Foto Friday: The Road to Nowhere
Well, maybe we should rephrase that. The road to the Aruba ocean. Dive in.
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What It's Like Located outside the Caribbean's hurricane belt, the flat desert island of Aruba remains a rain-free 82 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year -- barring a few drizzly days that keep the island's stunted trees and cacti alive. This former Dutch colony is only 21 miles from end to end, and pulls a large collection of international travelers. But with more than 75 percent of its 1.5 million yearly visitors hailing from the United States, it's pretty Americanized. English is spoken widely, U.S. dollars are generally accepted, and major American hotel chains abound.
Aruba's one of the wealthiest islands in the Caribbean, and its capital, Oranjestad, has gleaming shopping malls that house high-end retailers like Louis Vuitton and Armani. Restaurants like Matilde and Casa Tua rival the best cuisine in the Caribbean. But all food is imported, so the markup puts restaurants at New York City prices.
Virtually every resort comes with its own casino -- usually larger and vastly more equipped than the few hotel casinos in the Dominican Republic. Still, they're a far cry from the truly extravagant casinos in Las Vegas or even Atlantic City. Casinos here are much smaller, humbler enterprises.
Where to Stay Aruba's an island of capable, functional, and solidly middle-of-the-road hotels. There are no sketchy dives but no designer boutiques either. What most affects your experience is the location.
In downtown Oranjestad, hotels like the Renaissance are close to shopping and restaurants but don't have a beach. (The Renaissance makes up for this with a complimentary ferry to a private island.)
Most resorts are clustered by Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, which is a 15- to 20-minute drive from Oranjestad. Both are public beaches, but Palm Beach is the widest. Reliable chains like the Westin, Marriott, and Radisson line the shore while guests stroll from one resort to the next, stopping by the multiple water-sports vendors posted every few yards. Resorts here are also within walking distance of the Paseo Herencia Mall -- also known as the "High-Rise" complex -- and the highway is lined with a support system of bars and restaurants from Hooters to classier joints like Gianni's.
Relatively secluded time-share hotels and significantly cheaper all-inclusive resorts like the Costa Linda can be found at Eagle Beach, just south of Palm Beach. The beach here varies significantly, as broad stretches bottleneck down to narrow, rocky shores. But it's relatively empty, which makes it the perfect place for a quiet vacation. Again, these resorts are not more than 20 minutes from the capital, but they lack Palm Beach's nearby dining, so you'll have to settle for your hotel's grub. On the plus side, they're not far from the shallow, crystal-clear coves at Baby Beach, reputedly the best place to snorkel in Aruba.