On the last weekend of February I headed down to the Caribbean island nation of Aruba.
We didnt know it until we arrived, but that weekend also happened to be the finale of weeks of Carnaval celebrations culminating in the largest Carnaval parade in downtown on Sunday (sadly, the day we were leaving). But nonetheless we were able to catch a glimpse of the festivities before departing the island.
Aruba has beautiful beaches and waters, and tasty creole food. It is however a popular end and start point for large cruises ships and the majority of the foreign crowd staying at the multiple casino and resorts along the main hotel strip are cruise passengers. So this is not a place for a luxury or off the beaten path beach vacation (although there are secluded corners and beaches as well as upscale overwater villas on other parts of the island). But it is a perfect weekend beach getaway. There is such a large volume of American cruise ship tourists that Aruba is one of the few international airports in the world that has U.S. Borders and Customs, you go through U.S. Customs and Immigration in Aruba.
Getting around the island: you can rent a car, take a taxi and call taxi services (fixed rates depending on your distance just clarify with the driver beforehand) or the local bus which runs along the main road. We mostly stuck with taxi given our short time and we had enough people that splitting the cost was fine. Note that taxis will usually refuse to accept one rate and drop off at two separate locations, this will cost you double, as we learned. We booked a Air BnB, which has many options on the island. It was a great last minute deal, considering most other available hotels or BnBs were quite pricey.
- Saturday noon arrival at Aruba airport. Took a taxi to the Ritz Carlton Resort and Casino Aruba (we were not staying here, way too expensive but personally, would not splurge on this Ritz Carlton), the furthest hotel on the hotel strip. We kicked off our weekend beach getaway by grabbing some Pina Coladas at the beach bar (apparently its famous for that?).
- Walked along Palm Beach, which connects to Eagle Beach, the two main beaches in Aruba. The sand is really fine, soft and white paired with the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean, its no surprise these beaches are often included in lists of top beaches. Though they do get quite crowded.
- We then took a taxi to our AirBnB located in the Bubali Bliss Studios, a serviced apartment/ hotel hybrid essentially. The studios were large, cozy and came with full kitchen including all utensils, bathroom, wifi and TV. It is conveniently located behind a large super market.
- To get a taste of true local Aruban food you must head south past the tourist central areas to an area called Savaneta. I had read about a seafood shack called Zeerovers, serving freshly grilled or fried seafood. Sadly due to Carnaval weekend it was closed, that should tell you how local it is. We then went to the other place I read about, a more upscale but nonetheless local seafood focused restaurant, Flying Fishbone. It was delicious, I had a dish called Savaneta Seafood History, including calamari, shrimp, salmon, cod and unicorn fish with rice and creole curry, it was delicious.
- The restaurant called a taxi for us and we returned to our AirBnB, but not before getting caught in post-Carnaval parade traffic.
- On Sunday morning we walked from Bubali to Eagle Beach (a short 5 minutes walk), and grabbed an open area of sun loungers and just relaxed, soaked in the Caribbean sun, and took a dip in the ocean. I liked Eagle Beach a bit more than Palm beach.
- Given the logistics of having suitcases, blocked off roads for the finale parade, wanting to see the parade, our flight leaving in the mid-afternoon, we asked Bubali for their recommendation on how to best see the parade but not having to navigate through the chaos and miss our flight. They recommended we head to their friend’s place Reflextions Restaurant and Bar, which was at a corner by a roundabout where the parade would make a turn. We left our bags in their storage, grabbed some lunch and drinks. Then we grabbed our bags and walked to the roundabout and caught about half an hour of the parade.
- Due to road blocks and not wanting to risk missing our flight/ coordinating where a taxi or bus could pick us up, we opted to walk to the airport. Reflextions is located at the end of the runway, the terminal is at the other end. It was around a 30 minute walk.
- Uusally folks in Aruba recommend 3 hours prior for U.S. Departures because of the customs and immigration process, which really does take a while, even with global entry. But luckily for us on this Sunday the lines were not terribly long.
- Departed for Atlanta.