Aruba is known for it's white sandy beaches and perfect weather - 82 degrees with an almost always 0% chance of rain. A favorite island for many vacationers who rely on Aruba for sunshine, tan lines and a safe island adventure away from home.
During my recent trip to the beautiful (yet commercialized) Caribbean Island, I was looking for a little more "je ne sais quoi" than the average vacationer. I wanted to explore deserted islands during the day and taste new cuisines each night. And thats just what I did...enter Private Island equipped with live flamingos and all.
In my Aruba Travel Guide I highlight "Where to Stay" to get away from it all & "Best Eats" for my fellow foodies. Throw on your Professional Jet-Setter Sweater and lets "jet" to it!...
Where to Stay (to get away from it all): Renaissance Private Island
Located in Oranjestad, the capital of Aruba, the Renaissance is the most under-the-radar place to stay and the only hotel that has access to the best kept secret: Private Island. Removed from the main hotel strip, located further south, the Renaissance is "downtown" in the heart of the city with access to restaurants, shopping, casinos and culture. Your nights are filled with Happy Hour at the Adults Only Pool, complete with scenic sunsets and super cute DJ's (you feel like you're in South Beach), while your days are super low key and relaxing.
Daily Goals: 1) Wake up 2) throw on a bikini 3) meet inside the Hotel's gondola 4) get escorted via private speedboat to the amazing Private island. Hard life, right?
The boat ride is approximately 10-15 minutes and was my daily dose of "watersports" (multi-tasking 101). Just a hop, skip, and speedboat away, you arrive at the pristine Private Island. Exit onto a Palapa covered dock where a fork in the road directs you two ways.
Left: Iguana Island, where the Iguanas reside, children play and a huge Palapa Bar/Restaurant is located.
Right: Flamingo Beach, where a dozen pink Flamingos live (and sunbathe with you), adults only, cocktails + beach fare is delivered to your sun-lounge, ocean side. I venture right...
Upon entering Flamingo Beach, these beautiful creatures welcome you with open wings. They literally run up to you, sometimes intimidating new guests. Once you say hi and become acquainted, you are rather surprised at how sweet and relaxed they are. They must be on island time.
You can feed the flamingos special grain (they are super gentle and scoop it up sideways with their beaks), or take a swim with them to cool off from the strong caribbean sun. Either way, the Flamingos are the highlight of every Private Islander's vacation.
The Private Island is super quiet, relaxing and serene. There is a small hut extended on the water for massages on the beach. The prosecco is always chilled and the fresh fish is grilled to perfection. This is truly the perfect island escape for laying on a hammock, reading a book, soaking in the sun and refreshing your mindset. Turn your iPhone off and be one with nature.
No beach day would be complete without the essentials: KARMA for a cure Mykonos Halo Head-Chain , Alexander McQueen Sunnies, Sun Bum SPF 30 Chapstick, Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Sunscreen, Aztec Beach Blanket
My go to clothing item on this trip was the KARMA for a cure Bonefish Knit Sweater. Light-weight for the beach, yet warm enough to throw on over my shoulders during a breezy island night. I love the versatility, as when I travel I only bring a carry on suitcase. (Shocking, I know!) This saves me time at the airport and requires me to focus on packing only the essentials. As my life motto permits: pack smarter, not harder.
After working on your beach glow, head back to civilization and get ready to indulge in the "Best Eats" Aruba has to offer. And lets just say, they had some of the best cuisine variety and consistency out of all of the islands I have traveled to...
"Best Eats" (for my fellow foodies): Gianni's (eat pasta out of a wheel of cheese because italian's do it best), Yemanja Woodfire Grill (eclectic, hidden within a dark alley, best kept secret), Barefoot (grilled fish & great views), Passions on the Beach (they will seriously serenade you ocean-side), Amuse Bistro (French and fabulous) & Screaming Eagle (eat dinner from bed)...
First stop is dinner ocean-side with a scenic sunset and a chilled glass of Whispering Angel rosé at Passions on the Beach. The name says it all - romantic, candlelit, feet in the sand, with a violinist playing love songs sure to make you cry (and feel super single). Look past the couples hand feeding each other and focus on the amazing presentation of watermelon, feta, mint salad complete with an unexpected chili sauce for a spicy kick. I'm into it. Follow with a light and crispy vegetarian spring roll, also really tasty. The highlight of my night (besides the watermelon presentation, obviously) was the Chilean Sea-bass Special. If it's on the menu and includes toasted sesame, miso glaze, get it. You won't be disappointed.
Next stop is Yemanja Woodfire Grill located in the "downtown" area of Oranjestad, on a dark street with minimal signage. Once you find the golden door you will be so surprised at the beautifully decorated, rustic backyard restaurant that is poppin' with curated cocktails and eclectic eats. I definitely recommend getting a bunch of apps and sharing plates as there are just too many special items not to miss out on.
Start with the warm Filo Dough and Goat Cheese Salad, topped with prunes, walnuts and honey. Who doesn't love a goat cheese filled pouch? Next try the Tuna Tartar with wasabi creme and sesame crisps, seriously outstanding. If you're feeling tired of seafood, indulge in their famous Open Faced Mediterranean Veggie Burger topped with kale, cranberries, feta and fried onions. All items are super decadent, interesting and healthy (for the most part!). The wood-fire flavor is unbeatable...
Amuse Bistro is a high-end French restaurant located on the main hotel strip. It is small and quaint with outdoor seating that overlooks the tourist hustle and bustle. An unexpected stop here ended up being one of the most delicious and filling meals I have encountered, ever. I literally had to be rolled out of the restaurant.
I started with a Creamy French Onion Soup, " when in France!" (or rather a french restaurant) which was topped with a cheese crouton. I am not a usual soup lover, but being that it was chilly and I was pretty sunburned, it was just what the doctor ordered. And this soup was literally the best I've ever had. I then tasted the truffle linguine, a decadent dish you can never go wrong with. I finished the night strong with the hungry girl portion: a 10 oz Rock Lobster in Baked Potato 'Au Gratin'. I cannot even explain this dish, it's a lobster baked inside of a creamy potato. Weird? A little. Delicious? To die for!!! (seriously heart attack worthy) The memory still resides...
Speaking of cheese and heart attacks, Gianni's is up next on my list. The famous Italian eatery known for their flaming pasta cooked table-side, in a wheel of cheese...need I say more! The special Spaghetti al Formaggio Parmiggiano is an authentic Italian dish flamed with whiskey at your table with fresh tomato sauce and basil. It is worth the calories and is an experience to remember. I also highly suggest the Insalata di Pesce, a light and refreshing seafood salad which is super fresh and light.
Barefoot Restaurant is a vacationer favorite. Located on the beach, the casual yet upscale ambiance is the perfect combo. Start with Vanilla Skewered Scallops on caramelized endive, so delish. The Dutch crab cakes are a fan favorite, but had too much of a curry flavor for my palette's preference. I ended the evening with Blackened Mahi Mahi topped with pineapple salsa. Super fresh, light and flavorful. All in all a good local meal.
Screaming Eagle is a restaurant/lounge with white cabana SoBe ambiance. The location is not scenic on the outside, but the energy on the inside is great for cocktails and apps. They have a delish selection of Tartar (my fav) from ahi tuna to yellowfin tuna and even wahoo. Feeling cozy? Eat dinner in "bed" but make sure to reserve your spot in advance.
After indulging in multiple meals, refresh your palette with a hydrating coconut shucked via machete. This local vendor named Perry is located right across from the hotel and taught me how to use a machete! (In case I ever have a Tom Hanks "Cast Away" moment...) Perry was a positive, spiritual and genuine man who really embraced the culture of the hospitable island.
A huge highlight of my trip was the constant encounters with nature. From the pristine waters, soft sand, iguanas and flamingos on Private Island; to the local Pelicans at the boating docks who posed for photos and were a great reminder to enjoy the little things in life.
"Tan lines fade, but memories last forever..."
All in all, Aruba is a great island for vacationers looking for R&R during the day and energy during the night. With perfect weather and top notch chefs, I'll be sure to island hop here on my next Caribbean adventure. Au Revoir!