A successful Caribbean holiday has much to do with accepting “island time” and that things do not have to happen quickly.
But there is no reason to rush, for Aruba is really tiny – only 20 miles long and at its widest six miles across.
At first, you think there might not be much to it, but as you scratch the surface you see it is more than the “high-rise” hotels where I’m staying. And in this case, high-rise is only eight or ten storeys – so nothing like Dubai.
There are the glorious sandy beaches in front of the hotels, rough terrain on the other coast plus an industrial side – gold, oil, shipping, tourism and aloe vera have fuelled the economy at different points in its history.
There is also an intriguing mix of cultures – the laid-back Aruban approach to life has an unlikely layer of Dutch formality. The island is a Dutch overseas dependency and the islanders speak four languages (Dutch, English, Spanish and Papiamento).
Budget or boutique?
The Marriott is a hotel on a grand scale – 441 rooms, 24 suites and further blocks of apartments. There are pools, restaurants, bars, shops, a spa, fitness centre, countless beach chairs and even a casino – one of more than 20 on the island. Yet quickly staff know my name and the customer service is top notch, as you expect from the Marriott brand.
My room is vast enough for two double beds, a dressing room and with twin sinks you might anticipate a separate shower in the bathroom but the big tub and rain shower amply make up for that. The beach-view balcony means sunny afternoons and spectacular sunsets watching the boats chase the falling rays.
Wining and dining
Food reflects Aruba’s multicultural heritage and my plates are predominantly filled with sea creatures, although I find time to try keshi yena, a delicious traditional recipe, in this case consisting of chicken, beef, prunes, raisins, cashews and olives served under a drape of bubbling cheese.
At Hadicurari, a beach-side restaurant not five minutes’ walk from the hotel, the fishermen land their catch at the door. My fish here is amberjack, cooked on the barbecue, but it is the shrimps – the size of a fist – which are the hallmark of this holiday.
Almost next door is MooMba Beach Bar and Restaurant where the prawns come in a delicious coconut milk, while at Pelican Nest – on a pier a further five minutes’ stroll away – the plumpest of prawns spill over their cocktail glass salad.
Worth getting out of bed for?
Definitely a dawn walk on the dazzling sands as the wind dies down and the ocean picks up its daytime shades of jade and aquamarine.
The beach is friendly. Walkers say “bonbini” (hello in Papiamento), fishermen show you their catch and the pelicans swoop through the sky before they dive to pluck breakfast from the clear water.
The island is worth a tour – an adrenaline-filled UTV trip takes us through the arid Arikok National Park to the rugged northeastern coast.
A relaxed walking tour of Oranjestad is enlivened by our “local expert”. Oshane Jones is a larger-than-life character who guides us through the colourful streets of the capital, making sense of the island’s history and its culture. We are fuelled by delicious pastechi, the Aruban breakfast-on-the-go of fried pastry filled with cheese.
Take the chance to try out some water sports. On the beach next to the hotel is Vela, where I finally learn to stand up on a paddle board. After a lesson on dry land, I spend a happy hour honing my technique in the shallows, soon relaxed enough to watch the fish dazzle in the clear waters. More energetic is the hotel’s daily tennis clinic with Dutch coach Danny Schults which definitely earns a relaxing session back on that beach.
The Marriott’s generous facilities make it all too easy to stay put, but the island demands your attention too.
Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino, Palm Beach, Aruba, www.arubamarriott.com – rooms from US$309 (approx £255). Paddle board hire, $25, www.velaaruba.com. Half-day UTV tour for two, $95, www.fofoti.com. Aruba walking tours, $39, arubawalkingtours.com