It’s late and boutique Aruba Ocean Villas’ romantic open-air restaurant The Old Man and The Sea, channeling Hemingway, is quiet. The 10 tables set in the sand are vacant, but the outdoor bar is casting a welcoming golden hue thanks to dancing fairy lights. With glass in hand, I take in the final moments of a gorgeous star-studded night in Aruba, the “A” of the ABC Dutch Caribbean islands. Jovial bartender Michael is surrounded by resort staff, trickling in at the back end of their day. This is truly the default gathering spot at the resort.
Also behind the bar is owner and visionary designer Osyth Henriquez. She signals and clapping erupts as a group of staff appear with a guitar to sing, “Happy Birthday” to the executive chef who has emerged to hang out with his resort family. I find myself drawn into this intimate moment and join in the clapping and singing. The spirited camaraderie is infectious, and the staff makes you feel like you’re one of them—part of the family.
The quiet, secluded Aruba Ocean Villas in the old capital of Savaneta is an adults-only, 13-bungalow paradise that is home to the only overwater villas in Aruba. The micro-resort sits cozily along the water amid mangroves, unspoiled and refreshingly uncommercial on an island dubbed the Las Vegas of the Caribbean. Without question, it offers a nice contrast to Aruba’s storied nightlife replete with upscale casinos, bars and clubs, and glitzy global upscale hotel brands along Palm Beach.
Artistic and soulful, she says that she aims for perfect imperfection. “Nature is our best example of the beauty of the perfect imprecation.” It’s colorful and messy, just how it should be. “My work doesn’t have neat categories. I don’t follow a template as a designer,” she explained. What guides her is heart and inspiration.
One of the many things which distinguishes this mini resort is that it offers not only Aruba’s only overwater accommodations, but also the island’s only overwater dining cabana. Where else would you want a romantic dinner? This magical space is decked out with draping curtains and lots of foliage to provide a private, memorable setting. Stylistically, the overwater dining cabana is constructed as a palapa, as are all the structures on property, which feeds this intoxicating sense of being swept into a different world far from home.
Each villa is intentionally crafted and brims with rich character, reflecting the work of an artist. Named after Henriquez’s loved ones, every villa channels the personality, whims, and passions of a person in her life. Villa Lola is named for her beloved dog, Elle Marie celebrates her niece, Mai Wisha offers spectacular applause for her mother-in-law and the two-story villa Chupi, for her son who plays piano—explaining the piano displayed in the villa’s living room.
The differing villas provide an array of luxurious features, such as full kitchens, outdoor wet bars, open-air showers, private hot tubs, jacuzzies, plunge-pools, hammocks, and additional outdoor shaded beds for lazy napping. Further making the point that there’s nothing cookie-cutter about Aruba Ocean Villas, Joy runs entirely on renewable energy and Penthouse Villa Sophia—perfect for honeymooners—features a handcrafted bathtub made by a Filipino artist centered in the open-concept bathroom.
To help you immediately acclimate to the restorative R&R culture of the property, a bottle of champagne sits waiting in every villa. Henriquez says that iPads will soon be available in overwater villas to order food, so that you can sip and nosh without leaving your chair.
Though most villas are overwater (10 total by 2023) and include ladders to access the clear ocean waters, the tiny private beachfront features irresistible lounge chairs and undisturbed views. Claim a chair and recline with a book you’ve borrowed from one of the many resort’s stashes. Look up and let the water enchant you and notice a little strip of land in the distance called Seaglass Island. If watersports are your jam, the resort provides kayaks, paddleboards, and snorkeling gear. Massages are available in palapas allowing for a continuous ocean breeze.
While you’ll be tempted to stay close to your luxe villa, exploring the island without disrupting the nature-driven, wholesome vibe of your getaway is possible.
Take a stroll through San Nicolas, the island’s cultural capital on the southern tip. The second largest city on the island next to Oranjestad, it’s quieter and serves up authentic Caribbean character. Vivid street art and murals enliven the narrow historic streets, which explode with life during the annual Art Fair.
Get expansive views of over 70 percent of the island from the top of California Lighthouse and walk Arikok National Park or Ayo Rock Formations where Indian rock drawings have been discovered in caves, experiences promising an introduction to the history of this complex island, today filled with 98 different nationalities.
Early-birds will be drawn to a private meditation and yoga session with Shanti at Mangel Halto Beach—a meaningful way to start the day. Rent e-bikes through Tamarijn Aruba for a morning ride on the extensive bike-walk-run path which passes Aruba’s famous beaches, including Eagle Beach, which is home to a couple of the island’s legendary Fofiti trees. Discover outside-the-box great food served in an original way when you’re out-and-about. Picnic Aruba offers a posh healthy popup breakfast spread on the beach, a calming way to greet the morning. Tuck into a Burrito Bowl at Origin Café, the island’s first 100% vegan restaurant, and just steps from the resort cool your toes in the shallow surf as you indulge beneath a blanket of stars at Flying Fishbone. The grilled shrimp and risotto is memorable as is their barefoot elegant setting, enchanting with lights in the water which attract a diversity of fish.
Back at Aruba Ocean Villas, the bewitching sanctuary reminded me of Henriquez’s hope that her resort would reconnect you to nature, providing a haven for lovers, the curious, and the wanderer. Unlike anything else in Aruba, it’s a place you’ll never forget.