INCREDIBLE cuisine, stunning scenery and unbeatable beaches make Aruba a must-visit.
Here's what's in store for a week away in Aruba.
Gliding through the crystal-clear water in my pedal kayak, the views of the mangrove coastline at Spanish Cove are awe-inspiring as guide RJ leads our small group to a dock platform on the edge of the reef, ready for our snorkelling adventure.
Once in the water, we’re immediately greeted by beautiful parrotfish.
The colourful coral is vast and, in some spots, resembles giant brains.
Aruba’s reef is bursting with life and, as we swim into the open ocean, RJ soon finds a lobster, pufferfish, eels and angelfish to show us.
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It’s a nice change to snorkel without a leaky mask as the equipment is high-quality, and these kayak and snorkel tours run by a local family never have more than eight guests per trip either.
Prices start from £50 for a 2 1/2-hour tour (Arubaoutdooradventures.com).
Fill your plate
After all that swimming, I’ve worked up an appetite, and luckily Aruba has an impressive food scene.
Though a Dutch colony, this Caribbean island, just north of Venezuela and 1,300 times smaller than the UK, is home to more than 90 nationalities from over 130 countries, so there’s a huge range of cuisine on offer.
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Quinta Del Carmen is a beautifully restored 100-year-old mansion with Caribbean architecture and a pretty courtyard restaurant, just 10 minutes’ drive from the main hotels and port in Oranjestad, the island’s capital.
For fine dining, the prices aren’t bad and the setting is stunning.
The locally caught red snapper topped with brie and a white wine sauce, £28, is cooked to perfection, and the mocha crème brulee, £9, is mouth-watering, while a glass of sparkling rosé costs £8.50 (Quintadelcarmen.com).
Come morning, Eduardo’s Hideaway in Noord, 15 minutes’ drive away, makes for a great breakfast stop.
The açaí fruit smoothie bowl, packed with banana, strawberry, peanut butter, chocolate, home-made granola and coconut, £9, looks so pretty, I almost don’t want to eat it – but I obviously do (Eduardosbeachshack.com/eduardos-hideaway).
From here, it’s less than a 10-minute walk to Palm Beach, where I try paddleboarding and manage to stand up within an hour, despite my wobbly legs. An hour’s board rental is £23 (Velaaruba.com).
Later, I join a guided mountain bike ride through the cactus-studded countryside and along the coastline – the perfect workout in an incredible setting.
Two-hour tours cost from £74 per person (Aruba-active-vacations.com).
It might have some of the best beaches in the world, but there’s a lot more to the island than its pristine sand.
This, alongside its Dutch heritage, makes it very different from the other far-flung islands I’ve been fortunate enough to explore before.
The north coast looks and feels like a different country entirely, with its white sand dunes and rugged, rocky coastline, set in a desert-like landscape with hundreds of giant cacti.
The best way to see it is off-road with ABC Jeep Tours. Donny, our guide, soon has the whole group laughing.
At first, I think his insistence on us wearing seatbelts is OTT, but as soon as we leave the main road and head towards Arikok National Park, I’m glad to be strapped in as we ride over very steep and bumpy roads.
The national park is vast – accounting for roughly 20% of the island – and is home to spectacular caves, original rock drawings by the island’s first inhabitants, the Caquetío people, and unusual land formations made from lava, quartz diorite and limestone.
After exploring the dramatic landscape, we head to a natural pool made from volcanic rocks for snorkelling and I spot some yellow goatfish, while the daredevils of the group try cliff-jumping nearby.
Tours cost from £72 per person for 41/2 hours (Abc-aruba.com).
Have an art attack!
Set across the road from Eagle beach, the newly refurbished Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort feels like a secret hideaway, blending Dutch colonial architecture with Aruban flair in the decor.
There’s also a decent pool and fantastic sunset views from the bar. Doubles cost from £247 per night (Amsterdammanor.com).
Meanwhile, in San Nicolas, half an hour’s drive away, passionate curator Tito leads an art tour, during which I do a double-take of a mural of a young boy and his dog because they look so realistic.
It’s fascinating to hear and see how this once thriving oil hub turned ghost town has been transformed into an incredible art district – it feels a world away from the usual tourist haunts.
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Tours cost £25 per adult (Arubamuraltours.com).
And like my other days here have taught me, I find this island is full of surprises…
Fabulous’ foodie picks on the island
Papillon Restaurant, Palm beach
Best for: French dishes with a Caribbean twist
Must-try: 8oz filet mignon in red wine truffle sauce, £43 (Papillonaruba.com)
Santos, Downtown Oranjestad
Best for: Artisan coffee
Must-try: Dark chocolate mocha, £3.90, and sweet onion bagels with honey, walnut and raisin cream cheese, £4 (Santos-aruba.com)
Best for: Romantic dinners
Must-try: The Mermaid – a fillet of wahoo fish and shrimp, served on a hot stone with papaya pepper sauce, £28 (Papiamentoaruba.com)
Craft, Palm Beach
Best for: Brunch
Must-try: The egg scramble taco with honey ham, gouda, salsa and papaya mayonnaise, £8.25 (Craftaruba.com)
The West Deck, Governor’s Bay
Best for: Seafood dining by the beach
Must-try: Grilled red snapper fillet with white rice, sweet plantain and creole sauce, £22 (Thewestdeck.com)
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