Aruba has earned its title, “One Happy Island.” One of three Dutch islands in the Lesser Antilles with Curaçao and Sint Maarten, Aruba is located safely below the hurricane zone. The island temperature is a constant 27 degrees Celsius (81 Fahrenheit), days are sunny and dry, and warm trade winds fan the air. On the southwest coast, coconut palms, cacti, and aloe vera plants dot the white sands of Palm and Eagle beaches. On the northeast side, rugged cliffs hug the coast. Mostly flat, the highest elevation is Mount Jamanota at 189 meters (617 feet).
Eagle Beach, considered the most beautiful stretch of sand in the Caribbean, lies on a knob of land that reaches into the sea. The sand is squeaky fine, and the turquoise water is shallow enough to wade out several yards. In the spring, leatherback turtles creep onto the beach and lay their eggs, and after two months the hatchlings scramble for the water under the watchful eyes of nature monitors.
My husband and I were looking for an environmentally friendly stay, and Bucuti and Tara Boutique Resort on Eagle Beach looked to be just the ticket. Owner Ewald Biemans named the resort Bucuti after one of the island’s coral reef where he liked to take a boat and retreat for solitude and relaxation. Tara is the Sanskrit word for “star,” and at night the sky is studded with twinkling lights. The lodging caters to the eighteen-and-over tourist and requires a five-night stay at around $500 per night for a standard room, which includes taxes and a full European breakfast.
Situated on fourteen acres, the four-star hotel has 104 rooms and suites, a spa, and an infinity pool, but we chose it for Biemans’s eco-tourism mission and the numerous environmental awards he has garnered. Solar panels cover the roof of the hotel building, and the workout machines in the resort’s gym generate electricity as visitors use them. You’ll see no plastic anywhere, and even food left on diners’ plates is scraped into buckets for a local farmer to use as pig feed. According to Biemans, we would expend less energy staying a week at his resort than we would remaining home and driving to work each day. Bucuti and Tara is, in fact, the only carbon-neutral resort in the Caribbean. A guilt-free vacation was exactly what we were looking for.
Mr. Biemens, who hails originally from Austria, is considered a pioneer of sustainable tourism, and the resort has won numerous awards for environmental innovations, including The World Tourism and United Nations Global Climate Action Awards. The resort’s motto is “Romance, Wellness, Sustainability.” I would add hospitality to that list. When we arrived from the airport via taxi, two people greeted us at the curb, a porter offering to take our bags and a concierge who welcomed us and led us to the lobby where we were each offered a glass of champagne before checking in.
The standard room has a king-size bed. The closet holds robes, yoga mats, and a safe for valuables. We filled the two insulated thermos bottles with filtered water and were invited to take them home at the end of our stay. An air purifier and dehumidifier keep the air fresh and free of mold. A door leading to a private patio with a table and two chairs allows views of the beach and garden, which is sprinkled daily with greywater from the showers. Above the patio, flags of Aruba, the European Union, the Netherlands, England, Canada, and the USA wave in the breeze.
The official Aruban language is Dutch, but Papiamentu is predominantly spoken among the locals. A form of Spanish Creole, Papiamentu is a mixture of Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English, and African words and phrases. Although all Arubans are bilingual and speak English fluently, it is appreciated when you use Papiamentu to say “Bondia” for good morning and “Masha danki” for thank you.
Eagle Beach drew us almost before we had unpacked our bags. But first we used the iPad provided in our room to reserve an umbrella and accompanying cushioned beach lounges and towels. Should we choose an spot around the infinity pool where the jetted tub is solar heated, or cozy up to the bar, or get close to the Caribbean water? No worries—when thirst or hunger calls, we raise the red flag attached to the lounge chair, and a waiter appears to take our order, brings our desired drink or snack immediately, and we sign the bill to our room.
A word of caution—get organic sunscreen from the lobby giftshop, and keep to the shade of the umbrella. The trade winds give the impression the equatorial sun is benign, but don’t be deceived. In case of burn, purchase a tube of the local aloe to slather on pinked skin.
On weekdays, Pilates, yoga, and tai chi classes are complimentary, as well as an early morning mindfulness beach walk. The full breakfast offers pastries, meats, cheeses, yogurts, cereals, fruits, crepes, oatmeal, and eggs any way you desire them, including Benedict and omelets. Vegetarian and vegan options are always available.
Bucuti and Tara boasts two restaurants. The bar at Elements is on the beach, and the patio invites outdoor dining. The red snapper is delicious, and my husband enjoyed chicken fettuccini. With wine, the bill came to well under $100. For more upscale dining, Senses offers an extravagant five or eight-course prix fixe dinner with wine pairing. One evening we booked a table in the courtyard at Ike’s next door at the Manchebo resort. A mango martini whetted my appetite for mushroom risotto, and my husband relished the local mahi-mahi dish. Be sure to make reservations as resort restaurants get busy, especially during winter and spring seasons.
U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere as well as Aruban and Dutch money, but since the pandemic, most restaurants and upscale stores prefer credit cards. For the several casinos on the island, a credit card will buy you a ticket to play the machines. Resorts hug the east coast of Aruba, including the Hyatt Regency, Courtyard Marriott, Hilton Oceanfront, Renaissance Wind Creek, Ritz-Carlton, and our Bucuti and Tara.
Sundays are quiet, and most shops and restaurants are closed, so we walked across the parking lot to Bob’s Pizza where during happy hour a medium pizza is upgraded to large at no extra cost. The barbecue chicken with mushrooms is tasty with enough to take back to our room for the next day’s lunch.
If you are willing to pry yourself from your cushioned lounge chair on Eagle Beach, it’s worth an afternoon trip to downtown Oranjestad for shopping at Louis Vuitton, Ralph Lauren, Gucci, Rolex, and other designer stores that sell below U.S. and European prices. We bought tee shirts at the flea market across from the Renaissance resort and cooled ourselves with a couple of the local Balashi beers at a bar on the dock where charter boats load passengers for a day of fishing. It’s also impressive to watch giant cruise ships approach the docks at the north end of Oranjestad.
Island tours are available via bus, all-terrain vehicle, or horseback. Jet skis and windsurfers can be rented, or sign up for a workshop in making aloe scrub, birdwatching, or meditation. For an evening of romance, take a sweetheart sunset sail aboard a catamaran or a Spanish Lagoon cruise on a 115-foot wooden schooner.
We chose to rent a reconditioned pink 1960s era VW Beetle from Vintage Aruba Rentals. The four-gear manual has no air conditioning, but vent windows push open to bring in a cool breeze. Venturing north, we stopped at California Lighthouse on the northeast tip of the island near Arashi Beach and the Sasariwichi dunes. Named for the steamship California sunk in nearby waters in 1891, the lighthouse asks a $5 fee to climb to the top, small price to pay for a spectacular view.
Only off-road vehicles are allowed on the unpaved road along the western edge of the island, so my hopes of walking the Peace Labyrinth at Alto Vista Chapel were dashed. Instead, we steered the VW toward interior paved roads where houses are modest with an occasional food market and bakery. I wanted to see one of the animal sanctuaries, and we paid the $10 entry fee for Philip’s Animal Garden, which includes a bag of grain nuggets and carrots to feed the four-legged animals. The gatekeeper said all the animals—including ostriches, donkeys, peacocks, monkeys, snakes, horses, and a camel, among other creatures—have been rescued from circuses and inhumane conditions in South America. I especially liked the half dozen piglets with the mama pig who opened her mouth to let me drop in food. We found the facility clean and the animals healthy and were glad to contribute to their care.
On advice not to miss Baby Beach, we headed past Queen Beatrix International Airport and the Citgo Oil Refinery to the south end of the island. The parking lot was crowded, but we found a small spot for the VW and marched toward the silvery sand. The beach is officially known as Klein Lagoen and its shallow crystalline water is the perfect spot for snorkelers and children learning to swim.
The afternoon sun had bathers crowded under the shade of the few palapas, so we retreated to Rum Reef Restaurant for Magic Mango beers created for Balashi Brewery by Aruba’s first female brew master. Seated on the deck with a view of Baby Beach under a cloudless sky, we sipped and lunched on grouper sandwiches with fried plantains.
After a week in this paradise, it was hard to leave Aruba. In fact, 70 percent of those who stay at Bucuti and Tara are repeat visitors. One woman we met was on her tenth visit. Biemans says, “Nature is the pillar of our economy, as without our unspoiled nature, there is no tourism.” When we climbed into our taxi for the airport, we had become believers.