Biba Dushi in Aruba!
First off, no, I did not just swear at you. Secondly, hello! I’m Rachael’s younger sister, Haley, and this is my first guest post on beeanythingbutboring. Biba dushi may seem like an offensive phrase to those of us who speak English, but it’s actually a common saying to live by in Aruba. Biba dushi means “living the sweet life” in Papiamento: one of Aruba’s two official languages spoken by many on the island. Papiamento is a Creole language derived from Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, English, French, and African languages. Needless to say, visiting Aruba on our family vacation in May was more than just an incredible tropical get away; it was an amazing cultural experience. But before I give too much away, let’s start from the beginning.
After I graduated from Michigan State University in May of 2016 with my Bachelor’s degree and my sister completed her MBA, it was time for a celebratory family trip with our parents. Family friends had highly recommended we visit Aruba, as they had visited time and time again. With our passports and open minds in tow, we set off on arguably our most adventurous family vacation yet!
En Route to Aruba
Few flights (if any) fly direct to Aruba: an island of just 69.08 square miles off the coast of Venezuela with only the Queen Beatrix International Airport to fly into. However, our layover in Atlanta was doable and didn’t add much time to the overall 8 hour flight. Aruba’s climate is in the high 80s year round, so be sure to pack your sunglasses, a hat, and plenty of bathing suit options.
Once you land in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital and largest city, you’ll find there are numerous hotels and resorts to choose from that are centrally located along the main beachfront. We stayed at the Divi Phoenix resort and found amazing views right outside our balcony like this:
But while you may be tempted to book an all inclusive resort package with your hotel stay (unlimited meals and drinks), I recommend you not limit yourself to eating at those few select restaurants included in the package because there are so many great restaurants and bars outside of the resort scene to explore. One of our favorites was the Pelican Nest: a delicious restaurant known for its seafood located at the end of a long pier on the beach—they had a great band at night, too!
Aruba-One Happy Island
Now this is no tourist cliche. Aruba is without a doubt an extremely happy island; from the resort staff to the locals and other tourists you meet along the way, it’s hard to have anything but a happy encounter or experience on the island.
Whatever you do, DO NOT leave Aruba without booking a trip with the Jolly Pirates. You depart from Moomba Beach (a short cab ride away from our resort) and get to ride on an actual pirate ship around part of the island. Even better, you can drink like Jack Sparrow while sailing the high seas; but watch out, the unlimited Pirate Punch packs a literal punch. Half way through the ride, the ship anchors near a sandbar and you can swing out into the open ocean on a rope swing! This was definitely a trip highlight. Don’t worry, sharks aren’t known to hang around the island. The the Jolly Pirate crew made the trip so fun, and by the time we returned to shore 2 hours after we departed on our sunset cruise, we were gabbing and dancing with everyone aboard. Because Aruba is such a popular tourist destination, we ended up meeting visitors from all around the world, like a friendly windsurfer from the Netherlands.
I loved the pirate cruise, but if you’re feeling even more adventurous, you should try my favorite part of the trip: open ocean scuba diving. My Dad has always dreamt of going scuba diving, which we were able to do in Aruba after we earned a quick one-time-dive PADI certification. You learn the basics and are familiarized with the equipment in a pool before boarding a boat that takes you out to a shipwreck dive site. The dive lasted about 45 minutes as our guide took my Dad and I 40 feet below the surface. We got to explore the sunken ship up close and saw all sorts of wildlife: sea cucumbers (caterpillars of the sea), giant urchins, eels, a squid, and we even got to pet a 4ft in diameter mother stingray with her baby on the ocean floor. Best of all, no sharks or barracudas in sight! In fact, our guide said in over 500 dives, she had only seen a shark once. All four of us later rented a sailboat and tore across the water for an hour on our own. Thankfully, my dad’s hobby back in the day was messing around with sailboats. Whatever you like to do on the water, you can find rental shops all along the beach for any activity.
For more touristy activities, you can check out Senior Frogs: the popular chain notorious for its strong drink and good times. There are also tons of flea market type pop-up-shops in the downtown area—usually with cheaper priced trinkets and collectibles than you’ll find at similar shops along the beachfront—and a variety of restaurants. To get downtown, there’s a shuttle that pulls up to all the resort lobbies and costs a couple dollars per person. Or, there are plenty of cabs.
Go Off Road, Literally
My next pro tip is to rent a Jeep and go off-roading on the desert part of the island. Trust me, it’s not as dangerous as it sounds, but there really is no road—only a somewhat clear trail following the shoreline. We rented a big red Jeep from Hertz located at the Hilton hotel on the main strip. The price was reasonable for the whole day and let us explore Aruba our own way, with a full map of the island of course! It took the whole day, but we made it all the way around the island and I got to sit up top through the sun roof.
Our first stop was Aruba’s northwest tip at the California Lighthouse. You can’t go inside, but you have a beautiful ocean view from a higher altitude and there’s a restaurant, gift shop, and lots of smoothie food trucks ( I recommend the fresh mango smoothie). Next, we really entered the “Aruban outback,” which was miles of barren desert land until we reached the Alto Vista Chapel: a small, yet stunning Catholic church that has held up against the elements since 1952. Known as the “Pilgrim’s Church,” this small clay structure is open to whoever enters; containing pews, candles, and ornately painted details inside.
You’ll also come across something called the Natural Bridge. It used to be a much larger, natural formation that collapsed and now has left a miniature version behind, which you can see my mom and dad standing under up above. It was truly a beautiful rock formation in person.
There aren’t too many other landmarks out on the desert side of the island, but thankfully we made our own mini landmark! Countless, miniature rock towers dot the desert horizon made by past travelers. If you don’t turn back and continue on the loop, you’ll stumble upon an abandonded gold mine that looks like the ruins of an old castle and is home to brightly colored lizards. You will also find a colorful shack that provides the only shady spot for local fisherman and horseback riders to stop.
Keep driving and eventually you’ll reach the southeastern most part of the island at Baby Beach, signaled by a large red anchor if you’re getting close! Baby Beach is a shallow, man-made lagoon loved by locals and tourists alike with exceptionally warm water. At Baby Beach, you’ll find Big Mama Grill to eat and drink at and a shack where you can rent snorkel equipment or other beach toys. We opted to snorkel on our own, though guides were available. The water was incredibly clear—we were up close and personal with lots of colorful fish!
Before I go and let you get on with planning your own Aruban adventure, I almost forget to mention that the sunsets are unbelievable. White sandy beaches and turquoise water are sure to cure any ailment, but Aruban sunsets take the cake. Whether you opt for a crazy adventure like we did or are looking for a relaxing tropical getaway, make sure you find a spot on the beach at sundown and you’ll find happiness in Aruba.
Until next time, biba dushi friends!