Friday, February 22, 2013

Aruba: What We Did

Taken at the shopping plaza
Aruba leads the Caribbean islands in the number of return visitors, 65% of people who visit the island once come back for at least a second trip, and I easily understand why. It has beautiful beaches, quality resorts and top-notch customer service. I certainly plan on returning to Aruba at some point (and yes, I will likely stay at the same hotel that we stayed at on this trip).

The island also offers a wide range of activities, from water spots to sightseeing to nightclubs and casinos, and if you wanted to, you could easily have a jam-packed vacation in Aruba.

Husband and I had no interest in doing that. Because we were only in Aruba for four nights, and because it was at the end of our trip, we didn't want to do much besides lie in the sun and swim and so that’s what we did, for the most part. We did though leave our resort a few times and below is a quick look at three of the different activities we did while on Aruba.

We skipped Aruba’s capital city,  Oranjestad, and instead did our shopping at the plaza located just five minutes from the hotel (if you’re staying at the Riu, it’s on your left). It houses a number of restaurants, bars and your typical tourist-focused souvenir shops. At night local jewellery sellers set up shop and some appear to sell stuff that wasn't made in China.

If you’re really into shopping, this plaza won’t be enough for you; you’ll want to head into Oranjestad. But if you’re just looking to pick up a few t-shirts or a novelty hat, it will do just fine.

Eagle Beach
Our hotel is way off in the distance
Aruba’s two best known beaches are Palm Beach, a busy stripe of sand that’s home to the “high-rise” section of hotels and where we stayed, and Eagle Beach, a much mellower beach where the “low-rise” section of hotels is found.

One morning we took an $8 cab ride out to Eagle Beach and quickly learned two things: You can easily walk from the Riu to Eagle Beach (we walked back and it took us about 20 minutes, which included lots of stops for photos) and, that while Eagle Beach is beautiful, it’s too quiet for us. However, if a low-key vacation is what you’re after, a hotel located along Eagle Beach would be just right for you.

Besides being quieter, the other main difference between the two beaches is that the water at Eagle Beach is a bit choppier. It’s still fine for swimming and playing around in but it doesn't look quite as pretty as the water at Palm Beach.

Snorkel & Sail Trip on the Sunshine
One of the more popular activities to do on Aruba is a snorkel-and-sail trip. There are lots of different versions but they basically all involve a snorkel stop at the Antilla, a 400-foot long sunken World Word Two freighter that’s in water as shallow as around 15-feet in some spots, a second snorkel stop at Boca Catalina, maybe a third stop to swing on a rope swing and an open bar.

The Antilla
Husband and mine’s original plan was to book this trip with a company/boat called the Jolly Pirates and so on our first morning we headed down to one of the booths on the beach that was advertising the Jolly Pirates trip. The guy at the booth then proceeded to tell us that while he could book us on the Jolly Pirates boat, he could also book us on the Sunshine catamaran, which would be much less crowded and would pick us up and drop us off at the beach in front of our hotel (to get to the Jolly Pirates’ ship we’d have to walk a little).

Being lazy, and knowing that the Jolly Pirates trips did tend to be overcrowded, we decided to sign up for the Sunshine. This turned out to be… an experienced.

The Sunshine was certainly less crowded; the only paying customers were us and a friendly American couple. Also on-board were two crew members and the “girlfriend” of one of the two crew members. She was nice though and I had no issue with her being on board.

I do though have an issue with the trio of “pirate strippers” who magically appear on the boat while we, the paying customers, were out snorkelling at Boca Catalina. Where these women came from is a true mystery. I would have asked them but they didn't speak English and had no interest in the women on the boat. But they did have plenty of interest in the open bar, the rope swing, and gyrating around the boat to the cheesy dance music that was blaring.

The whole situation was very weird and a bit annoying, especially since these women had their stuff spread out all over the boat and were also very loud.

Besides the pirate strippers, things were okay. The stop at the Antilla was interesting though the water was quite choppy and I definitely wouldn't recommend it to anyone who’s not a confident swimmer. The water at Boca Catalina was much, much calmer however the underwater life was rather underwhelming (though to be fair I've been spoiled by all of the stuff I saw while snorkelling in Bonaire).

On the right boat, I can see how a snorkel-and-sail trip could be a fun way to spend a morning or afternoon. But on the Sunshine it was weird and kind of confusing. It was though a good reminder to only book with tour companies who you've researched.

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