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Paradise Island, Aruba

With its beautiful tropical sights and joyous vibe, Aruba gives a traveler more than she can ever ask for.

 

bygeorgia del rosario

 

I write this as I am looking out on to the bluest ocean I have ever seen, sipping an Aruba Ariba, a cocktail found almost anywhere in this tiny Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela. Made with a mix of fruit juices like pineapple, orange, and crème de banana, generously splashed with vodka, rum, and Grand Marnier and finished off with a local agave-based liquor only found on the island called Coecoei, it’s the tropics right on your tongue. Though most Filipinos may wonder: why travel so far to another beach town when we have an abundance of beautiful shores back home? Aruba offers a different flair, as well as a culture that is as interesting and charming. 

 

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The warmth was something that I found to be quite pleasing, having flown in from the East Coast. I was also instantly greeted with big smiles and warm welcomes. The airport is not too far from many of the hotels, restaurants, and the city center. Getting around was quite easy—cabs are available as soon as you exit the airport. We opted to rent a car because we like the independence. Though most of the cars are older models, there aren’t too many on the road so there is never any traffic—one vast difference from how it is back home. Another thing that is very rare to Aruba is rain—and even when it does shower, it is usually late at night or in the wee hours when the island is asleep. In fact, the weather in Aruba is beautiful all year round. The sun is hot, but the evening brings a comfortable wind carried in from the Caribbean Sea. My husband and I fit in quite well with regards to fashion—everyone on the island walks around in flip-flops or sneakers, pretty beach cover-ups and colorful swimsuits. That sunny island style won’t be difficult to come by; Aruba has a lot of chic tropical boutiques with lovely pieces to add to your coastline wardrobe. Within half an hour of landing, we arrived at our home; we decided on renting a house rather than booking a hotel, which worked to our advantage because it was on a remote side of the island. 

 

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All the homes are picturesque, almost out of the pages of a magazine, with the most exquisite blooms and trees, landscaped perfectly. The idyllic little village gave us access to scenic private beaches offering the most miraculous sunsets. We never ran out of activities during our five-day stay. Because we both love adventure as well as relaxing on the beach, we made sure to include a little bit of both in our itinerary. The only way to really see the island is on an ATV tour. This is not for the faint of heart, you are driving fast through rough terrain in desert land, filled with giant cacti, and with stunning views of the ocean. Prepare to get filthy, and make sure you protect your face with sunglasses and a bandana, as dust is everywhere. But it was a phenomenal experience I would do again in a heartbeat. To relax, you can rent a boat and bask in different parts of the water. 

 

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We spent an entire afternoon on a catamaran, snorkeling in various areas, seeing a shipwreck, an abundance of fish, and turtles swimming freely. But by far the best part of my trip was an excursion to Flamingo Beach, where you spend the day among the most magical tropical creatures. Aside from swimming with flamingoes in clear blue waters, you will see other various species of birds in their natural habitat, as well as the most gorgeous iguanas and lizards in a rainbow of colors, all while sipping cocktails under a cloud-free sky. What I loved most about being in Aruba was experiencing their unique culture. It was a Dutch colony, and there are many residents who originated from the Netherlands, as well as locals who have Caribbean roots. They are a beautiful people, and some of the nicest you will ever meet. The tagline is “one happy island,” and everyone there seems to live by that mantra. There is always music playing, and even that is a feast for the senses. Reggae beats in Papiamento, their mother tongue, which has notes of both Portuguese and Spanish. And of course, what better way to experience a culture than to sample their native cuisine.

 

 

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Though I noticed a lot of US chain restaurants such as Friday’s, BLT Steak, and Ruth Chris, we steered clear of those and went to where the locals eat. My favorite breakfast spot was Diana’s Pancakes, offering the most sinful Dutch pancakes: paper-thin (almost like a French crepe) pancakes filled with anything you can imagine, then served up with stroop, a Dutch syrup, and a choice of cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. For bigger meals, we tried the local fare. Most dishes are made up of fresh seafood—grilled or fried—and served with rice, fried plantains (much like our local pritong saba), a slaw, and some Creole sauce. 

 

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My favorite spot was the Old Cunucu House, where we sampled a superb lobster thermidor, beef and chicken skewers, as well as an iguana soup (which tasted like a heightened chicken broth and claims to give energy and strength). The hospitality was unmatched, that we returned for another meal. I’ll never forget my husband asking our server if there was fresh coconut, and his response was simple: “I will check but if there is none I will climb a tree and get you one.” An offer we, of course, declined. Leaving the island was bittersweet. I arrived in the airport already missing the sunny skies. But of course, leaving one place only means you get to experience another. That being said, Aruba will remain in my memory as heaven on earth.

 

This article was originally published in Metro Society February 2019 issue

 

Photographs by Dankerlui Photography (DANKERLUIPHOTGRAPHY.COM)

Other photographs by Georgia and Armand Del Rosario