Aruba’s major attractions are, of course, its sun and surf. Visitors can golf, play tennis, browse open-air, duty-free markets or simply work on their tan under bright blue, calming skies -- the island receives just 16 inches of rain per year and, thanks to trade winds, summer temperatures top out at 92 degrees. The beaches range from the tourist hot spot of Palm Beach, where high-rise hotels line two miles of white sand, to the rocky coves of Arashi Beach, best suited for snorkelers and swimmers. Surfing and sailing can be done just about anywhere on Aruba, but Hadicurari Beach is known for the rainbow sails of the wind- and kite-surfing rigs that set out from the local resorts.
If you’re looking for a unique island experience, consider Aruba’s exceptional nature preserves, from Bubali Bird Sanctuary, home for 80 migratory species, to the Butterfly Farm, an interactive encounter. At the Donkey Sanctuary, Aruba’s favorite animal -- once 1,400 strong in Aruba, before the car replaced them as a preferred method of transportation -- lives out its final years in tourist-funded comfort. And Arikok National Park houses a number of species found only on the island, including a pint-size, burrowing owl and its favorite snack, the Aruban whiptail lizard.
Those looking to peer into Aruba’s past can try a hike through Fontein Cave, where the island’s early inhabitants, the Arawak Indians, covered the walls with their colorful paintings. The Archaeological Museum and Fort Zoutman Museum in Oranjestad explore the region’s pre-Columbian and colonial history. Or, for a look at modern Aruba, head to its second largest town, San Nicolas, and meet the island’s most rugged residents. Here, sailors, oil men and artists live and work alongside those in the tourist trade; this is a great spot to stop for a drink (locals suggest Charlie’s Bar, an island landmark since the 1940s) and soak up the local culture.