Aruba's Countryside Puts Beach to Shame

But despite repeat visits to the island and the use of a map, we got lost while driving around one afternoon, and were amazed to find how quickly our route became a long, dusty road where goats and iguanas had the right of way. On another day of our trip, we opted for a daylong bus tour, for $40 a person, which included lunch at a local eatery. As we headed to the Parke Nacional Arikok — Aruba's national park, covering 20 percent of the island — the sea and the dunes of Boca Prins appeared as a mirage of vibrant blue and white. But the drive also felt a little like a roller coaster ride — narrow, winding, bumpy roads were the only way to the Fontein Cave, which boasts bat-filled tunnels and ancient drawings attributed to the Arawak Indians who populated the island before the Europeans arrived.

The park is also home to the Tunnel of Love and Guadiriki caves. If you're there at the right time and you climb to the caves' entrance, you'll see sunlight streaming into two huge chambers. Some say the passageways hold the spirits of pirates and star-crossed lovers. Emerging from the caves, you might see — as we did — a herd of wild donkeys grazing in the distance.

Dive sites near Aruba are extraordinary, with at least a dozen shipwrecks. Nothing compares to the grand dame known as the Antilla, just a mile offshore and not far from another tourist draw — the California Lighthouse in Noord.

An Underwater Tapestry

Splashes of color — mostly lobsters, fish and tube sponges — create an underwater tapestry running through the World War II German freighter. It's one of the largest wrecks in the Caribbean, and fairly intact despite its history. The ship's captain scuttled the 400-foot long vessel when Aruba authorities ordered him to surrender. He went to prison; the Antilla went 60 feet under.

On Aruba's North Coast, the remote, uneven terrain invites mountain biking, off-road safaris and all-terrain vehicles. Traveling the well-worn dirt trails by horseback takes stamina; wear a hat and sunscreen and drink plenty of water. On the island's eastern shore, waters are choppy. The waves are especially strong at an area called Boca Mahos — which translates to "ugly mouth." In contrast, the lagoon at the island's southernmost tip, across from South America, is so tranquil that the locals say babies can swim there — hence its name, Baby Beach.

But the most popular beaches are places like Palm and Eagle, along the West Coast, near the hotels. Just let the divi-divi trees point the way.

If You Go…

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