Aruba in the Dutch Antilles lies just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Step ashore at the berth close to the town centre of Oranjestad, the friendly little capital of this former island of the Dutch West Indies. This multi-coloured town has good shopping, Fort Zoutman built in 1796 and an interesting Archaeology Museum. Aruba has its own 'patois' of Papiamento (blending Dutch with Spanish, Portuguese and African origins), and its largely flat but peaceful landscape is fringed by reefs that grew around an ancient mountain core when the oceans were higher than they are today. Where strong winds and waves batter the coast, the landscape is rugged and desolate. Along the rock-bound shores are coves with stunning white sand beaches, caves with prehistoric drawings, sand dunes, and black pebble beaches. The seas are excellent for diving.
Aruba's brawny trade winds have a way of altering the stature of just about everything-from the gnarled divi-divi trees on the beaches to the eerily sculpted Casibari boulders in the centre of the island - Ayo has been dubbed the Stone Henge of Aruba. What you won't see is lush foliage - Aruba is about as close to a desert island as you'll find in the Caribbean, with stands of cacti and aloe vera dotting the dusty terrain.
Aruba was discovered in 1499 by Alonso de Ojeda and became a Dutch possession in 1636, though settlers did not arrive for more than a century. It was one of the few places in the West Indies where the native population was left in relative peace. About half of today's population are descendants of the Arawak Indians from South America. Gold was discovered in the 19th century, and the population along with tourism grew. Since 1986 Aruba has been considered a separate entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, containing its own Parliament and currency.
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