This Dutch island offers laid-back luxury lodging, clean beaches and rustic, dining gems sure to enchant vacationing couples.
The most surprising thing about Aruba was the fact that it surprised me at all. I’d somehow imagined the island to be filled with huge hotels and hordes of cruise-ship passengers, but was pleasantly surprised to find a program in place to preserve the beaches and protect the place from overdevelopment. Aruba turned out to be quite a romantic destination—and not just because of the white sand beaches, dreamy sunsets and mango daiquiris.
Rent a car and you’ll easily find your way around, driving on well-paved roads. Decide to go out to dinner, and choose between romantic spots in town, on the beach or all the way out on a pier. And while there are a few enormous all-inclusive resorts, there are lots of lovely low-rise places to stay—where the staff is as warm as the island breezes that continually blow (if you’re a woman with long hair, bring lots of ties and hats to tame your tresses in the trade winds).
The island has an exceedingly well-educated and well-traveled populace (every Aruban we met was fluent in four languages: English, Dutch, Spanish and Papiamento, the local tongue)—and they approach tourism very seriously. Many we spoke with spent their college years in Holland studying hotel or restaurant management. They have such a friendly and welcoming way of greeting tourists that many visitors come back over and over again. In fact, the couple sitting next to me on the plane was heading to the Divi Divi Resort for the 14th year in a row. Apparently, there are many such folk who are loyal to Aruba giving rise to the Goodwill Ambassador Award given to visitors who return for 20 consecutive years!
With so many Arubans studying hotel management overseas, the island is full of hotels that are well staffed and well run. Many hold on to a smaller, island feel. Choose from a just-opened inland eco-lodge to three beachfront hotels, each with its own surprises.
While children can be charming, even parents sometimes want to vacation in a spot where the pool is splash-free and the beach is for grown ups only. The handsome Bucuti Beach Resort beautifully fills the bill. From the moment you walk into the breezy reception area where cold champagne comes with a warm smile, this adult-focused hotel is a pleasure.
Popular for weddings and honeymoons, the staff aims to please—and does. There’s a dedicated wedding planner named Nashette who works her magic for weddings big and small. While we were there, a couple got married on the beach at sunset—alone, with no guests.Even so, it was handled so elegantly and beautifully, we were happy to sip our drinks and observe from the sidelines.
Bucuti’s décor is tasteful and stylish with an elegant but beachy feel that invites you to put up your feet and relax. Our room, decorated in fresh white and walnut, was in the Tara Suites section of the hotel. The oceanfront patio was right on the beach. Bucuti’s stretch of Eagle Beach encompasses 14 acres—no rising at dawn to claim your chaise here. There’s always plenty of room.
Bucuti Beach also has a nice pool, spa, massage hut on the beach, outdoor fitness center and beachfront bar. The Pirate’s Nest serves breakfast, lunch and dinner overlooking the sea. And while the hotel is for adults, it’s not for exhibitionists or swinging singles—just nice couples looking to spend time together in a beautiful spot on the beach.
Rates start at $250 per night. L.G. Smith Blvd. #55B. Tel. +297-583-1100. www.bucuti.com
The Renaissance Aruba Resort and Casino is distinctive on the island in that it offers several completely different experiences. First of all, it’s right in the capital of Oranjestad, within walking distance of restaurants, casinos and more. It’s also attached to an upscale shopping center, should you want to add a little Gucci or Ralph Lauren to your vacation attire. What’s so cool? The South Beach-style infinity pool for starters. For adults only, it overlooks the open water on a terrace several stories up. With a lively adjacent bar called Blue, it’s a great spot to sip, swim and soak up the sun.
What about the beach? Just walk over to the boat dock right downstairs inside the hotel’s atrium where a launch picks you up and takes you to the hotel’s own idyllic private island. Once there, you’ll find a shop for beach essentials, a bar and restaurant—and two completely different beaches with everything from luxe lounge chairs to a roving flock of pink flamingos. In the middle is Spa Cove, reserved for beachfront treatments.
Renaissance Island was recently the setting for music mogul Timbaland’s wedding, attended by hundreds of lucky guests. This stylish affair was designed by Aruba’s extraordinarily talented party planner, Fernando Mansur. With several family-friendly hotels, too, the Renaissance has it all.
Rates start at $196 per night. L.G. Smith Blvd 82. Tel. +297-583-6000. renaissancearuba.com
We rented a car and drove around the island, longing to see the desert terrain Aruba is known for. On the wide-open North Coast, we found crashing waves, wild beaches, copious cacti and the brand new Cunucu Arubiano Eco-Lodge. Lovingly created by Eddy Paris, an Aruban with movie star looks and taste to match, the individual cottages are based on the native houses of Aruba known as cunucus. These luxurious little stucco houses are each decorated differently, including local artwork, museum-worthy wall murals and fabulous furniture.
The small compound is off by itself. Guests were raving about the starry-night skies, the solitude and the rollicking beaches nearby. There’s a small pool and a homemade breakfast is served each morning.
As if all this atmosphere weren’t enough, Cunucu Arubiano backs up to the owner’s donkey sanctuary where a group of volunteers give Aruba’s abandoned donkeys a home right out of a children’s storybook. Wander out and mingle with the newborns (there were two adorable babies in pens with their mothers when we were there), stroke the adults or just check in with this well-protected little pack.
Rates from $345 per night for doubles, June and July special of $245 per night. Santa Lucia. Tel. +297-594-4491. www.cunucuarubiano.com
I’ll admit I don’t like the idea of all-inclusive resorts. While they may be economical, I dislike the way they sequester guests away from the place they’re actually visiting. Divi Divi is not like this at all. With a series of low-rise buildings right on a spectacular beach, it offers everything but still feels like part of the island—and in an residential neighborhood. There are 10 dining options, seven bars, three pools, tennis courts and a sports center to enjoy. Regular buses can take you into town. There’s just no reason to leave.
Rates start at $412 per night based on a seven-night stay. Tel. 800-554-2008. www.diviaruba.com
From rustic to elegant, Aruba’s restaurants have a lot to offer. Cheeses imported from Holland and beef from nearby Argentina add to local pleasures like grouper and langoustine. Here are three memorable spots with romantic atmosphere to spare.
We could not have been happier when we discovered this restaurant glowing out on the bay. Pincho’s effervescent owner, Anabela Peterson, told us how her husband and daughter used to swim off this pier. One day she had a vision of putting a restaurant out there, which they have done with great finesse. Pincho’s isn’t just near a dock, it’s way out at the end of a serene pier at a place called Surfside Marina.
A friendly, square bar forms the central area and cozy tables skim the sea. There are swings for fun and sofas for curling up and getting cozy. Fish, chicken and beef kabobs with inventive sauces are the specialty of the house. While the food is fine, the setting is the star. And what an unforgettable setting it is.
L.G. Smith Blvd. Tel.+297-583-2666. Hours: daily from 5 p.m. to midnight.
When you’re shopping or sightseeing in Oranjestad, stroll on over to Matilde Restaurant for lunch, drinks or dinner. Located in a charming historic house, this intimate restaurant has two distinct personalities. The front room has a cozy bar and lovely velvet banquettes atop a checkered floor. The main dining room continues that feel, amid pretty framed paintings and drawings that speak of the island’s past. The back room has a more modern feel and a garden ambiance that would be wonderful for a wedding rehearsal dinner—or even a small wedding reception.
Not only is this restaurant beautiful, the food is quite special. Our leisurely lunch (we’d forgotten how nice it is to linger over lunch with nowhere to get back to) began with raspberry-infused champagne. I had a salad of cous cous, feta cheese and dates and my husband ordered crab cappuccino and a cheese platter with several standout varieties. Thanks to the Dutch connection, cheese is a good choice in Aruba where smooth Gouda and other varieties arrive regularly from Holland. Yet another surprise that kept us happier here than we ever imagined we’d be.
Havenstraat 23. Tel.+297-583-9200. matildearuba.com
What do a big, beached boat, a tented private dining room on a jetty and a bunch of well-appointed tables right in the sand have in common? They’re all different spots to dine at Old Man and the Sea. On its own private beach in Savoneta, this restaurant feels like the small settlement of an artistic inventor who happens to love to cook. Once the home of the young owner’s mother (who beautifully hand-painted each menu cover), I’ve never seen a place quite like this.
Beginning with the billowy curtains flanking the boardwalk entrance, we knew we were in for something special. From the wine bottle chandeliers and driftwood lighting fixtures to the well-spaced candlelit tables and chairs on the beach, it takes waterfront dining to an entirely different level. After a delicious dinner of macadamia-encrusted grouper followed by elegant desserts created by a talented 17-year-old pastry chef, the affable owner Jonathan Vieira played us a couple of his masterful compositions on one of two enormous baby grand pianos that are also part of this one-of-a-kind scene. Our waitress was so nice, she almost walked us to our car. This is once place you just don’t want to miss.
Sanaveta 356-A. Tel. +297-584-3434. Hours: daily, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. theoldmanandthesearestaurant.com
Whether you rent your own car or take an island tour, head out to the Bushiribana Gold Mine on the wilder North Coast. This tumbledown ruin is fun for taking pictures, but the real attraction here is the miles of little artfully constructed rock piles. They go on forever—and we just couldn’t figure out how they all got there. When we asked a few locals what was up with the rocks, they said, “Three wishes!”—and told us how to partake.
“Go out there,” they said, “and choose your three rocks. Pile them up and then make three accompanying wishes.” Many couples were at the site, wishing for health, wealth, happiness or whatever. We followed suit, leaving our three wishes to the wilds and winds of Aruba.
OK, this may not sound very romantic at first, but the brand new Aruba Archaeological Museum is a gem. Having seen island museums before, we expected a few humdrum artifacts and not much more. But this place is quite something. It’s beautifully laid out and conceived—and housed in a bright green historic house in town. The house’s floor tiles remain, as do some of the original rooms, but an airy new addition overlooking the neighborhood adorns the back of the building.
A Canadian firm that specializes in such things designed the exhibits and they are simple, compelling and informative. Learn about the early settlers as you revel in their rituals, their jewelry and their fascinating history. It’s interactive, interesting and really worth a spin though, hand-in-hand, of course.
J. Irausquinplein 2-A. Tel +297-582-8979. Hours: 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 to 4 p.m.
Lastly is that island stalwart, the sunset cruise. Often called a booze cruise and rightly so, we asked Susan Biemans, the lovely owner of the Bucuti Resort (where we stayed), if there was a more relaxed way to enjoy the end of the day on the water. “We wouldn’t send our honeymooners on one of those boats,” she reassured us. “We have just the thing.”
The Sweetheart Sunset Sail limits guests to 36 and takes place on a 42-foot catamaran, a comfy craft with an open bar and romantic snacks, including strawberries and Belgian chocolates. We settled into a cozy spot, watching the skies go from powder blue to pale pink to purplish-black. As we sat there, happily sipping champagne, we agreed to something we wouldn’t have predicted—and sealed it with a toast. We’d be back. Hey, on Aruba, the surprises just kept coming.
Tel. +297-586-0096. Tours: Wed. and Fri., 5 to 7 p.m., $45 per person.
he trade winds come to cool out here, and it is smiling sunny island which is cool throughout the year. With short showers from October to December the splash of rain adds to the romance of the pleasant climate.
The mesmerizing scenic beauty enhances the romance of this little island. Aruba is a great vacation destination to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life; work pressures and hassles, the ever-boring routine, and no time for the most special person in our life. With bright sunny beaches, the gentle lapping of the waves against the white sand, endless stretches of turquoise water, as well as romance and relaxation… Aruba comes to our rescue! The beautiful beaches of Aruba promise an exciting and memorable vacation. The island caters to our sense of adventure and romance. Get the adrenaline pumping by surfing, snorkeling, parasailing, or wind surfing. Several secluded beaches are ideal spots for a memorable picnic lunch, a swim in the crystal-clear waters, or sunbathing.
Aruba is a wonderful place. My readers will love this. I'll be sure to pass it on.
I've seen a lot of Islands - Aruba included and it is all you say it is. I was there on a cruise only overnight but I could have stayed 2 weeks and then hated to leave. You've given me the itch to go back n.
Lately I've been staying in the U.S., because I've been afraid to travel outside of it. You hear bad things about Mexico, etc. This island sounds safe and calm and welcoming to tourists. Even thought it's far from the west coast , I'm going to consider it.....
This was an insightful and articulate article. Makes me want to go tomorrow. I am going to print it out and use it on my next trip to Aruba.