Tina and I had a timeshare exchange week that was going to expire in mid December, 2016. After I returned from California in September, we needed to decide how and where we wanted to use that week. Since it was only a week, we didn't want to go too far because it wouldn't justify a large expenditure of time or $$.
I searched through the timeshare exchange system and found there were lots of timeshare resorts on the lovely island of Aruba, in the Southern Caribbean. Made famous in the Beach Boys song, Kokomo, this island is only about a 2 hour flight from Panama City. Since moving from Maui, we miss the beautiful beaches we used to see and Aruba looked like it would give us a nice beach "fix".
Learning moment: Aruba is just off the coast of Venezuela and it's a Dutch island. It's one of four countries that form the Kingdom of the Netherlands, namely: the Netherlands, Aruba, Curacao, and Sint Maarten - the latter two also being Caribbean islands. Oddly enough, even though Aruba is only 18 miles off the coast of Venezuela, it is actually farther north than where we are located in Panama (as you can see on the map at the bottom).
Flying into Aruba, we noticed 3 things: 1) it's small; 2) it's quite flat; and 3) it's much more "desert tropical" than the lush tropical landscape we were used to in Hawaii. Interesting fact: because the island is so flat, it doesn't "catch" many clouds to generate rainfall (average: less than 20" per year). The major source of water for the island is sea water desalinization.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that almost every local person we met spoke English. We found out this little island receives about 1.5 million visitors a year, and 75% of those are from the US - no doubt a major factor in English fluency. In fact, we found most locals spoke at least 3 languages: English, Dutch, and Spanish. Pretty impressive. It was also great that US dollars were accepted everywhere.
We stayed at a resort called Marriott's Aruba Ocean Club, located on Palm Beach, one of the most popular beaches. It's a beautiful resort and the units were very comfortable and functional. We were only on the 2nd floor, so unfortunately we weren't able to secure the same ocean view that is available on the upper floors.
The beach was the most similar to a Hawaii beach that we've found since we left the Aloha State. It was white, sugar-fine sand all the way into the water. The water temperature (Southern Caribbean) was quite comfortable and the shades of blue of the water were stunning (pictures don't do it justice). However, the water clarity wasn't very good - definitely not the same crystal-clear waters we enjoyed in Maui. Something else reminded us of Hawaii: the prices. This is an expensive place. We visited a large grocery store to buy food, so we could fix breakfast and lunch at the resort. Prices were definitely at or above the Hawaii range, as were the restaurants in town. The restaurants at the resort, of course, were in the "resort pricing" spectrum - we only ate there when we had to.
We found there wasn't much to do on this island, other than enjoying the splendid beaches. So, we spent our days under a palapa at the beach or hanging out around the extensive pool area. Not quite as active as our vacations in the past. It was a memorable trip and I'm glad we were able to visit this iconic Caribbean island. Although over half the tourists that come to this island are repeat visitors, I think once will be enough for us.