy was trying to feed him and they all hated him for some reason - so he gave the food he had bought to me. The flamingos liked me a little better. I think it's because they thought I was one of them. 

A food photographer I am not. But Aruba has some delicious food. We never felt unsafe or got sick from anything we ate. I think it is mostly pretty reliable. 

Our favorite places were:

The Dutch Pancake House - amazing savory or sweet Dutch pancakes!
The Screaming Eagle - Eat your food in bed! We meant to go just for dessert, but the ambiance was so cool we ended up getting a whole 4-course meal. Most expensive meal while we were there, but worth it!

I don't remember the names of the other places we liked, but we had great tapas one night. There's an area we particularly enjoyed in downtown Oranjestad where there were several restaurants all looking at a stage. The entertainment every night was great. We ate at a Mexican restaurant one night, and an Italian one the next night. It's one of those places where you just can't go wrong. 

Other activities we did that I would consider "worth it" were:

1. Snorkeling at the Antilla shipwreck. I remember this being very inexpensive - maybe $40 per person? It was a 3 hour tour. Snorkels and fins, fresh fruit, juices, and water were all provided. We went to 2 different sites, and obviously with the crystal-clear water, we were not disappointed by what we saw! 

2. Taking a kiteboarding lesson. I can't speak for myself, because Stephen was the only one who actually took the lesson. It is a bit more expensive, and most people recommend taking at least 3 lessons to actually get the hang of it. Stephen took his lesson on our last full day there, and enjoyed it, but definitely needs more lessons before he goes pro. But it looked fun!

3. Go shopping. We didn't buy anything, but Oranjestad has some really fun Dutch architecture. It's perfect just to go meandering around in.

4. Find this swing. I love this swing. And the sunset made me love the swing even more.

Are you planning a trip to Aruba? What do you have planned? Take me with you!! 

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