12 of the best things to see around Aruba
By Tristan Ralston on 16th March, 2017
Off on vacation to Aruba? There’s more than just pretty beaches to visit, the island is rich in history and natural wonders. Here’s 12 of the best things to see around Aruba…
Savaneta is a tranquil village on the south shore, between Oranjestad and San Nicolas. It was the site of early Spanish settlement since its bay was easily accessible to sailing ships. When the Dutch took control, Savaneta was the port of call and official location of the Dutch West India Company. At the end of the 18th century, the capital was moved to downtown Oranjestad. Today, Savaneta remains an idyllic town framed by views of distant hills and glittering seascapes.
Alto Vista Chapel
This small, picturesque chapel in a magnificent natural setting is reached by a winding road lined by the Stations of the Cross. Known as the Pilgrim’s Chapel, the church at Alto Vista is built on a high plain near the north coast.
In the mid-18th century, Indians chose Alto Vista for their settlement because of a natural well there that supplied brackish water. An Indian from Venezuela led prayer meetings here. The island’s first Roman Catholic Church was originally a structure of wood and branches with a stone foundation, inaugurated on April 20, 1750. The chapel was rebuilt in 1952 on the same site. The original antique Spanish cross remains.
Conchi Natural Pools
Adventurers go by horse or foot through challenging terrain to discover this shell shaped pool, surrounded by a large barrier of lava rocks that greet crashing waves. Once a safe haven for sea turtles, it is a perfect spot to swim, snorkel, feed the fish, dive from rocks and just relax. When the waves are high, it may not be accessible.
Known as the “ghost ship,” the Antilla is a 400-foot-long German freighter built in 1939, used by the Germans to supply their subs during World War II. Scuttled in 1945 to prevent Dutch marines from seizing it, it now rests on its port side only 500 yards offshore and 60 feet below the surface, illuminated at night by fluorescing cup-corals. The Antilla is the largest wreck in the Caribbean. Divers can explore its compartments, anchors, cargo holds and boiler rooms.
A well-kept secret dive spot, the SS Pedernales was a World War II ship that was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat en route to a refinery in Aruba. The center portion of the vessel remains submerged off the shore of Palm Beach, approximately 25 feet below sea level.
Embark on a climb up the California Lighthouse, one of the island’s most iconic landmarks. The newly renovated lighthouse has been restored to its original glory and affords unparalleled 360-degree panoramic views of the island. Each step and every window offers a unique view of Aruba’s scenic coastline.
Opened to the public at a ceremony in September 2016, the imposing 270-foot-high structure stands as a silent watchman over the area known as Hudishibana, near the island’s northwest tip. It affords a magnificent panorama of desert scrub, azure sea, verdant greens of the Tierra del Sol Golf Course, and high-rise hotels. The view is always spectacular, but watching the sun set from this vantage point will take your breath away!
The lighthouse was named after the S.S. California which sank previous to its construction in 1910. The light on top was created by fire, then gas, and later electricity. Adjacent to the lighthouse are the California sand dunes which offer loads of family fun or a stroll along the rugged coastline. You can reserve a tour ticket on www.arubalighthouse.com, www.viator.com, or at La Trattoria El Faro Blanco, right next door.
Arikok National Park
A nature preserve covering almost one fifth of the island, Arikok encompasses Mount Jamanota, Aruba’s highest point, underground caves, coastal sand dunes and limestone cliffs, and rough desert terrain throughout the interior. Wildlife includes the shoco (burrowing owl), kododo blauw (whiptail lizard), iguanas, migratory birds, goats and donkeys.
Cunucu Arikok is a restored farm that recreates island life centuries ago; Prins Plantation once cultivated hundreds of coconut trees. Hofi Fontein is the only freshwater spring along the north coast. Look for several amazing natural bridges created about one million years ago. Also carved out by crashing waves along the windward coast are coves such as Boca Grandi, Dos Playa, Fuente and Boca Prins. Though the beaches are incredibly beautiful, swimming here is not recommended.
Arawak Indian rock paintings in and around caves and boulders are more prevalent in Aruba than on any other Dutch Caribbean island. Aruba’s petrographs are multicolored and painted. Most of them are found at Arikok, Fontein and Ayo.
The adventurous will enjoy exploring the caves along the northeast coast. The largest and most accessible is Fontein, just south of Boca Prins. Indians were attracted to it because of its proximity to a flowing stream. The ten-foot-high main section is a large hall with several smaller chambers linked by crawl passages. Most of the rock drawings are found on the roof and include imprints of hands and figurines. Along with the ancient Indian pictographs, more recent carvings have been left behind by colonial visitors, some dating back to the early 1800s.
Quadirikiri is a short distance away. Though no drawings are found here, it is very likely that Indians inhabited it as well. Concrete steps lead up to the main entrance and a single passage links three chambers of irregular shape. Openings in the ceiling provide natural light for the 500-foot-long cave, making it a perfect spot for picture-taking. The bats residing here are quite harmless.
The Huliba Cave and Tunnel of Love (Sabana Sulu) are part of the same cave system reaching a depth of about 100 feet below the surface of the limestone terrace. A stone staircase leads to the 300-foot-long Huliba cave. The Tunnel of Love, named for its heart-shaped entrance, is only a few yards from Huliba. Be prepared to negotiate a dark underground maze and do some climbing to exit
Bushiribana Gold Mill
In March 1824, gold was discovered in Rooi Fluit on the north coast by a 12-year-old boy. In 1872, Aruba Island Gold Mining Company Ltd (UK) built a large smelting works here. Work was done with a heavy hammer and crowbar to release the rocks carried by hand. Rocks were ground into dust, leaving clumps of gold behind to be melted. Gold mining ceased with World War I. Though the mill was in use for only a decade, impressive ruins remain.
Wedged between coral cliffs above the Spanish Lagoon and across from the abandoned Balashi Gold Mill, this narrow canyon is home to hundreds of chattering birds. When French pirates attempted to invade Aruba during the first quarter of the 17th century, Indians here tried to stop them but were driven back and hid in a cave. The Frenchmen lit a fire at the entrance, killing all of them. Some say that their ghosts preside over this tranquil, scenic spot.
Offering a birds-eye view at 620 feet, daring hikers discover sheer serenity atop Jamanota, the island’s highest point. Picturesque contours of the northern and southern shores are captured from a single vantage point, offering picture-perfect moments.
Ayo and Casibari Rock Formations
Aruba’s above-ground rock formations are of mysterious origin according to geologists, casting a surreal silhouette against the bright blue sky. At the Ayo Rock Formation, located on the way to the Natural Bridge, you can meander through stacks of giant quartz diorite boulders of curious shapes and sizes shaped by the forces of nature. In the center of the island is the Casibari Rock Formation. Climbing through piles of strangely shaped rocks, a narrow path leads up to the top, affording a panoramic view of the countryside. At ground level is a large desert rock garden to explore.
For more vacation inspiration and to find out why Aruba is ‘One Happy Island’ click here!
What’s the best thing you’ve seen or done on Aruba?