Travel Tuesday: Adventure in Aruba

Arashi Beach, Aruba

“Aruba, Jamaica, oooh I wanna take ya….”

That song has been stuck in my head for the past two weeks and you know why?! Because I took a trip to Aruba! And it was amazing. And now every time I think of Aruba, I can’t help but sing that catchy little line from Kokomo. Thanks, Beach Boys.

Anyway, back to Aruba (but actually, can I really go back?). I’m such a beach bum, and I have wanted to go to Aruba for years. I’m not exactly sure what sparked my desire for Aruba (maybe it was The Beach Boys’ song) but something just draws me to the sand and the sea and I knew Aruba would be the epitome of perfection of the two.

Eagle Beach at dusk

Eagle Beach at dusk

What I didn’t realize until I started researching was that Aruba is actually a desert, so it has an arid climate, an average temp of 82 degrees all year round, hardly any rain, and a nice steady breeze from the tradewinds. 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is even located outside of the hurricane belt, so there will hardly ever be any bad weather. So basically, to sum things up, Aruba is perfect all year round.

Exploring the Island

There are many different geological regions of Aruba, even though the island is only about 20 miles long, and it’s really interesting to drive around and see all the different parts of it. The western side of the island, where most of the resorts are, has the calm, bright blue Caribbean Sea with gentle waves that lap on powder white sand.

Eagle Beach

Eagle Beach

These are the beaches you want to spend your time at, with the most popular ones being Eagle Beach (where we stayed) and Palm Beach. Eagle Beach has the low-rise resorts and condos and Palm Beach has the tall, glitzy resorts with all the nightlife. You can also watch the sun set over the ocean at these beaches.

A divi-divi tree at Eagle Beach

A divi-divi tree at Eagle Beach

If you go north of these beaches, to the northern tip of the island, you’ll find Arashi Beach and Malmok Beach, which have some reefs right off of them that are popular for snorkeling, and California Lighthouse that looks out from the tip of the island. The beaches to the north are more rocky though, but also less crowded.

Malmok Beach

Malmok Beach

The eastern side of the island is for the adventurers. With tall cliffs and crashing waves, it’s not the side that you can (or want) to go swimming on, but it is beautiful to see.

The eastern side of the island

The eastern side of the island

Also on the Eastern side of the island is Arikok National Park. It costs $11 a person to enter the park but inside the park are the Natural Pools, caves, and even a beach with pink sand called Boca Prins. Unfortunately, you need an off road vehicle (like a Jeep or ATV) to get to the Natural Pools, so we didn’t get to see those in our little Kia Rio, but we saw everything else.

Boca Prins is carved out of a cliff, and the sand has streaks of pink sand made from crushed up shells. It was beautiful for photographs.

Boca Prins

Boca Prins

The caves were also really cool to explore. Aruba was formed from a volcanic eruption, and it’s interesting to see how these caves formed. Some people believe that pirates hid their treasure in these caves!

Quadirikiri Cave

Quadirikiri Cave

As I mentioned previously, Aruba is a desert, so as you’re driving through the park and also around the interior of the island, it looks as if you could be in Nevada or Arizona, with cacti, shrubs, and rocks and dust. It’s really interesting to see this juxtaposed with the beauty of the beaches.

Arikok National Park

Arikok National Park

Get Your Snorkel Ready

One of my favorite things that we did while in Aruba was snorkeling at Baby Beach, on the southern end of the island. I went on the trip with one of my best friends and her parents, who had previously been to Aruba, so they were able to give us some insider tips. They had gone snorkeling at Baby Beach on their previous trip and raved about it. Instead of paying to do a snorkeling excursion, we purchased snorkeling gear at home and brought it with us since you don’t have to be taken out on a boat to snorkel at Baby Beach. This saved us money and also allowed us to snorkel all day and be flexible with our schedule.

Baby Beach

Baby Beach

Baby Beach is a semi-circle beach that basically acts as a holding tank for calm waters and tropical fish. The mouth of the beach goes out to the Caribbean Sea and can have strong currents near the outlet sometimes, but as long as you don’t go past the buoys, you’re fine. There is even a roped off area for snorkelers over the reef. You will feel the current pull you, but since it’s roped off, the ropes keep you in the area and you don’t have to worry about drifting.

Post-snorkeling at Baby Beach

Post-snorkeling

The fish were amazing. As my friend’s dad said, “it’s like swimming in a saltwater aquarium.” We saw so many tropical fish in shades of yellow, blue, yellow and black striped, silver, and more. My favorites were these type of boxy looking fish that were black with white polka dots and yellow fins. I think they are Trunkfish! (Soon I’ll have my underwater camera developed, too.) We also brought some bread to feed the fish and it was amazing to be surrounded by entire schools of multiple types of fish. Some even ate right from our hands! I would definitely recommend Baby Beach for snorkeling. And after you’re done snorkeling, you can relax on the beach under one of the divi-divi trees with a local Balashi beer. 🙂

Balashi Beer at Baby Beach

Relaxation at its finest

Aruba, mi Dushi

All in all, Aruba was amazing and I immediately fell in love with it. What also makes it interesting is that it is its own country, unlike many other Caribbean islands. It has it’s own culture and it’s own language (Papiamento), but it’s also part of the Dutch Caribbean, so you see the influence of the Dutch culture on the island, as well as a Latin influence from its proximity to Venezuela. Most Aruban people speak four languages (English, Spanish, Dutch, and Papiamento) and it’s fascinating to see all the cultures collide in one small little island.

Palm trees in Aruba

One of the words we learned from Papiamento was “dushi,” which means sweet or sweetheart depending on how you use it. Although it sounds like an American slang word that has the exact opposite meaning, we loved the saying and heard it used around Aruba quite frequently. So Aruba, mi Dushi, thanks for the amazing experience and I hope we will meet again someday!

Keep calm and be dushi

Want to know how you can visit Aruba on a budget? Check out my post on Family Travels On A Budget!

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Travel Tuesday: Tulum, Mexico

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In keeping with the spring break theme, this Travel Tuesday’s feature is Tulum, Mexico and its surrounding areas. If you’ve picked up any travel magazine or read any travel website lately, you’ve probably noticed that Tulum is getting a lot of attention recently as a food, nature, and luxury resort destination.

Tulum is located in Riviera Maya in the Quintana Roo territory of Mexico. Situated about an hour and a half south of Cancun, Tulum is perfect for those looking for a more “adult” (aka calm) spring break getaway. There is plenty to see in and around Tulum (within 30 minutes), including sparkling white sand beaches, ancient Mayan ruins, and natural swimming holes. Unlike Cancun, the beaches aren’t stacked with high-rise flashy resorts. You’ll find more secluded, boutique hotels.

I visited Tulum in March 2012 and had a phenomenal trip. The natural beauty of the area is breathtaking and we enjoyed the serenity of the beaches.

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What to Do

Tulum Ruins:
This is one of the main tourist destinations in Tulum, but it’s an absolute must-do. It’s the archeological site of a Mayan city, and it’s built on a cliff overlooking the ocean so the views will take your breath away. You can also see the Voladores de Papantla, which are men who perform a traditional Mayan routine where they spin down from the top of a high pole (kind of like a may pole).

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Gran Cenote (natural swimming hole):
Gran Cenote is about 10 minutes from the Tulum ruins and it was one of my favorite things we did. A cenote is basically a natural hole in the ground that caved in to expose natural underground water. Cenotes are known for having the purest, cleanest water, so they make you shower before going in if you’re wearing sunscreen, lotion, etc. The water is fresh water and it’s crystal clear. You can swim, snorkel, or scuba in the pool. There are caves you can swim through and there are little fish and turtles but nothing that will bite ya. It was the most peaceful, serene thing I’ve ever experienced.

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Coba Ruins:
These are a little further (about 45 mins from Tulum), but another neat sight to see. It’s another Mayan archeological site but it’s in a huge national park. You can rent bikes for $2 (which is what we did) and bike around the park and through the ruins. There is also a large pyramid that you can climb to the top of. (You can’t climb any ruins at Tulum or the famous Chichen Itza ruins).

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Snorkel with sea turtles at Playa Akumal:
This beach about 20 minutes from Tulum is known as Turtle Beach. We went snorkeling here because I wanted to see sea turtles and it was the best snorkeling experience of my life. You can rent snorkeling equipment and snorkel close to shore, but we went out with a guide ($10 per person) who supplied equipment and took us on a boat ride farther out. We got to swim beside huge sea turtles and it was amazing. We saw about 6 total, and 3 of them were bigger than me. It’s amazing to watch them swim underwater because they’re so graceful and it looks like they’re flying. We also saw schools of tropical fish and even a few stingrays.

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Where to Stay

We stayed at Al Cielo, a boutique hotel with 4 suites and 4 villas, about 20 minutes from Tulum in Xpu-Há. All of the buildings have thatched roofs and dark wood beams, giving it a natural feel. The resort is beachfront, so all we had to do was step out our door to enjoy pristine white sand and bright turquoise water. Guests can take advantage of the cabanas and lounge chairs set up on the beach.

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The hotel has also gotten high regards for their culinary program, headed up by renowned chef Francisco Morales Tress. Each morning, we had fresh fruit and breakfast pastries in the open air cafe, and each night we dined on the beach on dishes such as paella, piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese, fresh shrimp, and marinated crab salad. My absolute favorite thing we ate was the ceviche of white fish, shrimp, and octopus. We literally ordered it every day on the beach as an afternoon snack served to us in our cabana. It was so fresh and flavorful, and served with homemade tortilla chips.

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I would highly recommend Al Cielo to anyone looking for a quiet place to stay with great service and even better food, and Tulum for a beautiful beach vacation that can be as relaxing or as activity-filled as you want it to be.

(Keep in mind most of the prices on these linked sites are in pesos, so things aren’t expensive as you might think at first! For example, right now 100 Mexican pesos is about $6.50.)