Amerindian, African, Latin and European influences shaped this Caribbean island of about 120,000 residents, from its food, music and celebrations to its architecture, art and language.
Dutch and Papiamento are the island’s official languages, but most Arubans also speak English and Spanish. Based in African, Portuguese and Creole dialects, Papiamento is unique to the “ABC” islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and has evolved into a more complex language that also borrows from the Dutch, English and Spanish lexicons.
Local cuisine also is a multicultural mix, as seen in dishes like keshi yena. This stew of chicken, capers, green olives and raisins is baked in a hollowed-out Edam cheese rind; the preparation dates to a time when frugality was crucial in island living and provisions had to last between visits from supply ships.
Locally produced items to look for include the coconut candy known as cocada, an Aruba liquor called coecoei (a mixture of agave, rum and cane sugar) and fiery hot sauce made of the Scotch bonnet pepper (charmingly dubbed the Madame Jeanette here).
Carnaval season, which starts in early January and ends on Ash Wednesday, is one of Aruba’s biggest celebrations. Locals compete to create the most elaborate floats and costumes, and neighborhoods throw spontaneous street parties known as jump-ups. Steel drums, brass bands and calypso beats provide the soundtrack for the festivities.