Although Brooklyn, N.Y.-born senior editor Henry Magenheim has
globetrotted for years, he had never visited Aruba until recently.
His report follows:
ORANJESTAD, Aruba -- The opportunity to visit Aruba on a trip
where beach activities and diving would not be emphasized was
inviting, since those are not my usual pursuits.
As a first-time visitor, I was eager to see rural areas,
attractions, iguanas and restaurants, to meet locals and to inspect
Before I left New York, friends spoke positively about Aruba,
citing its safety, friendliness, quality dining, uncrowded beaches
cooled by trade winds and the action found at 11 casinos.
They also raved about the drinking water produced by the
island's desalination plant, the diversity of shops and U.S.
Customs and Immigration pre-clearance at Aruba's airport.
But they doubted that I would see much of interest inland.
They were wrong about that. Aruba's natural and man-made
attractions are spread all over its 70 square miles.
Many can be seen on four-hour van and bus tours, typically
priced at $34 with lunch. A car rental is another option.
During a four-day stay, I took two guided van tours, both led by
Nathalie Maduro, an Aruban with the Aruba Tourism Authority.
I saw things I would never see in New York: the Natural Bridge;
rock formations with ancient Indian drawings; endless cacti; wild
parakeets; scurrying iguanas; wandering chickens and a
The California Lighthouse, atop a hill overlooking the 18-hole
Tierra del Sol golf course, opened in 1916 and was named after a
vessel from Liverpool that had been shipwrecked offshore.
Although the lighthouse is not open for tours, I did climb the
Casibari rock formation for a panoramic view of the island. Another
nearby formation called Ayo had some pretty good Indian cave
So, too, did the Fontein Cave in Arikok National Park, but many
of the drawings were marred by graffiti. Fontein and other caves in
Aruba are home to up to six species of bats, which, thankfully,
sleep during the day.
Visitors can see the bats inside the caves with a flashlight or
at night when the bats make their way outside the caves.
A memorable man-made structure is the small yellow-walled Chapel
of Alto Vista, overlooking the sea. It draws throngs of worshippers
at Easter, I'm told.
Along a desolate strip of the rugged north coast, I was awed by
giant waves crashing into boulders at a place called Boca Mahos,
not far from Bushiribana.
Clients should take a few extra moments here. The sights and
sounds of this seascape are pristine, not marred by billboards,
T-shirt shops or other commercial outlets.
The Natural Bridge, not far from this area, is a favorite of
photographers. The coral structure is more than 100 feet long and
rises 25 feet above the sea and beach. Nearby is a building with
rest rooms, snacks and a gift shop.
If clients need a disposable camera, they will need a lot of
disposable dollars. The cameras are three times more expensive in
this gift shop than in the U.S. and about one-third more than in
The Butterfly Farm, not far from the Palm Beach hotel strip, was
my favorite man-made attraction.
Up to 1,000 butterflies from the Americas, Australia, Indonesia,
Africa and China flutter under an open-air canopy that covers
tropical foliage and ponds.
Viewing the Egyptian Atlas Moth up close was well worth the trip
to the farm. On the end of each wing was a snake head designed by
nature to deter predators such as birds, lizards, spiders, wasps
and frogs. The design looked as if it had been painted by an
Likewise, the owl butterfly, which resembles an owl, also fools
Cindy Cox, the farm's assistant manager, never tired of
questions. When asked the life span of a butterfly, she replied,
"Up to three months."
The butterflies are most active in the morning, so it is best to
schedule visits beginning at 9 a.m. Admission to the Butterfly Farm
is $10 for adults and $5 for those under age 18.
The Aruba Aloe Museum offers an audiovisual presentation on the
aloe plant and its valuable gel, whose medicinal and cosmetic
values are well displayed in the gift shop. Entry is free, although
an admission fee is under study.
The Archaeological Museum Aruba is housed in temporary quarters
in Oranjestad but will relocate to another downtown site in
On display now are stones and bones, urns, ceramics and other
artwork produced by Aruba's Indian settlers, who began arriving
around 2500 B.C. from what today is called Venezuela.
Arminda Ruiz, assistant conservator, said the new building will
have room for more displays and exhibits on loan.
All that touring made me hungry, and I dined at several
restaurants that easily can hold their own against U.S.
restaurants. L'Escale in the Marina Tower of the Renaissance Aruba
features Caribbean cuisine and strolling violinists; Chez Mathilde,
in a 19th century home in Oranjestad, offers a varied French
Brisas del Mar, a moderately priced seafood restaurant on the
water in Savaneta, is a favorite of the resident iguanas who visit
under the tables, hoping for handouts.
Chefs at Blossom, the Chinese-Japanese restaurant at the Wyndham
Aruba Beach Resort & Casino, create meals flapjack-style in
front of the diners.
Also noteworthy, because every booth is alongside an aquarium,
is the Buccaneer, not far from Eagle Beach.
I did not have time to visit El Gaucho Argentine Grill, also in
the capital, which had been recommended by friends.
The most memorable event during my trip was the visit to a
neighborhood Dera Gai celebration, associated with the feast day of
St. John the Baptist. Festivities included live banjo and piano
music, dancing and children's games.
Night fires around the perimeter of the celebration symbolize
Concierges at Aruba's hotels can recommend celebrations such as
this, which occur year-round. At times, a nominal festival donation
To miss such a celebration would be to miss mingling with
Arubans on their own turf.
For more information...
Aruba Tourism Authority
Phone: (800) TO-ARUBA
For more information, see related articles:Drive time: What clients need to know in Aruba,
Desalination tour focuses on the sea-to-bottle