Top 5 Places to Swim in Aruba

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One of my most favorite things to do is swim in cool places. There’s nothing like a good swim! Aruba of course is an excellent place to cool off in the water, with it’s excellent beaches and unique swimming holes. Here are my top five places to swim in Aruba:

  1. Natural Pool – There’s no way you will plan a trip to Aruba without hearing about Natural Pool. It is a great sanctuary of water amongst high and dangerous waves. A rock formation guards this spot to make it an excellent place to swim around. There are even fish that have made there way in to the pool so make sure to bring your snorkel gear. You can’t reach this place in a normal car. I would highly suggesting renting an ATV from Justin’s. They are the only company on the island that lets you get to Natural Pool without going on a tour. When we arrived on our ATV the big groups were just leaving so we had the place to ourselves. Make sure to climb the rocks and find the mini pool just above the natural pool.

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  1. Boca Catalina Beach – We found this to be the beach to go to if you want to see an abundance of star fish, fish in general, and sea-turtles. If you get there early and swim straight out you should definitely find a couple turtles grazing in the sea-grass. If you swim to the right you will find an excellent snorkeling spot we dubbed “fish city” because it had so many, you guessed it, fish. There were several umbrellas at this location and it’s located right off the road making it an easy find.

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  1. Boca Mahos Pools – If you visit the old gold mine ruins make sure to bring your swimsuit. While the water on this side of the island is too rough to swim there is a spot you can get in to. If you are at the ruins look to the SE along the water and you will see two ladder prongs sticking up over a ledge. Take that ladder down and you will find a pool of water protected by big rocks. This water is crystal clear and runs under a cave. It’s best if you have some water shoes because when climbing down to it there can be some sharp rocks so be careful.

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  1. Mangel Halto – This beach is very unique to the others on the island. Mangroves grow all around giving a lot of shade. There are also plenty of umbrellas here. This beach had excellent snorkeling and where we found the most parrot fish. The currants can be strong here so take note of that before hopping in.

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  1. Palm Beach – Palm beach is the perfect spot to watch the sunset as you wade in the water. The water is bright blue and the sand soft and white. There’s even a dock out aways in the water that’s fun to climb up on and jump off. This beach is among the high rise hotels but is still definitely worth the visit.image5
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Visiting Aruba

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Mondays are the bad but Mondays after vacation are even worse. All I want right now is the sun and some sand but I’m stuck here in my office. Ok, enough of the sob story I want to tell you about Aruba! When deciding on which Caribbean Island to choose next we landed on Aruba since we loved Curacao so much and they are neighbors. We were not disappointing. Aruba has amazingly warm water, great snorkeling, and so much more.

We chose to stay at Costa Esmeralda Village in Noord. It turned out to be the perfect home-base. It was new, clean, and very reasonably priced. We split the two bed/two bath apartment with another couple and came in under $100 a night.

While Aruba does have some high rise hotels you could still get away from the hustle and bustle and find beaches where there were only a few families.

The food in Aruba was unsurprisingly expensive but there were so many options to choose from you could find reasonable meals. We especially loved the Dutch Pancake houses which usually only ran us about $12 a meal. Plus our apartment had a kitchen so we could easily make meals there and save a few bucks.

We attended the Bon Bini festival that is held every Tuesday night and had mixed reviews. Overall I’m glad we went but I can’t lie, I was a little bored during some of it. The reason it is still worth it to go is you get to learn a lot about Aruba’s culture and history. They even teach you some of the language so for the rest of our vacation I was able to say thank you, hello, good morning, etc. in Papiamento to the locals.

One of my favorite activities in Aruba was our ATV day. We rented ATV’s for a day from Justin’s Car & ATV Rental. We thought we had seen most the island, but we were way wrong. On the ATV’s we completely circled the island and went places you can’t get to by car. We were able to visit the beautiful Natural Pool and explore some ancient caves.

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A huge highlight to the trip was the diving. Ryan FINALLY got his diver’s license and so we got to go together for the first time in Aruba. We went with Happy Diver’s and glad we did. They were professional, got us to the dive spots before anyone else, and included everything in the price(even photos!). We got to dive along the Arashi reef and see tons of sea turtles and sting rays but the best part was diving to see the Antilles ship that was sunk over 70 years ago.

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The snorkeling in Aruba was great. It took us awhile to figure out which beaches were best and where to go on those beaches but once we did it was great. I will do a more detailed post later on the beaches on Aruba.

Overall it was a great trip. I would definitely recommend Aruba. I wish I was still there sitting on the beach after a long snorkel drinking a pina colada.

 

Any Aruba Advice?

11666178_10155685765350447_8623056202698739467_nWe are headed to Aruba in 17 days and I cannot wait. With my home-base being in the Seattle area March is always the hardest month. It’s the last month of the cold and rainy season but it just seems to drag on. I need a little sun and warmth in my life and I think Aruba will do just the trick.

We chose Aruba because we had gone to Curacao last year and were amazed by the clearest blue water we have ever seen. We’ve been itching to go back to this part of the Caribbean ever since. We have booked an apartment to share with two friends who are coming with us and we rented a car for the week.

I’m looking for any must dos/eats from people who have visited Aruba. So please tell me, what should we make sure not to miss?

St. John, USVI

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I came to the realization the other day that I mention St. John often but I haven’t done a full post on the gorgeous island! I have been to 11 islands in the Caribbean and St. John still stands out to me as one of the best. Here are my top reasons as to why St. John rocks:

1. Easy Access – St. John has a feeling of being off the beaten path yet it isn’t too difficult to get there. The easiest way is to fly in to St. Thomas and take a short ferry ride over to St. John.
2. Less Developed – What I mean by this is the beaches aren’t lined with big fancy resorts. There aren’t any McDonalds and you can find beaches with no one else on them. When I go to a beach I don’t want to be elbow to elbow with other visitors I want to have my own beach or only be sharing it with a few other people. Many times on St. John my family was the only one on the beach. It was great!
3. Less Poverty – Many times when you visit a tropical place you run in to poverty. It always makes me feel bad that I am enjoying a vacation on their lovely island while they are working around the clock to survive. I found St. John to be different. The people there seemed to be enjoying their island as much as I was. We never came across the people begging you to buy their trinkets so they could afford food.
4. Great Snorkeling – St. John is full of great snorkeling locations. One of the coolest is Trunk Bay. Trunk Bay will be crowded during busy season but it’s worth it. The sand is soft and white and the water clear blue. The best part is it has a underwater snorkeling trail. We had a blast following the trail and even saw a barracuda!
5. Rugged – St. John is fun because it can feel rugged. This can be a pro and a con. For instance the roads can be steep and a little scary but it just added to the adventure! At times you feel like you are deep in a jungle or on your own private beach.

St. John in my eyes is the perfect island getaway.

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Best 3 Beaches in Vieques

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1. Black Sand Beach. This isn’t the best beach for swimming or snorkeling but it is a great adventure. You have to hike out to it and once there it is gorgeous. The jagged white cliffs against the black sand make for a dramatically beautiful place.

2. Blue Beach. With wild horses and the occasional starfish this is not your typical beach. The water is crystal clear and perfect for snorkeling. The sand is pristine here and great for running around playing catch.

3. Secret Beach. Secret beach is great, but only during the day due to bugs. We spotted a lot of interesting sea-life, including stingrays! Many times you are the only one on the entire beach and can have it all to yourself.

Visiting Curaçao

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This past week Ryan and I got a little R&R on the gorgeous island of Curacao. We love to head to the Caribbean to get some beach time. We try to go to new islands and every time I’m surprised how different the island is compared to the others. Here is what I loved about Curaçao.

1. Grocery Prices. Trying to save money we packed snacks and ingredients for quick meals while on our vacation. When we arrived we went to the grocery store to pick up cheese and milk and were shocked by the low prices of the food. Generally in the caribbean food prices sky rocket and all though it was more expensive than home it wasn’t too bad. We were able to grab an extra few things without breaking the bank.

2. The Economy is Booming. I love visiting islands where the locals are doing well. The people in Curaçao are doing great. The roads were smooth, any service needed was available, and no one approached us begging us to buy anything.

3. Crystal Clear Water. One of my favorite parts about Curaçao was the water. It was so amazingly clear. This is due to the fact that there is less sand. Of coarse there is sand, but there is a lot of broken corral and rocks that make up beaches. Which then makes it harder for the sand to stir up causing the water to be crystal clear.

4. Excellent Snorkeling. The crystal clear water was a great attribute to the excellent snorkeling, but that wasn’t the only reason is was great. Their was an abundance of fish! I felt like anytime I got in the water there were colorful fish surrounding me on all sides. Everywhere you turned you saw a new bright blue or pink or yellow fish. We even saw a pod of squids which was a first for me. We snorkeled as much as we could and loved it.

5. The Temperature. One of the reasons I chose Curaçao was because of the temperature. Every day it was about 88°-95°. There was never a time I was too cold to get into the ocean. There is also a strong breeze in Curaçao so even when you were walking around or laying out in that temperature it isn’t miserably hot. Curaçao seems to have the perfect combination for beach weather.

6. The North Vs. The South. One of the coolest parts of the island is the North shore compared to the South. The North is extremely rough waves that crash against hard rock and splash up tens of feet into the air. It is extremely gorgeous, but in no way a place to swim. On the south side the water is very calm and there are actual beaches. Seeing the two extremes on one island is a cool experience.

Although there is not much to complain about I do want to share the things I didn’t love about Curaçao in case it helps you determine if Curaçao is the right island for you.

1. The Refinery. There is a big oil refinery on the island and I realize this is the reason the island is booming. Because of the strong breeze it was never smoggy, and to be honest the refinery really didn’t affect us, but it was just big and ugly. I don’t know if this is a fair thing to mention since like I said it didn’t really affect us, but I was surprised by how big it was and all the equipment right on the coast.

2. Paid Beaches. There are a few beaches that you pay to get on and of coarse many beaches have the chairs that you have to pay to use. We generally just used our towels in that case and we only went to one paid beach and really weren’t impressed. I found the beaches with the less amenities were sometimes the best beaches. I much rather go to a free beach with rough sand and no crappy snack stand then pay money to go to a beach with those amenities. I also felt the paid beaches were just money pits. You paid to get in, you paid for a chair, you paid for the shower, you paid for the bathroom. I would just stay away from any beach you have to pay to enter.

3. “Uneven” Island. The island is very uneven and what I mean by that is on the East side of the island it is very built up. That is where most the hotels, restaurants, stores, etc are. On the West side of the island is where all the best beaches are. The drive out to the good beaches from Willemstad is a good 25-45 minutes. Once you are out at the beaches there aren’t many options to grab lunch or extra sunscreen. If we go back to Curaçao I think we will stay in one of the hotels(there’s not many) on the West coast and just stock up on groceries and things before we get out there.

Have you been to Curaçao? What was your favorite part?

Visiting Vieques

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Vieques is easily one of my favorite islands in the Caribbean. It’s still not completely infiltrated by tourists so many beaches you’ll have all to yourself. They have wild horses, a 300 year old ceiba tree and the brightest bio-bay in the world! What more could you ask for? Here are my tips for visiting Vieques.

1. Take a plane. You get to Vieques by first flying to Puerto Rico. From there you have the option of flying by a small plane or taking a ferry. I highly recommend the plane. The ferry is an hour or two drive from San Juan an then another hour or two to the island. The plane leaves right out of San Juan and is really a short and beautiful ride to the island of Vieques.

2. Watch out for Lion Fish. We didn’t see any or have any issue, but there is an over abundance of lion fish in the area. Lion fish are deadly. Just keep an eye out when snorkeling. With that being said like I mentioned we didn’t see any so I wouldn’t worry to much about it.

3. Stay in Esperanza. There are two main towns you can stay in. Esperanza is the smaller of the two. We loved staying here. There’s less people and the restaurants are more intimate because of it. Also, because Esperanza faces the south the water is more calm and you can snorkle and swim opposed to the north shore where the waves can get big.

4. Hike to the Black Sand Beach. There is a black sand beach on Vieques that is a fun place to hike to. You have to trudge through a stream to get there, but it’s a pretty cool place once you arrive. For more information on how to find the beach check out trip advisors page on it here.

5. Don’t miss the Bio-Bay(By Kayak!). If there is any one reason to go to Vieques this is it. The bio-bay is absolutely amazing. It also won’t be around forever. The locals already say it’s not as bright as it once was. Make sure if you do go you take a tour by kayak NOT BY MOTORBOAT. The pollution of the motorboat tours is part of the reason why the bio-bay may not survive much longer. Make sure to support the companies who are doing”green” tours.

Best Undiscovered Caribbean Islands

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There are a lot of islands to choose from when planning a Caribbean getaway. I love islands where I can go to a beach and be the only one there. As the travel industry picks up this is getting more and more rare. Here is my top 3 favorite Caribbean islands that still have that undiscovered feel.

1. St. Kitts is southeast of Puerto Rico. There is an airport on the island making it easy to fly right there. If you rent a car you can drive around and visit all the gorgeous beaches. There is even a bay on the island called Shitten Bay. I don’t know the history of this bay, but there are a lot of cows there with a lot of feces, so although I did not swim in the water here I found this hysterical and a must visit!

2. Vieques is a small island just east of Puerto Rico. You can either take a ferry from Puerto Rico or take a small 6 passenger plane to Vieques. I recommend staying on the south side of the island where the water is calm and the snorkeling is best. One of the best parts of this island is the Bio Bay. The Bio Bay or Bioluminescent Bay is where a type of organism lives and causes the water to glow with any movement. It is quite the experience!

3. St. John is just east of St. Thomas. It’s a pretty wealthy island compared to most. In order to get here you can take a short ferry ride from St. Thomas. St. John has so many gorgeous beaches and some of the best snorkeling I’ve experiences in the caribbean. There’s even a beach with an underwater snorkeling tour. This beach does tend to be busier than others, but it’s worth to check out.

These are my favorite islands in the Caribbean. What are yours?