A Little Bit of Paradise


All images ©Doug McKinlay

First published in Perfect Weddings Magazine

Aruba. I know what you’re thinking, love-struck honeymooners walking hand-in-hand along powdery white beaches; or older couples renewing vows made years prior; or even tropical weddings set among gently swaying palms up against azure seas and impossibly blue skies. Sure, Aruba has it all when it comes to romance, and in spades. But what happens when the dewy eyes get tired of staring into each other or when the anniversary holiday devolves into conversations about the kids; or, dare I say, the wedding is over and all the champagne is gone. What then? Can Aruba stand alone outside all the romance and offer its visitors something else? Well the short answer is yes.

However before I reveal the results of my investigations I have a confession to make: I’m not married and have no intention of ever walking down that long…long…aisle. I’m made of pure bachelor stuff, Kryptonite to women looking for eligible singletons. Still, I like to think it allows me to look at what’s on offer in Aruba with more discerning eyes; eyes without the rose tinted veneer.


All images ©Doug McKinlay

Aruba is a gem, one of the bright stones in the rocky necklace of the Netherlands Antilles island chain that lie north of Venezuela in the southern Caribbean Sea. Just 32 kilometres long and ten kilometres at its widest it definitely punches above its weight when it comes to tropical splendour. Its beaches are consistently rated among the best in the Caribbean and with a perennial cooling breeze the cloying stickiness that often plagues other destinations in this area is never an issue.

I’m up early that first morning, well before the sun breaks across the horizon to the east. It’s either the jet lag or the excitement of being in a tropical paradise. Whichever, it doesn’t matter. What does matter though is the feeling of sugary sand between my toes and that first dip in the warm coastal waters. It’s not difficult to see why Aruba is so popular with honeymooners.


All images ©Doug McKinlay

My job here though is to cast a weather eye on what visitors can get up to, honeymooners and crotchety old buzzards like me alike.
There is a surprisingly adventurous side to this small island. The west coast, with its soothing beaches, luxury hotels and casual manner of the capital, Oranjestad, lie in contradiction to the fast pace of the water sports happening just metres off the beach. Everything from jet skiing, to paddle boarding to windsurfing, to scuba diving is represented, but what really catches my eye are the billowing multi-coloured canopies of the kite surfers.


All images ©Doug McKinlay

As the sun starts it’s slow decent toward the evening horizon I shuffle along to Hadicurari Beach, kite surfing central and only a ten-minute walk from my hotel, the Aruba Marriot. By the time I find a spot in the shade of a coconut palm there are 11 riders racing to and fro across the tops of the waves in front of me, their sails continually fuelled by the ever-present trade winds. I watch with a mix of awe, envy and fear, but mostly envy. If I were only ten years younger…

It’s here, while transfixed by the kite surfers that I drop into conversation with a couple who have taken up station beside me. They’re here on honeymoon – go figure – but I won’t hold that against them. For Coloradan Jessica Edwards, 25, and her husband of six-weeks Ryan, 29, it was a no-brainer. “When Jess read an article last year on Aruba in a travel magazine it was a done deal,” said Ryan. “Seeing those gorgeous pictures of the blue seas and sandy beaches I was sold,’ adds Jessica. “There was no-where else I wanted to go on our honeymoon.”

Jessica is definitely an Aruba honeymoon convert, you can see it in her eyes. There is something slightly fanatical going on behind those big brown peepers. Ryan however I’m not so sure; his attention span keeps slipping as he gazes longingly out to sea at the antics of the kite surfers. It’s a guy thing.


All images ©Doug McKinlay

Aruba’s honeymoon credentials would never be what they are without some top-of-the-range eating establishments. And when it comes to food what I love is the sheer diversity on offer. Whether it’s a candlelit dinner for two on the beach or a place with a little more party on the menu there is enough scope to appeal to most visitors. But of the restaurants I tried two hit top marks for me.

Zeeovers is about as casual as it gets, nothing but shorts, t-shirts and sandals here. This dockside dive bar is a legend among locals. There is no menu; it is strictly catch of the day. When I arrived it was grilled Wahoo and jumbo shrimp as fat as a man’s thumb. A basket of each, washed down by an icy cold bottle of the local Balashi beer and I was ready to solve the problems of the Middle East. But when my appetite was craving more turf than surf it was Arubaville that took care of it. The steaks are so tender they practically melt in your mouth and the Mojitos are the best this side of Havana.


All images ©Doug McKinlay

Still, there is another side to Aruba, literally another side. For such a small island, the differences between the coasts, and indeed the interior, are striking. Where the west coast is white beaches and bling the east coast is four-wheel drives, sunburn and sea spray. Out here the draw, among others, is the Conchi Natural Pool, a semi-circular pond of warm seawater surrounded by a three-metre wall of granite. Relaxing, with the caveat that every few minutes the sea tosses a huge wave against the ocean side of the wall sending a high deluge over the top: think clothes in a washing machine.


All images ©Doug McKinlay

My last evening is spent aboard an ocean-going catamaran drinking long, cool Mai Tais and dancing to 80’s pop music, all while watching the sun dip below the horizon one last time. Although my time here was short, I think I got to know, at least a little, this small jewel bobbing in the south Caribbean Sea. And in the final analysis, it is indeed perfect for honeymooners, but it’s much more than that. It’s a place where even the most confirmed of bachelors can take up residence, even if only for a few days, and enjoy both the island’s rugged natural beauty and the trappings of a more sophisticated lifestyle. And if ever asked if I would want to return there is no doubt I would answer I do.


All images ©Doug McKinlay

Comments

Photo comment By Gail: Loved your story. My husband and I went to Aruba for our honeymoon five years ago. It was the best. Thanks, Gail

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