Special Guest Contributor:: Darrin Gleeman of New York City and West Indies Travel Expert
The Leeward Antilles of the Lesser Antilles is the group of small islands that run along the north shore of Venezuela. These inactive volcanic islands include the ABC Islands: Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao, and the Venezuelan archipelago: Law Aves, Los Roques, La Orchilla, La Blanquilla, Los Hermanos, and Los Testigos. These islands tend to have dry, sunny weather and are outside the hurricane belt, making them appealing to tourists.
Probably the most tourist-friendly island in the Leeward Antilles is Aruba Island. It is best known for its white, sandy beaches found primarily on the southern and western coasts of the island, which are protected from the rough ocean. However, the northern and eastern coasts are almost untouched by people because of the less picturesque beaches. Approximately half of the island’s income is gained through tourism, and Aruba enjoys one of the highest Caribbean standards-of-living along with a low crime rate and low levels of poverty. As you can imagine, this makes for a generally content population and guilt-free ambling.
Aruba travelers have it easier than some other Caribbean tourists because the island is easily accessible by commercial airlines. Flights depart from twelve U.S. cities, seventeen South American airports, and multiple locations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, and other islands in the Caribbean. Flights land at the Queen Beatrix International Airport, which recently underwent major renovations.
The departure tax out of Aruba is $36.75 for Americans and a few dollars less for other destinations. This is a in the typical price range for departure taxes, and generally this fee is included in your airfare. Our resident West Indies expert, Darrin Gleeman encourages travelers to “make sure you check to see if your departure tax has already been included in your flight. If you are flying a smaller airline, you may need to bring cash with you to the airport.” While some Aruba natives speak English because of the heavy tourism from the U.S. and the United Kingdom, the most common languages are Spanish and Papiamento (Aruba’s own language, which is a mix of Spanish, Dutch, English, African dialects, and Portuguese).
Concerning Aruba cruises, Darrin Gleeman reports, “If you are going on a Caribbean cruise, try to pick one that stops in Aruba – the beaches are breathtaking!” Now more than ever, major cruise lines are planning Aruba into their itineraries. Plus the local Ports Authority has been working on making Aruba cruise docking even easier for the enormous ships. There are so many things to do and see on the islands even if you decide against visiting a white, sandy beach. Some of the more unusual activities include visiting Aruba’s donkey sanctuary, the natural pool, or an ostrich farm. Want to spend most of your time on the ocean, but with more freedom in regard to your itinerary? Think about chartering a small Aruba cruise: you can [charter] rent a boat for a week along with a captain.
The Aruba art scene is quite a find for Caribbean art enthusiasts. Many famous artists call Aruba their home including Stan Kuiperi, Elisa Lejuez Peters, Rosabelle Illes, Gustave Nouel, Andre Kock, Elvis Lopez, Nadine Salas, and Vanessa Paulina. Art pieces span from the modern, avant-garde to works based more in cultural tradition. Because Aruba truly embraces its artists, there are many galleries and museums to visit. Gleeman, of New York, remarks, “By visiting galleries and museums, you can get a great glimpse into the culture and the history of the Aruban people, making you feel less like a tourist and more like an educated traveler.”
Aruba’s furniture market features mostly Caribbean-style pieces, many in teak. While teak wood is from Asia, it does especially well in the Caribbean climate because of its natural oils. Thus, you will find it in the furniture of Aruba as well as in Saint Lucia furniture. The oils derived from teak allow teak furniture to be exposed to elements without the need to be treated. Shipping furniture can be a big expense, but Gleeman reminds travelers to “factor in duty-free exemptions.” According to a website produced by the Aruba government, any United States citizen who has been out of the U.S. for a minimum of 48 hours and less than 30 days is entitled to a $600 duty-free exemption. Plus, if you are traveling with a family, all family members’ exemptions can be pooled together.