What I hate most about every trip are the long layovers. I had a 6-hour stop in Aruba on my way to Peru. Being a Philippine passport holder, I am required to apply for visa before arrival. However, since the trip was so sudden, I wasn’t able to do that at all. I landed in Aruba prepared to endure 6 hours of waiting until the unexpected happened. I was able to tour around the island, no need of visa!
I got out from the airport and took a private driver who showed me around for the price of $45 per hour (standard rate). During the few hours that I was in the island, I’ve visited quite a few places and learned some interesting facts. Here is a run-down of the 15 things I learned about Aruba:
Aruba’s landscape is arid and cactus-strewned. I was actually expecting Aruba to be a tropical country but to my surprise it actually has a very dry climate. Most of the plants that thrived in the island are desert vegetations and cactuses. For some countries, this weather can be distressing but this type of climate has clearly became an advantage for the island. Yearly, millions of visitors flock to the island because they can certainly rely for a warm, sunny weather during their stay.
The highest point in Aruba is not Hooiberg. Upon arriving in the island, the first thing I notice is the Hooiberg hill which is located almost at the center of the island. It really caught my attention not because it is so tall but because it gives a contrasting setting for the island which is relatively flat. Most people thought it is the highest peak in Aruba because it is the only towering peak which can be virtually seen from anywhere in the island. However, the highest peak is actually the Mt. Jamanota located in the Arikok National Park with an elevation of 188 m. Hooiberg mountain, on the other hand, has an elevation of only 165m.
Arubans speak multiple languages. Though their official language is Dutch and Papiamento, Arubans are also fluent in English and Spanish as these two are required in their educational system.
There are wild donkeys in Aruba. Upon arrival at the airport, the driver took me first to the Donkey Sanctuary which is a non-profit organization devoted in protecting the donkeys. The donkeys are not native to the island but when the Spaniards came they imported them for breeding. They were used for personal transport as well as for the transport of goods. However, they were forgotten and neglected when the cars were introduced. During the 1970s, an illness nearly wiped out all the donkeys in the island. They were very few left and sadly, were only mistreated by some people whilst others died accidentally when crossing the road. Luckily, they now have shelter, food, water and they even have their own names. All thanks to the Donkey Sanctuary. The sanctuary is just 9-minute drive away from the airport. There is no admission fee and they are open everyday from 9 am to 4 pm. When you drop by, don’t forget to hand in some donation for the donkeys. Feel free also to pet and feed them.
There are huge rock formations in the island. Our second stop was at Casibari Rock Formations near Ayo village. For a flat sandy island like Aruba, this huge boulders are truly eye-catching since it towers above the island. It gives the place some kind of unusual setting and unique feature. There is no explanation as to how such big boulders got into a flat sandy island like Aruba but it has truly became an interesting landmark that attracted a lot of tourists.
The Government of Aruba provided trails and steps to enable visitors to get a breathtaking view of the island. From the top of the flat boulder, you will be surprised to see how Aruba’s landscape is packed with cactus plants. The Hooiberg mountain can also be seen from above.
Long ago, this site was visited by the Awarak people, the first settlers in the island, to perform rituals. There are carved paintings in some rocks which are called petroglyphs. The rocks also served as a place to hear incoming thunderstorms.
The rock formations is located just 12 minutes away from the Donkey Sanctuary and there is no admission fee. It can be roamed around in an hour and the most recommended time of visit is in the morning as noontime can get pretty hot.
Aruba has its own local beer. After an exhausting hike to the boulders on a blazing sunny day, a bottle of the island’s homegrown beer known as Balashi would be perfect to quench your thirst. The name Balashi was derived from the word Bala Bala and Balana which means “near the sea”. If you have plenty of time to spare, a tour to the Balashi Brewery would be a great addition to your layover itinerary. Tours are available Monday through Friday for the price of $6 with one drink included.
Most of the supermarkets in the villages are Chinese-owned. This actually came as a surprise to me as every street we pass by, there is always a Chinese supermarket.
There are 90+ nationalities in Aruba. This tiny island with 105,264 inhabitants is actually home to 90+ nationalities and ethnic groups. This multiculturism is evident in the island’s language, architecture, festivals and dishes. Their local language, Papiamento, is a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, French, English, Dutch and African.
US Dollar is widely accepted. Being a heavily visited country, most shops and restaurants are accepting US dollars already. To my surprise, even small stores in the villages are also accepting US dollars.
Most of Aruba’s inhabitants are Catholic. After hiking the big boulders in Ayo, we drove for 14 minutes to the northeastern part of Aruba to visit one of the most precious landmark in the island- the Alto Vista Chapel. Because of its high elevation, it was named Alto Vista which means “high view”. The chapel was built in 1952 and stands in the same location where the first Catholic church was built by the Spanish missionary, Domingo Silvestre. The chapel can be reached by car or by walking the labyrinth path. There are white crosses lining the streets heading to the chapel. On Good Fridays, Aruban Catholics do the pilgrimage from Oranjestad to Alto Vista.
Aruba has a lighthouse and it is now open to public after decades of being closed. We drove next to the California Dunes & Lighthouse just 18 minutes away from the chapel. The stunning lighthouse stands tall at the coastline of Aruba in the northwestern tip of the island. It is a perfect place to enjoy the sunset and get a panoramic view of the whole island. The lighthouse has been restored and has been opened again to the public last May 2016. You can buy tickets online at the website https://arubalighthouse.com/. Guided tours costs $10 and VIP tours costs $64 (maximum of 8 people). Adjacent to the lighthouse is the restaurant el Faro Blanco where you can enjoy a delectable lunch or dinner after your tour.
Tap water is safe to drink. Aruba does not have a natural source of fresh water. In order to provide its growing population and its millions of visitors each year a water that is pure, clean and tastes good, they developed one of the largest desalination plants in the world. So when you are in Aruba, save yourself some penny and drink from their tap water.
Palm Beach is also known as the high-rise area. Located 4.2 miles away from the California Lighthouse is the renowned Palm Beach which is home to the high-rising hotels such as Marriotts Aruba Surf Club, The Ritz-Carlton, Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort, Divi Resort, Hotel Riu and many more.
Eagle Beach is also known as the low-rise area. Just an 8-minute drive from Palm Beach, you will reach the Eagle Beach. It’s lined with low-rising hotels and timeshares. Eagle Beach is considered as one of the best beaches in the Caribbean.
Aruba’s sand is barefoot-friendly. Walking on the shoreline without any footwear will not give you blisters or sore feet because the island’s sand is comfortably cool. Thanks to the crushed coral and shell composition which keeps the sand cool despite the intense heat of the sun.
Below is the map of Aruba with the destinations I visited during my 6-hour layover in the island. After visiting all of these places, I still had plenty of time to enjoy a nice, tasty burger in Café Abraco and loiter around the airport to search for some souvenirs.
How do you handle long layovers? Do you also take chance to venture out? Share me your experiences in the comments below.