According to my tour map, “Aruba is 19.6 miles in length and 6 miles across its widest point and is well-known for being safely outside the hurricane belt. It has 15 miles of beach, many 5-star hotels and casinos along the beach and plenty of air plane and ship wreck dive sites."
I did not have to reference the map to explore the town or the whole island. Downtown Oranjestad (the capital of Aruba) was just a few steps from the Cruise Ship Terminal and was walkable. The building architecture gave the place a unique character.
Malls, casinos and hotels, upscale shops, jewelry stores and souvenir stalls lined the main road. I went inside the mall just to do comparison shopping. There were hardly any shoppers except for a few people who, like us, just got off the cruise ship. Since I was more interested in spending my day at the beach than buying a designer bag or jewelry, we left the mall. We continued to walk a little farther down J.C. Smith Blvd where I found the Parliament building. Seeing the police station nearby, gave me an added confidence that it was safe to explore the town on our own.
We went across the street to find the Seaport Marketplace and walked to the end of the road, where we found more casinos. A little farther down the street, I found a park leading to the harbor. I got excited at seeing what seemed to be a beach area when all of a sudden an iguana crossed my path. I was fascinated by the iguana that suddenly refused to move.
We spent well over an hour just wandering along the harbor, taking pictures and admiring the little creatures: tiny crabs, iguanas and seabirds. We continued walking on the same path along the harbor thinking that it would lead us back to the Cruise Ship Terminal. But the path ended at the Seaport Market place. This time I saw the multitude of boats, either fishing boats or pleasure craft that were moored so closed to a casino.
Before returning to the Cruise Ship Terminal to catch our tour bus, we stopped by the Wharf Side Market. It was lined with souvenir stalls, jewelry shops and few restaurants and bars. We kept running into familiar faces. They were on the same cruise ship with us. Seemingly obvious is the fact that the shops here cater to the cruise ship crowd and that tourism money is vital to this town. The shop keepers were very polite. Perhaps it’s the feeling of ‘everybody from the cruise ship running into everybody" that made the shopkeepers not overly aggressive or 'bargaining' is not practiced there.
After exploring the downtown area on our own, we took the tour bus to see the rest of the island. Our first stop was a visit to Antilla ship wreck dive site via a submarine. The water was so enticing that I could not wait to dip my body into the warm sea. While waiting for the boat that would take us to the submarine, I sneaked behind the gift shop counter to change into my swim suit.
After the not so impressive underwater tour, we had a few hours to spend at Palm Beach. Stretching along the west coast of the island for what seemed like miles of beach dotted with people, sunbathing, playing and engaging in some sort of water sport. It dawned on me! “This is where the party is”. So that was the reason why the shopping malls were nearly empty. People come to Aruba for its beaches! The water was pristine and warm. While the sun was hot, the sand was cool. (The sand is not really sand, but coral dust. The tour guides like to tell the story about how fish feeds on corals and the sand actually formed from fish shit. I'm sure there's a more scientific explanation than the fish shit story.) For me, it was the perfect beach. Beautiful!!
Later, I followed my tour mates to the restaurant and peeked inside to find construction workers. But I was able to catch the spectacular view of the island's western coastline of sandy beaches, rolling sand dunes and rocky coral shorelines from this vantage point.
Our next stop was the Natural Bridge. According to our tour guide, “the bridge was formed from coral limestone cut out by years of pounding surf. Unfortunately, the big bridge collapsed. What was left was a smaller natural bridge. I walked around the smaller bridge to enjoy the views of the coastline and the waves crashing against the rocks of the collapsed bridge. I also noticed a sporadic stacked of rocks and stones on the left side of the bridge. Then it occurred to me that was what our tour guide alluded to earlier: the Aruban lore of stacking rocks that tourists tried to follow. But after the bridge collapsed, tourists had been discouraged from doing this practice.
Tucked away amongst cacti and sandy desert was a small chapel. It was really tiny, pristine and yellow with a peculiar architecture. The drive along the coastal dirt road to get to the Alta Vista Chapel and the Natural Bridge gave us a chance to see a different side of Aruba, great coastal views of the east coast.
From a coral limestone formation our tour bus drove past the Goldsmelter Ruins and Ostrich Farm to reach the Ayo Rock Formation. We did not stop here, but drove around while our tour guide shared some historical background about the area. The site was once considered sacred by the Arawak Indians, it's original inhabitants. Ayo Mountain looked surreal with all those towering stone boulders surrounded by a different variety of cactus and divi-divi trees. While I was at the Casibari Rock Formation, I took a photo that captured the beauty of the Ayo Mountain.
Before reaching the Casibari Rock Formation, our tour guide warned that we could literally lose our heads if we’re not careful in climbing the steps all the way to the top. She was of course joking, but it was her way of introducing us the Casibari Rock Formation. Casibari is a bunch of monolithic boulders stacked on top of each other forming what looks like a rocky mountain. There are walking trails and steps through the rock to allow hikers to reach the top. Making the effort to climb a number of steps and being able to turn and twist my body to get through some very narrow opening was well worth it. Once on the top I got to see the whole island and its most amazing views. We could actually see our cruise ship from there as well. For my purpose of seeing places, I could say that I covered Aruba in less than a day. While I would be more than happy spending every minute of my stay in Aruba at the beach absolutely doing nothing, we had a cruise ship waiting.
NOTE: As I was heading down the Casibari Rock Formation, I discovered another trail and steps for those people who would like to climb to the top without twisting their bodies to go through the narrow opening.