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Touring the Northern Shore of Aruba

Aug 11, 2008
Aruba is an island of great contrasts. Most people are familiar with the luxurious resorts set along white sand beaches. However, within just a few miles of the pristine beaches and calm water, there is a vast array of unique environments and tourist sites - from the limestone cliffs and crashing waves found at the California Lighthouse to the otherworldly rock formations of Ayo and Casibari. Many such sites rest along a dirt road that hugs the northern shore of Aruba, a place of natural beauty and remarkable Caribbean views.

Perched on a hilltop at the island's northernmost point, the California Lighthouse offers visitors some of the best views in Aruba. Though the lighthouse is only a short drive from Oranjestad, the surroundings make the area seem like a different world. Instead of the white sand beaches and calm water found in Aruba's capital city, the northwestern shore is known for its craggy coastline and crashing waves. Just inland from the lighthouse are the California Sand Dunes, a series of gently rolling hills with abundant desert vegetation. When taking in the whole area, visitors are often granted an eye-opening glimpse of Aruba's remarkable natural diversity.

East of the California Lighthouse, visitors will find the Alto Vista Chapel perched on a similar bluff overlooking the northern coast. The dirt road connecting the lighthouse and Alto Vista Chapel is a treasure in itself, as it follows the dramatic coastline for several miles. Yet, while there are a number of great viewpoints along the road, the chapel stakes claim to one of Aruba's most beautiful locations. Alto Vista Chapel is the Aruba's oldest house of worship, originally built in 1750 by native Caiquetio Indians and Spanish colonizers. Though the chapel was abandoned for centuries, the new church - built in the 1950s and painted the same vibrant yellow as the original - has become a special sanctuary for locals and visitors alike.

After just a short drive to the east along the same coastal road, travelers will come upon the Bushiribana Ruins, the remnants of Aruba's once-booming gold mines. It is believed that the Aruba's gold rush was set in motion by a young boy finding gold scattered in a creek bed near the northern coast. For three decades, locals were encouraged to gather and sell gold themselves. With plenty of gold still being found into the mid-19th century, the Aruba Island Gold Mining Company purchased the rights to much of island's gold-rich land. In 1872, the company finished construction on a large smelter, a facility that dominated the landscape of the northern coast. Within 10 years, the smelter was abandoned, its massive ruins in place to this day. In addition to admiring the relics of the colonial era, visitors can ascend the structure to catch a panoramic view of the Caribbean Sea.

Again heading east along the coastal road, travelers will quickly reach the oft-photographed Natural Bridge. Rising 25 feet above the surface of the Caribbean Sea, the limestone arch is a product of the northern shore's punishing surf. The centuries-long natural process has yielded one of Aruba's most enduring landmarks and an excellent location for picnics and relaxation. After snapping a few shots of the windswept sea and the bridge it created, tourists can visit the souvenir shop and refreshment stand to complete the experience.

Heading south from Natural Bridge towards Oranjestad, visitors can take in two groups of bizarre rock formations. The first group, Ayo Rock Formations, rest in a secluded area and exude a truly mystical presence. Used by ancient inhabitants as either a dwelling or place of worship, the Ayo Rock Formations are a series of precariously stacked boulders, many with petroglyphs and other markings. Just a few miles away, the Casibari Rock Formations rise from the desert landscape, captivating everyone who happens to visit. A trail at the site winds through the formations, providing an excellent vantage point of giant stones shaped like birds, dragons and other strange creatures.

Jeep and off-road vehicle rentals provide the most exciting way to see the northern coast of Aruba. Rentals are available throughout Oranjestad and the resort areas at a number of shops or can be arranged through your concierge. If you would rather sit back and enjoy the ride, taxis visit all of the sites along the northern coast and often have affordable rates for day tours.

If you want to experience some of the remarkable natural diversity that Aruba is known for, the northern shore is one of the best places to start. As the area can be toured in a single day, you and your family will still have plenty of time to enjoy the beaches and luxurious amenities that drew you to this fantastic island.
About the Author
Justin Burch writes articles about travel in Aruba for the Marriott Resorts.
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