Aruba's capital, Oranjestad, is the first stop for most visitors. Its small harbour, once reserved for schooners and fishing boats, now attracts cruise ships from all over the world, and the island's Queen Beatrix airport is located just south of the city. Despite the thousands of tourists that pour into the town it has managed to retain its traditional charm.
Oranjestad Architecture © Goran Ingman
Oranjestad's downtown streets are lined with pastel-coloured Dutch colonial houses with ornate gable roofs. The orange coloured façades not only point to the capital's name, but to the island's connection to the Netherlands and William of Orange, a Dutch monarch instrumental in the gaining of Dutch independence
A highlight in Oranjestad is the Archaeological Museum, with exhibits on Aruba's original Arawak inhabitants. In the restored 18th-century Fort Zoutman, the Museo Arubano displays Aruba's pre-European and colonial eras. The Numismatic Museum has a large collection of coins from over 400 countries, many salvaged from shipwrecks in the surrounding area. The fort itself is one of Oranjestad's most popular attractions, built in 1796. It played a pivotal role in battles between Curaçao and British troops in 1803. In the late 1800s, the Willem III tower (named after the Dutch king at the time) was added to act as a lighthouse.
Enthusiastic shoppers will find central Oranjestad packed with boutiques, shopping complexes and glitzy 24-hour casinos. However, it is possible to escape this tourist zone and discover the more authentic town with its lively, if slightly run-down bars where visitors can enjoy a quiet beer and meet the locals.
Arikok National Park © $Mathe94$
Arikok National ParkArikok National Park encompasses a significant chunk of the interior and a long stretch of the northern coast. The park has miles of well-marked hiking trails and this, for most, is the best way to discover it. Between the towering cacti and the contorted divi-divi trees can be found the best preserved Indian cave paintings on the island, deserted plantation houses, and the ruins of an old gold mine. There are also two ancient Aruban adobe huts, made entirely from materials found on the island, that have been carefully restored using traditional building techniques. The huts give a fascinating insight into the life of Arubans before they were able to import many useful materials into the country. Within the park is Mount Jamanota, which at 620ft (188m) is Aruba's biggest hill, as well as the only slightly less high Arikok Hill. From the top of either hill one can enjoy good views of the island and on a clear day one can see across to Venezuela. At the southern reaches of the park are the Guadirkiri Caves and the Tunnel of Love. Legend has it that the headstrong daughter of an Indian Chief was trapped here with an unsuitable suitor and left to perish but their love-boosted spirits shot through the roof of the cave and into heaven.