Skipping the Beach in Aruba

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With a threat of endangered bats bound to fly into my hair, I was not crazy about climbing the steps to the mouth of the cave. But this was the real, natural Aruba I hoped to immerse myself in, so into the hole I went found inside the Arikok National Park. After a jeep drive through cacti field, herds of goats and some hilly, colorful residential areas, I arrived at the Quadirikiri, Fontein and Huliba caves for a little basic spelunking.

While turning my brain off and soaking in the incredible views from the beach was a blast in Aruba, the island really came to life when I left the sand and found other indulgences to check out.

Heading Underground

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Peeking through the jagged holes of the entrance of the caves makes way for desert-like lands and the ocean spread out beyond. Turning back toward the cave brought a pitch dark void I was being encouraged to embrace, much to my hesitation. But once inside, I was rewarded with an otherworldly encounter.

Smooth gray and white ribboned walls opened up to tunnels ending in well-lit natural rooms with light cascading down from open ceilings. It was all the delights of caving without much effort – and the occasional bat that flew by was completely harmless in the end.

Off-roading in Aruba

Insider tip: don’t skip venturing inland while exploring the Caribbean. What’s even better is anywhere usually can be reached quickly – as islands like Aruba are only a dozen or so miles across. This makes for a thrilling opportunity to get a feel for the real spirit of a place like this – the locals don’t sit on the beach all day!

A rocky jeep tour brought me to the caves and parks of Aruba, as well as past some wonderful animal sanctuaries. You can cover a lot of ground, from foodie delights and people watching to simply picking out your next dream home as you whiz by the bright and cherry residential neighborhoods. The open air of a 4×4 journey let me still get some sun and breeze.

Smooth Sailing

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With all this said, obviously the water activities in Aruba are just as fantastic. The island boasts some of the prettiest stretches of ocean I’ve ever seen in the Caribbean, with crystal clear water and deep blue diving spots for miles. Swimming is fun, but I wanted more for my tropical fix.

I experienced paradise by catamaran on an adventure with Red Sail Sports. It’s a simple afternoon on one of their powerful sailboat/motorboat hybrids, but the tour incorporated so much packed into a few hours. Push off from the dock and enjoy an oasis of reggae music, good food and custom cocktails in between snorkeling stops. You can find great snorkelling right on the beach, but taking a boat allows you to reach lesser known areas. We were brought to a massive, 100-foot sunken ship that loomed ominously right below the blue surface.

Relax at home base

DSC_0126 (640x539)Luckily, there’s a few ideal resorts that are well located on the beach and near some of the more adventurous activities. It’s ideal to have a tranquil space for a base when on the island of Aruba so fresh seafood, flawless beaches and a fun pool scene are never far away. The Aruba Marriott Resort and Casino worked perfectly for me from its spacious room with a balcony to the innovative restaurants on property. It was on the beach (a definite plus) but still was only a few minutes away from all the other natural wonders on the island.

Dining in style is a blast, but there’s something special about going back to basics. I loved kicking off my shoes, wiggling my toes in the sand and enjoying a perfectly cooked, simply sautéed piece of local fish. I was able to do just that at Simply Fish, located on property at the Marriott. I purposely spent a lot of time away from the beach, but when this tradition was presented I gladly took to the sand and had a delicious culinary affair.

No wonder people say Caribbean islands are all the same – it’s because they’ve never bothered to embrace local culture and nature. So much is missed in the Caribbean, especially on Aruba vacations, if your whole trip is spend getting sunburned on the beach!

bio picEileen Cotter is a freelance travel writer who has a few notches in her belt throughout North America, Central America, Asia and Europe. She currently resides just outside Boston, Massachusetts. While writing for a wide variety of websites and travel magazines, her preferences so far has been covering various unique festivals worldwide, trying strange foods at tasty restaurants and encountering eccentric landmarks. By far her favorite place to roam is southern Spain and her future dream trip is exploring the Fiji Islands. Her blog is CrookedFlight.com.