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Aruba Essentials

Where to Eat
beach ocean dining table restaurant dinner sunset arubaFor such a small island, Aruba has a surprising wealth and variety of restaurants, serving up everything from casual Caribbean favorites to international haute cuisine. If you're looking for local dishes, try the keshi yena (spiced meat stuffed into a Gouda cheese rind) or the stoba (a traditional stew made with conch, goat or other meat). The Aruba Gastronomic Association offers a Dine Around Program that grants visitors a set of coupons for meals at select restaurants for a fixed price; see ArubaDining.com.

Finding the Best Restaurants on the Road

El Gaucho, Aruba's best Argentinean restaurant, is located in an atmospheric old-town house on the east end of Oranjestad. Meats are the main draw here, including a truly enormous T-bone steak and the Pincho Torro Caliente, billed as " the biggest shishkebab ever served."

Foodies rave about Carte Blanche, where 14 diners each evening get to watch and interact with Chef Dennis van Daatselaar as he crafts a four- or five-course meal before their eyes. Maitre d' Glen Bonset is also on hand to offer wine suggestions and mix drinks. The experience is like nothing else in Aruba, and reservations are essential.

Try the legendary Pink Iguana at Iguana Joe's Caribbean Bar & Grill, a concoction of frozen strawberries, pineapple, rum and coconut cream. Or throw back a Balashi, the local brew. On the menu are a variety of sandwiches, salads and Caribbean specialties.

Located near the airport, Marandi can be a little tricky to find -- but the romantic atmosphere and the views of the sun setting over Laguna Bay are worth the effort. The menu showcases a variety of meat and seafood dishes. Reservations are recommended.

Pinchos Grill & Bar, an outdoor eatery, is casual but chic. There's a funky bar lit with Starbucks-esque lamps, and seating for diners along the perimeter with fabulous views of the water -- the restaurant is actually located out on a pier under-lit by twinkling blue lights. Grilled meats round out the menu.

Where to Stay
The vast majority of Aruba's hotels and resorts are located on the western end of the island, running from the capital city of Oranjestad up the coast. Low-rise properties are located closer to the capital, and this area is generally a little quieter; more glamorous high-rises can be found along Palm Beach and further north. For lower rates, look for a property that's near but not right on the beach, and avoid traveling over major holidays. Aruba is a popular destination year-round.

15 Ways to Lower Your Hotel Rate

The luxe Bucuti Beach Resort is located right on Eagle Beach and offers bright, beautiful rooms with a European ambience. There's also a lovely spa and an outdoor fitness center. The resort is known for its romantic atmosphere and does not offer facilities for children; guests younger than 18 are not accepted.

renaissance aruba resort spa couples massage The Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino is ideal for travelers who want to be right downtown in Oranjestad without straying too far from the beach (the resort has its own private island). Just off Oranjestad's main street, the hotel is a destination unto itself with a lovely spa, a large casino and some of the island's best nightlife. Adults looking for a kiddie-free vacation should stay in the Marina Hotel portion of the property, while the Ocean Suites facility welcomes families.

Budget-minded travelers can try the MVC Eagle Beach, a small property located just a short walk from Eagle Beach. Second-floor rooms offer ocean views. Both room rates and restaurant prices (the restaurant serves a mix of Caribbean and Dutch fare) are very reasonable.

Ocean 105 offers five attractive vacation rental units -- a three-bedroom villa (the Main Residence) and four newly opened apartments. All offer ocean views, as well as easy access to Arashi Beach and the Tierra del Sol golf course. The spacious accommodations are a good option for families or groups.

Where to Shop
The main shopping drag in Oranjestad is Caya G. F. Betico Croes. Royal Plaza and Seaport Village Mall, across the street from the cruise terminal, are hot stops for unique jewelry and famous designer clothing stores (from Tommy Hilfiger to Guess).

In the heart of Oranjestad are Benetton, Mango, Lucor Jewelers, Artistic Boutique and many others.

Note: Look for the Aruba Cruise Tourism logo in store windows to find highly reputable shops.

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    --written by Melissa Baldwin; updated by Kathleen Tucker

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