Aruba  is a Caribbean island 15 miles north of the coast of Venezuela, an autonomous dependency of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. It is 30 km (19.6 miles) long and 9 km (6 miles) across at its widest point giving it an area of approximately 70 mi² (184 km²). This flat island with no rivers is renowned for its white sand beaches and tropical climate moderated by constant trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean. The temperature is almost constant at about 27°C (81°F) and the yearly rainfall usually does not exceed 20 inches. Aruba lies outside the Caribbean hurricane belt.
Aruba is divided into the north east and south west coasts. The south west has the white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and warm waters. The north east coast, exposed to the Atlantic, has a few white sand beaches, cacti, rough seas with treacherous currents, and a rocky coastline. The time in Aruba is Atlantic standard time; it is the same as Eastern Daylight Savings time all year round.
The climate is tropical marine, with little seasonal temperature variation. Because of its location south in the Caribbean there is very strong sun, but a constant light breeze keeps the temperature pleasant. (These persistent winds out of the east shape the island's distinctive, lop-sided divi-divi trees.) The divi-divi trees have become a signature tree to Aruba's landscape. The weather is almost always dry, with most rain showers coming at night and lasting only a little while. Temperatures in Aruba do not change dramatically. Between the months of January and March the temperatures stay around 76-85 degrees; this being their high season. However starting in April and through December this is considered off season and temperatures do not change much beyond 79 and 88 degrees. It lies outside the zone usually affected by hurricanes.
The island is flat with a few hills, arid with mostly desert vegetation and negligible natural resources other than white sandy beaches. Highest point: Mount Jamanota (188 m).
Discovered and claimed for Spain in 1499, Aruba was acquired by the Dutch in 1636. The island's economy has been dominated by three main industries. A 19th century gold rush was followed by prosperity brought on by the opening in 1924 of an oil refinery. The last decades of the 20th century saw a boom in the tourism industry. Aruba seceeded from the Netherlands Antilles (Bonaire and Curacao, the ABC-Islands)in 1986 and became a separate, autonomous member of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Movement toward full independence was halted at Aruba's request in 1990.
Tourism is the mainstay of the small, open Aruban economy, with offshore banking and oil refining and storage also important (both ended in 2009). The rapid growth of the tourism sector over the last decade has resulted in a substantial expansion of other activities. Construction has boomed, with hotel capacity five times the 1985 level.
Papiamento and the national flag, anthem, and coat of arms are the most important national symbols. They stress the inhabitants' love for the island, the close connection to the Caribbean Sea, and the multi-cultural composition of the population. The national anthem is played and sung on many occasions. The Dutch flag functions as a symbol of the unity of Aruba, the Netherlands, and the Netherlands Antilles.
Officially 120V 60Hz, which is identical to the US and Canadian standard. Outlets are North American grounded outlets, identical to standard US and Canadian wall outlets. Occasionally non-grounded outlets may be found, which do not accept the third, round pin present on grounded plugs and require an adapter. Older North American outlets may not be polarized (with one slot wider than the other). Otherwise, adapters are available which accept a polarized plug and adapt it for use with a non-polarized outlet.
Currency & Money
Aruba's currency is the florin denoted by the letters 'Awg.' but also widely known as 'Afl.' The official rate at which banks accept U.S. dollar banknotes is Awg. 1,77 and checks at Awg. 1,78. The rate of exchange granted by shops and hotels ranges from Awg. 1,75 to Awg. 1,80 per U.S. dollar. U.S. Dollars are widely accepted in Aruba, and banks may exchange other foreign currency. Traveler's checks are widely accepted and there is no charge for using them in hotels, restaurants and stores. Major credit cards are accepted at most establishments while personal checks are normally not accepted.
Cash may be obtained with MasterCard, Visa and American Express cards at credit card offices, banks, in some casinos and via Western Union. ATM cards and credit cards are accepted by ATMs of Aruba Bank, Banco di Caribe, RBTT Bank, and Caribbean Mercantile Bank. The card must have either a Cirrus or Visa Plus logo. ATM instructions are normally given in Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamento. Cash is normally dispensed in local currency.
Travelers are not allowed to work during their stay in Aruba.
The final authorization for admission to Aruba remains with migration officer at the border-crossing/port of entry. The migration authorities at the border-crossing/port of entry have the authority to grant or refuse admission. Admission can be refused if not all admission requirements are fulfilled by the time of entering Aruba of if the tourist has been blacklisted.
Aruba no longer has a national airline. American Airlines now flies only from Miami. Other major carriers from the US include AirTran (Atlanta, Baltimore, Orlando), United (Chicago, Washington/Dulles, Newark), US Airways (Boston, Philadelphia, Charlotte), Delta (Atlanta, New York JFK), and JetBlue Airways (New York JFK, Boston).
First Choice Airways flies charter flights from the London and Manchester in the UK, and KLM flights to Amsterdam connect to most of the rest of Europe. Avianca and Aires connect Aruba to Colombia.
Daily connections to Venezuela include Caracas, Maracaibo, Las Piedras and Valencia, by Aeropostal, Aserca, Santa Barbara Airlines and Avior.
There is an office of the American Department of Homeland Security at the airport for those traveling to the United States.
Cruise ships can dock quite close to the downtown area, offering their passengers an easy walk to many stores and services.
Cabs are available at the airport and at hotels. Cost about $30 including tip from the airport to Eagle Beach. You can also rent a car or jeep at the Queen Beatrix airport or through the hotel concierge. Additionally there is a bus system called "Arubus." This bus is great to see the island and to travel from Oranjestad to the tourist hotels all for about $1.50. You can take bus to the far end of the island, have lunch at St Nicholas, see how the 90,000 islanders live. The bus stops at 9pm. You can find city/island buses at a main station right downtown. During other than "rush hours", friendly drivers and some riders will help you choose routes and provide commentary on stops and sights. Fares are quite modest. An economical way to get to the resort beaches.
Because Aruba is small, consider not renting a car until you know what you want to do. Many activities are central to the resort area of the island and are within walking distance. Renting cars/jeeps is easy, and many rental companies provide pickup service from area hotels.
If you do decide to rent a car, be aware that the local rental car companies often rent older, higher mileage cars. It's especially important to recognize that even the big brand rental car agencies will rent you a vehicle in poor condition that may or may not function properly.
Driving in Aruba
The most important thing U.S. drivers need to remember is that there are no turns on red. Also, there are several roundabouts (circles), which can be frustrating to some drivers but are quickly gotten used to. Aruba uses international road signs, which generally have no words or obvious relation to their meaning. Fortunately, tourist maps usually contain quick references to these road signs if you are unfamiliar.
The major road is LG Smith Blvd, on which people usually drive at about 40 mph, though that is a very rough guideline. Because the island is so small, everything of interest is close to everything else of interest, and it takes special talent to get lost—if you don't know where you're going, you can basically just keep driving, and statistically speaking you are likely to end up where you need to go eventually. It should be noted, however, that most of the roads are not identified by signage.
The lack of road signs can be especially frustrating in downtown Oranjestad, so it might be best to park near the Renaissance Mall and simply walk to your destination. A cab might also be easier than navigating the narrow unmarked streets.
You should also be cautious when driving, as there are certain "bus only" roads that are not marked but that feature large pits in the road designed to trap normal cars while letting buses drive through.
International road signs are used in Aruba. Foreign & international driver's licenses issued by a member country of the Geneva Convention, are valid. Car speedometers and road signs are in kilometres. The speed limit in urban areas is 50km/h; out of town it's 80km/h, unless a higher or lower speed is specifically indicated. Much of Oranjestad's traffic is one-way and at intersections, where there are no road signs, traffic from your right has the right of way.
Car Hire Although the island has a half decent transport system of its own, you can take life on this laid back island at a pace that suits you by using a car hire vehicle. Take a map with you to determine what road signs mean because they are not immediately obvious. This is one of the easier holiday destinations to negotiate your own car around so keep the pace easy and book ahead online.
Languages spoken are Dutch (official), Papiamento, (also official) (a creole of Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch origin), Spanish, and English (widely spoken).
On and Off the Resorts
Most stores open from 9 AM to noon or 1 PM and from 2 PM to 6:30 PM, although some remain open between noon and 2 PM. Shops are open from Monday to Saturday. Hotel stores have varying open hours so check at your hotel for these.
Above all, it appears that Arubans are very aware that their economy is completely dependent on tourism - so Arubans are polite to tourists, and even street vendors don't generally seek to rip off their customers (though as in all traveling, don't let advice like this lull you into a sense of complacency). This may be helped by the fact that Aruba is a relatively expensive place to visit, so it tends to attract the reasonably well-off.
American dollars are accepted virtually everywhere at a decent exchange rate. If you have U.S. dollars, there is no need to change money into the local currency, the Aruban florin. The current exchange rate (as of April 2008) given in shops is about 1.79 florins to the dollar. Because the island is a Dutch dependency, Dutch currency is easy to spend, and small change for purchases in dollars may be in florins. The island is actually not duty-free, but merchants respond well to competition on other islands, and duty free goods are offered by a few shops at the airport as visitors depart.
Oranjestad's waterfront has many vendors/stalls selling souvenirs. Ironically, many of these souvenirs are imported from the United States with island scenes/slogans, only to be purchased by Americans and brought back to America.
In Oranjestad, the Renaissance Mall contains various American and European major apparel brands (i.e. Tommy Hilfiger, Polo Ralph Lauren, Gucci) at essentially the same prices as in the United States. The mall and the rest of the downtown area also hold numerous other types of stores catering to visitors, to include jewelers, souvenir shops, clothers, and two modest grocers.
You'll find strip malls and grocers at modest (not easily walked) distances west of downtown and elsewhere. They offer most everything a visitor or resident might need for short stays or living there. Groceries and other supplies are all imported, so prices tend to be high. You can catch the bus from the hotel areas to the Grocery shops which are about 10 mins from Eagle beach but before you get to Oranjestad, cost's $3 return just ask the driver.
With numerous cruise ships visiting, downtown stores offer buys in jewelry, etc., typical of that in other Caribbean cruise ports, some at "duty free" prices. For cheese lovers, mild Dutch Gouda, in boxes or wheels, is a popular buy in super markets, though not the great bargain it used to be. Do ensure the integrity of the package seal from the maker to avoid spoilage and difficulty at customs inspection.
If you've flown to the island and are returning home, the airport duty-free store offers some items at slightly better prices than downtown, e.g., a decent selection of rums.
Many chain restaurants, both fast food and upscale, from the United States are present in Aruba (i.e. Texas de Brazil, Wendy's, Burger King, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, Hooters, Subway, Tony Romas). You'll find some downtown, and many near the large resort hotels.
The upscale restaurants near resorts vary in quality as there are a limited number of them and they have a steady stream of tourist customers, as they advertise in pamphlets available in the hotels. The fast food places are essentially no different than their American counterparts.
Also good are some of the local fare restaurants. While obviously relying on tourist income, good food can be had. Nos Cunucu is a good example of such. With meals like the traditional baked cheese and some more interesting items such as Iguana soup. Don't be afraid to eat at random bars and such along the road, (with normal caution of course). Good food can be had for relatively low cost. These pander to locals.
Due to the proximity of ostrich farms, foods such as ostrich burgers are widely available. There are also numerous seafood restaurants which serve locally caught seafood.
By the glass, sixpack or case, imported dutch beers are relatively good buys. Balashi Beer - Aruba's National Beer...a must-drink beverage, perfect after spending all day at the beach. Don't, however, confuse it with a "Balashi Cocktail", which is a local term for the equally enjoyable Aruban water. Founded in 1996, the name Balashi is derived from the words Bala Bala and Balana and means "near the sea." It is the only beer brewed on the island of Aruba. Daily tours of the brewery are available with an open-aired bar and restaurant on the premises. Balashi Brewery / Tel. 592-2544 / 523-6544. Balashi Gardens open from 6:30AM - 4:00PM. Tours Monday - Friday. There is also a Balashi logo store, with mostly t-shirts, and a few other things located on L.G. Smith Boulevard, right before the Harley shop and after the Caribbean Mercantile Bank. Very easy to miss but worth a trip if you enjoyed the Balashi! There is also a drive-thru beverage store next door that is nifty.
There are an array of resorts located all over the island. See the individual city articles for listings.
Aruba offers many options for sleeping arrangements. There are both hotels in downtown as well as on the beach. Some of the Hotels include; a Holiday Inn, Hilton, Marriot, as well as some small local places. The Hilton is located both downtown and on the beach. However, the downtown Hilton tends to have a lot of traffic build up in front of it as well as the cruise ships docking across the street. There is a Holiday Inn located next to the Marriot in which they share the same beach. However, the Marriot is the only resort that offers a timeshare within their premise. There are two timeshare "clubs" apart of the Marriot. One is the ocean club which has been around for quite some time. The second is the surf club which was built in more recent years. The Marriot includes three swim up bars and a lazy river as well as two gyms and a casino.
There are two private, but IMED approved, medical schools on the island that prepare students for practice in the United States. These are Aureus University School of Medicine and Xavier University School of Medicine (XUSOM).
A working permit is required to work in Aruba.
Aruba is generally a very safe place at any time of day or night. However, it would probably be wise to stay away from the area surrounding the Valero refinery on the southeast part of the island at night (in the words of a Valero employee, "you will get some undesirables down there at night"). There is generally no reason for a tourist to go there at all anyway, so this likely will not be an issue.
While rarely enforced, all drug abuse - including cannabis - is illegal.
Also be aware tourists have been targeted, and there have been many stolen cars recently. In the Malmok beach area, just beyond the high rise 5 rental cars were stolen in 1 night (Read this article).
The running water in Aruba is absolutely safe to drink. It is referred to as "Sweet Water" because it is very good.
The main 280-bed hospital is well-equipped both as regards staff and equipment. Oxygen tanks and hemodialysis services are available. Hotels have doctors and dentists on call and appointments can also be arranged through your hotel. Several other medical clinics also exist on the island.
Nature is very cherished by the Aruban people. 18% of their island is dedicated to the Arikok National Park.