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Aruba is an independent state that is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, in the far south of the Caribbean, only about 16 miles (27km) north of the coast of Venezuela. It has a land area of approximately 75 square miles (193 sq. km), just a bit larger than Washington DC. The climate is drier than much of the Caribbean, with sunny days basically year round, and very little risk of hurricanes.
Historically, Aruba was under Spanish rule from the beginning of the 16th century until the mid-17th century, when it was taken over by the Dutch. The Dutch continued to administer the island into the 20th century, with only a brief break during the Napoleonic Wars, when the British took control of the island. Through the latter part of the World War II Aruba was a protectorate of both Britain and America. During the 19th century, gold was discovered, and the island became prosperous. This prosperity was bolstered in the early part of the 20th century, when oil infrastructure came to the island.
Unlike most of the Caribbean, Aruba never played a large role in the slave trade or plantation economies. Since Aruba receives very little rainfall, there was no incentive to grow sugar cane or other island crops, which lowered the incentive to make Aruba a major stop in the slave trade. As a result, the demographics of Aruba are predominantly Spanish and Dutch, with influence from the indigenous Arawak peoples.
In 1954 the Netherlands Antilles — which included Aruba — and Surinam became part of the newly reconstituted Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with the actual state of the Netherlands in Northern Europe, as autonomous regions with voting powers in regards to matters that affected the entire Kingdom. This also meant that rather than being subject to the rule of the government of the Netherlands, they could make decisions autonomously about internal matters. In 1986 Aruba separated from the Netherlands Antilles, becoming an independent country, but remaining part of the greater Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Since the 1990s the tourism industry in Aruba has steadily grown, giving the island a strong and stable economy. The weather in Aruba is a large draw for visitors, who can expect to find cloudless days almost all the time. The beautiful ocean views, proximity to mainland South America, and bleached-white beaches are also motivating factors. The standard of living in Aruba is quite high for the Caribbean, with a per-capital GDP among the island’s 100,000 citizens of roughly 24,000 US Dollars (USD).
Aruba caters to vacationers, and the island is home to many small bed and breakfasts, bungalows, hotels, and large resorts. The Aruban currency is the Aruban Florin, with an exchange rate of roughly 1.75 florins to the US Dollar. An average room costs between 100 and 200 florins (50-100 USD), with luxury rooms going for much more. Meals cost between 10 and 40 florins (5-20 USD). Because of the strong economy and commitment to tourism, nearly any convenience can be found in Aruba, making it an excellent place to travel for those who want to keep their comforts close at hand.
One of the nice things about visiting Aruba is that most Arubans speak several languages fluently, including Dutch, Spanish and English. They pride themselves on being multi-lingual. Many of the prices in local stores are in both Aruban florins and US dollars. The capital city of Oranjestad looks more like 1950s America or Holland than a tropical locale like Jamaica. There is a great public bus system that will take visitors practically anywhere on the island for a nominal fare.
As our tour guide put it, the crime rate on Aruba is so low that the police spend most of their time playing cards. One part of the island is desert and scrub brush, but they do grow aloe vera
plants on that land. The beaches are spectacular, and the weather is consistently warm.
There are definitely some touristy places in Oranjestad, but if you walk just one block over, you'll find local street vendors offering the same souvenirs and food for a much better price.
In Aruba (together with Curaçao & Bonaire) the language Papiamento is spoken.