With nonstop flights out of JFK and Newark daily, and balmy weather year-round, it’s no wonder Aruba is a popular tropical playground for New Yorkers. Yes, the Dutch colony off the coast of Venezuela is known for its incredible beauty, but it’s also known for incredible nightlife. And as a melting pot of Caribbean cultures in roughly 70 square miles, it’s kind of like New York…if New York were a tropical island instead of a concrete one (with a fraction of the people).
Your Next Weekend Escape: Aruba
You’ll find plenty to see in San Nicolas, a city on the south shore that’s filled with street art and murals—sort of like Miami’s Wynwood Walls but with fewer influencers hanging around snapping pics. The authentic art scene here is in part a by-product of a recently launched art fair, which brought a renewed creative energy to the island. The town is conveniently compact and walkable for an afternoon stroll. While you’re in the neighborhood, make sure to stumble into Charlie’s, a longstanding bar and eatery that’s packed wall to wall with interesting memorabilia from all over the world.
Considering the island’s continuous sunshine (seriously, it gets less than 20 inches of rain per year), you’ll likely find yourself reaching for aloe vera during your trip. But did you know the succulent was once a major export—and is still a significant one—for Aruba? You can learn all about its history and healing properties at the Aruba Aloe Museum Factory, then stock up on skin care products straight from the source (there’s also an online shop, if you’re low on vacay days right now).
The island’s gentle waves and trade winds make it particulary great for water activities, whether it’s windsurfing, riding Jet Skis, snorkeling, cruising on a catamaran or scuba diving. In fact, you’d be missing out if you have your PADI certification and left without exploring the many shipwrecks in Aruba’s waters: the Antilla, Debbie II and Jane wrecks, plus an airplane wreck site with not one but two submerged planes (they were intentionally sunk to form an artifical reef). On land, a popular way to see the island—especially the rugged, arid Arikok National Park—is by renting an ATV. Be sure to visit the California Lighthouse, the Alto Vista Chapel and the natural bridge.
And finally, there are those beaches you’ve long had pinned on your travel board. Pretty much every travel magazine gives Eagle Beach, Palm Beach and Baby Beach huge scores for their extraordinary beauty and some of the softest sand you’ll ever slip your toes into.
With large, comfortable guest rooms and a casual Caribbean luxury that isn’t fussy, The Ritz-Carlton, Aruba and its two massive outdoor pools are sure to please the most discerning travelers. A casino here and tons of dining options, as well as cabana service available right on the beach, make for a chill-meets-party vibe depending on just how hard you want to go, and the hotel even has many creature comforts for those foodies who are used to eating in the 212. There’s a chic BLT Steak with indoor and outdoor seating, plus the only outpost of Casa Nonna—the celebrated homestyle Italian restaurant—outside New York. But maybe one of the best reasons to stay here is the fact that the hotel offers free kayaking and paddleboarding right at the beach.
Guests seeking budget-friendly options should look into the island’s many HomeAway properties—many of which hovered around $100 a night at press time—or check in at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino, which recently announced it’s investing in a beachside adults-only pool, expected to be open for swimmers and lounge-chair potatoes alike in 2019.
With lots of cultures mingling on the island, you’ll find food influenced by Dutch, French, Mexican and Italian cuisines, plus the nearby Caribbean islands and Venezuela. For lunch, post up on the covered deck overlooking Governor’s Bay Beach at The West Deck, which serves up dishes like fried funchi with Dutch cheese (don’t ask questions, just order it), West Indian samoas, spicy shrimp ceviche and pan-fried whole fish. For dinner, Madame Janette is one of the most popular spots on the island, with travelers and locals alike raving about its elevated steakhouse fare and fine-but-not-stuffy ambience.
If your trip is a romantic one, dinner under a private palapa right on the beach at Elements Restaurant needs to be on your list. Other worthwhile dining experiences: a meal in the historic courtyard at Quinta del Carmen; the intimate settings and coursed menus at The Kitchen Table by White, Fred Restaurant and 2 Fools and a Bull; and the authentic Caribbean at The Old Cunucu House.
Whatever you do, be sure to try pastechis (local empanadas) pretty much anywhere you find them. The combination of flaky pastry and gooey cheese filling is guaranteed to spark joy.