Cruise ships gleam in Oranjestad Harbour, and thousands of eager tourists spill out into downtown Oranjestad. The mile-long stretch of L.G. Smith Boulevard (aka "The Strip") is lined with cafés, designer stores, restaurants, and Palm Beach Plaza, a modern shopping mall. The countryside is dotted with colorful cunucu (country-style houses) and stretches out into a cacti-studded rocky desert landscape that becomes Arikok National Park—a protected preserve covering 20% of the island's landmass.
Aruba not only has beautiful beaches and world-class resorts, but also near-perfect weather: It's outside the hurricane belt and receives just 20 inches of rainfall per year and has constant cooling trade winds. On the south coast, the action is nonstop both day and night; whereas the rugged north coast boasts a desolate beauty that calls to those who seek solitude in nature.
As with Bonaire and Curaçao, the island was originally populated by the Caquetio, an Amerindian people related to the Arawak. After the Spanish conquered the island in 1499, Aruba was basically left alone, since it held little in the way of agricultural or mineral wealth. The Dutch took charge of the island in 1636, and things remained relatively quiet until gold was discovered in the 1800s.
Like the trademark watapana (divi-divi) trees that have been forced to bow to odd angles by the constant trade winds, Aruba has always adjusted to changes in the economic climate. Mining dominated the economy until the early part of the 20th century, when the mines became unprofitable. Shortly thereafter, Aruba became home to a major oil-refining operation, which was the economic mainstay until the early 1990s, when its contribution to the local economy was eclipsed by tourism. Today, after being so resolutely dedicated to attracting visitors for so many years, Aruba's national culture and tourism industry are inextricably intertwined.
There is good reason why Aruba has more repeat visitors than any other island in the Caribbean. It offers something for everyone: a pleasant climate, excellent facilities, nightlife, nature, and warm and friendly locals. The hospitality industry here is of the highest order. The U.S. dollar is accepted everywhere, and English is spoken universally.