There have never been more reasons to visit this vibrant and historic capital city as the past few years have seen such dramatic revitalizations. So, let’s go explore all the delights that downtown has to offer.
A few years back it became clear that Aruba’s capital city was in dire need of major modernization and improvement, so the government decided to undertake an entire facelift of the aging old queen and endeavor to bring locals and visitors back to the original heart of the island. Originally, Caya G.F. Betico Croes was the “main street,” a vibrant nexus of island commerce and history. But as time passed, few visitors wandered beyond the harbor front offerings. Fast forward to today, and 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. There is also signage to direct people towards the points of interest. And the best way to explore it all? Aboard the free trolleys!
Departures begin at 10 a.m. daily and leave every 20 minutes, with the final loop beginning at 8 p.m.
All aboard a unique adventure
This avant-garde form of urban island transportation is unique to Aruba. In fact, there’s nothing else like it in the entire Caribbean. The first trolley began rolling in 2013, and by early 2016, the entire fleet of four trolleys were operating on a regular basis. Two are single deck that can hold 42 people, and two are double-decker and can seat 64 passengers. All have shade coverings and run on a rechargeable battery. The route is a loop throughout the downtown center on a mile and a half of track that starts just outside the cruise ship terminal at the Paardenbaai Plaza, a lovely welcome center with shops, visitor facilities, and information kiosks. Departures begin at 10 a.m. daily and leave every 20 minutes, with the final loop beginning at 8 p.m. There are nine stops in all, and the vehicles move slowly so you can get a good look at your surroundings and take advantage of the wonderful photo ops all around you. If you’re a first-timer to Oranjestad, we recommend you do the entire trip to get your bearings, then hop on again and get off at spots that appeal to you. Each stop has interesting exploration options nearby.
Shopping is a given downtown, but there are far more than souvenir shops and flea market stalls. The retail grid is an eclectic mix of family-run mainstays: pharmacies, grocery stores, sporting goods, and the like, mixed in with modern new designer emporiums and retail giants. And there are few better places to purchase quality jewelry at great prices than the bevy of brand name shops and reputable family-run businesses than downtown. You can also seek out madein-Aruba products along the way like the aloe-based handmade soaps (at Water Tower stop) or fuel up at a local gourmet coffee shop (Nicky Habibe Plaza stop.) Both stops are also within walking distance of Wilhelminastraat’s blossoming neighborhood now gentrified with new businesses and attractions, and within walking distance of Aruba’s oldest cathedral, the Protestant Church, built-in 1846.
You’ll also find an exciting and interesting mix of refreshment options all along the route. And there are so many exciting new establishments to check out. Plaza Daniel Leo and its surroundings have been completely revamped with new bars and restaurants open for lunch, and then bringing electric new nightlife to the back streets. Look for authenti c local snacks at take-outs or opt for more upscale options at the many indoor/outdoor eateries off ering up gourmet international fare. And if you begin to feel the heat, pop into one of downtown’s glitzy air-conditioned casinos for free drinks while you try to seduce Lady Luck into helping you replenish your retail therapy funds. You can also take in a first-run movie for a few hours break from the sun at the modern downtown cinemas. The beauty of the trolleys is that they are at your disposal whenever you’re ready to continue your Oranjestad exploratins.
Cultural attractions and cool new vibes
Beyond the lovingly restored colonial buildings you’ll also encounter all kinds of outdoor art as you roll, such as the beautiful Blue Horses series and the many stunning monuments and sculptures to local heroes. You can also stop into the modern multi level National Archeological Museum; entrance is free, and the interactive exhibits are fascinating for all ages. Oranjestad has also become a hotbed of special events and impromptu street life such as sidewalk sales, colorful parades, food, drink, and art kiosks that accompany annual musical attractions like the Caribbean Sea Jazz Festival. And after dark, this city is even more magical. Sparkling lights shine and twinkle on the water and the live music calls to you from the clubs and the marina to come and join the party.
These days, there’s always something enchanted happening around Oranjestad. So, hop on board your free ride, day, or night, to enjoy it all to the max. You’ll soon see why this city is well on track to becoming the coolest capital in the Caribbean!
Note: Aruba’s public buses stop at all major resorts, so you can hop a bus downtown and then hop aboard the trolley at the Rancho stop near the bus terminal. Or you can take a taxi to the cruise terminal stop to start at the beginning. But if you must bring a car downtown, there is parking beside the trolley cruise terminal stop for a fee.
By Susan Campbell
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