A vacation to Aruba is typically a beach vacation — days spent relaxing on the sand, reading and sunbathing to your heart’s content. My last trip to Aruba was different. No all inclusive resorts — instead, my days were spent doing cultural things as well as beach bumming.

The island is 75 square miles, and I managed to drive almost all 75 of them. One can drive through the Arikok national park and see undeveloped desert land bordered by rocky ocean on all sides. On the other side of the island you can see high rise hotels and white sand beaches. The complete opposites that are shown by the cacti and ocean are gorgeous.

A hand-built sand-man on a beach in February.

Following are the top 5 things I learned about Aruba.

1) Getting lost is to be expected. There are street signs, but only on major roads of which there are few. Each map will orient the island a different way, and the island itself doesn’t go directly north south or east west which really throws off any sense of direction you think you have. Even the map with the advertisements won’t show you exactly how to get to the place advertised. The roads aren’t always paved and many of the side roads are dirt with cacti for fences. There are absolutely no street signs on these roads and most of them aren’t even on the map.

2.) The sun is very different than anything you have ever experienced.

In Aruba, I was diagnosed as having allergic reactions to the sun after a pretty rough sunburn that resulted in a swollen face. I’ve been badly sunburned before, but the sun in Aruba is different. It takes less time to get burned, and apparently, when you do, it will affect you more than a sunburn elsewhere would. To avoid this, avoid mid-afternoon sun at all costs. If you’re on the beach, spend the mornings and evenings there, but take shelter between 11:30 and 3.  Tanning is all well and good, but you don’t want your face to end up looking like a puffy snowman, or your back sending out snow showers of peeling skin. It’s not fun.

Church on a windy hill

Church on a windy hill

3.) There is no single culture or language.
Grocery stores in Aruba are often named Asian names and there are a lot of oriental restaurants, as well as Italian, French, and Cuban restaurants. Everyone speaks 3 languages — Papiamento, English, and Spanish. There’s a culture festival every Tuesday night at the historical museum, which I sadly missed seeing. There’s also a lot of Dutch since Aruba was initially a Dutch colony. Many packages in stores are labelled in Dutch and so are a lot of signs.

4.) If you are in need of a doctor:
If it’s a minor injury (like my previously mentioned swollen face), just go to a pharmacy, which they have next to the major grocery store. The pharmacist is authorized to give prescription drugs without an appointment. There are also two hospitals on the island as well as an urgent care place specifically designed for hurt tourists.

5.) The Aruban economy is:

  • Tourism management
  • Oil refinery
  • And that’s about it. The Aruban people understand just how important you as a visitor are.


And there you have it, my top five things that you should be aware in Aruba!

Do Witzenia,


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