ABTA have named their travel hotspots for 2009. This month, we're bringing you bitesized guides to our top choices, including Turkey, Iceland and Cuba. This week we continue our series with Aruba.
With Thomsonfly’s launch of direct weekly flights from Gatwick in May, the Caribbean island suddenly becomes both more accessible and more affordable. In addition to sun, sea and sand, the former Dutch colony has an interior that is desert-like, with giant cacti and aloe plants.
Arikok National Park covers one-fifth of the island’s landmass and is home to several indigenous species including burrowing owls, parakeets, rattlesnakes and whiptail donkeys. This year, a new visitor centre is due to open.
Aruba’s several systems of caves can be explored, where visitors can see examples of cave drawings. Fontein was once used by the Arawak Indians, the island’s original inhabitants, whilst the caves at Guadirikiri are a haven for bats.
Hooiberg or ‘Mount Haystack’ looms out of the flat landscape of the interior to the northwest of Santa Cruz. Walk up a series of several hundred steps to see across to Venezuela at the 165m (541ft) peak.
There are spectacular boulders on the road north from Santa Cruz to Casibari and Ayo – the results of an unexplained geological catatrosphe.
Explore the capital, Oranjestad. Famous for its pastel-coloured gabled buildings, its Dutch heritage is obvious. The oldest building on Aruba is also here – Fort Zoutman, dating from 1796. Fresh fish can be bought at Oranjestad’s daily market in the Paardenbaai (Schooner Harbour).
Enjoy the fine Caribbean beaches. Hadicurari Beach is the place to go for excellent snorkeling, whilst Baby Beach’s shallow waters make it ideal for children. Palm Beach is right in front of the main hotel strip.
Make the most of Aruba’s constant trade winds by windsurfing and kite-surfing in the ideal conditions. The Hi-Winds Amateur World Challenge windsurfing tournament takes place in June each year.
Snorkel in one of Aruba’s 40 dive sites – look for the vivid parrotfish or dive amongst the wreck of a WWII German freighter.
Aruba’s cuisine has great variety, and international food is also easy to find. National specialities include keshi yena (Gouda cheese packed with a spicy meat mixture of either chicken or beef and then baked), stobà (lamb or goat stew), cala (bean fritters), pastechi (meat- or cheese-stuffed turnovers) and ayacas (leaf-wrapped meat rolls).
Join in with the carnival celebrations, taking place throughout February. The largest carnival parade is the Grand Parade through Oranjestad on 22 February. Music, luxurious floats and costumes all combine to create a unique display.
Next week…bitesized guide to Iceland.