La Guajira is a department of Colombia of which i have only seen a tiny bit when visiting the beaches of Palomino with its crazy waves. This time round we found the time to see the real La Guajira – a peninsula made up of mostly wastelands and desserts not far from the border to Venezuela and (by air) not far from Aruba (Aruba 🇦🇼: Happy Island Life).
Northernmost tip of Colombia & South America
Long journey: If you ask me, the best way to travel the 300km to Cabo de la Vela is by motorbike (ideally an Enduro, but roadbike works fine too as long as its dry) and probably with a stop. We opted for public transport instead though it is cumbersome and takes 10 hours (!) spread over 4 vehicles (Santa Marta, Riohacha, Quattrovillas, Uribia, Cabo de la Vela). The most interesting part of the journey is the 4×4 from / to Uribia where you share precious little space with lots of people and tons of boxes with ice cubes!
Hot & dry!
Tough life: Life in this part of Colombia is far from easy. Basic things like water, electricity and road infrastructure are missing or in poor condition. The proximity to Venezuela doesn’t help either other than with cheap petrol contraband that crosses the border in Coca Cola bottles (EUR0,35 / liter vs. EUR0,70 officially).
The people: In Guajira you will find the tribe of the Wayuu with markedly different looks – darker hair, dark skin. They also have their own language and not all speak Spanish including many young people.
Kite tourism: While the village of Cabo de la Vela was pretty empty when we visited (season is June & Nov-Jan when you will struggle to find accomodation), there were quite a few kite surfers around. And quite skillful ones at that. Impressive to say the least.
Overall a great time especially with our two travel companions (Xiomara & Astrid) from Bogota. Generally I am not a huge fan of very hot and dry places, but La Guajira is a place worth seeing. Next time we come for a little longer and get kitesurfing ourselves!
Aruba was an unusual holiday for us given that I normally chase Laura and myself on foot, bike or canoe through the world. Being in one place for 10 days was quite relaxing and also a little treat for my 39th birthday. Still, our time on the island turned out pretty active with kite surfing, snorkeling, parasailing, diving, motorbiking, quad biking and many other activities. Put it this way, we didn’t have a single ‘beach-only’ day while we were on the Island …
Laura’s comment: For Aruba, I can only say that it is an amazing place!!! The landscapes, the atmosphere, the beaches and the activities are really incredible! Although it is not very economical 😕 Our time together on this beautiful island was a good time for reflection 👫😎.
Aruba basics: Aruba is a Caribbean island located just 30km north of Venezuela (the differences in living conditions couldn’t be more stark). It is one of four countries forming the Kingdom of the Netherlands alongside Curaçao and Sint Maarten. All Arubans are Dutch nationals. The economy is mainly tourism (75%) chiefly from the US and Aruba has its own currency (the Florin, 1.79% Florin = 1USD).
Kite surfing: Getting the hang of it
After my Thai boxing exercise and motorbike license this year, I managed to knock off another activity from my bucket list … learning how to kite surf. Aruba is a pretty decent place for it given permanent and reasonably constant winds. So let’s go.
Laura and I decided to take our lessons with Armando’s kite shack and jumped straight into our first lesson – all about kite control (steering left /right with cords & bar, power zones etc) on land and later in water. It went reasonably well though lack of winds forced an early finish and we postponed.
Our second lesson started straight in the water and made you swallow some sea water, as we tried to control the kite, do figures of eight, play with the power zone, body surf etc. Laura decided to drop out still curing her diving accident back in Colombia – good decision as the unavoidable dives during training would have made things worse. I continued the 3h set solo and by the end managed to get up here or there and actually kite surf. Enough for today …
The next two sessions I did solo and picked up a bit more confidence and an injury on my left arm/shoulder, as I didn’t release the kite quick enough and it propelled me forward like a rocket. Quite powerful these kites, especially in power zone and pulling the bar towards you. Got the basics, but much more to learn next time.
Our favorite bars & restaurants
Zeeroovers: Best value in Aruba. Great taste.
Moomba Beach: Especially good with live music. Happy hour around sunset.
Passions on the Beach: Tables right in the sand and a decent menu. Something for a romantic evening … like my birthday.
Soprano’s piano bar: Been there many nights. Love the live music.
Kalins Mexican Food: Right in the heart of Palm Beach. Great service & value.
Diving plane wrecks
I went only on one diving trip while in Aruba with two tanks. Laura joined us though and got to enjoy a free boat ride. Our target were two plane wrecks that were purposely sunk to create dive sites (otherwise they would be smashed …). See here a youtube video of the dive (not my recording).
Overall, quite a nice experience with several fish around – the spotted eels and morays standing out for me personally. I was quite happy that I didn’t struggle as much with air as I usually do … I must have been more quiet under water.
Aruba Languages: Dutch and Papiamento are the official languages though Spanish, English and even Portuguese are widely spoken reflecting the versatile background of the Aruban population and migrant workers. So we got by …
Dank u/Dank je
Pasa un bon dia
Que tenga un buen día
Passa/Tenha um bom dia
Have a good day
Con cos ta?(Informal)
Con ta bai?
¿Cómo estás?/¿Cómo te va?
Hoe gaat het?
How are you?
Mi ta bon
(Yo) Estoy bien
(Eu) Estou bem
Met mij gaat het goed
I am fine
¿Qué hora es?/¿Qué horas son?
Que hora tem?/Que horas são?
Hoe laat is het?
What time is it?
Mi por papia Papiamento
(Yo) Puedo hablar papiamento
(Eu) Posso falar papiamento
Ik spreek Papiaments
I can speak Papiamento
Aruba ta bunita
Aruba es bonita
Aruba é bonita
Aruba is mooi
Aruba is beautiful
Parasailing: Panorama & Sea Turtles
Parasailing is available pretty much every where in Palm beach for less than $100 for two (10min flight). You get to enjoy some great views over Aruba and, if you are lucky and in the right spot, loads of sea turtles in all sorts of shapes and sizes. We opted not to take our mobile up (which would have been possible) … so no aerial pictures sadly.
A day on a Harley ….
In summer I finally completed my full motorbike license (see here), but never actually used it since. Aruba was a perfect place to do so and so we hired a Harley Davidson, more specifically a Heritage Softail with 1600ccm & some 70hp. Nice ride.
It was the first time we were mobile (there is a bus network, just needs a lot of patience) and hence checked out the island. First all the way to San Nicolas with Baby beach, then the graffitis in San Nicolas town, lunch at the famous (and amazing) Zeerover’s serving just the catch of the day nicely BBQ’d, Alto Vista chapel and then back all the way to the other end to the California lighthouse.
Very enjoyable altogether.
39th birthday bash: 24 hours+ of fun together
Laurita did a fantastic job organising my 39th birthday. We kicked off at a German restaurant the evening beforehand with traditional German food and beer – even one from my home state (let’s not think about the prices …). Afterwards we hit the nightlife.
The actual birthday was pretty relaxed and started late (so I could be home and take phone calls) before we hit Passions on the beach restaurant for a lovely and very romantic dinner. Obviously, Laura had to inform the restaurant of my special day and they turned up with a tasty dessert and fireworks to my surprise.
We continued to Moomba beach and danced away to some excellent night music before having a night cab at Soprano’s piano bar. One can’t ask for a lot more … gracias amor!
All beaches on the downwind side of the island (concentrated around Palm beach, but also closer to the lighthouse and San Nicolas) are kind of picture perfect. The Palm and Eagle beach ones seem especially well maintained given their close proximity to the large hostels. If a storm stirs up rocks, dredging boats even things out. We liked the atmosphere there be it clearly touristic. If you prefer it more quiet/local and you have transport, check out baby beach near San Nicolas.
Exploring Arikok National Park on a quad bike
During our time on the Harley we passed by the entrance to Arikok national park that covers close to 20% of Aruba. It was pretty obvious that we stand no chance with a heavy road bike and hence needed a different ride or walk in the park. So we rented a quad bike or ATV as they call it here.
I never tried riding one of these and admittedly it felt a little weird initially. Gas is controlled by a lever (not the handlebar) and you have to watch out in bends. However, once you get to the rather challenging roads in the park it shines through stability. Laura did most of the driving anyway. Quite impressive.
First up we visited two caves (#9 in above map) before making it over to the natural pool (#3) where we enjoyed a refreshing swim after many miles on dusty tracks and blazing sun. Most places on this side of the island are restricted for swimming due to very strong winds and currents present here … really dangerous yet nice to watch.
I was never too much into butterflies to be frank, but in Aruba I still figured its worthwhile seeing the butterfly farm close to Palm Beach. In hindsight, the USD16pP entrance is pretty steep for what you get but heh. Laura for her part had fun (yet little luck) trying to get a clean picture of a blue butterfly.
The farm is host to 35 species of butterflies and moths with some 800 in total. There are butterflies from the rain forest (with more prominent colors) and tropical ones (more plain). On average they live for just 6 weeks though some up to 9 month or a year. Part of the short life span relates to the unhealthy diet of fermented fruit that contain alcohol (2.5%) and actually makes the butterflies drunk!
The butterflies are born in Aruba yet most don’t reproduce there. Rather, the chrysalis are imported from dedicated dealers in London and Costa Rica. Hatching happens every morning 6.45am and can be observed with the ticket.
Moth vs. butterfly: Usually we think the color is a good indication. However, more biological moths have wings on the abdomen and not on back like butterflies. This means that moths can not fully close their wings. Further, moth can be nocturnal or active daytime helped by additional antennas while butterflies are always active during the day. The largest moth we saw was the King Cobra moth – the largest in the world at 12inch wingspan.
I guess a boat trip is sort of mandatory when you visit an island. There are plenty options ranging from party cruise to romantic sunset dinner to private hire. We jumped on the Jolly Pirate after lunch party cruise. That gets you relatively cheap booze (by Aruban standards), some good chat (we met a nice couple from the US), gets you snorkeling on a reef and above a ship wreck and you get to try the swing. It was fun and we were pretty tipsy by the time we got off the boat … though some more than others :o)