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Aruba Travel Guide

Monday, February 19, 2018

Palm Beach, Oranjstad, Aruba


One of the trickiest parts of planning a vacation is organizing all the activities that you want to do and the more importantly, where you’re going to eat! Today’s post is the first in a series all about trips we have taken and exactly how we planned them with being vegan in mind. Chris and I make traveling a priority and we made a sort of “pact” when we first met that we would go away at least once a year to a place we have never been before. For us, getting to experience new destinations is more important than material things. We want to focus on building memories and we want to see the world! This big, beautiful planet has so many things to see and offer. We plan meticulously throughout the year and when we decide on a place, we start preparation that very moment. The first destination I’d love to share with you guys is Aruba!


The slogan for Aruba is “One Happy Island” and it’s true in every way. The locals of this gorgeous oasis were nothing short of friendly and welcoming, making us feel comfortable as we explored the place they call home. While the climate is warm and the sun burns hot, it’s not actually tropical, but quite dry. There was not much humidity, which I was not complaining about, and in lieu of lush greenery it was more desert sand, aloe and cacti. Aruba itself is not a large island, which actually makes it less overwhelming to plan a trip. Despite the size of this happy island, there is still plenty to do! Chris and I weren’t looking for a jam-packed vacation, so we skipped out on a few well sought-after activities like ATV exploration and parasailing. They have every water sport imaginable from tube rides to wave runners, paddle boarding, and water skiing, and there are multiple companies set up on every beach. There are also countless excursions and tours you can book, or you can even rent a bike to explore on your own. If shopping is your thing, Aruba has endless shops and boutiques in the center of town, as well as a few malls that have anything you could be looking for. 


Where We Stayed, What We Ate, What We Did


Photo courtesy Elements Restaurant



WHERE WE STAYED



Chris and I actually booked an AirBnB when we decided to travel to Aruba, this* one to be exact. Most people will tell you that Aruba is an expensive trip, and it can be depending on your lodging and excursions, but you can also do it affordably if you are willing. The apartment we stayed at was convenient, studio size, and beautifully furnished. It was centrally located to everything, so nothing was much longer than a ten minute walk away. The weather was also so beautiful while we visited that we didn't mind going places on foot. The few places we did go that were a little out of the way, we called a cab, which are extremely reasonable (similar to Uber prices). I should correct myself, when I say "we" called a cab, I really mean Katy. Katy was a resident at the complex who helped with all of the guests since the owner, Serena, did not live locally. We kept in touch with her through WhatsApp, which if you don't have - download it right now! It is immensely helpful when traveling outside of the states and allows you to text and make phone calls when needed. I do not know if Katy still lives/works there, but she was a tremendous help during our stay and was available to answer any question we had. 

WHAT WE DID

Snorkeling: If you do anything in Aruba, you need to go snorkeling (or scuba diving if you're able). This was hands down our favorite experience. The company we booked was Private Snorkeling and I cannot recommend them enough. It was very reasonably priced, and we ended up being the only two people who signed up for the time that we went so we got our own unintended private tour! The captain who took us to the different diving spots was informative and friendly, and we learned so much while we were sailing to the various locations. Being able to swim in those crystal clear waters and respectfully interact with a plethora of sea-life was incredible. We saw schools of colorful fish flying through the current, sea turtles just under the surface, and even a stingray floating along the ocean floor. One of the stops was a very old, historic shipwreck that was awe inspiring as well as anxiety inducing to witness. Whether you use this charter, or book elsewhere, snorkeling is an absolute must! Even if you're not a great swimmer, floaties are always an option.

Exploring: As I mentioned before, we wanted this to be a relaxing trip so we didn't plan for too many outings. We spent most days checking out various beaches, all of which were just as gorgeous as the last, but all offer something a little different. You do have to rent an umbrella (and you will need an umbrella unless you'd like to melt all of the skin off your body), and you have the option to rent lounge chairs as well, but you could always just lay on your towels if you wanted to save some money. We made a trip to Wish Rock Beach, which is not the official name, but it's located on the opposite side of the island as the resorts. It's more rocky and desert terrain, but still a sight to see. There, we did some hiking and built our "wish", which was a unique formation of rocks that we set up to leave a little piece of ourselves on the island. They were scattered everywhere and made you wonder about the people who may have been there before to leave their wishes as well. 

WHAT WE ATE

I have mentioned this app before in my vegan food post, which you can check out here, and it is called Happy Cow. This was a huge aid in figuring out what restaurants had either vegan options or food that could be made vegan. Before any trip whether it's across state lines or flying overseas, I always research beforehand so we can be well prepared and worry free during our vacation. Since we stayed at an AirBnB, Chris and I were also able to keep food back at the apartment which saved us a ton of money. We actually packed a plethora of dried foods in our suitcases, like bagels, cereal, poptarts (I didn't say it was all healthy foods...), granola, crackers, protein bars etc. It cut out the need for buying breakfast every day and sometimes even lunch depending on what our plans were. The few items we needed to purchase locally we found at a nearby corner mart and not expensive at all (they also take American currency there). I highly recommend bringing easily transportable foods if you're able!

Passions on the Beach
We knew we wanted our very first night to be spent at Passions, and if you're able to make a reservation far enough in advance, always plan for sunset. Passions is set up outside, with the tables and chairs directly on the beach so you can dine with your toes in the sand. The dreamy ocean view spreads out right in front of you for miles, and you can watch the sailboats come and go as you start your first course. As the sun starts to descend and the blue sky becomes splattered with fiery red, orange, and pink, the servers light candles and tiki torches. Chris ordered a fish entrée (he still occasionally eats seafood), and I had a vegetable pasta dish that was simple but flavorful. Their menu doesn't have a plethora of vegan options, but they do have a few that can easily be veganized and they are familiar with a vegan diet. Neither of us are big drinkers, but we couldn't pass up a tropical cocktail as well!

Elements Restaurant
Elements was similar to Passions in setting, but the food was far superior. Offering an entire vegan/vegetarian menu complete with appetizers, entrées, and desserts, Elements had tons of options and everything we tried was delicious. If you only want to do one or the other, I would  go with Elements due to the vast menu, but equally as beautiful location. Elements has an indoor area as well as an outdoor area where the tables are set on a platform above the sand. You still have the view of the ocean swelling in front of you, and the palm trees have their trunks wrapped in twinkle lights. If that isn't romantic enough for you though, you have the option of reserving a hut (pictured) right on the sand with your own private server. It was tempting and he did consider it, but it wasn't worth the extra money to us since they aren't really much further from where we were sitting anyway. Either way, if you're looking for something extra special, it's always an option!

Indo
Indo was an Surinamese-Indonesian restaurant where all the locals hung out. When entering, you can tell everyone at the bar knows one another and seem to be longtime friends. Expect no thrills or shmancy ambiance here, they focus on the quality of the food and you can definitely tell. They only take cash and the prices are great for the amount of food you get. If you're traveling on a budget, stick to local places, as the restaurants in the hotels charge triple the amount. I couldn't tell you what we actually ordered because I'm not familiar with the names of everything and I also don't remember what I did five minutes ago, but it was damn tasty. Basically, if it was made of plants, we ordered it and ate it. 

Eduardo's Beach Shack
If you're looking for a midday snack, or something refreshing to cool you down during a long day at the beach, this place is where you want to be. Located on Eagle Beach, it does take a little hunting to find. Everything on the menu here is vegan, and they emphasize organic, clean ingredients void of animal products. They offer coco whip (which was SO good), juices, smoothies as well as smoothie bowls with tons of toppings, protein balls, magic shots, and other healthy snacks.  The fruit looked like it was just picked minutes before serving, and now that I am thinking about it, I am seriously craving an Eduardo's smoothie bowl with all the fixings!

Honestly and truly, Aruba is one happy island, and you can't help but be happy as well when you are visiting. One thing to keep in mind is that the island is home to many stray dogs. You will see them wandering the streets and laying down along the strip where the hotels are. Every night we were in the area, we would get extra food to give to them, and I had a feeling they learned the tourist areas were a good spot for handouts. I was naive when we went, and didn't realize that homeless dogs were a major problem on the island. If we ever go back, I would love to volunteer at one of the few local shelters. If you love to do something proactive when you travel, I highly recommend visiting the Animal Relief Foundation of Aruba and seeing what they might need help with. You'll leave the happy island with a little more joy in your heart from offering some joy to those in need. 

*Not sponsored. 

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