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My name is Smita Jacob, I'm a Boston-based travel, fashion, lifestyle and food photographer.

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Travel: Aruba: One Happy Island

Travel: Aruba: One Happy Island

I was recently invited to visit Aruba and stay at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort Spa and Casino to celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Aruba is known as One Happy Island, and it's very easy to see why with its crystal clear blue waters, white-sand beaches, blissful summer weather in the high 80s, extraordinary hospitality and a myriad of delicious foods. Located off the coast of Venezuela and south of the hurricane belt, Aruba is also very close to the equator, which makes it hot and dry. Thankfully the constant winds help keep it cool while also contributing to the trademark slant of the trees (as in the above pictured famous divi-divi tree on Eagle Beach).

My arrival into Aruba began with a welcome card with my name on it, black car service to the hotel with chilled champagne and a chilled wash-cloth upon check-in. These unexpected little gestures add up to the perfect stay.

The grounds at the Hyatt are immaculately groomed, decorated with exotic flowers, parrots and the prettiest blue lizards I'd ever seen.

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At the foot of the Ruinas del Mar restaurant is a koi pond, with black swans and turtles bathing on sun-covered rocks.

Lunch at the Palms Restaurant proved to be relaxing and satisfying (in fact, so good, I ordered the same Palms Salad twice over the course of my stay). I even attempted to recreate the Palms salad at home (potatoes creole, spinach, green beans, cherry tomatoes, lime pesto dressing topped with grilled salmon) and didn't even come close (I suppose the missing ingredient is the ocean breeze??)

I find it truly relaxing to feel the sand between my toes, the salted wind in my hair and sunscreen on my skin and to take a dip in the ocean. If swimming in the ocean is not your thing, the resort has three pools, a water slide and a swim-up bar!

Speaking of sand-between-the-toes...dinner at Footprints allows you to do just that. Al fresco dining at its finest.

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One of the best ways to see Aruba is by doing a Jeep island tour. ECO Destination Management Services sent us on a Jurassic-Park style Jeep to see the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins, the Natural Bridge, and the Natural Pool ending with lunch at the Casibari Rock Formations (complete with steel drummer to set the mood).

The Jeep tour takes you first through Aruban side streets passing fields of towering cactii, then into a bumpy ride over desert rocks and over sandy dunes to the Busiribana Gold Mill Ruins on the northern coast, where the desert lands meet the ocean, and along the coast lies stacks of wishing stones!

There's a little tuck shop (the Happy Stop) parked beside the ruins if you're craving a bit of a snack, and the owner was really photogenic!

One can also arrive at Bushiribana on horse-back! Also seen: wild dogs, goats but alas, no donkeys.

The natural bridge that led from one part of the island to another collapsed in September of 2005 (from natural erosion and thankfully nobody was hurt). There is however, still an existing natural bridge which is a beauty to see, and a popular stop on the Jeep tour.

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The Natural Pool is another hidden gem, and one that although quite the trek to get down to, is a sight to see. Once there, it's a swim-at=your-own-risk situation.

The natural pool is a volcanic stone formation with waves crashing over it, creating a pool known as "conchi" (means bowl in Papiamento, the most widely used language of Aruba). That particular day, the winds were high and the waves crashing strongly into the bowl. Tim, another photographer who was part of our group was the only one who jumped in!

After all this excitement, it was time to EAT! And eat we did, under the shade of the trees at the Casibari Rock Formation accompanied by both traditional and current popular hits from a talented steel drum musician.

To ease the kinks from a wild Jeep ride, a trip to the ZoiA spa is a must! After my massage treatment, I personally decided to change the name of the Botanical Massage to the Heavenly Massage.

Breakfast buffets at the Ruinas del Mar were fantastic, a huge spread of items to choose from, and at night, the interior is transformed into a romantic, live-music oasis with delicious seafood options like crab cakes, scallops and mahi-mahi (pictured below).

I always love to buy local items from any place I visit and when I learned about Aruba's Dutch influence and the fact that there was a HUGE Dutch Supermarket, I knew I wanted to visit. I had the best tour guides for this shopping spree, and was advised on items that ranged from mayo to chocolate sprinkles (hagelslag) to buns (krentenbrood)! I'm glad I had a big suitcase, because it was all coming back with me!

Downtown Aruba is a bright mix of architecture, with vendors selling crafted goods (if you follow me on Snapchat, you might have seen one of the masks I bought), flea markets as well as high-end stores. And one of the highlights is stopping by the famous divi-divi tree (pictured at the beginning of this post above and below).

No visit to Aruba is complete without a snorkel sail. With Red Sail Sports, we set sail for a half day stopping at the shallow Catalina Bay to set sights on the colorful tropical fish.

Now, I admit, I am not a snorkeler, I'm afraid of the deeper-than-my-height ocean and prefer being on the beach, by the pool or at the spa. However, I DID give it a try: geared up with goggles, snorkel etc., and the instructors at Red Sail Sports were kind enough to check on me as I braved the cold water (yes, it was cold but refreshing) for a bit. The second stop was the famous 400 ft Antilla ship wreck which sank in 1940. Needless to say, it's a good thing I like to take photos of those who are more adventurous than I am!

Our final dinner was at Mexicado, where the cuisine served was not only delicious and authentic Mexican dishes but a special night of sushi as well.

The staff brought out an incredible platter of desserts, which we obviously and appropriately, photographed, instagrammed and snapchatted, instantly!

There was a memorable sunset on the final night....

 

A special thank you to Aruba and to everyone at the Hyatt Aruba for their warm hospitality and showing me that Aruba is, indeed, a happy island!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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