Sunday, March 15, 2009
A trip to Aruba hardly sounds like a workout, unless it means pumping your biceps at the slot machines. But if you manage to pull yourself away, as I frequently did, from the main town of Oranjestad and it's warm, breezy beaches, plenty of calorie-burning hikes as well as interesting sights loaded with natural beauty await.
1. Arikok National Park provides plenty of hiking opportunities in a dramatic arid land laden with rolling hills. I walked many of the cacti-lined paths that wind past boulders, crevices, rock outcrops and the bizarely-shaped divi-divi trees. Here I found dozens of marked trails leading to caves with petroglyphs dating thousands of years ago, ruins of gold mines, and a re-creation of an island settlement from 200 years ago.
2. Both Ayo and Casibari are littered with oddly-shaped giant boulders. I followed the dirt paths and stone steps up and over and between the boulders of Ayo. The giant rock formations, covered with petroglyphs, seem so out of place, as if they were just dropped on the arid landscape, that you won't wonder why it's often referred to as the "Stonehenge of Aruba."
3. Climb steep often narrow stone steps to the top of Casibari for a view of the surrounding cactus garden and of Haystack Mountain in the distance.
4. At the center of the island, Haystack Mountain (Mount Hooiberg) can be seen from almost anywhere. After climbing several hundred stops to the summit of this cone-shaped volcanic rock, I was able to glimpse the coast of Venezuela, a view that's only possible on a clear day, in the distance.
5. The highest point in Aruba, Mt. Jamanota, can be reached by driving part way up and then taking one of the dirt paths to the top.
6. Many visitors don't realize it but Aruba has some great bird watching options. For example, not far from Orangestad, Bubali Pond, a bird sanctuary, provides plenty of opportunities to spot herons and egrets.
7. Getting to Natural Pool isn't easy: it requires at least a brisk half hour walk once you park the car or some serious off-roading where your vehicle has to navigate over a heavy-duty rocky surface. But this off-the-beaten-path pristine pool is worth it. Here you can snorkel, swim or just hang out on the rocks on the windward coast enjoying the views. You'll feel like you're completely isolated from civilization, which you are.