Diving in Aruba
Aruba’s one of those places in the world that ships come to sink. Planes, too. It’s hard to ignore when you have a 400-foot WWII ship, the Antilla, headlining a fleet of wrecks that line your shore. There’s more than wrecks, to be sure, but the wrecks are the big attraction here. Some, like the aforementioned Antilla, have become entire undersea ecosystems. This wreck was scuttled by its German captain in 1945 rather than surrender the ship to Dutch Marines. So, the ship sank virtually intact, and after 65-plus years underwater almost every surface is dripping with sponges and corals, and a variety of marinelife, from eels to blue tangs to battalions of sergeant majors. It’s worth several dives, just by itself. And, at a maximum of 60 feet, you can explore this wreck with ease.
Also on the wreck trail here is the Pedernalis, which was torpedoed by a German submarine in WWII. Several large pieces are spread out over the seafloor. The remains contain a bounty of grouper, snapper and lots of angel fish. The Pedernalis makes for a great shallow night dive when the wreck ignites with cup corals and the stealth moves of night predators.
A favorite purpose sunk wreck is the Debbie II, a 120-foot barge that was sunk in 1992. It has become heavily encrusted and a favorite among local marinelife.
For big drama, you should include the big 300-foot Star Garren, a haven for sea life such as barracuda. The propeller has a particularly striking profile.
Also striking are the Airplane Wrecks, a DC-3 and an S-11. Both offer penetration and make unique photos.
Aruba’s not just about wrecks, either. You’ll find plenty of options for reef exploration. With something for everyone, the Sonesta Reef, which starts in only 15-feet, ripples with the movement of damsels, butterflyfish, wrasse, parrotfish and angelfish over a vibrantly color-packed reef. Skalahein Reef always tops divers list as a local favorite. This sloping reef, which starts in 20-feet and dips down to 140-feet offers a profusion of marinelife, and the best opportunities for encounters with manta rays and spotted eagle rays. Sea turtles frequent the site, too.
See Aruba’s dive sites here.
Passport and/or Visa Requirements
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: All U.S. citizens are required to present a passport, but do not need to obtain a visa. EXIT REQUIREMENTS: All persons leaving the Aruba, pay a Government Departure Tax of approximately USD $32, which may be included in your ticket.
Vaccinations are not required for entry into the Aruba. Check with your doctor and the Centers for Disease Control on recommended vaccinations for travel at Traveler's Health CDC Aruba.
Culture and Customs
An interesting amalgam of cultures have left their mark on Aruba. The Dutch influence is prominently seen in much of the colorful, Dutch colonial architecture, especially in the capital of Oranjestad. Carnival on Aruba has also become a prominent expression of the mix of Caribbean and Christian cultures, and the Carnival, locally called Bacchanalia, on Aruba takes over the island from January through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. With so many US visitors, American cultural staples such as Thanksgiving and Halloween are beginning to find their way into the social fabric. Aruba is also the only country in the world that celebrates Dia Di San Juan with singing and dancing. Aruban love music, and the local beat, called socarengue is accompanied with a sensual dance. The original island inhabitants, the Arawak Indians have left behind petroglyphs and cave paintings in Arikok National Park, and the vestiges of a few place names.
Electricity, Telephone and Internet Access
Electricity in Aruba is 110 volts, 60 cycles, so no adapter will be needed for US visitors. Aruba's country code is 297 and direct dial service is fast and clear. Check with your service provider for long distance/roaming information and costs.
Internet service is available at hotels and internet cafes.
The water is desalinated and is safe to drink in Aruba. The World Health Organization calls the local water some of the best in the world.
Language & Currency
Dutch is the official language, but English and Spanish are widely spoken.
The local currency is the Aruban Florin (AFG) but U.S. dollars are accepted in most places. The Florin and the U.S. dollar are exchanged at 1.77 to 1. Check the current exchange rate here.
History, Art, and Culture
The first European to see Aruba was Spanish explorer, Alonso de Ojeda. The Spanish, upon not finding gold, fresh water or wood, deemed the island “isla unitil,” useless island. But, long before the Spanish arrived, perhaps as long as 4,000 years ago, the Arawak Indians settled on the island and left many reminders of their presence in form of cave paintings in Ayo Cave, among others. The meaning of the rock art has so far eluded experts. No Arawaks remain on Aruba. They were enslaved by the Spanish and moved to Hispaniola to work in the gold mines. In 1842, gold was discovered on Aruba until 1916. Today, tourism and an oil refinery are the main sources of the island’s income.