There’s always something enchanted happening around Oranjestad. Visit day or night to discover why this little city is well on track to becoming the coolest capital in the Caribbean.
The completely rejuvenated downtown core is a thing of beauty. It’s a gorgeous marriage of old and new replete with palm-lined pedestrian walkways, additional shops, and plazas, refreshed colonial buildings, and a renewed sense of local pride. Hop aboard the free eco-trolleys to get acquainted with all the charming attractions behind the marina area, they loop through the backstreets and begin at the cruise terminal, but you can hop on and off as you please. Shopping is a given downtown; the retail offering is an eclectic mix of locally owned little mainstays mixed in with large modern new designer emporiums and retail giants. And there are few better places to purchase quality jewelry at great prices than at the bevy of brand-name shops and reputable family-run businesses of Oranjestad.
For a comprehensive exploration of downtown on foot, take a guided excursion with Aruba Walking Tours that includes a stop at the National Archeological Museum, and they also offer a Fusions of the World foodie tour at night. Explore the back streets further to find legendary establishments like Driftwood which have been serving fresh fish to both locals and visitors alike for over 35 years. (They also run Driftwood Deep Sea fishing charters and will cook your catch for you at their restaurant, too.) And seek out new spots like Taste My Aruba in an area further down that’s fast becoming the new restaurant row in a gorgeously restored 100-year-old-house on Wilhelminastraat.
Walking across the marina bridge, keep your eyes peeled for the brand-new luxury yacht the Diosa as that is where Caribbean Sunset Ventures will be launching their super deluxe sunset dinner tours from this year. On the other side, it’s hard not to miss the bright red roof and comical cow motif of the legendary Eetcafe the Paddock. This fun and friendly Dutch-style waterfront bar and restaurant is a great spot to sit on the harbour and watch the cruise ships come and go.
After dark, the marina becomes even more magical. Sparkling lights shine and twinkle on the water and the live music beckons you to come and join the party in Renaissance Marketplace. This alfresco mall is a lovely lunch spot with many choices of fare, but after dark it’s the ideal place to dance, dine, and drink under the tropical stars. Listen for the sultry live Lati n music wafting from Cuba’s Cookin’ to join the salsa party and chow down on authentic feasts in Old Havana style.
All around the magical marina
The wharf-side market is often the first stop for new visitors seeking souvenirs, but few items there are locally made. But now there is the brand-new ArubaMade right across from the cruise terminal. Look for the epic mural of Aruba’s native birds out front, and as the name suggests, all products there are made in Aruba. You’ll find modern, colorful kiosks with homemade ice cream (including vegan flavors), homemade chocolates, organically made health and beauty products, locally ground coffee, poffertjes, stroopwafels, and a Johnnycake hut, too. And their on-site alfresco restaurant/bar specializes in authentic local eats like “stobas” (stews). Local artists and crafters also have stalls there for island-made items that make great souvenirs. It’s a very welcome addition to downtown.
Or head to The Dutch Pancakehouse sit outside and watch the live bands in the open public amphitheater. Dancing encouraged! And did you know that along with their comprehensive collection of sweet pancakes and delicious little dollar-sized pancakes (‘poffertjes’) they serve savory pancakes and schnitzels for dinner, too? Best of all worlds. And Friday nights a local arts and crafts market takes over a large swath of the public space there, too.
Later, take a tiki cocktail break the new Po-Ké Ono, and enjoy creative takes on poke bowls, sushi, and baos as a late-night snack. You can also pop into one of downtown’s glitzy airconditioned Wind Creek Casinos (Seaport or Crystal) to seduce Lady Luck, they are open until the wee hours.
Or sleuth out the action behind the Renaissance Mall across the street after dark to discover that the entire Plaza Daniel Leo area has become an alfresco neon electric nightlife attraction. Follow your ears to the pulsating beats coming from Patio 15 for trendy food and drinks housed in a beautifully restored century-old mansion, they also boast the island’s largest outdoor dance venue.
Cultural attractions galore
Oranjestad has also become a hotbed of special events and impromptu street life such as sidewalk sales, colorful parades, and food, drink, and art festivals. For local music, traditional dancing, and local snacks, head for the Bon Bini Festival (Bon Bini means welcome) held every Tuesday night in the historic courtyard of old Fort Zoutman. Drop into the new Santos Coffee With Soul location across the courtyard there for your pre-or-post-party barista caffeine fix and delicious nutritious fare.
Downtown always delights…day and night.
Article written by Susan Campbell
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