Windy, windy, windy, windy, windy! This winter we visited Aruba, the first time for us. Winds were in the 20 to 30 miles per hour range.

One person told us that the winds pick up on Ash Wednesday and then die down after Good Friday. The winds come from the east and blow across the island. This is great for windsurfing and kite surfing, not so good for being in the water on the east coast, whether swimming, snorkeling, or diving. The photo at the right shows the churning ocean at Conchi, the Natural Pool.

The waves on the west coast are much more gentle and we enjoyed safe times in the water.

Aruba is a small Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela. We snorkeled, visited Arikok National Park, looked for birds, visited the Archaeological Museum, and ate a lot.

Here is a small selection of the 1,575 photos I brought home.

Part of the Boca Catalina Beach
We saw many colorful fish, especially ones that we hadn't seen on our other snorkeling trips in the Caribbean. We saw our first eels and our first cornetfish. We frequently saw french angelfish, trunk fish, squirrelfish, and more. Gail saw a squid, but I was in the wrong place. We both saw Great Barracudas, but no sharks, rays, or turtles.

We snorkeled at Arashi Beach and Boca Catalina Beach in the far north. We did drive to the southern tip to inspect Baby Beach, but were dismayed by the force of the waves outside the shallow, sandy protected area so we did not try to snorkel there.

Many snorkeling tour boats came to Boca Catalina. The tour operators would feed the fish - a no-no - so swarms of small fish were attracted to the area. We are snorkeling tourists, but we did our best to stay away from the other snorkeling tourists.

Gail being approached by small fish looking for a hand-out

One of many Spotted Filefish

French Angelfish, again one of many

Head of a Sharp Tail Eel

Bluespotted Cornetfish at Boca Catalina

Head of the Bluespotted Cornetfish

A porcupinefish trying to stay out of sight

A squirrelfish, also trying to remain inconspicuous

A Smooth Trunkfish

Christmastree Worms on a Smooth Brain Coral

Our modest lodging, Bulbali Villas and Apartments
How do you find your way around on Aruba? The maps show street names, but there are very few street signs. At the traffic circles on the main highways, there are signs identifying the route numbers - 1 through 7 - and the district they go to, but most intersections have no signs. The other problem is that the addresses don't seem to have any logic. Where we stayed was on Caya Musica, but it has address 233-G Bulbali. The house across the street has address 233-F.

The best way to find places on the island is to use landmarks and count intersections. For example, "Follow the signs toward California Lighthouse on Highway 1 to the first traffic light after passing Super Food Plaza. Turn right and then take the second left. Go to the end of the street." This will get you to the Old Cunucu House Restaurant, our favorite place to eat.

The Old Cunucu House Restaurant has a good menu of traditional Aruban foods. They also serve large mugs of beer, really large mugs.

The Old Cunucu House Restaurant

They know how to pour a good mug of Balashi Beer

Aruba is generally a desert. Residents get drinking water by desalinating sea water. Aloe is the island's largest export. (The aloe production plant features tours, but we did not visit it.) A great place to see the physical nature of the island is in the Arikok National Park, which covers nearly one fifth of the island. We visited the national park three times, visiting Fontein and Quadirikiri Caves, seeing pictographs, hiking a loop trail to a restored country house, and hiking to Conchi, a Natural Pool, which is on the east coast but usually mostly protected from the waves by a ring of rocks.

Our guide, Jose, and Gail at the entrance to Fontein Cave

Some of the Native American pictographs in Fontein Cave

One of the chambers in the Quadirikiri Cave

A Cododo, Aruban Whiptail Lizard, in Arikok National Park

On the loop trail to the old country house, the cunucu

Aloe growing wild in the park

A bird pictograph the the sheltered side of a boulder near the loop trail

A Blue-Tailed Emerald Hummingbird at a spring in the park

Halfway through our longest hike

In front of the Conchi pool with waves crashing over the protecting rocks

The third goal of our vacation was to see birds found only in the Caribbean and even some from South America. Our lodging was close to the Bubali Bird Sanctuary. We went there twice, but were disappointed by the tower overlooking the sanctuary. Most of the sanctuary is covered with tall grass, potentially hiding birds. In addition, trees have grown up around the tower, obscuring areas not covered by grass. After the second visit, Gail convinced Al to try bird watching at a wetlands just north of the sanctuary. We parked in a lot behind the Hooters Restaurant and were delighted to find lots of egrets and shorebirds feeding in a shallow pool left by the rainy season.

While we were watching these birds, a man drove up with a small yellow car and large camera. Another bird watcher! While talking with him, Al asked if he had seen any burrowing owls. Peter asked in return whether we wanted to see one. Yes, we replied! He drove us about a half mile up the main north-south highway, and pulled off into a vacant lot. And there was an Aruban Burrowing Owl poking its head out of its burrow, and then hopping out to watch us.

The Aruban Burrowing Owl, our prize sighting

A Crested Caracara in the Arikok National Park

A Venezuelan Troupial in the Arikok National Park

A Whimbrel, an Arctic bird wintering in the Caribbean

The Archeological Museum One of the Art Horses in Oranjestad
Nearly everyone accepted our U.S. dollars. The only exception was the parking meters in Oranjestad. They only accept Aruban florins. If you go to one of the downtown casinos (we didn't), you will get free parking there.

On this trip, we only visited Oranjestad once, to see the Archeological Museum. Maybe next time, we'll go here again.

A Chain Moray Eel

The cunucu, a restored old country house

Super Food Plaza, a block and a half from our apartment

A Great Barracuda at Boca Catalina

The Sign at Baby Beach
Everyone we dealt with spoke English. They also spoke Spanish, Dutch, and the local Papiamento language. Food labels in the supermarket are mostly in Dutch. Stores may have Spanish names - Joyeria - or English names - Dunkin Donuts. Most road signs are English.

Aruban license plates have "One Happy Island", in English, as their motto. This Flintstones display also asserts that. We agree! This was a happy vacation for us.

Responsible: Albert Holm
Created: 27 February 2016; Updated: 1 March 2016