Updated: Dec 23, 2020
One Happy Island (especially during a pandemic)
With a free week between teaching assignments at the end of October, I was keen to find a destination that offered total decompression, which is not easy in the middle of a pandemic. Many destinations either were not open to tourism or required an extended quarantine on arrival. That was not the case in Aruba, which welcomes tourists who cleared a pre-flight COVID test and purchased mandatory health insurance from the Aruba Department of Health. So, we happily cashed in what seemed to be a reasonable amount of air miles for an international trip and packed mostly beachwear for a week of Aruban sunshine and blue waters.
Aruba bills itself as ‘One Happy Island’ and it really does seem that way when you get there. The Arubans we met seemed genuinely ecstatic that we chose a holiday on their island and could not have been more welcoming everywhere we went. I cannot remember being on holiday around so many locals who were endlessly cheerful. I think this really sets Aruba apart from many islands in the Caribbean, and I have travelled extensively in the region over more than 25 years.
In addition to the sunny people, Aruba has perfect weather year-round. The official website of Aruba claims there are more days of sunshine than on any other Caribbean Island. It is also a low risk for hurricane activity because of its location south and west of the hurricane belt. As such, the promise of nearly guaranteed sunshine seemed a worthy upgrade to chilly autumn weather in Washington, DC for our one-week excursion.
I have traveled to Aruba on business more times than I can count - it was my first international assignment back in the late 1980s. I knew that the island was well known for its fantastic beaches and unique cultural heritage but not as a snorkeling destination. In fact, an online search of snorkeling in the Caribbean brings up more results for the sister islands of Curaçao and Bonaire. But in researching specific activities on Aruba, the many possibilities for snorkeling became a recurring theme, especially for viewing sea turtles.
Our days routinely began with a big breakfast, followed by a trip to one of the many diving spots we had researched – we had six on our list, or one for each full day we would be on the island. After a morning of snorkeling, followed by a refreshing beer or two at a beachfront bar, it was back to the hotel pool to read and relax before an evening out to one of Aruba’s interesting dining spots., of which we found there are many.
Just about every well-known restaurant chain in the US is represented in Aruba, from fast food fare to fine dining. Our quest was to find authentic dishes inspired by the sea, and a favorite was Pinchos Grill & Bar, an intimate over-water restaurant between Oranjestad and the airport. The Aruban fish cakes were very good as was the fresh whole grouper. We also very much enjoyed the dining experience at Wacky Wahoo near Palm Beach, which offered a menu that changed daily depending on the fresh fish that they could procure on that day.
The Pelican’s Nest, also on Palm Beach, was great for watching the sunset while dining. Overall, it was not hard to find authentically prepared, fresh fish and seafood at reasonable prices.
Aruba offered everything we needed for an exotic escape from the mundane, stay at home isolation that we have endured for most of 2020.