Holidays to Oranjestad give you a Caribbean break with a European dusting. First-rate sands share island space with Dutch and Spanish-style buildings and restaurants.
Set on Aruba’s southern coast, Oranjestad is the island’s capital. Its Dutch name translates as Orangetown, and it’s certainly got a zest about it. A lot of the colonial landmarks – and the newer lookalikes – in the Upper Town's cobblestone streets bear more than a passing resemblance to gingerbread houses. Picture façades painted in bubblegum pinks and sherbet lemon yellows. The Lower Town, meanwhile, is home to the old port and ruins from the island’s bygone days.
Oranjestad is Aruba’s largest city and the place where life plays out in all its fullness. There’s a large working port packed with fishing boats and schooners, and a busy cruise ship terminal. A collection of beaches is within striking distance, too. Elsewhere, modern malls congregate in the downtown area, giving way to makeshift markets and stalls piled high with fish and fresh produce as the harbour comes in to view.
By the shore
The island’s no more than a crumb in the Caribbean Sea, so it doesn’t really matter where you hole up – it’s easy to tour the coastline and pull over when you see a beach that takes your fancy. If you’re on foot, though, there are some great white-sand stretches about a 15-minute walk from the capital. The first stop is Druif Beach. It’s a narrow affair, but it marks the start of a gigantic runway of ivory sand.
Built by the Dutch army in 1798, Fort Zoutman is Aruba’s oldest heirloom. Together with the Willem III Tower on its west flank, it’s home to the Historical Museum of Aruba. Exhibits take you from the island’s prehistoric past up to the Dutch colonial period. Tuesday evenings are reserved for the Bon Bini Festival, which celebrates Aruban music, dance, cuisine, and crafts with a steel band, and rice and shrimp by the bowlful.