The first song that springs to mind every time I think of Aruba, is that classic Beach Boys track called Kokomo, you know how it goes, Aruba! Jamaica oooh I wanna take you! Yep, I even had that in my head as I took off on my KLM flight to this beautiful Caribbean hotspot. I will be honest though, I didn’t know much about Aruba apart from three things before I started my journey there, that it was picture perfect, it was the only part of the Caribbean my parents hadn’t been to, and it played host to those famous flamingos. Which of course, being the flamingo fanatic that I am, also happened to be on my bucket list item.
I literally could not wait to get to Aruba! I was desperate for somewhere completely new for me to explore, but also to pick my mood back up after having such a lull post-America. I was travelling to Aruba with fellow travel and adventure blogger, Sian from The Girl Outdoors. As always I hadn’t had much time to research or to plan, but that meant I went into it without any preconceptions, other than being ridiculously desperate to see those Aruba Flamingos! I was going to be doing a connecting flight to get to the island with KLM, starting out in Birmingham to Amsterdam, then Amsterdam to Aruba. I had heard some horror stories of bags getting lost in Amsterdam because of the amount of connecting flights, and how big it was, but thankfully mine was all very smooth and the trip was very relaxing. The flight was long, but the food and selection of entertainment made the time pass. If you fancy seeing what the plane journey was like take a look at my KLM fight video here.
As soon as we landed we were whisked straight off to Gold Coast Aruba in Oranjestad. There are many beautiful places in Aruba, but Oranjestad is one of the more popular places to stay in the area, and luckily this was exactly where villa was. Gold Coast Aruba was a cute, movie set style secure site, where both homeowners and holidaymakers had houses, apartments and villas. There were three communal pools on site, a state of the art gym and lush pool view restaurant too. A welcomed retreat and a good spot for a bit of chill time in between our activities.
After pretty much hitting the ground running, Sian and I got our bags unpacked and were heading straight out to dinner. The options for places to eat in Oranjastad are quite vast! We started off at the beautiful, (and what seemed extremely popular) Italian restaurant called, Amore y Mio, with the foodie hotspot quickly becoming everything we needed after a long flight. It was in prime location next to fellow bars and restaurants on the famous palm beach strip, with Amore y Mio being the most popular place to go. I found my ridiculous, and somewhat famous (by the end of the trip) Aruba shrimp eating habit began here! I found that wherever I ate afterwards, I seemed to subconsciously select it in all kinds of forms! Amore y Mio had such a broad selection, with something to tantalise the tastebuds wherever you looked, especially with their pizzas, salads, pastas. Pretty much whichever table you looked at, you gained an incredible surge of food envy completely regardless of how fantastic what you had was, somehow you just wanted theirs too!
The morning after the meal at Amore y Mio, we were to set out on our first full day of exploring. Of course, we needed to start the day the right way with breakfast and what a better way to do it than at local favourite. A cute little spot for a light breakfast was Lorita’s in Havenstraat, Oranjestad. Smoothies and what I believe were Pastechi, which is essentially deep fried pancake with cheese or chicken. Not my normal breakfast go to but it somehow just worked, and both Sian and I devoured our breakfasts, whilst sharing a mandatory smoothie in hand shot to Instagram!
After breakfast we headed over to San Nicolaas, to see the famous art murals and stop in at San Nicolaas Store (built in the 1940’s) for a bit of lunch. We met a wonderful man called Leon, who gave us the most incredible tour of the area, talking us through all these beautiful works of art, and then guiding us around the small museum on site. Wandering the local streets it was absolutely incredible to see such huge pieces of art over the buildings, all with different themes but each really colourful and mesmerising. After taking our tour and hearing tales of Leon, his family and his love for San Nicolaas, we were treated to healthy lunch at the Mundi Health Cafe, a place which resides within the San Nicolaas Store. If you do end up in Aruba, visiting San Nicolaas this is an absolute must and was one of my favourite activities, because I really felt I was stepping into the true culture of Aruba.
We decided the rest of the day should be spent at the beach, after all we’d been here for over half a day now, and we hadn’t seen those crystal blue seas and those golden sands yet! Our tour guide for the week was Jasmine, or as we called her Dushi Jas, (Dushi mean honey/cutie by the locals) we loved her – she was so much fun and the perfect company to show us around. For our first beach stop she took us to Baby Beach. This would be my first experience with a Caribbean beach and a moment I had dreamt about, talked about and visualised in the rainy UK for the week prior! I just needed to dig my toes in the sand and swim in that warm sea, and I was finally going to do that – it was incredible. So, the afternoon we spent hanging out at this uber chilled hotspot, and to top it off, we sat and painted. Yes, painted. Of course, I decided to make my painting that of a flamingo, but with the sea behind me, soft golden sand on my feet and relaxing with painting – I was a lucky girl.
It felt like a jam packed day, so taking a trip to Cuba’s Cookin Restaurant for some delicious food and an amazing acoustic artist, (who was singing all the hits) was just the cherry on top of the cake, after such an incredible first full day. A restaurant that opened it’s doors back in 1959, it clear it has never gone out of style and an obvious favourite with locals and holidaymakers. I could completely understand why people loved it, with the food they served, the happy hours and of course, the daily music – what is not to love! I must admit though, I was quite exhausted by this point, so we ate and I was very much ready for a sleep… after all the next day was going to be quite epic!
After getting up for a spot of balcony yoga, we packed our bags and set out for our morning with the Jolly Pirates of Aruba! I cannot take credit for this find, it was all Sian! She spotted it and said we had to go, so go, we went! Essentially a 4 hour boat excursion on what looks like a pirate ship, for snorkelling and lunch. You cruise along the Aruba coast, stopping off at some of the best snorkelling spots. You are provided with a lifejacket, snorkelling gear and a safety talk before you were able to go off, but all the amazing staff were there to assist. Some stayed on the boat when we docked, some even came in with you, it felt very safe and well managed which was refreshing. As much as I loved to seek out fish in the coral, I did love seeing the 400ft WWII Shipwreck, Antilla. I’ve been snorkelling before but only ever seen sea life, so seeing something as historic as this was a bit of a treat. After we’d had fun snorkelling, we got to try out the infamous Jolly Pirates rope swing! I had a bit of a fear with leaping off the boat in general, all after a hilarious incident in Egypt, where I sat down as I jumped off a yacht. That really hurt, so much so, my entire bum and legs went black and blue! Anyway so Sian looked after me from the get go, and by the end we were leaping off into the water and swinging into the seafrom a rope! It was such a giggle and one of my favourite excursion experiences. The rate for our trip was $60 but you can go on one for $45.
I did wonder how we could ever top that experience on the Jolly Pirate ship, so we went back for a chill at the villa and a pre-dinner cocktail at the pool bar. We then headed over to Barefoot Restaurant, which is exactly as it sounds, barefooted, or as they say elegant dining in flip flops. This beautiful restaurant that provides that tropical evening breeze when you eat here, was opened in 2010 and for obvious reasons was very popular amongst both couples and groups. Personally I loved the fact we got to dine on the beach with our seats in the sand! Such a simple concept, with candles, beautiful mood lighting and ambient decor, it was the ideal end to unwind after our active day. We each indulged with local seafood, (I had garlic shrimp and Sian had lobster) and the local cocktail the Aruba Ariba! This is what I’d call a treat night meal experience, not because it is expensive, (it’s very reasonable) it just has a different feel to the rest and it’s got ‘excellent’ reviews on trip advisor!
Up to the top of the 541 foot peak of Hooiberg, was the first thing on the agenda for the next morning. A great leg stretcher to start the day and one you could definitely justify a good breakfast afterward! It appeared to be a regular hike for local walkers, trail runners and dog owners. Hooiberg is 165ft above sea level and consists of 900 steps leading to the top, where you could enjoy a panoramic view. You’d think that Hooiberg was the highest point in Aruba but actually, Arikok National Park plays host to the highest point with a hill called, Jamanota. It obviously got steeper higher up, but it was an awesome little workout, not to mention interesting, after all we weren’t just greeted by people and dogs, we also met a family of goats and a vast spread of cacti!
As I say we earned a lovely breakfast post hike, and this time at another local favourite called Huchada in Santa Cruz. Another situation where I found myself unable to decide on what to have due to the vast selection, but it was a quick bite and coffee run so we could go straight off to Mangel Halto for sea kayak safari and snorkelling! I’ve done quite a bit of kayaking but not much in the sea, so I was really intrigued to see what this would be like. We were greeted by friendly staff and their resident cat Daisy, before they went into all the safety instructions and we headed out on the sea. As I say, I’ve done sea kayaking before, but not in such crystal clear seas like this! What an experience, as we kayaked along the coast, finally ending up at Mangel Halto beach for a lavish picnic made by our very own Dushi Jas. This beach was the ideal spot to simply relax after such a busy morning, before indulging in some down time back at the Gold Coast Aruba.
We all know I do love a good breakfast so going to Craft was an utter treat, it was all very healthy with a ridiculous amount of options to chose from. This place was located on the Palm Beach strip just near Amore Y Mio. They had some pretty epic waffles to chose from, but I couldn’t resist an option from their fruits & oats section… see photo below! You can see why I was very found of this venue, and apparently it is quite the place to be in the evening too.
Onto the first activity post breakfast! Mountain biking tour to Alto Vista and North Coast – what a ride! Although I did discover that mountain biking through sand is actually ridiculously hard, also that if you see cactus, don’t land on one! I do have a good scar on my lower leg from falling off my bike into one! Although I quickly learnt how not to do that in the future, whenever I look down at my shin and see my scar, I think of happy Aruba thoughts – so not all bad! That aside, it was so good and a very welcomed work out post breakfast over-indulge! The thing that baffled me was how big Aruba felt on that bike ride, it seemed some how unoccupied somewhat because there was just so much of nothing, when really close by there was lots of life. I did however find it was really delightful to cycle around with hardly anyone there.
Post ride it was a health lunch at Fresh Garden before we dived straight onto the next adventure of a jeep safari tour! I was pretty excited about this as we were going to be checking out Arikok National Park and the natural pool also known as Conchi. When we arrived at Conchi, it was pretty busy because there were many variations of safari style tours, but if you hold on, most will clear after about 10 -15 minutes and we got an hour here. It was a beautiful spot to either jump off the rocks into the water or just relax in the natural pool. The jeep ride itself was quite possibly one the scariest and most hilarious things I’ve done! Quite literally bumping about all over the shop on the dirt tracks and the hilliest of hills, myself and Sian could not stop laughing at our crazy hair and the fact we were completely covered in dust from the amusing ride! It was such good fun and one I was skeptical to start with, but one absolutely loved and would 100% recommend.
After our final full day of non-stop activity it was refreshing to start our last morning with some tai chi on the beach at Bucuti & Tara Aruba. This place was so picturesque and had a very ambient vibe, so much so it is now somewhere I’m now looking to go back to, especially after discovering their extensive healthy living programme, resident parrot called Paco and the fact they do sea turtle conservation! We got to eat our breakfast here, and as a breakfast eating, self-confessed expert, it gets a big thumbs up!
The love of animals in Aruba was only just beginning, as unexpectedly we were whisked off by the Renaissance Aruba to their private Island to see the famous 6 flamingos. As a big flamingo lover this was just so incredible to experience, but not only that that island was equally amazing! You could do a number of activities, lay in hammocks, book private beds, drink cocktails, just gaze at the pink flamingos or look at the variation of island lizards scattered about! To visit Renaissance Aruba Island you can either pay to go over for the day, or if you stay at the hotel you can go over on their boat as many times as you’d like! I went to the hotel one evening and it looks stunning, we went for the RenAruba party and met local music hitmaker Jeon. The water taxi that takes you to the island collects you from the outside of the hotel, then takes 8 minutes to what is a gorgeous island! If you are worried about lots of children, head to the flamingo beach as children are not allowed on there.
So off we flew home where I slept pretty much the entire journey home! I went home and gushed to everyone I knew about this amazing island, including my parents, who as mentioned had been to each Carribean Island apart from Aruba! I’ve come away now knowing why they call it One Happy Island… because it actually is!