As I already did the “C” of the ABC islands, I thought maybe I should check out the “A” part and see for myself what may be the differences between the two. Aruba, of course, is much more popular and I expected it to be more loaded with facilities geared towards tourists, more so than in Curacao or Bonaire for that matter. And, of course, it’ll be more expensive. The challenge is 1) find cheap accommodation 2) a decent airfare over Thanksgiving time. If both conditions were met, then Aruba, I go.
Lo and behold, Air Tran had a round trip flight for roughly $480 which is more than decent given that this was over a holiday weekend, and then, bingo! After hours of research, if one was to venture further away from the tourist center, Aruba actually can offer pretty dirt cheap accommodations. I perused a few options but ended up settling for. It was the perfect choice given that I was looking for a more rustic on the beach Coral Reef Beach Arubaexperience. The price was decent as well given the location.
The next challenge was to see if a few friends would be so inclined to join and with that thought, I posted the trip on Meetup to see if I can make a few new friends or reconnect with existing ones. In the end, I had three other adventurers join me, all of them I’ve known from prior trips and social gatherings. The next thing I know, we were on our way to sunny Aruba.
To maximize our experience, we decided to rent a car, which with 4 people can be very economical. There were a few companies to choose from as well. We figured a basic 4 door sedan would be sufficient for our needs. We ended up with a small Kia car but it suited us for the 4 days we were there. The car was around $200 for 5 days!
Upon our arrival at Coral Reef Beach Aruba, we were greeted by Julie, who upgraded us to their “treehouse” from the 2 rooms that we initially booked at no extra charge. The treehouse has an interesting lay out. Essentially, it has two king size beds and a sofa bed in the living room area. We also had a full kitchen and one bathroom. The layout is very airy and open as the front side of the house mainly consisted of glass windows. One of the king beds is in a more private area in a room separated by a door with its own exit towards the front balcony. From our balcony, there is a direct view of the water where you can snorkel right off the dock. There is no beach which is not an issue really when you have a car to take you around. The accommodation is located about 15-20 minutes drive south from the airport and the tourist center and near Baby Beach and Mangel Halto, which are both excellent for snorkeling.
One of my favorite perks of staying at Coral Reef is eating at Zeerover, the fish fry restaurant right next door where you can order the fish of the day (e.g. Barracuda, Mahi, Snapper) with a selection of sides that include pickled vegetables and plantains. With the four of us sharing the basketful of fish, shrimp and plantains, it cost us only $12 per person. Be warned though that they deep fry everything; hence it’s oh so good! We had to do multiple visits to the place ourselves as a way to perfectly end our sun-kissed beach days.
Here is a little warning though for the area where we were- avoid jogging! When I went one morning for a run, I was threatened by a gang of 4 dogs in the neighborhood and I was scared enough that I had to find myself a stick to use just in case.
Later, Julie told me that Aruba doesn’t have a decent animal welfare law and so most of the wild dogs and cats are put to sleep instead of being saved and adopted. At Coral Reef, we were entertained intermittently by their resident cats and dogs who were adopted from the streets by Julie and her husband. As always, there’s nothing like being hosted by furry friends who always have a way to keep me cozy until my return back home to my two angelic (but slightly devilish) furry pals.
Some money saving tips:
1. Buy groceries and cook. The prices for the groceries are still a bit higher than in the States but if you’re sharing the cost with people, it’s not so bad.
2. Bakeries are cheap places to buy breakfast or light lunch. There was one near Coral Reef so we took advantage of grabbing our breakfasts there rather than hitting a sit in restaurant.
3. Water is safe to drink in Aruba so no need to buy water bottles.
4. The beaches are free of charge so no worries about having to spend much money to enjoy nature.
5. The real price saver is to avoid the tourist area near the airport. Eating at any of the cafes/restaurants there will cost an arm and a leg no matter how mom and pop- looking the place is.
6. Buy your snacks, drinks or even sandwiches (for lunch) from the mini-markets. There is a few of them on the island. So, before hitting the beach, drop by one to buy your lunch.