“Welcome to Aruba” reverberates across the shore as tanned-skinned natives greet tourists from beneath thatched-roof bars dotted along the beach. The whole scene is reminiscent of a travel commercial. A scared iguana scampers across the sand on its hind legs, resembling a mischievous alien from a B movie. Divi Divi? trees wave their welcome to visitors as they bow at a 45-degree angle in permanent obeisance to the warm manipulation of the trade winds.
Located 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba touts an average temperature of 82 degrees and an annual rainfall of less than 20 inches, making it a paradise for outdoor lovers. The constant trade winds lend an enthusiastic hand to the sun, enabling tanners to brown without roasting. Snorkelers and divers can see forever and every day is clear.
Discovered by the Spanish in 1499 and taken over by the Dutch in 1936 after a period of habitation by the Arawak Indians, native Arubans boast a mix of Spanish, Dutch, and Arawak Indian ancestry. The official language is Dutch, although the common language is Papiamento, a mixture of Dutch, Portuguese, and Spanish, with a sprinkling of French, English, and African. Communication is not a problem however, as most Arubans speak English as well as Spanish. Measuring approximately 19.6 x 6 miles, with an area of 70 square miles, Aruba is an intimate island with friendly residents who are easy to get to know.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
Climate: Wonderfully warm weather all year. Great for lazy days at the beach.
Currency: Guilder - Currently 1 AWG = 0.5587 USD
Languages: English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento.
Power: 127 V, 60 Hz
Passport and visa requirements: Passport or proof of U.S. citizenship (original birth or naturalization certificate and photo I.D.) is required. Visa not required for tourist/business visit of up to 90 days. Proof of onward/return ticket or sufficient funds for stay may be required. Airport facility charge is $32 paid upon departure. Royal Netherlands Embassy, 202-244-5300
Time Zone: UTC-4
WHAT TO DO
Snorkel and Scuba
Aruban cuisine, like its people, is very diverse, with the biggest influence coming from its neighbor South America. Sweet potatoes, fish, corn, and bananas are commonly integrated into various island dishes.
However, because of its dry climate, Aruba's agricultural industry is rather lacking and consequently the country imports most of its fruits and vegetables from its neighbor Venezuela. Not to worry though--there is never a shortage of fresh fruits and vegetables at the downtown market in Oranjestad.
One of the most popular island fruits is the plantain--a sort of banana on steroids. However, unlike the banana, the plantain is not ready to eat as is. The plantain must always be cooked and can be steamed, fried, boiled, baked, or even grilled. The plantain is a wonderful accompaniment to most dishes.
Most residents usually enjoy a reasonably priced dinner around midday at work, so the restaurant business is booming and many restaurateurs enjoy spending their evenings serving up native dishes to the tourists, although all types of cuisine are available.
Mention Keshi Yena in any part of the world and you’re likely to encounter a few blank stares and maybe the occasional Gesundheit! But ask for Keshi Yena in Aruba and you’ll be rewarded with a big smile and a culinary delight just this side of heaven. Aruba prides itself on its local cuisine and Keshi Yena, a filled cheese shell, is just one of its shining stars. This dish is an Antillean specialty consisting of a hollowed-out ball of Gouda that is stuffed full with goodies like: chicken, raisins, green olives, capers, and scallions. Gouda is plentiful and inexpensive in Aruba because of the island’s Dutch ties.
Among other Aruban culinary delights is funchi. Expect to be served this at least once during your visit. Similar to our corn meal mush, Italian polenta, or Jewish matzo balls, funchi is made with corn meal and can be prepared various ways, but is commonly sliced and fried and can be served alongside whatever entree may be on the menu for the evening.
Another Aruban specialty is the foot of the small sea snail that snuggles tightly inside the shell of the Conch shell—which aren’t just for listening to the ocean anymore! Don’t walk away from this delectable delicacy! Conch meat is extremely sweet and delicious, but must NOT be overcooked, and fishermen advise first-time conch cookers to pound, pound, pound in order to achieve the most savory, tender results. Some cooks even swear by pressure cooking AS WELL AS pounding to ensure that each bite is as tender as possible.
It’s no wonder this small stretch of land known as Aruba is called “one happy island.” It’s entirely possible to eat your way across and maybe even respond to each one of the only 65,000 friendly residents waving Bonboni (welcome) along the way.