Bon Bini! Bon bini means welcome in the Papiamento creole language of Aruba, a small Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela. Residents here might also tell you “Welkom”, “Bienvenidos”, or, most likely, “Welcome”. All are common languages used here and most people speak all four.

We previously visited Aruba, “One Happy Island”, in February of 2016 and thought it would be interesting to visit again. This time we went in November because Gail planned to take a Master Naturalist class in January and February. Also, by changing the season, we expected to see different birds migrating on their way to South America and, maybe, experience slightly different wind patterns.

Well, the wind patterns were the same. Strong winds constantly blew from the East. But the air and water temperatures were warm. We even snorkeled without wearing our wetsuits. And we did see new birds.

Beach tennis? Never heard of it? Us neither. Aruba was hosting a large beach tennis tournament when we were there. Two girls in the Brazilian family who stayed in the unit next to ours were beach tennis champions and had the trophies to show for it.

Google map, edited a little, showing Aruba's location near Venezuela'

Our usual ideas of entertainment when traveling are snorkeling, birding, hiking, sightseeing, and trying out the local foods. This time we decided to check out the Bon Bini Festival held every Tuesday evening in old Fort Zoutman. It was delightful!

We arrived a little before the entertainment began and enjoyed an island meal of fish for me and chicken for Gail. Then the performances began. There was a small band, a narrator, and dancers. They told the story of Aruban history and culture. The dancers were high school students. Their dances were swirling and colorful. Each dance had a different costume. Al was especially impressed by a ribbon dance where they entangled and then disentangled themselves.

Toward the end of the evening, the dancers began to select members of the audience to join them in dances and in a skit that involved whacking a plastic rooster while blindfolded. Al was sitting about three rows back on an aisle, when a young dancer asked if he would be willing to join her. And away he went. It was an easy side-to-side two step so Al did OK. The dancer said that she had been born in Colombia but had lived in Aruba since a young age.

The program ended with a drum and brass band coming onto the stage. After they had played for a while, the dancers enlisted audience members in a line dance. Then we followed the band out the entrance and into the middle of Oranjestraat where we shut down traffic for about ten minutes.

We heartily recommend this festival, even to those who don’t normally go out for entertainment.

We attempted to go to a second Aruban Festival on Thursday evening in the southern Aruban town of San Nicolas. We had been told that the festival shouldn’t be missed. We didn’t find a festival that night, even though we did locate an “Aruba Carnival & Entertainment Village”. Dinner that evening was interesting sandwiches from a food truck. Later someone told us that this festival only happens once a month.

Of course, the reason for visiting a Caribbean Island is to snorkel. At least, that is our reason. We snorkeled on five of the eight full days we spent on Aruba. We started out at Boca Catalina. This place is frequented by many snorkeling tours. That is less than ideal because there are a lot of people in the water, but, even worse, the companies running the tours feed the fish. That upsets the ecology and also results in fish swarming swimmers for food. We found sergeant majors getting in our faces and getting between us and the fish we wanted to see. Also the water was murky because of the waves hitting the sandy beach.

For our second snorkeling outing, we initially went to Arashi, but the waves at the beach were quite strong. When snorkeling from the shore, we struggle at the water’s edge to put on our fins while waves roll us back and forth. Therefore, we decided to skip Arashi beach and to go back to Boca Catalina. The waves were weaker there, but still strong enough that Al got some scrapes.

The following day we went on a snorkeling tour on the Tranquilo to the Mangel Halto reef. This reef is near Spanish Lagoon and south of the airport. The owner’s dog, Buster, joined us on the boat, but not in the water. The water was quite clear, there was good coral, and the fish were not fed. This was a good outing. And we got a light lunch. Al also got a bad sunburn on his legs during the trip back to the dock because he had neglected to use adequate sun screen.

Our fourth outing was at Baby Beach at the far southern end of Aruba. Most of the lagoon was shallow and murky, but by swimming under the “Caution” cable at the mouth of the lagoon, we found clear water and more interesting fish. But the current coming into the lagoon was strong and it was a struggle to stay in place.

For our final snorkel outing, we returned to Mangel Halto, but from the shore instead of the boat. The water there mostly was shallow and murky. At the bar at the southern end of the bay, a strong current of fresh, clean water gave good visibility, but, again, it was a struggle to stay in place. The water also was clearer along the limestone cliffs in the northwest direction.

A spanish hogfish with tube sponges at Boca Catalina

A honeycombed cowfish also at Boca Catalina

A Caribbean reef octopus being mobbed by yellowtail snappers

The octopus trying to escape the yellowtail snappers

A school of blue tangs with one yellowtail snapper

A bluespotted cornetfish

The Tranquilo

A Foureye Butterflyfish at Mangel Halto reef

An immature bluehead wrasse at Mangel Halto reef

A yellow-colored trumpetfish at Mangel Halto reef

A smooth trunkfish at Baby Beach

Two bermuda chubs with ocean surgeons at Baby Beach

We spent a morning birding, being guided by Michiel Oversteegen. Michiel has great eyes and ears for locating birds, and the knowledge to identify them. He also knows where they nest. We started in the north with the Burrowing Owl, seen at the top of this page, and proceeded south until the sun got to be too hot for us and the birds. Michiel told us a lot about the island, and about daredevil off-road enthusiasts and resort developers who are destroying habitat.

During our tour, there was even a surprise for Michiel: a Northern Harrier at the Bubali Bird Sanctuary - not an exotic bird for North Americans, but this was the first ever sighting of one in Aruba. According to Michiel, she was still on the island two weeks later.

We watched for birds later in our visit: at the Arikok National Park, at the Casibari and Ayo Rocks, on a second visit to the “Warbler Alley” that Michiel had introduced us to, and even at the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed. We did see more birds, and even some that were new to us, but our time spent with Michiel was the most productive.

Al and Michiel by the Balashi Gold Smelter Ruins

Two Southern Lapwings enjoying the sun at Divi Village Resort

A Collared Plover in endangered habitat

A Crested Bobwhite, endangered by habitat loss
and by invasive boa constrictors

A Venezuelan Tropial

We stayed at the Coconut Inn Bed and Breakfast, about a mile inland from Palm Beach. We had a comfortable two-room apartment. Breakfast was provided near the pool every morning. It included three styles of eggs, bacon or sausage, pancakes or fried potatoes, fruit or yogurt, bread, and cold cuts. A good start to the day! The kitchen in our apartment had a four-burner range, a microwave oven, and a full-sized refrigerator. We could have cooked our own dinners there - after obtaining a sharp knife and cutting board, which were not supplied - but we wanted to enjoy the local foods.

Our unit was nearest the street, and that caused some issues: a streetlight that shone on the bedroom windows and a motorcycle rider who occasionally roared home at 2 AM.

Looking for good local food, we had dinner at a different place every day. Most of the time, we ate outside since there were no insects and the nights were warm. One restaurant, Local Store, sounded like the kind of place we'd like, but the menu was nearly all wraps and hamburgers. Why spend a thousand dollars on airfare just to eat food you could get back home? Old Cunucu House Restaurant, the Bon Bini Festival food, Bingo’s Restaurant, Charlie’s Bar, Pika’s Corner Aruban Cuisine, and La Granja all were fine.

At one restaurant, the manager convinced us to try iguana soup. It had very little meat on lots of spiky bones so we don't recommend it. The next day we learned that iguanas are protected on Aruba and having them on the menu could result in a fine of 500 to 3,000 florins. The restaurant that served the soup to us just listed it as soup of the day. Beware!

Interestingly, nearly every food store we drove past and many restaurants had Chinese names.

In addition to our birding tour, our land-based adventures included a visit to Arikok National Park, climbing on and in the Casiberi and Ayo Rock clusters, and the Butterfly Farm. Of course, the national park was enjoyable, with hiking, scenic desert landscapes, the historic cunucu - a traditional adobe house -, and the wild coast. The two rock clusters were interesting; Ayo even had petroglyphs in a rock shelter. The Butterfly Farm was surprisingly educational, as well as having beautiful butterflies flitting around.

On the trail to Cunucu Arikok
amid the pipe organ cactus and dvi-dvi trees
Cunucu Arikok
home of the goat farmer whose land became the basis of the park

Everyone likes the cactus fruit:
bananaquits, mockingbirds, shiny cowbirds, even the cododo lizards

One of the petroglyphs in a rock shelter near Cunucu Arikok

Al at Boca Prins, on the windy side of Aruba

Gail at Ayo Rock

Al on the path in Ayo Rock

Petroglyphs in a rock shelter at Ayo Rock

Gail photographing a butterfly

One of many pretty insects in the Butterfly Farm


Entering our apartment Some of the snorkeling tour boats at Boca Catalina Trying to snap a warbler at “Warbler Alley”

The Mangel Halto shore: limestone and mangroves

Gail giving a head rub to Buster, Tranquilo’s dog

Casibari Rock

Arikok National Park’s desert landscape

Almost lost in the Dunes of Boca Prins

Another view of Boca Prins

Gail in Charlie’s Bar
The food was good, the walls were covered

One of the many large, blue butterflies
at the Butterfly Farm

A pelican at Malmok Beach with a passenger

Bared-eyed Pigeon at Arikok National Park

“Don’t Eat Me!”

The California Lighthouse

Sunset over the Caribbean

Responsible: Albert Holm
Created: 23 November 2019; Updated: 28 November 28