Aruba - Landmarks and Points of Interest

Aruba - Landmarks and Points of Interest

smithsonian.com

Oranjestad is Aruba's capital city and, as such, contains the bulk of the island's urban activity. Plaza Daniel Leo is the city's heart. Here, among the multicolored Dutch colonial buildings, visitors shop, visitors dine, shop and mix with locals. Cruise ships dock here regularly, spilling hundreds of tourists onto the main waterfront boulevard. Wilhelmena Park features a marble sculpture of its namesake, the Netherlands' queen mother, along with tropical gardens.

Oranjestad is home to most of Aruba's museums, which trace the island's cultural and industrial development from the earliest Indian settlements to present day. The Archaeological Museum of Aruba houses a collection of ancient artifacts, tools and art. The Aruba Historical Museum, housed in the island's oldest structure, Fort Zoutman, offers a view into the daily lives of the island's first settlers. Aruba's first coins are on display at the Numismatic Museum, along with historic coins from all over the world. The Aruba Aloe Museum and Factory explores the plant's importance to the island's economic development and the way in which it is harvested and processed.

Stretching north from Oranjestad up the west coast of the island, are the highly developed Eagle Beach and Palm Beach areas. These strips are home to most of the island's low- and high-rise resorts, lined up neatly one after the other, and lead to the northernmost tip of the island, where tourists flock to see the California Lighthouse. One of Aruba's most recognizable sights, the lighthouse was built in 1914 after the steamship California wrecked off the island's shores. The lighthouse is not far from Tierra del Sol, an 18-hole professional golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones II.

The Old Dutch Windmill, a favorite of Aruban postcard makers, is an authentic relic from the early 1800s, when it actually operated in Holland. It was then moved to the Netherlands, from where it eventually made its final journey to Aruba in 1960. It opened in the mid-1970s as a restaurant.

Aruba's second-largest city, San Nicolas, sits on the opposite end of the island, on the southeastern tip. This city's development was closely related to the nearby oil refinery, which, during World War II, supplied a great deal of fuel to the Allies. The city was, in its heyday, known for its nightlife, and the famous 1940s Charlie's Bar still exists today.

Roman Catholicism is the main religion of Aruba, and there are two historic churches worth visiting. The bright yellow Chapel of Alta Vista is reached by a long, winding road lined by cross markers representing the stations of the cross. Built in 1750 and reconstructed in 1953, the tiny chapel affords sweeping views of the surrounding sea from its perch on the northeastern tip of the island. Closer to downtown Oranjestad, the Santa Ana Church was built in 1776 and is noted for its hand-carved, neo-Gothic oak altar.

Offshore, there are several accessible shipwrecks, particularly along the southeastern coast of the island, which are popular dive destinations. And, of course, the Caribbean water's surface is a popular playground for water-sports enthusiasts of all stripes.

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