Aruba & Curaçao

For our honeymoon my husband and I had a deal.  He would plan the honeymoon with no involvement from me as long as we were going (a) somewhere warm (b) outside the United States and (c) somewhere neither of us had ever been.  I knew those three things to be true and the rest was a complete surprise for me.  My Type A personality almost never allows me to be surprised, and granted this was a planned surprise, but it worked out beautifully.

The morning of our departure I was on pins and needles not knowing where we were headed.  At the airport upon checking in my husband handed me a binder filled with fun information on Aruba and Curaçao!  What an adventure he had lovingly planned.  A sign of many years of good things to come.

CURACAO

First stop in the southern Caribbean Sea, a week on the island of Curaçao.  Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are commonly referred to as the ABC islands, located so far south in the Caribbean they are less than 20 miles from the Venezuelan coast.  Constituent countries of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, citizens of the islands share a Dutch nationality; other than that, life is distinctly Caribbean.  Both Aruba and Curaçao lie outside of the hurricane belt, so the weather is almost always a sunny 80 degrees F without much, if any, rain and a steady warm tropical breeze thanks to the Trade Winds.

The most widely spoken language is not Dutch as you might expect, but Papiamentu, a creole language that is a mix of Portuguese, West African languages, Dutch, and Spanish. English, however, is also widely spoken.  My husband and I only speak English fluently and barely enough Spanish to get by and we were just fine.

During our stay, I jumped all over an opportunity to attend an informal beginners Papiamentu class at the hotel.  This is exactly the kind of experience I seek out when I travel because it gives me more tools in my arsenal to connect with the locals.  The second surprise of my honeymoon was that I was the only guest who showed up for the class!  As a result, I had the teachers, staff of the hotel, all to myself!  We had a grand old time and I managed to get a few words and phrases under my belt!

Curaçao’s capital is Willemstad and it’s worth taking a guided tour of the city.  I’m a big fan of mixing off the beaten path with guided experiences, especially where a language barrier can prevent you from more thoroughly learning and enjoying yourself.  Guides can usually answer all your questions and actually facilitate cultural immersion by taking you places you wouldn’t otherwise know existed.  While in Willemstad don’t neglect the museums.  Of particular interest was the Kura Hulanda Museum which exhibits the history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  There are also a bunch of old forts on the island worth a look.

Unusual for vacationing on an island, we didn’t sit or sunbathe on a single beach the entire week.  There is so much to explore and a lot of the beaches are quite rocky.  Instead, we opted to enjoy the water from the deck of a sailboat.  We booked our all day sail through the hotel on a big, beautiful catamaran, and it was the best money we spent the entire time.  The food was fantastic, the captain and crew were fun and funny and we swam, snorkeled and rode the waves from early in the morning to sunset.  Just perfect.

Before you leave, buy some of the famed local liquor, Blue Curaçao.  I’ve had fun over the years mixing signature blue cocktails in my home kitchen that remind me of my time spent on this culturally rich and beautiful island.

ARUBA

Although it is probably more well-known than its neighbor Curaçao, it isn’t really my cup of tea.  True, the weather is ideal with beaches and turquoise waters, I would say it’s more for the sunworshipper/casino/buffett-eater type traveler.  The island is so small you can explore the entire thing by car easily in an afternoon.  Most of the resorts are a short commute from the airport just south of Oranjestad, the capital city.  I would tell you to go see the famous natural bridge, but in a quick Google search I learned that several years ago it collapsed!  Sorry about that.

Here are a couple of places we went that are still around and you might enjoy too.  An Aruban institution, Charlie’s Bar, (closed Sundays) has been around since 1941, founded by a Dutch couple, Charles and Marie Brouns.  Although the food isn’t noteworthy, t’s a friendly place with unique decor: practically every inch of the walls and ceiling are covered with memorabilia that has been added to by patrons.  It is still family owned and operated.

For a really good meal drive out to Gasparito, a restaurant and art gallery named after the land and family that created it.  At Gasparito we enjoyed the most authentic and delicious meal while in Aruba.

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