Aruba is a small Dutch-Caribbean island known for great sun vacations and beautiful white sand beaches. This is, of course, all true! But there is so much more to my “dushi tera” (sweet land in our language Papiamento) than that! Even though I was born in The Netherlands to Aruban parents this hasn’t stopped me from claiming Aruba as my home. It has now been thirteen years since my whole family moved back to Aruba and I am excited to share some of my favorite spots with you.
I know I just said Aruba is more than a beautiful beach, I promise it is! But I can’t help but mention Mangel Halto Beach in the fisherman’s town of Savaneta. This area holds a very special place in my heart. During my teenage years, my friends and I used to spend entire Saturdays just lounging between the picturesque mangroves, going for a swim in the shallow clear blue waters and taking several breaks to munch on the many snacks we would bring with us. The beach is located relatively far from the hotel area, making it a quieter beach to visit. Local families flock to it on the weekends to celebrate birthdays, go snorkeling, or just to relax. There’s something beautiful about being around people who are just trying to have a good time at one of your favourite spots.
Mangel Halto is very different from most of Aruba’s most popular beaches aesthetically. The sand there is not as pearly white and powdery as it is on some other beaches. Because of the vast amounts of mangroves growing there, some dry leaves have fallen to the ground and become one with the sand, darkening the colour ever so slightly. To me, there’s beauty in what others may consider imperfect. I see Mangel Halto beach as a confirmation that being different is what makes us so special.
It was not my intention to add an entire city to this list, but it is important for me to emphasize how San Nicolas has helped me establish a sense of belonging. San Nicolas is nicknamed Sunrise City because of its southeast location but used to be known by a less politically correct nickname: Chocolate City; many Arubans of African descent live there. San Nicolas is the embodiment of what I imagine when I think of Caribbean living. You will find an auntie sitting on her porch with her rollers still in. Johnnie cake and salt fish is sold at every snack bar. Everyone knows everyone. It is absolutely glorious.
The English spoken in San Nicolas is reminiscent of various creole languages. It’s what I grew up speaking with my family and hiding from outsiders. We were conditioned to believe that our English was bad English. It is even referred to as “Bush English” here from time to time. As an adult, I realize how our rich history has developed this beautiful way of speaking and I am proud that it comes naturally to me despite having grown up in The Netherlands.
The city is known as the cultural capital of Aruba, and rightfully so. Many cultural events are held there, our version of Carnival was born there, and there are some stunning murals that decorate the city’s main street.
Arikok National Park
Another one of my favourite places I don’t visit nearly enough is the Arikok National Park. The park consists of almost 20% of the entire island. There are so many unique attractions and cool sights to see. From ancient caves to Indian rock drawings, lava formations and miles and miles of beautiful views. I am convinced you can come to the park every day for a year and notice something you didn’t see before during each visit. I like to visit Arikok with people are who unfamiliar with Aruba so I can boast about the many different landscapes the island has. Beaches, desert land, sand dunes, rock formations, you name it. Aruba is so much more than just a beautiful beach!
These are just three of my favourite spots, but there are many more. If you’re thinking about visiting Aruba, I recommend talking to some locals. Not only are most people here thrilled to share their story and learn about yours, they can also inform you of all the can’t-miss areas and must-try foods Aruba has to offer. See you soon!
Catch up on our “Three of my favourite places” series here.