Street Art in Aruba: the unexpected Caribbean

As we drive into San Nicholaas, the second town of Aruba, the morning’s already hot but nothing much is stirring. The building by which we park, with shutters pulled down against the sun, looks just like any other. Just like any other, that is, except for the striking eyes and Amerindian face staring out from above the entrance with swirling peacock feathers for hair.

Street art in Aruba

We’ve arrived at the Artisa gallery and headquarters of Aruba Art Fair where we’ve come for a painting workshop with local artist Vanessa Paulina. We find Vanessa busy painting a mural on the walls of a local shop, which is yet to be finished. A string of Indian beads like those that would have been traded by the first inhabitants of Aruba, is ornamented with African masks, Indian faces and the head of the Spanish queen who funded Christopher Columbus to adventure here. Vanessa tells me how the beads represent a circle of life that connects us all, from the native Indians, the colonists and traders, to the artists of today.

Vanessa Paulina in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Vanessa Paulina – local artist in Aruba

She’s a well known artist on Aruba, with paintings on exhibition in the Historical Museum at Fort Zoutman and plenty of experience of community street-art projects, from her time studying and living in the Netherlands. The mural has been commissioned by the Ministry of Culture and as we walk around we realise that it’s only the latest in a street-art gallery that covers the buildings of San Nicholaas. This may be the Caribbean, but it’s an unexpected contrast to the white sand beaches and palm leaf beach umbrellas that you’ll find elsewhere on the island.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba by Street-art Chilango Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Street-art Chilango

By comparison with the bustling shopping malls of Oranjestad, packed with cruise visitors, San Nicholaas feels sleepy and somewhat down-at heel. When the oil refinary closed in 2009, people and jobs moved away from the town and there was little to bring tourists here unless they were driving to the popular Baby Beach nearby. But since the Aruba Art Fair took place in September 2016, there’s a new reason to visit this quiet corner of Aruba, and that’s the Street Art.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Aruba Art Fair organiser Tito Bolivar and his mother and co-organiser Diana Croes

Art Fair organiser, Tito Bolivar, told me how he’d come up with the idea after a trip to Colombia when he’d seen so much amazing art on the streets of Bogota. “I came back to the island and thought – why not here?” he told me, and in less than a year the project took shape, with the first Aruba Art Fair being held in September 2016.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - Iguana by Bordalo II from Portugal Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Iguana by Bordalo II from Portugal

One of the first international street-artists that Tito invited to be part of the project was Bordalo II from Portugal, who is known for recycling rubbish to create his large scale “Trash Animal” pieces. To create the iguana that we saw clinging to the side of the building in San Nicholaas, the team drove around the island, picking over car wrecks, scrap metal and rubbish washed up on the beach.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - Pan Box by Leon Keer of Netherlands Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Pan Box by Leon Keer of Netherlands

Next on board with the project was Leon Keer of the Netherlands who is known for his surrealist pieces. In a disused building next to the old customs house, he painted the 3D cardboard ‘Pan’ box, which would normally contain a well known brand of corn meal from nearby Venezuela. The custom house doorways on either side of it are a reference to the large numbers of Venezuelans who arrive on Aruba for economic reasons, since the mainland is only 500 miles away – watch the video here.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - by Bond Truluv from Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Bond Truluv from Germany

As we circled the side streets around the gallery we found striking murals covering the buildings wherever we looked. In the parking lot, was a piece by Bond Truluv of Germany, which he painted when he arrived as a ‘tryout’ piece, and then went on to create a large dolphin, next to the “Daddy Cool” mural by Amsterdam Streetart. My favourite murals were the colourful carnival-like faces of a man and woman by Guache from Colombia which covered the entire height of a building.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba

As Tito gave me an impromptu tour, he told me how his initial idea for an art fair expanded to eventually include seven different art related projects. Before the main art fair there was a culinary competition with a twist, in which six teams from Aruba’s cookery schools, each headed by an executive chef, were tasked to create a new desert inspired by canvases from local artists.  There was an auction dinner and a fashion show to showcase the work of local and international designers, as well as video interviews of local artists filmed by Conocemi, an Aruban TV show.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba - by Guache from Colombia Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Guache from Colombia

During the art fair itself, Tito was able to enlist the support of Aruba’s Ministries of Culture and Tourism as well as sponsorship from Aruba’s banks and business community, so that the artists themselves could sell their artwork in outdoor galleries without any charge. Several empty buildings were loaned so that Aruban art organisations could hold their own exhibitions as part of the show and provide a space for more established contemporary artists.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba

Tito’s mother and co-organiser Diana Croe showed me the mosaic benches around the town that had been created as part of a community project with different groups contributing the designs. The work is planned to continue with more benches and canvas sun shades which will be painted in bright colours.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Infinity House of Cards by Chenis from Czech Republic

Despite the success of the Aruba Art Fair, which is now established as a regular event, Tito has plenty more plans in the pipeline. His hope is to use the Art Fair and other projects to infuse art into the local community on Aruba, and he told me “I’m not an artist myself, but I feel it’s important to make a change. I see a lot of talent, and beautiful art, I want to start tapping into that talent and pushing those artists forward.” Next on the agenda is to establish a website and mobile app for the Artisa (standing for Art Is Aruba) organisation which will give information about the artists and artisans on Aruba, so that they can be more easily found.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – Infinity House of Cards by Chenis from Czech Republic

With so much creative energy on Aruba it seems sure that this year’s Aruba Art Fair will be even bigger and better. Last year the Aruba Art Fair was held in mid September 2016, so look out for announcements of the next date on the Aruba Art Fair website and social channels: Twitter| Instagram | Facebook. For an alternative taste of the Caribbean on Aruba, head to San Nicholaas for a walk around the streets to see all the murals and call in at the Artisa HQ and gallery at Theaterstraat 20, San Nicolaas, Aruba.

San Nicholaas is around 30 mins drive from Oranjestad at the south-east end of the island and buses run several times an hour. A morning seeing the street-art could happily be combined with lunch at the quirky Charlie’s Bar, and a relaxing afternoon on nearby Baby Beach.

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street Art in San Nicholas, Aruba – by Robert Solognier of Aruba

Where to Stay on Aruba

During my week in Aruba, I stayed at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort, a delightful hotel that’s just across the road from Eagle Beach. The hotel is family owned and was built 25 years ago in traditional style with Dutch gables, painted in the warm yellow that you see everywhere on Aruban buildings. I was extremely comfortable, sharing a suite with two bedrooms and a first floor balcony looking towards the sea, furnished in traditional Caribbean style with dark wood furniture, brightly coloured walls and citrus shades of lime, lemon and tangerine.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba

The outside areas of the hotel were beautifully maintained with paved areas, trees and immaculate planting, with a welcoming pool area and the shady Mango restaurant, where we had breakfast. The hotel is ideal for couples who want to relax by the pool or on the beach, while having a well located base for exploring Oranjestad and all the other sights of Aruba.

The staff could not have been more friendly and helpful and they even have a dedicated Romance Co-ordinator to help you organise your beach wedding or celebration event. The Fofoti trees opposite the hotel are a favourite for wedding photos and the Passions on the Beach restaurant where we ate one evening is an incredibly romantic setting to have a cocktail and dinner as the sun sets over the ocean.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel

For more information, visit the Amsterdam Manor Beach resort website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Address: J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 252, P.O. Box 1302, Oranjestad, Aruba.

Visitor Information for Aruba

For more information to plan your holiday in Aruba, visit the Aruba Tourism Website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest

Thanks to Aruba Tourism for hosting my week’s stay in Aruba to discover the island.

More articles from Aruba

My 10 favourite things about Aruba
Our top 5 sites on Aruba
Travel With Kat: Where and What to eat and drink on Aruba

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Where Heather travelled in 2016

As we start a new year I’m enjoying the memories of last year’s travels, like flicking through a photo album in my head. I visited new places, returned to old favourites and had a great mix of travels with family, friends and the occasional solo trip. This year is wide open to new travel possibilities, but before we move on let’s take a moment to revisit some of the places I travelled in 2016.

Where Heather travelled in 2016

February – a weekend of culture in the Lake District

The Lake District

The Lake District

My weekend in the Lake District brought back memories of family holidays as a child, when we stayed in an old stone cottage in the Easter holidays. This time I was there with my blogging friends and Travelator Media colleagues, Zoe and Kathryn, to enjoy a cottage stay with the Good Life Cottage Company. Despite the rain we had a great time discovering the cultural side of the Lakes, at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Beatrix Potter’s Hilltop Farm and Wordworth’s Dove Cottage, getting out for a blustery walk on Elterwater when the rain finally stopped.

Read More: A weekend of culture in the Lake District (or what to do if it rains)

February – a spring break in Athens

Acropolis in Athens Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Acropolis in Athens

Later in February I visited Athens with my parents and sister who lives in Greece, gathering for the weekend at the classic and elegant Electra Palace Hotel. The warm and sunny weather gave us the opportunity to visit the Acropolis without the scorching heat and crowds that descend on Athens in summer. We loved the fresh spring days, wandering around all the ancient sites and relaxing in a pavement cafes of Plaka to watch the world go by.

Read More: Visiting the Acropolis in Athens: here’s what you need to know

March – A Caribbean adventure in St Kitts

St Kitts Christophe Harbour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

St Kitts Christophe Harbour

March took me to St Kitts, my first ever taste of the Caribbean, where I explored this island that is one half of the island federation of St Kitts and Nevis. I found a laid back and slightly scruffy charm, with lush fields that once grew sugar cane, plantation house hotels and a growing list of stylish new bars and hotels. I tried lobster on the beach and rum cocktails at Salt Plage, learned about the local medicinal plants on a rainforest walk and saw the batik being made at Romney Manor. The visit gave me a desire to visit more Caribbean islands, which despite being small in size are surprisingly diverse, each with its own character.

Read More: A stylish traveller’s guide to St Kitts

March – Cliff walks on the Gower in Wales

Walking on the Gower

Walking on the Gower

I’ve visited the Gower Peninsula in South Wales a few times now, since my son was at university there and in March we made a return visit to the lovely Promenade View in Mumbles. With husband Guy, my son and his friends we explored the coastal paths and gorgeous beaches of the Gower, breezing along the cliff paths of Pennard Cliffs and Three Cliffs Bay. We even clambered along the peninsula of Worms Head, just making it back before the tide turned and covered the jagged rocks with the sea again.

Read More: The Gower in Wales – find your perfect coastal walk and place to stay

April – A farmhouse stay in Costa Brava

Costa Brava in Catalunya

Costa Brava in Catalunya

After Easter it was off to Costa Brava, for a family break in a large and luxurious farmhouse (read my review) through Charming Villas. The fields around the house were bright yellow with rapeseed and from the bedrooms we had views over the olive trees to the snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. We spent a day in Girona, with pretty pastel houses lining the river, visited the Salvador Dali museum at Figueres and had a tapas lunch in the sunshine at Cadaques, before walking over the headland to Dali’s fishermens cottages in Port Lligat.

Read More: A driving tour of Costa Brava

April – Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast

Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland

On Northern Ireland’s scenic Causeway Coast I found windswept golden beaches, ruined castles and of course what most visitors come to see, the Giant’s Causeway. Along with the stunning landscape of the Causeway, I braved the Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge and visited the photogenic Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff-top, staying at the fabulous Bushmills Inn where a welcoming peat fire always burns. I also dipped into the thriving artizan food culture, with fabulous seafood and outstanding quality meat, all served up in huge portions with a healthy dollop of friendly Irish charm.

Read More: 10 fab foodie stops on Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast

May – Visiting laid back Menorca

Hiking in Menorca

Hiking in Menorca

May took me to Menorca, the smallest and calmest of the Balearic islands, a place that doesn’t like to boast too much about its charms, but is full of history, fashion and great food. I spent a day exploring Mahón, the elegant capital of the island, walked to unspoiled beaches along the Cami de Cavalls and  visited some of the island’s fascinating Talayotic monuments. Menorca has all the ingredients for a delightful break with mellow old buildings in Cuitadella, stylish shopping and lazy seafood lunches by the port.

Read More: How to spend a perfect day in Mahon, Menorca

June – A Uniworld Cruise through Burgundy and Provence

On a Burgundy river cruise

On a Burgundy river cruise

With husband Guy I took a Uniworld river cruise with Titan Travel through the South of France, from Lyon in the heart of Burgundy, to the medieval walled city of Avignon in Provence. The week flew by with rich insights into local culture and history, as we uncovered the secret passages of Lyon, visited the Papal Palace at Avignon and dipped into the world of Van Gough at Arles. Along the way there were plenty of opportunities to discover the delicious food and wine of Burgundy in vineyards, cookery classes and on board Uniworld’s extremely luxurious SS Catherine.

Read More: 10 things to expect on a river cruise with Uniworld

July – A road trip across Canada by RV

Canada RV trip Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Canada RV trip

As a child our family were great campers, and in July I rediscovered the great outdoors in a road trip driving a motorhome (or RV as it’s known in Canada) from Toronto to Montreal. With husband Guy, I mastered how to navigate and park up our home-on-wheels and enjoyed a range of outdoor activities like cycling, hiking and kayaking in Canada’s National Parks. We also found that with a bit of planning it’s perfectly possible to visit Canada’s vibrant cities on an RV road trip. InToronto, Ottawa and Montreal we dipped into cultural highlights from totem poles to street art and new tastes from Poutine to Maple beer.

Read More: How to drive an RV from Toronto to Montreal (Our top tips)

August – Cycling in Dorset

Cycling in Dorset Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Cycling in Dorset

With the end of the summer in sight I went cycling with my daughter in Dorset, one of England’s prettiest counties. We set off from Dorchester, stopping for tea in Moreton and lunch overlooking Lulworth cove, passing Lulworth castle before finishing our ride in Wareham. We loved the quiet lanes, rolling countryside and sea views, not to mention all those impossibly picturesque thatched cottages, reminding me just how pretty England can be.

Read More: Cycling in Dorset on the Jurassic Coast

August – An active river cruise on the Danube

Melk abbey in Austria Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

In August I took a short cruise with Avalon, starting with the cultural jewel of Vienna and passing through Austria’s scenic Wachau Valley until we reached Melk Abbey and disembarked at Linz. In Vienna we learned how to bake bread Austrian style, enjoyed the coffee culture and got to know the famous Lippizanner stallions in the Spanish Riding School. I also had the chance to try out many of the active excursions on offer, cycling past orchards heavy with plums and canoing down river with views of well kept vines in neat rows along the hillside.

Read More: Getting active in Austria’s Wachau Valley

Summer in Bristol

Ferry in Bristol Harbour Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Ferry in Bristol Harbour

This year I’ve tried to enjoy more of my home town of Bristol, especially in the summer when there are so many festivals and things going on. I’ve discovered so much more of what’s on my own doorstep with levels of creativity and cool that had previously passed me by. In 2017 I hope to connect even more with all the fabulous things going on in Bristol so if you are thinking of paying a visit do let me know and I’ll be happy to give you some recommendations.

Read More: 10 Cool things to do on Bristol’s Harbourside

September – Hiking in the Dolomites South Tyrol

Hiking in the Dolomites

Hiking in the Dolomites

Every year my friend Julia and I set off for a mountain hiking holiday, and this year we chose the South Tyrol in Northern Italy for our girl’s own adventure. Setting off from the luxurious Hotel Cyprianerhof, we made a circular route around the Rosengarten or Catinaccio range, staying in the mountain huts of the Dolomites. The trip gave us the challenge of climbing over high mountain passes and huts with limited facilities (what no shower?) but rewarded us with amazing views and a sense of achievement when we returned to Cyrianerhof for a well earned aperitif admiring the peaks we had climbed over.

Read More: Hiking in the Dolomite – a tour of the Rosengarten in South Tyrol

October – a sunshine break in Aruba

At the archaeology museum in Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

At the archaeology museum in Aruba

October took me for some much needed sunshine to Aruba in the Dutch Antilles. I found a warm welcome at Amsterdam Manor Resort, indeed everywhere on Aruba which describes itself as “One Happy Island”.  I found an island of contrasts – on one side a well developed tourist strip with white sand beaches, on the other a wild northern shore with waves breaking onto the jagged rocks and little in the way of development. There’s a sophisticated and cosmopolitan food scene and I loved the street art murals in San Nicholas, showing an unexpected side of the Caribbean.

Read More: My 10 favourite things about Aruba

November – 48 Hours in Florence

The Duomo in Florence Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Duomo in Florence

With the summer over and Christmas in sight, I nipped off to Florence for a weekend break with Citalia, to get a quick fix of culture and good food. Of course I saw the best known sights, like the Duomo and the David but also took some time to soak up the atmosphere and charm of this ancient city set in the heart of Tuscany. I loved the bustle and great food in the Mercado Centrale where I found a local tripe festival in full swing, dipped into the Salvador Ferragamo shoe museum and wandered through the Boboli gardens behind the Pitti Palace with views over the teracotta roofs of Florence.

Read More: How to spend a perfect weekend in Florence

December – Finding the Christmas spirit in Coburg, Germany

Christmas market in Coburg, Germany Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Christmas market in Coburg, Germany

My final trip of 2016 took me to Coburg in Germany, where early in December we caught the first weekend of the Christmas Markets to soak up some seasonal spirit. This pretty town, with medieval buildings clustered around the town square, was also the birthplace of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria who visited Coburg several times. As well as enjoying the mulled wine and Coburger Bratwurst cooked over a smoky wood fire, we visited the elegant palaces of Ehrenberg, Rosenhau and the Veste fortress overlooking the town where Martin Luther stayed and worked for a few months.

Read More: Christmas in Coburg – Discovering th seasonal magic in Coburg

What’s next for 2017?

At the moment the New Year is wide open for travel plans with just a few things pencilled in and lots of possibilities. So far I’ll be off to:

Dublin in January – my son has just started university at Trinity College, Dublin so I hope to pay him a visit with my parents. You can read about our last trip – 10 fun things we did on a weekend in Dublin

The Liffey in Dublin Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Liffey in Dublin

Seefeld, Austria in February – as a travel blogger I often come across places on blog trips that I want to return to with the family and Seefeld was one of them. I was there in September 2015 on a walking holiday and fell in love with the pretty resort of Seefeld which is also a popular winter-snow destination. I’ll be returning there in February to try out some of the outdoor snow activities like cross-country ski, snow-shoe and winter hiking with my husband and friends. I’ll be trying to have a proper holiday (believe it or not blog trips do involve quite a lot of work!) but I’ll still be posting some photos on my social media channels.

Otherwise I have on my wish list to see more of the Caribbean, Canada and generally explore some new destinations further afield as well as enjoying all the great stuff in Bristol where I live.

Whatever your plans for 2017, I hope that health, peace and happiness follow you, wherever you travel this year.

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Read about where Heather Travelled in 2016

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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My 10 favourite things about Aruba

If you had to choose three words to describe the Caribbean island of Aruba, what would they be? My three words would be; Warm, Colourful and Cosmopolitan. Of course, you’d expect it to be warm, being in the Dutch Antilles and close to the coast of Venezuela. You’ll be welcomed with unfailing warmth too – not for nothing has Aruba adopted the slogan of “One Happy Island’. There’s colour not only in the houses painted blue, yellow, pistachio and pink, but unexpectedly in the street art murals that we found in San Nicholas, created for the recent Aruba Art Fair.

10 favourite things to do in Aruba

This was my first visit to Aruba and I discovered an island that is well developed for tourism, with plenty of hotels and apartments concentrated along the sandy beaches west of Oranjestad and a sophisticated restaurant scene. There’s also a cosmopolitan mix of cultures, with most locals speaking several languages; typically Dutch, English and Spanish as well as their own language of Papiamento.

Tourism is an important part of the island’s economy and with visitors outnumbering the locals, it took me a while to put my finger on what makes Aruba unique and different to its Caribbean neighbours. My week in Aruba took me from designer shopping malls to the prickly beauty of Arikok National Park, from the white sand beaches of the south to the black volcanic rocks and crashing waves of the northern shore. Here are some of the favourite memories and experiences I took home from Aruba.

1. The white sand beaches of the southern shore

Well you can’t come to the Caribbean without talking about the beaches. It’s the white sand beaches and all-year-round sunshine that keep visitors coming back, to escape the cold weather back home. While we were there, a hurricane was battering the Florida coast, and while Aruba had escaped with just some rain showers, storms out at sea had washed piles of seaweed onto the famous white beaches. Admittedly we weren’t seeing them at their best, but by the end of the week the beaches had been practically cleared of storm debris and were back to normal.

Moomba beach Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Moomba beach Aruba

One of the beach spots I enjoyed most was in front of the Moomba Beach Bar where we spent the afternoon paddleboarding and also had a delicious seafood lunch on the verandah restaurant at Nos Clubhuis. It’s part of Palm beach, a broad strip of sand, backed by hotels and apartments, with plenty of places to stop for a snack and drink and also a centre for watersports.

Beaches of Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Beaches of Aruba

Eagle beach, right in front of the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort where we were staying was another favourite, with two of the famous fofoti (also known as divi divi) trees growing on the beach, a popular spot for wedding photographs. Since the beach was just across the road from the hotel, I was able to enjoy it at all times of the day, from the pastel pink sunrise to the golden sunset. As dusk fell, the hotel set out tables for its beach restaurant, Passions on the beach, where we had an elegant dinner looking out to sea with the sand under our toes. Baby Beach, close to San Nicholas is another popular beach, especially for families and there is hardly any development around the beach, but I found the view of the refinery in the distance somewhat detracted from its charm.

2. Aruba’s wild northern shore

My favourite beaches were actually on Aruba’s wild northern shore, where there is hardly any development at all. The waves here are pretty rough so it’s inadvisable to swim unless you take local advice or are there for the surfing. You need a car, preferably a 4 wheel drive, to visit this part of the island but there are also plenty of jeep safaris that will take you around to see the beaches and main sites.

North Coast of Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

North Coast of Aruba

Our tour took us first to Ayo rock, a cluster of boulders that looks as if a giant dropped a random pile of rocks in the middle of the countryside. It’s free to enter the fenced enclosure that surrounds them and look at the cave paintings nearby. Most visitors probably just stop to take their photo from a distance but there are trails that lead up through the boulders. I would have headed off from the group to explore them more fully but had a sudden ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ premonition that I might get lost wandering among them.

We continued by car to the Bushiribana ruins of an old gold mine which you can climb up onto for a view over the sea. Gold was discovered here in 1824 and this was the site of the old smelting works built in 1872 but only in use for a decade before it fell into disrepair. On the same stretch of coast is a rock arch known as the Natural Bridge, although the larger of the two arches collapsed in 2005, and I found the wild landscape and waves crashing on the shore more of an attraction than the sea arch itself.

North Coast of Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

North Coast of Aruba

3. Aruba’s sophisticated restaurant scene

As I love to try local flavours when I travel, I was impressed by Aruba’s varied and sophisticated restaurant scene. We were visiting during Eat Local restaurant week when many of the island’s restaurants have good value menus with lunch at a set price of $15 and dinner at $30 or $40. I mainly chose the seafood options, with plenty of grilled fish such as Mahi Mahi served with Pan Bati, the local pancake style bread. At Nos Clubhuis I loved my starter, a bowl of chunky ceviche and at Driftwood, decorated with fishing nets and driftwood, we would have been served the fish that we’d caught while Deep Sea Fishing, but sadly we came back from that fishing trip empty handed.

Lunch at Nos Clubuis in Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Lunch at Nos Clubuis in Aruba

While there were plenty of different eating options in Oranjestad and Palm Beach, one place that stuck out for the local character with Charlie’s Bar in San Nicolas. The bar had been run by three generations of Charlies, was stuffed full of paintings, memorabilia and bric-a-brac, much of it contributed by customers over the years and served an excellent plate of giant shrimp for lunch. For elegant poolside ambiance, we ate at White Modern Cuisine, situated in the Gold Coast Clubhouse, where the chef uses local seafood but incorporates Asian flavours in some of the dishes.

Seafood on Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Seafood on Aruba

For healthy daytime snacks we stopped at CRAFT at Palm Beach where the coffee was excellent and I ordered a fruit bowl as a late breakfast after our yoga session. At Garden Fresh Cafe, where I had an Asian Delight wrap and Blueberry Booster smoothie for lunch, I could practically feel the pounds falling off my waistline as I walked through the door.

Healthy Eating on Aruba Photo" Heatheronhertravels.com

Healthy Eating on Aruba

Finally if you need a place to stop for breakfast, or a snack as you drive around the island, I’d highly recommend the Huchada Bakery in Santa Cruz. With yellow walls and blue painted shutters it has the ambiance of a traditional Aruban house and serves the tasty Aruban breakfast snack of pastechi (filled pastries), as well as coffee and fresh juices.

Huchada Bakery in Aruba

Huchada Bakery in Aruba

4. The coloured houses of Aruba

As we drove around the island I noticed how Aruban houses were often painted in bright colours – yellow and blue were especially popular but I saw many other rainbow shades. On our final evening we had the pleasure of dining with a local family who showed us around their traditional style house. At the front of a typical Aruban house, runs a long room that is used to greet guests, while the family living room and bedrooms are behind this in the main part of the house. The back or front of the house is normally oriented towards the prevailing winds to allow natural air conditioning as the wind can circulate from one side to the other.

Coloured houses of Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Coloured houses of Aruba

In Oranjestad much of the architecture is modern but there are a few older houses painted in vivid colours, with ornate plasterwork to decorate the windows and doors. I enjoyed walking along the road beside Fort Zoutman and into the main shopping area behind the Renaissance Mall where the Dutch colonial style had been used above the shops in pretty pastel shades.

Colourful buildings in Aruba

Colourful buildings in Aruba

5. History and culture around Oranjestad

While in Oranjestad, it’s worth looking beyond the branded fashion stores to discover something of Aruba’s history. The Archaeological Museum is housed in a most photogenic set of old buildings, which were built in the late 19th century, and it’s free so worth popping in. You’ll learn about the melting pot of nationalities that went to make Aruban society, from Amerindian to Spanish colonisation, overlaid with Dutch and English trading influences.

Archaeology Museum Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Archaeology Museum Aruba

Also in the centre of Oranjestad, on a street that once formed the original waterfront, is the Historical Museum, housed in Fort Zoutman. The fortress was built in 1796 for defence against English attack and the tower was added in 1868 as a lighthouse, later becoming a clocktower. We attended an evening display of music and dancing called the Bon Boni festival which is held here weekly and I enjoyed the museum’s exhibition about traditional weaving which changes a couple of times a year. Did you know that the weaving of straw hats was an important source of income for many families in the past? On show were colourful artworks inspired by the theme of weaving by contemporary local artists like Vanessa Paulina who we later met in San Nicholas.

History and culture in Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

History and culture in Aruba

6. Street art in San Nicholas

Further down the coast from Oranjestad is San Nicholas, Aruba’s second largest town with the island’s oil refinery. If you’re looking for a more authentic Caribbean vibe you’ll find it here, but since the oil refinery closed in 2009, there’s also a feeling of a place that has seen better days. One thing that is putting San Nicholas on the map again is the street-art that covers many of the buildings, as a result of this year’s Aruba Art Fair.

Street art in San Nicholas Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Street art in San Nicholas

We met with artist Vanessa Paulina who has been commissioned to create a mural on one of the buildings and took us into the art centre for a painting workshop. I chatted to Tito Bolivar, the Aruba Art Fair organiser and owner of the ArtisA Gallery (stands for Art is Aruba) about the project which took place for the first time in September 2016.

Aruba street art Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Aruba street art

As well as inviting local and international artists to work on the murals, the three day festival included stalls for local artists to sell their work, an exhibition in the art gallery, a music and dance festival and a culinary competition where teams of chefs created an original desert inspired by a piece of art. Being from Bristol, where Street Art is a big deal I really loved all the fabulous murals around the town and would definitely recommend visiting San Nicholas to see them for yourself. While in San Nicholas, you might also consider popping into Charlie’s Bar for lunch, for even more local colour.

7. Getting active on the water

If you enjoy watersports you’ll find no shortage in Aruba and the first thing I spotted when we arrived on Moomba beach was someone being shot scarily high above the water on a Jetpack attached to the Jetski. We were there to try our hand at paddleboarding, a first for me, under the expert instruction of Denis from Aruba Surf & Paddleschool. Dennis showed us how to start by kneeling on the board and then slowly stand up while keeping our balance to avoid an undignified dunking. The paddling and balancing required a surprising amount of core strength and I’m sure that if I did it long enough my body would become lean and toned like all those bikini girls in the brochures. For now I was just concerned about not falling in, and managed to make it a decent way out before turning back towards the safety of the beach.

Paddleboarding in Aruba Photo: Heatheeronhertravels.com

Paddleboarding in Aruba

We also tried Deep Sea Fishing while we were in Aruba and the idea of spending an hour or two catching our dinner sounded like a good one in theory. However, I have to admit that it was not my favourite activity as the constant swell just made me feel queazy and I spent most of my time hardly daring to move from the back of the boat. Much more pleasurable was the early morning yoga session on the beach with the graceful Maria from Cacao Yoga. While I was useless at the yoga poses I did enjoy gazing alternately through the leafy branches above us or out to the ocean beyond.

Sports and fitness on Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Sports and fitness on Aruba

8. Tasting the edible plants of Aruba

One of the highlights of my week on Aruba was meeting Frank Kelly, a.k.a. Taki the Forager. We found him on one of the wild north coast beaches, for a deliciously refreshing cocktail made of avocado and basil topped up with sugar, water and a splash of lime – and of course an optional slug of rum. Cactus tempura is one of Frank’s specialities, but for us he produced a colourful basket of flowers picked locally, to tickle our taste buds.

Frank Kelly - Taki the forager on Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Frank Kelly – Taki the forager on Aruba

We munched and sniffed our way through a selection of flowers including peppery moringa which can be used to make a super-food smoothie, fragrant kawara that was used back-in-the-day to perfume your house, and frangipani that could be used to give champagne a fragrant kick. As well as sharing the foraging skill that he learned from his grandparents, Frank is a graffiti artist, bodyboarder and creator of cool pop-up events on Aruba and Bonaire. “I like to be unplugged” he told us, admitting that he barely used any social media to promote his talents, ” I like to stay close to nature, to go barefoot and just have enough for the day.” As if to prove the point, Frank plunged into the crashing waves and returned to the beach minutes later with three different kinds of seaweed, including Dulce and Agar that’s used as an alternative to to gelatine. If you’re visiting Aruba and want to book a foraging session with Frank, he can be contacted through his Facebook page – search for Taki Aruba

Foraging on Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Foraging on Aruba

Aruba is also a big grower of Aloe Vera, known for its healing and cooling properties. You’ll see the spiky plants all around the island and if you snap off one of the fleshy leaves, they ooze a yellow sap that is used for healing on wounds and burns. Look out for the Aruba Aloe shops around the island that sell a range of Aloe based lotions and cosmetics or visit the Aloe Vera factory and museum for a fascinating insight on how the plant is used.

9. Hiking in the Arikok National Park

For my visit to the Arikok National Park in the north-east corner of the island, I had to be up early before the heat of the day became too much. I was met by my enthusiastic guide, Stanson at the large visitor centre where there were exhibits and information about the flora and fauna to be found in the park. Stanson took me along the Cucucu Arikok circular trail, a well marked gravel path bordered by stones which meandered through a landscape of spiky cactus and thorny trees. To be honest, it would have been difficult to get lost, but Stanson’s knowledge and enthusiasm about the plants and trees was infectious. Without him I’d never have spotted the edible pink berry hidden in the top of a small, round cactus, or known about the tree that bears fruit after a rainstorm, making it a magnet for giant iguanas.

Arikok National Park Aruba

Arikok National Park Aruba

Along the path we passed overhanging rocks with native cave paintings of iguanas and birds that were thought to be painted by Shaman, while in a trance connecting with the spirit world. At the furthest end of the path before we circled back was a white adobe house, a recreation of an old Aruban dwelling that had been preserved to show the construction techniques and way of living. A bat flitted over our heads, nesting in the rafters, which Stanson explained would provide a polination service for the plants on Aruba.

Arikok National Park Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Arikok National Park Aruba

While our two hour walk was undemanding, there are plenty of more challenging trails in the park, some of which require climbing and abseiling to complete. If we’d had more time I’d have loved to have continued along the trail to the coast, where there’s a large natural pool enclosed by rocks, locally known as Conchi, where you can swim.

10. Stay at Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort

During my week in Aruba, I stayed at the Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort, a delightful hotel that’s just across the road from Eagle Beach. The hotel is family owned and was built 25 years ago in traditional style with Dutch gables, painted in the warm yellow that you see everywhere on Aruban buildings. I was extremely comfortable, sharing a suite with two bedrooms and a first floor balcony looking towards the sea, furnished in traditional Caribbean style with dark wood furniture, brightly coloured walls and citrus shades of lime, lemon and tangerine.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Aruba

The outside areas of the hotel were beautifully maintained with paved areas, trees and immaculate planting, with a welcoming pool area and the shady Mango restaurant, where we had breakfast. The hotel is ideal for couples who want to relax by the pool or on the beach, while having a well located base for exploring Oranjestad and all the other sights of Aruba.

The staff could not have been more friendly and helpful and they even have a dedicated Romance Co-ordinator to help you organise your beach wedding or celebration event. The Fofoti trees opposite the hotel are a favourite for wedding photos and the Passions on the Beach restaurant where we ate one evening is an incredibly romantic setting to have a cocktail and dinner as the sun sets over the ocean.

Amsterdam Manor Hotel Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Amsterdam Manor Hotel

For more information, visit the Amsterdam Manor Beach resort website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest. Address: J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 252, P.O. Box 1302, Oranjestad, Aruba.

I recommend visiting Aruba for the warmth of the all year round sunshine and the safe and friendly atmosphere. You’ll enjoy the island’s Caribbean colour, vibrant painted buildings, the creativity and street art of San Nicholas. Taste your way through the cosmopolitan food scene with fabulous local seafood and international flavours with a mix of cultural influences. As our yoga teacher Maria told us, “Whatever kind of holiday you want, whatever kind of life you want to live, you can find it on Aruba”.

Visitor Information for Aruba

For more information to plan your holiday in Aruba, visit the Aruba Tourism Website or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Pinterest

Thanks to Aruba Tourism for hosting my week’s stay in Aruba to discover the island.

More articles from the Caribbean

Travel with Kat: Welcome to Aruba – One Happy Island
A Stylish Guide to St Kitts
Our top 5 sites on Aruba

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Read about my favourite things to do on Aruba

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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