The ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao) are known for being outside the hurricane belt; coincidentally, arriving in Aruba is as easy as ABC. Direct flights depart from 14 North American cities, and automated kiosks for U.S., Canadian and European travelers make clearing customs a breeze. Here’s how to maximize a long weekend getaway.
Island Time: The first order of business: Kick back like you’re in a Corona commercial. The island’s soothing trade winds help set the mood: Feel the breeze from the open-air lobby of Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino, fronting Palm Beach. Immediately after check-in, don a swimsuit and find a spot on the sand. The palapas that line the shore are a hot commodity — use the resort’s online service to book yours the night prior. Sip a Chill (a local brew) and, well, chill.
Just the Two Of Us: To score major brownie points with your dushi (sweetheart), reserve one of the six tables at Footprints Beach Grill. A shoes-optional romantic beach dinner is a surefire way to kick off your vacay. Remember those trade winds? Keep them in mind for your dinner attire: Hats will be blown away, hairdos will be windswept, and short dresses will recall Marilyn Monroe.
Hit The Road: Aruba is more than just pretty beaches and turquoise water: It’s one of the few Caribbean islands with an arid, dry landscape. To see this other side, go off road with De Palm Tours. Its canary-yellow Land Rovers venture daily through rugged desert terrain unfit for the average rental car. Half- and full-day tours visit attractions like the Ayo Rock Formations. These ancient monolithic boulders provided shelter for the Arawak Indians (evidenced by their rock drawings); today, pathways through the stones make it an easy hike for all ages.
Four-legged Friends: Nearby, stop to feed friendly burros at the Donkey Sanctuary. This nonprofit protects the animals that were once the preferred method of transportation but were threatened when the car was introduced.
Cave In: Post-petting, head to Arikok National Park: Channel Indiana Jones and explore the park’s limestone caves, Fontein and Guadirikiri. (Warning: You will see bats.) If weather conditions allow, a swim in the natural pool (Conchi) is the ideal way to cool off.
Booze and Browse: After a full morning, it’s time to refuel. The famous Charlie’s Bar in San Nicholas offers cold beer and fresh seafood with a side of character. Since it opened in 1941, the bar’s walls and ceilings have been covered with bric-a-brac: dolls, license plates, mariachi hats, boxing gloves. Ready for some retail therapy? Back at Palm Beach, walk to Arawak Gardens to shop storefronts and vendor stalls selling everything from high-end jewelry to souvenir tchotchkes.
Paint the Town: Moomba Beach Bar and Restaurant brings the classic beach-bar vibe. The spot is happening every night of the week, but visit on a Friday or Sunday for a barbecue buffet and live music. Order a few watermelon mojitos and dance the night away on the sand. If you’re still wired, Sinatra singalongs continue past midnight at The Soprano’s Piano Bar. Or try your luck at a casino — many are open 24 hours.
Breakfast of Champions: Start your day by going Dutch — for flapjacks, that is. The Dutch Pancake House Restaurant in downtown Oranjestad serves up sweet and savory delicacies all day, plus poffertjes (silver-dollar style) and uitsmijters, a typical Dutch breakfast of bread topped with ham, cheese and fried eggs.
Fish Tales: Catalina Bay is the first stop on Red Sail Sports‘ Antilla Snorkel Sail, where the calm water is suitable for all levels. The three-hour catamaran tour (including snacks and an open bar) also anchors at the Antilla wreck. The sea is rougher, but the 400-foot sunken freighter, teeming with marine life, is worth braving the waves.
French Connection: Reserve a bon voyage dinner at Madame Janette, an institution since 1999. Expect French cuisine with a Caribbean twist in signature dishes like almond-crusted grouper and hollandaise-topped filet mignon. Pair your meal with a French wine, or pick a Belgian ale from the extensive craft-beer list.