This four-part guest post is presented by Lew Toulmin, Ph.D., F.R.G.S. and Avid Cruiser.
So far, I have introduced you to Holland America Line’s Noordam, I’ve told you about the dining venues and food on the ship, and I’ve discussed some of the islands we visited. Today, I conclude with Aruba.
Aruba was the last island attraction on our voyage to the southern Caribbean. We independently rented a 4×4 pickup from the local Amigo car rental (which we do not recommend, due to the company’s many errors). The left-hand-drive, manual transmission 2007 Nissan Frontier was beat up and dusty, and cost $82 per day plus $5 per gallon for gas. So a typical ship’s tour at about $45 each would have been easier to organize and about the same price or cheaper for the two of us. But it was fun to be able to tour the island at our own pace.
Leaving the car rental parking lot near the cruise terminal, we headed northwest along the western shore of the island. This leeward side of Aruba is home to many low rise and high rise hotels and resorts, which overlook the wide, golden beaches that beckon so many visitors from North America and Europe. On the inland side of the road were numerous restaurants, many of them with familiar names such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Champions and Benihana’s.
North of the hotel and resort area, we stopped at a kite-boarding center on the southwest shore and admired the instructors zipping along at 25 knots in the very strong breeze, and pitied the students, falling over and over, going nowhere.
At the windswept north end of the island we found the beautiful “California” lighthouse, named after a ship that sank nearby in 1908. We were surprised to learn that our 4×4 rental pickup was allowed in the dunes and on the sandy beach trail that traverses the northwest coast of the island, but we chickened out when we saw the soft sand and potholes ahead.
Instead we looped around to the southeast using paved roads, and discovered the cute little Alto Vista Chapel, built in 1952 on the site of the original 1750 missionary chapel. Beside the chapel we found a spiral meditation maze, and we got in some spiritual enlightenment by walking the half-mile trail squeezed inside the 100-foot-wide labyrinth.
Next we drove through the well preserved Arikok National Park at the southeast end of Aruba. Spanning 7,900 acres, the dramatic park covers almost a fifth of the island and looks like a hilly part of Arizona, with lots of cacti, dramatic rocks and even Indian petroglyphs. The striking divi-divi trees, which always point downwind, show that you’re not in Arizona any more.
The paved road through the northwest part of the park is slow going, due to the numerous and deep water channels that cross the road, which must be traversed at about two miles per hour. These are so deep that I would not recommend this road be used in a typical small rental car, with only 4-5 inches of ground clearance.
The southern part of the park, with a dramatic coastline and huge wind turbines, features a dirt and gravel road that is much flatter and faster. It took us more than two hours to drive through the six-mile-long park, including stops at the visitor center and at a beautiful cove on the coast.
This was our last island, and we got a bit panicked by the dense traffic as we approached the cruise terminal and rental car location. We didn’t want to miss the sailing of the Noordam and all that great food on the way home! But we made it back with a few minutes to spare.
On Holland America Line’s Noordam, we found that visiting all the ABC islands is as interesting and as easy as, well, ABC!