Getting to Know Aruba
Aruba may be one of the most-visited destinations in the Caribbean, but I knew little about it when I was assigned to cover the island’s shopping for the upcoming Spring 2013 issue of Endless Vacation>® magazine. To prepare myself, I used a tactic that’s helped me plan other trips for work or pleasure: I visited CouchSurfing.org, a website on which travelers can arrange to stay with locals at no charge and experience daily life with them. I didn’t need a place to stay, but I was looking for tips from Aruban residents about the best spots for shopping, dining and more. An Argentinean named Mariza García, who’s lived on the island for decades, responded to my query and ended up playing a key role in my time there.
LOCAL LUNCH >
Mariza’s email through CouchSurfing was straightforward: “Don’t miss Zeerover>, a fishermen’s canteen in the Savaneta neighborhood.” She had me at fishermen’s canteen>. I found the restaurant easily, about 15 minutes southeast of the capital, Oranjestad, down a residential road lined with single-story houses. A pirate flag flies atop a red, white and blue seafront shanty where you place your order at a small window. Depending on what’s biting, the fish available can be wahoo, bluefin tuna, snapper or barracuda. Your selection is weighed on a scale and cooked in a couple of fryers right near the water. Then it’s delivered to you in a plastic basket, along with fried plantains, French fries, a vinegary onion relish and the cornbread-like Aruban pancake called pan bati>. Zeerover turned out to be the most memorable dining experience of my trip, and I relished every moment I spent at that picnic table on the end of the pier, with the water lapping at my feet, a cold Balashi beer in hand and fishermen unloading their catches from colorful boats just a few feet away. West Savaneta; cash only; lunch for two, $24* >
I have a soft spot for the Netherlands, where I studied during my college year abroad. So I was excited to stop by Aruba’s biggest supermarket, Super Food>, to stock up on my favorite Dutch treats to bring home. Dutch colonists are responsible for the presence of yummy foods from Holland in this corner of the Caribbean, such as Gouda cheese, hagelslag> (chocolate sprinkles that take the place of Nutella at Dutch breakfast tables) and stroopwafels>—delicious cookies that are like waffle sandwiches oozing with buttery caramel syrup. Since the Dutch also colonized Indonesia, you can also find great Indonesian foods in Aruban supermarkets, such as spicy sambal> sauce and pastes for such dishes as rendang> and nasi goreng>. 156 L.G. Smith Blvd., Oranjestad; 297-588-6040 >
PARTY OF ONE>
As a travel writer, I’m used to being in impossibly romantic settings with me, myself and, well, you get the point. But I wasn’t going to let my solo status deter me from having dinner at what I’d been told was the island’s most spectacular and romantic oceanfront setting. The tables at Passions> are set up on the sand for a front-row view of Eagle Beach’s Technicolor sunsets. Surrounded by honeymooners and other assorted lovebirds, I feasted on Caribbean lobster and red snapper and finished my night out with myself by strolling on what I deem Aruba’s best beach. The pretty divi-divi trees along Eagle Beach make for postcard-perfect snapshots, and it’s far less crowded than Palm Beach, just a few minutes to the north. 252 J.E. Irausquin Blvd., Eagle Beach; 297-527-1100; dinner for two, $96>
On my last night in Aruba, I met Mariza and some of her friends at Señor Frogs> (348 J.E. Irausquin Blvd.; 297-586-8900), the island’s most popular and, let’s face it, most notorious watering hole. I chatted with the couple who run Do Good Aruba, recycling the island’s glass bottles into fun souvenirs for your home bar. After we talked business, we kicked back with margaritas and they told me what it’s like to live, not just vacation, on Aruba. I knew I had CouchSurfing to thank for this un-touristy moment in the heart of the tourist strip. And when everyone there asked “Have you eaten at Zeerover yet?” I was happy to tell them yes.
*Converted to U.S. dollars. Meal prices do not include drinks, tax or tip.>
NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.