Paradise Found If you want to experience the ideal island escape, Aruba’s beaches can’t be beat.

By Kimberly Uslin



Before being whisked away to Aruba on a last-minute trip, I’d never been to the Caribbean. Sure, my family and I had done the whole white-sand-and-crystal-clear-water thing in the Bahamas, but the island chain isn’t technically a Caribbean territory—and besides, I was 9. As I’d soon learn after touching down in the city of Oranjestad, however, I had been majorly missing out.

Aruba is commonly referred to as “One Happy Island,” a nod to both its self-contained mainland and its general sense of geniality. The small Dutch nation, located 15 nautical miles off the coast of Venezuela is essentially engineered to give its visitors a good time: After its huge oil refinery closed in 2012, tourism took over as its primary moneymaker…and it shows. The coastlines on either side of the island are dotted with resorts, transitioning into countless shops and restaurants, as one moves farther inland.

As for me? I stayed at the gorgeous Aruba Marriott Resort, a sprawling waterfront complex with plenty of crystalline pools (from kiddie to adults-only), bars (from smoothie to swim-up) and beach (complete with rows upon rows of palm trees and palapas, a kind of thatched umbrella/hut popularly seen on postcards). Each room in the resort has a seaside view and a 100-square-foot balcony, and the massive property feels almost like an island in itself.

As I wandered around, every turn yielded a new sight or activity option, whether oversized chess, live music, watersports or—my personal favorite­—the iguana feeding station. (I visited nearly every day during my stay, doling out lettuce to the scaly creatures alongside hordes of children—the target audience.)

Despite all the activities on offer, though, I spent most of my free time lazing on beach lounges and floating in the calm, cool water. After all, isn’t that what Aruba’s all about?

My visit was made even more luxurious by our getaway’s “wellness retreat” theme, a preview of a new initiative at the hotel that transforms one’s room into a “wellness suite.” When I arrived, my mini-fridge was equipped with yogurt, fresh fruit and honey; a yoga mat stood at the ready for all the sun salutations I would not do; and some samples of the island’s famous Aruba Aloe products were tucked into a sachet on my dresser. Later I’d get to experience the Mandala Spa, where a very kindly woman would rub me down with one of the spa’s signature oil blends as I melted away. (Seriously, the massage was so good, I didn’t even wish I was lying on the beach.)

Also part of our wellness package were two fitness-type activities. I wasn’t sure how to feel, as I’m not one for running on the beach or hitting the hotel gym—I mean, it’s a vacation. And while I did skip the stand-up paddleboard yoga (for which I got much flak from my fellow retreaters, but for which my body thanked me), I was surprisingly enthusiastic about our early-morning beach tennis lesson.

The sport, as our darling instructor Aksel explained, originated in Aruba in the early aughts and is a combination of regular tennis, badminton and beach volleyball. (Aksel, by the way, is Aruba’s No. 1 beach tennis player and aims to score Olympic gold when the sport becomes part of the games.) We had a grand ol’ time batting the depressurized ball about, but the real star of the show was our post-match acai bowls at Eduardo’s Beach Shack. Yum.

When it came to evening meals, however, all pursuit of health came to a complete stop.

Our first big meal was served at Atardi, the Marriott’s pop-up dinner destination on the beach, where we clinked craft cocktails and ordered almost the entire appetizer menu (the lobster salad was the table’s biggest hit, but I was taken with the tuna carpaccio). Digging my toes into the sand while digging into perfectly cooked macadamia-crusted grouper was one of my life’s epicurean apices, and the view was absolutely to die for.

Unfortunately, it didn’t get better than that (honestly, how could it?), but our second and third nights’ meals were terrific, too. Pinchos offered a dining experience that was literally on the water, featuring unbelievably fresh fish and one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen, and our final destination, trendy restaurant/club +297, brought plenty of shared-plate sushi bliss.

If the whole experience sounds unbelievably ideal, well…it was. Every gorgeous view and luxurious moment had me mentally pinching myself, wondering how a vacation could be so unceasingly splendid. It was difficult, too, not to compare it to trips I’ve taken to Mexico or the Bahamas, where terrible poverty was just a few steps from the resort—making it hard to embrace the luxuries of vacation without guilt.

What I learned from a quick Google, however, was that Aruba has the lowest poverty level and highest standard of living in the Caribbean. (Side note: They also have the coolest language I’ve ever heard: Papamiento, a melting pot of African, Portuguese, English, Dutch, Spanish and indigenous American languages.) Though most locals live in the arid, cactus-clustered landscape between the beaches, the tourist industry serves them well—possibly explaining why they’re so very friendly to the sunburned Americans crowding their beaches.

When I asked our Aruban guide, Stacey, about this uber-friendliness, I expected her to concur—to tell me that they were nice because they relied on tourists’ happiness to keep their island’s economy in good standing. Instead, her answer surprised me.

“Honestly, it’s not fake,” she said. “Hospitality is so embedded in our culture that it’s just natural. We love the tourists. We love sharing our country. ”

In short? Feel free to unabashedly enjoy your time in Aruba. It’s what the island wants.

 

WHERE TO STAY

Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
L.G. Smith Boulevard # 101
Palm Beach

WHERE TO EAT

Atardi
L.G. Smith Boulevard # 101
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino

Pinchos
L.G. Smith Blvd (Sasakiweg) 7
Oranjestad

 

+297
J.E. Irausquin Blvd 374
Noord

WHAT TO SEE

Aruba Aloe Factory & Museum
See how one of Aruba’s major exports is grown, processed and manufactured and learn about the history of aloe on the island. Oh, and be sure to grab something from the gift shop!
Pitastraat 115
Hato

Donkey Sanctuary
After being phased out as a mode of transportation, Aruba’s donkeys needed somewhere to go. Enter the Donkey Sanctuary, home to more than 130 of the pack animals and a tourist favorite.
Bringamosa 2-Z
Santa Cruz

Natural Pool
Also known as the “Cura di Torgtuga,” the Natural Pool is a gorgeous, swimmable watering hole surrounded by volcanic rock formations. Note: only accessible by foot, horseback or ATV.
Santa Cruz coastline

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