Aruba has its own currency - the Aruban florin. It's pegged to the dollar at 1.79. However, it's hard to actually pay in AFL anywhere that is close to your hotel. The prices in the restaurant menus will make you think it is in AFL, but it's actually in USD. In general, expect to pay double what you would pay in most places in the US.
Aruba is just 20 miles long and about 15 miles wide. It feels more like a super tanker that ran ashore than a country.
It's very close to Venezuela!
On a clear day you can see the coastline of Venezuela, one of the world's most dangerous countries.
While there are some gritty areas in Aruba, most of the island seems safe enough during both day and night.
The weather is unbeatable
The island has a lucky location that gives it warm (but not hot) sunny weather year-round. The island is mostly cacti and relies on a big desalination plant because of the minimal rainfall. But for tourism, the stable warm weather and the constant 20 mph wind are a 'windfall'.
The beaches are perfect
Palm Beach is a fantastic beach with clear, blue water along a magnificent bay. While it's crowded, 'beach hardware' does not get better than that. Also Aruba has almost no pushy beach vendors; in a week of beach life, I saw less than five of them.
I'm hard-pressed to think of another whole country that is so focused on
serving tourists. It's difficult to get out of the tourist maelstrom on this 'big cruise ship' called Aruba. The locals have made their peace with tourism though and are largely unmoved by the daily loads of passengers arriving from the US.
It feels very American
By far the biggest number of arrivals is from the US (East Coasters and Midwesterners), so inside the tourist areas it's really an American paradise with a sprinkling of Dutch, Colombian and Venezuelan influences.
Good food (or coffee) is a mirage in Aruba
There are some (touristy) food options but they charge Michelin starred restaurant prices for mediocre food. Great food is impossible to come by here, so keep your expectations as low as possible. Expect fast food, deep-fried and bland cuisine. The same is true for coffee.
The picture below is of the best meal I had, at Smokey Joe's
barbecue place in Noord.
It has a lot of shipwrecks!
All the maps are dotted with sunken ships and you can even see them from the beach.
It's a lizard heaven
I have never seen so many lizards in my life. Yes, you will remember your daily 'lizard company'.
The ideal traveler for Aruba is?
The 60+ cruise ship/group retiree and families with kids aged between 6 and 12 are likely to have the most fun on this island. Also, if you are an expert surfer or kite surfer, Aruba will make you very happy.
One happy island indeed?
It's a tiny, laid-back island that 'sails the Caribbean' well, but it also feels South American with all the good and bad news that come with it.
What are the Best Things to do in Aruba (beyond the hotel beaches)
Zeerovers is a lovely seafood shack on the southern side of the island. Fishermen actually come in and you can see your fish being prepared fresh. It offers great views as well. Great quality for decent prices!
The Casibari and Ayo rock formations
The Casibari and Ayo rock formations aren't anything exciting, but they're still fun to look at during a quick trip around the island.
Baby Beach & the rugged southern coast
While Baby Beach
is a major landing port for submarine internet cables
(in a secret location), it's more famous for being a lovely spot to snorkel. Close to it is the rugged south coast with its major breaks.
This is an oasis of awesome donuts and other delicacies located right in the middle of the island.
Arikok National Park
It's $11 per person to enter this park and it's said to offer some good hiking. Take lots of water and super-strong sun screen for your hike.
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Picture courtesy of Eugene K