Live out all your tropical island fantasies when you travel to the beautiful Caribbean island of Aruba during your gap year.
Palm trees, white sandy beaches, spas and natural pools; the ‘Happy Island’ of Aruba is the perfect place to kick back and relax after all those years of hard work.
Aruba basks in year-round sunshine and enjoys temperatures of well over 30°C for most of the year. The climate is a little different from most other Caribbean islands as it is dry, with heat that is not humid or uncomfortable. Aruba is edged by kilometres of spectacular sandy beaches. Two of them, Eagle Beach and Palm Beach, are world-famous and regularly feature in ‘Top Ten Beaches in the World’ lists.
Aruba has something that sets it apart from most other islands in the Caribbean; it is Dutch. They took over from the Spanish in 1636 and Dutch is the official language. The capital, Oranjestad, is filled with quaint European-looking houses that are painted in bright colours; it’s a great place to take photos. The island lies close to the coast of Venezuela and also has Portuguese influences.
Where to head for in Aruba?
Palm Beach is probably the busiest part of the island, with malls, high-rise hotels and Vegas-style casinos as well as a popular beach. Eagle Beach is the largest beach in Aruba and if you time your visit there right you can see turtle hatchlings making their way to the ocean. To really chill out in peace and quiet head for smaller, more laid back places on the west coast like Druif Beach.
What to do
Aruba is surrounded by sea, so make the most of it. Head out on a boat in the late afternoon for a sunset cruise and sip rum on the deck as you watch the sky explode in a sea of red. Go snorkelling and scuba diving for spectacular underwater experiences with sunken wrecks and coral reefs to explore, or simply bask in the sun on the endless white beaches. If you are feeling more energetic, all kinds of watersports are available, including windsurfing, paddle-boarding and kite-surfing.
If you ask a local where the most relaxing place on the island is, chances are they will say Conchi. Also known as The Natural Pool, this is a natural swimming hole surrounded by rocks that shield it from the waves. It is located inside the protected Arikok National Park. Not everything on Aruba happens outdoors; head inland and get some gap year culture by visiting the fascinating museums in Oranjestad.
After a long hard day of chilling out on the beach, there is usually no need to leave as you can eat a moonlit dinner there or join in with a beach party. If you fancy a change of scene, you will find nightclubs, bars and casinos in most of the large resorts. Aruba is often called the Las Vegas of the Caribbean and whether you are a casual player or an experienced gambler, there are lots of top-class casinos to enjoy, mainly based in Palm Beach and in the capital. Most of them stay open until the early hours.
How to travel around Aruba
Renting a car or motorbike is easy to do and the road network in Aruba is pretty good for the Caribbean, with many paved roads. Some smaller roads are only suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles, however. There is a cheap and reliable public bus service, Arubus, and taxis are easy to hire. These have fixed rates that are based on the destination rather than distance; they don’t have meters.
Travelling to Aruba
You don’t need a visa to visit Aruba if you are a citizen of the USA, UK, Canada, Ireland or Schengen area. The island has one international airport, Reina Beatrix, that receives over 150 flights every week. Arubus runs from the airport direct to Oranjestad bus station from where bus line 10 goes to all the main hotels.
If you want to kick back and relax in beautiful, natural surroundings on a Caribbean island with a fascinating, multicultural history as well as loads of modern amenities, Aruba is a great gap year choice.