North Coast

Picture of waves In contrast to the south side of Aruba, the north coast is relatively rugged. There aren't really any safe swimming beaches and almost no settlements at all. There are a couple stretches of this side of the island that are paralleled by dirt roads but in many places there is no direct access to the coast.
Picture of north_shore One area that most visitors make it to is the Natural Bridge. This is supposedly the number one thing to go see in Aruba and there are buses, party buses, jeep tours, ATV tours and horseback tours to see it. We rented a car for a couple days in order to discover what all the commotion was about. Natural Bridge certainly isn't any reason to rent a car though. This is a rest area along the coast road to Natural Bridge. It would have been more scenic if it weren't for the jeep tours roaring past every few minutes.
Picture of nat_bridge_closeup Here's the sort of picture one sees in brochures of Aruba for Natural Bridge. It looks impressive enough doesn't it?
Picture of natural_bridge This is what it actually looks like. More people than you'll find anywhere else in Aruba walking around on the designated landmark of the island. As you can see, in reality it's not very big. There are also at least two more of these formations nearby that do not have a horde of people standing on them. It's unclear to us why this one was specially chosen. Also not visible here is the gift shop, restaurant, and vast parking lot. There is no hike to the spot unfortunately as that would at least spread people out a little bit. All in all this was quite disappointing. And speaking of disappointing, the Casibari rock formations nearby are another highlight of Aruba. Really it's a very big boulder with a staircase to the top of it. Casibari also comes with gift shop and restaurant.
Picture of gold_smelter There are some interesting things in the area though, they just aren't the advertised spots. Near the Ostrich farm (another dubious attraction) are these remains of a gold smelter. This dates from a brief gold rush on the island during the 19th century. The site is known as the Bushiribana ruins.
Picture of ajo_rocks This is the lesser known Ayo rock formation. These are much harder to find off of a maze of unsigned dirt roads near the edge of Arikok National Park. This area has a small network of paved paths where you can find more lizard varieties if you get tired of the common beach ones. There are also some relatively ancient petroglyphs around. Ayo was utterly deserted when we visited although our time here was cut short by an extremely intense rainstorm.
Picture of cacti Along the inland border of Arikok National Park we put our rental car to the test in navigating some rural roads during a rainstorm. Many of these so-called roads quickly became rivers instead. Signs are rare at best and generally hand-written in something like crayon on an old piece of wood and then placed face down under a goat so good luck finding them. It's a small island though and you can't really get very lost. We tried. There's some fascinating places back in there too and a whole lot of cacti.
Picture of dunes Eventually we did enter Arikok. The park road is a rugged dirt track that requires a decent amount of clearance and runs from an unspecified spot in the interior of the island down to the coast and then along it towards the Eastern tip of the island. As you approach the coast, you'll come across an area of sand dunes. There are a few hiking trails leaving from here as well as a couple other trailheads in the interior. We didn't take any long hikes because of the unpredictable weather on that day. Also, all of the secluded spots of great natural beauty mentioned in our guide books were regularly visited by jeep tours. Hiking two miles to a hidden tide pool loses a lot of its intrigue when six or seven jeeps come roaring down the trail a few minutes later.
Picture of north_beach There are a couple of interesting beaches where the road hits the coast as well as the 'Arikok information center'. We quoted that because the Arikok information centers are actually unmanned huts the size of a phone booth with a stack of useless brochures and a pinup calendar from 1987. You probably want a guidebook to do any real exploring here.
Picture of donkey There are wild donkeys around the park. They aren't terribly exciting but there isn't much wildlife in Aruba so they have to do. They share the park with lizards, and assortment of interesting birds, and the elusive Aruban rattlesnake. We actually saw more brightly colored tropical birdlife at the beach hotels than we did in Arikok. After a long scientific study that involved sitting at several outdoor bars drinking fruity tropical drinks we have determined that yellow colored birds seem to be partial to Kahlua. Nearly everything was yellow colored so we don't really have any further conclusions from that study.
Picture of quadariki_cave Perhaps the most interesting feature in Arikok are the caves. Bring a flashlight. There are a couple of caves which can be visited although you're generally on your own. Quadiriki is definitely the most interesting of these as it has several rooms with natural lighting thanks to openings in the ceiling. The caves are also the only part of the park where we found rangers, so nearly all of our information came from a semi-guided cave visit with one of them. At the other end of Arikok is the uninspiring town of San Nicolas. There are a few more protected beaches near San Nicolas but they're in the shadow of the power plant so they aren't exactly scenic by Aruban standards.

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