It is said that Aruba is an island sculpted by the wind. Leaning trees dotting beaches are evidence of the trade winds that blow across this treasured real estate making hats hard to wear unless they are securely anchored down. A drive around the entire island takes about five hours, unless you get lost. Then it might take several days.
Aruba became a popular tourist destination long before the Beach Boys sang, "Aruba, Jamaica, ooo I wanna take ya'". It is situated outside the usual hurricane corridor common for the area, making it a protected and desired destination. The safety of this harbor may also account for the tag line printed on their souvenir tee shirts and license plates - "One Happy Island".
Travel ads for Aruba only tell part of her story, usually one that includes beach opportunities. The fact that this is truly a desert island escapes the casual vacation planner’s eye. Rarely is the word outback associated with this dream get-away but four different kinds of cactus populate long stretches of the island including Christmas cactus. Cactus fences are common in the countryside as well as on residential properties.
While the western and southern coasts account for the majority of development on the island, the coasts on the north and east are all but deserted due to the battering it receives from the Caribbean Sea.
Interestingly, on some parts of the island beaches discourage water sports because of an abundance of coral and the extremely rough surf. Recommended beaches include Nikki Beach, Eagle Beach, Palm Beach, Arashi Beach, and Baby Beach. Tourists are wise to check with local sources to learn of more beaches offering the ultimate swimming experience.
What To See
Many of Aruba’s beautiful waters and white sandy beaches open up possibilities for water sports like boating, snorkeling, tubing, swimming, and scuba diving. Off the water, tourists enjoy jeep tours,
duty free shopping, championship golf courses, casinos and points of interest like the California Lighthouse
named for the SS California which sank in the waters in 1910, Frenchman’s Pass, Casibari Rock Formation, the caves of Aruba, and so much more.
One of the biggest draws in the area is the picturesque Natural Baby Bridge
which links coral limestone structures and hangs only a few feet above the water when the tide is in. The wild surf repeatedly pounds the coral structures spraying sea foam into the warm air, offering great photo opportunities and a reprieve from the dry, daily, 82-degree heat. The Bridge is one of several on the island and the most visited. It is known as the baby of the larger Natural Bridge that once measured 25 feet high and 100 feet long. The larger bridge, which spanned a cove on the west coast, made national news when it collapsed in 2005. 
For such a serene setting, Aruba has an unusually colorful history, with varied feet trampling her sands until 1986 when it became self-governed and part of the Netherlands. Early explorers and settlers include Arawak Indians as well as the Spanish who claimed the island for Queen Isabella. The Dutch were next in line. Like a monopoly game come to life, they not only claimed Aruba, but Bonaire and Curaçao, the ABC Islands of the Lesser Antilles. Pastel architecture throughout the island
was influenced by the Dutch, and gables overlook streets with names like Zuidstraat. Landmarks like "Oude moles" old windmill in Dutch, is one of the many interesting reminders of the Island's heritage.
Exxon was the first large industry to come to the island, which seems like an odd pairing since the population was too small at the time to fill the jobs offered by the company. But the government of Aruba wanted and needed this commerce so they found ways to entice residents of neighboring islands to make Aruba their home and work for Exxon. Today, Aruba’s economy is healthy and oddly enough, illegal workers are a problem. The island’s high standard of living, one of the highest in the Caribbean, low crime and government funded education make it a desirable place to live. When Exxon closed down in the 80s the majority of islanders were jobless. The resourceful government shifted its focus and wisely concentrated on developing tourism. Vacationers and visiting cruise ships are now the mainstay of their stable economy.
Life On The Island
Eighty percent of Aruba is Roman Catholic, with churches and chapels scattered across approximately 69 square miles of land. The red tile steeple and pale yellow concrete construction of the Alto Vista chapel
intrudes on the barren dessert landscape. Its concrete outdoor benches offer worshipers the opportunity take part in mass even with a full chapel. On the road leading to the chapel you’ll find the stations of the cross intermingled with cactus. Although set among dry brush, the house of worship has views of the water.
English is widely spoken in Aruba. Other languages include Spanish, Dutch and an amalgamation spoken by the natives called Papiamento. This mongrel language is a blend of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, and a pinch of other European languages.
Aruba’s currency is the florin but the dollar is readily accepted throughout the island.
Getting To And Around Aruba
A number of commercial airlines fly to the renovated, state-of-the-art, Queen Beatrix Airport, in Aruba which features a terminal housing a U.S. INS/Customs facility. This dedicated terminal allows flights from Aruba to enter the U.S. as domestic flights.
Aruba's official cruise terminal port is Oranjestad. The dock is a long narrow affair with a small number of craft stalls situated wharfside. Follow the dock and it leads to L.G. Smith Blvd., the shop-lined main drag. Diamonds and other jewelry fill store windows of the mostly high-end retail shops. Ironically, tucked between the pricey diamond shops you'll find the Kmart of gem handlers, Kay's Jewelers.
Staying On The Island
Across from the craft-crammed Marina, the Renaissance Hotel offers yacht owners amenities designed for the elite, including a lobby canal
where guests are taxied to the hotel entrance from the marina by boat. No water stained Manolo Blahniks here!
Northwest of the cruise terminal in Palm Beach you'll find resorts and casinos lining the white sandy beaches with Spanish and Dutch names you may not recognize. But in the mix you’ll also find familiar brands as well, like the Marriott.
Not all of Aruba is living in the lap of luxury and you don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy a stay or find a good meal. Moving away from the main boulevard, fast food chains come into view with names like Taco Bell and Burger King.
There’s something for every budget and every island dreamer in Aruba. The calendar is filled with events throughout the year. In late May you can experience the Soul Beach Music Festival and the International Film Festival in June. Tennis and golf tournaments, triathlons, regattas, and wind surfing competitions are only a few of the events that round out the summer calendar.