Lampe starts my grand tour at the Casibari Rock Formation, one of two heaping piles of boulders found on the island. As we climb through narrow passageways, I am half expecting Fred Flintstone to come by on a brontosaurus and pick up one of the giant rocks. It’s a quick, easy climb to the top, and the reward is a sweeping view: Hooiberg Mountain, 165-metres high, towers over scrubland and low orange-roofed houses.
From there, it’s back to the neglected north for the natural pool, one of my must-sees. Lampe warns me that the route, through Arikok National Park, is not easy, and I quickly learn why most tourists give the attraction a pass. Forget off-roading – this is like driving on Mars. My camera nearly bounces out of my hand, the clatter of car parts reverberates in my ears and the dashboard is soon covered in dust. It’s one hell of a thrill ride.
The pool – a depression in the Caribbean Sea encircled by volcanic stone – is equally turbulent and fun. Touted in brochures as “tranquil,” today it is anything but. Waves crash into the rocks, shooting spray metres into the air and nearly knocking me over. I don’t mind – I can still snorkel – and the conditions mean I have the pool all to myself as other would-be swimmers have chickened out.
We head further still up the coast, and Lampe takes a picture of me on one of the island’s natural bridges. If the south’s blond beaches are like Sports Illustrated bombshell cover girls, these auburn volcanic arches are jolie laide runway models. They are not pretty, per se, but the striking contrast of rich red rock against the brilliant azure sea is still breathtaking.
One of our last stops is a favourite of Lampe’s. Andicuri Beach has the same white sand of Palm Beach but is much smaller and, at this moment, empty except for the two of us. No hotels, just hills.
“Here in Aruba,” Lampe says, “if you’re stressed the doctor will tell you to go to the north side and just sit and watch the waves.”
Now that’s a beach I can get on board with.
If you go
Air Canada and WestJet both fly direct to Oranjestad, the capital city. From there, the Palm Beach hotel strip is about 15 minutes by car.
Where to stay
The Tradewinds Club, a hotel-within-a-hotel at the Aruba Marriott Resort and Stellaris Casino, offers a sort of all-inclusive-light experience for adults only (guests must be over 18). The rooms occupy the top floor of the resort, and amenities include private check-in, a separate beach area, access to the H2Oasis adult-only pool and an open bar with juices, soft drinks and alcoholic beverage. Tradewind guests also have access to an exclusive lounge, where complimentary food is on offer five times a day (including breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea). If you’re a light eater, you might find you only need to visit a restaurant at dinner time. All Marriott guests can enjoy a large pool with artificial waterfalls and a swim-up bar. Rooms from $509 (U.S.) a night; Tradewinds Club from $734 a night. marriott.com
Also on Palm Beach is the Ritz-Carlton, Aruba, which just opened in November. The 320 guestrooms all boast private balconies with views of the Caribbean Sea. From $649 a night. ritzcarlton.com
What to do
To properly explore Aruba you’ll need an off-road vehicle and a driver who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. Both Aruba Allstarz (ask for Anton Lampe; allstarztours.com) and De Palm Tours (depalmtours.com) are excellent options.
Stand-up paddle-boarding is not as hard as you think – and tons of fun. Rent a board – or windsurfing gear, if you’re really adventurous – at Vela Windsurf, located right on Palm Beach. velawindsurf.com
Where to eat
It’s hard to imagine a more romantic meal than dinner at Simply Fish. At dusk, the lounge chairs are cleared from the beach and replaced with tables and candles. You check your shoes (yes, really) and enjoy fresh fish cooked in your preferred style (grilled, steamed, etc.) while wiggling your toes in the sand. At the Marriott.
If you love breakfast in bed, don’t miss Screaming Eagle. Instead of tables, part of the restaurant features what are essentially canopy beds with lots of cushy pillows. Food is served on a tray, and you can unfurl the white chiffon drapes for extra privacy. And, yes, the food is good, too. screaming-eagle.net
The writer was a guest of the Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino. It did not review or approve this article.