The Isle of Aruba, A Plush Playground that Caters to its Guests

Physician's Money Digest, June 2006, Volume 13, Issue 6

We felt as though we were the lastpeople on the planet to go to Aruba.And to be honest, that was the primaryreason that kept us from bookingour trip there in the first place. Once the deed wasdone, everywhere we turned, someone had a recommendationfor the "best restaurant ever" or the sitewe absolutely must see. So off we went, down thebeaten path.

Four days into our trip while embarking on a jollygood Jeep tour (Aruba Safari; 297-582-4400), wesheltered ourselves from a typical 10-minute passingshower on the lovely little playground known asDePalma Island. It was there that we became engrossedin conversation with a tour guide called "BigPoppa." Born in Aruba, Big Poppa traveled quiteextensively, but his heart brought him back to Aruba."It's all real here. The hospitality, the kindness, it's allsincere," he says. "That's why I came back. That'swhy I'm here." He couldn't be more right. Whilenursing a virgin piña colada, Big Poppa went on tolament the bad press his island had been getting oflate; he was sad that the heinous crime of one or twopeople could mar the whole of his country. But hisspirit was unbroken, and he was determined to showthe visitors of his island the best Aruba had to offer.

Aruba is definitely the kind of island criticized forbeing "too touristy," but it is also embraced for thatvery same reason. Nothing has to be planned, everythingyou could want is accessible, the locales aregracious, and the weather is breezy and beautiful. It'sthe type of vacation you take, when you don't wantto plan a vacation—which may sound very appealingto a busy doctor in need of a retreat.

Too Much Good Food

It is no surprise that an island that caters so willinglyto its visitors has so many fine dining options.Our favorite—hands down—was Gasparito (297-586-7044; www.gasparito.com). Try to get outsideseating in the patio area where colored lights arestrung up along the enclosing fence and fountainstrickle a relaxing background music. The food isauthentic Aruban and makes you feel as though youare dining in the home of a local resident withextraordinary culinary finesse.

El Gaucho (297-582-3677; www.elgaucho-aruba.com) is another tourist favorite—as it was recommendedto us by three different people before we evenarrived on the island. This hot spot is not for vegetarians,as it is an Argentinian-styled steak house. Themeat is piled high wafting all sorts of mouthwateringseasoning into the air. A loose pair of pants is a mustwhen embarking on this culinary experience.

If you are looking for something a bit moreupscale, be sure to add Chez Mathilde (297-583-4968; www.chezmathilde.com) to your list. A Frenchrestaurant boasting dozens of culinary accolades, thisis certainly a feast for the senses. The service is impeccableand the meals enticing. Although it was on theexpensive side, we both agree that Chez Mathildewas worth the price.

Stay and Play

Lest you think there was nothing todo in Aruba but eat, let us remedy thesituation by mentioning the endlessactivities available for your enjoyment.In addition to all of the water sportsand beach activities found at your typicalCaribbean hideaway, you can alsofind ATV tours (ATV Extravaganza;297-583-5191 or ATV Mania; 297-582-4400), which are not for the faintof heart. Most tours will take you tosee the Alto Vista Chapel and zigzagalong the rocky and arid Northerncoastline. Some of the inclines are prettysteep, so be sure to insist on a helmetfrom your guide.

For those in search of a quieterexperience, we must recommend theButterfly Farm (located across fromthe Wyndham Hotel). Although itisn't a very large habitat, the docentsare quite good at explaining the peculiarlifestyles of these delicate littleinsects, and there are some greatphoto opportunities to be had.

Since this is after all a so-calledtouristy island, you will most likelyfind yourself longing for souvenirshopping. The capital of Oranjestad ishappy to oblige with every sort ofknickknack and treasure you canimagine. Our suggestion is to picksomething up from the Aruba AloeFactory (297-588-3222; www.arubaaloe.com). Although there are plentyof shops peddling their products, youjust might enjoy taking a drive or ataxi to visit the factory itself. The factoryis well staffed and offers interestinghistoric insights into how aloeplayed a significant role in the developmentof the country.

As can be expected, there are endlesshotel options in Aruba. If you areconcerned about having a beautifulbeach and luxurious accommodations,look into one of the resorts situatedon Palm Beach. The HyattRegency Aruba Resort and Casino(297-586-1234) and the RadissonAruba Resort and Casino (297-586-6555) offer the best location and havetop-notch facilities. For those longingto be "right in the middle of things," the Renaissance Aruba Resort andCasino (297-583-6000) is an interestingchoice in that it is located right inthe middle of the capital and has aboat shuttle that whisks you away toits own private island.

Aruba certainly knows how to treatits guests, and although almost everyoneyou know has already been there—don't let that stop you from bookingyour trip. We're glad it didn't stop us.