Whenever I thought about the island of Aruba, I always imagined endless miles of white sand beach along that bright blue water. So when my friends and I arrived in the capital city Oranjestad we were ready for a day of beach paradise there on the sand. We signed up for a tour of the island thinking we were about to see all the incredible beaches it had to offer.
We drove away from the city center towards the Casibari area. The sight out of our window was nothing of what we were expecting. Sand, rocks, and cacti were everywhere. The driver said into the microphone, “Now here’s a real treat for you-Cacti!”. Being from a desert state, we were not nearly as impressed with the cacti as the driver expected us to be. After all, we had come to see white sand beaches that we don’t have at home. My friend Candice spoke the question on all of our minds- “Where’s the beach?”. The driver just smiled and said not to worry, he would take us to the beach later.
So we got out of the bus and stepped down onto the hard dirt of the Casibari Rock Formation park. After the initial shock wore off, we couldn’t help but notice that the area was beautiful in its own way. The paths leading up to and through the great rock formations were lined with sweeping cacti and somewhat barren trees. These formations are a great favorite and people love to come and climb on and through the rocks.
From the top of the formations we looked out and saw the second highest point of the island called Hooiberg. Translated from Dutch to English, Hooiberg means haystack which is the shape the formation resembles. Hooiberg is a volcanic formation that stands at 541 feet. This haystack looking formation sits near the center of the island and is visible from just about anywhere.
Cacti were also used as decoration on many of the homes that we saw. A lot of them used cacti as a fence with the cacti set up against a rock wall.
“Now we go to the beach!”, said the driver as we climbed back on the bus. We started driving through more desert. We passed people on four wheelers careening across the barren land and groups of iguanas laying out in the sun. We could make out the blue of the ocean coming up in front of us.
We pulled up to the water’s edge and were met with a rocky coast. To be fair, it was a beach, just not the white sand kind of beach that we were expecting. But like the rock formations, they were beautiful and interesting and within moments we were exploring our way along the coast. Everywhere we looked we saw stacks of smaller rocks set on top of a larger rock. There is some debate about the meaning of these rocks. Some think that they are a way of giving directions. Some think that they represent wishes or prayers that a person offers. While other think they are just a way of saying ‘I was here’.
This coast makes up the Arikok National Park and the key feature of the park is the Natural Bridge. This bridge at one time was a cave but the ceiling collapsed into the water below leaving just a strip of rock. This bridge gives the best vantage point to seeing the ocean on the rocks. It was amazing to look down into the water on both sides.
We continued our tour of the island and as we were driving we came across a small community cemetery. This cemetery looked nothing like any other cemetery, but more looked like a small city of colorful buildings. With the decorated tops to the colorful exterior, these family tombs are so unique and a lovely way to honor those that have gone before.
We came to the northwest corner of the island where the California Lighthouse stands. The lighthouse was named after a steamship that wrecked just off the coast here in 1891. It was just finishing up with a renovation project that would mark the 100th anniversary of the completion of the lighthouse. While difficult to see the detail of the lighthouse due to the scaffolding, there was a model of it nearby that gave a better idea of features.
From the lighthouse we looked towards the coast and from there made out a long strip of white sand sitting next to the blue waters of the Caribbean with Oranjestad in the distance. Apparently this white sand beach only stretches for 7 miles. It is the most popular area of the entire island. But the rest of the island is made up of desert and lava rocks.
As we lounged on that perfect beach of Aruba, we talked about how the island was not what we expected at all. We thought the entire island would be like this 7 mile stretch but instead we found an island rich in diverse natural beauty. The beach was beautiful to be sure, but so were the rock formations surrounded by cacti and the rocky coast and bridge of the national park. Seeing Hooiberg, the cemetery, and the lighthouse had offered a unique look at the island too.
Aruba had proved nothing like we expected but also offered us so much more than we could have imagined. We were so glad that we had gone on the tour and get a look at all the different parts that make up this incredible island.