Bon Bini Festival
This was the highlight of our trip to Aruba, and is a must, on any visit to the island, just make sure you bring a long sleeved t-shirt, because it actually got a bit chilly.
Bon Bini means "welcome" in Papiamento. It's kind of funny that we were seeing the "welcome" festival on our last night, but that's the way our schedule played out. I'm actually glad, because it was a spectacular ending, to our trip.
The festival has been held at Fort Zoutman, every Tuesday night, for the past 25 years, except during the 3 weeks around Christmas and New Years. It's not really a festival, but rather a culture show, which showcases the island's festivals. It was designed as a way to welcome visitors to the island, and showcase some of the island's history, customs, and holidays, through music and dance.
There is an M.C. who goes through the Aruban calendar, highlighting important dates and cultural events. He will explain the event, then it will either be accompanied by a song, or traditional dance, which the M.C. explains as well. They start with New Year, and end with Carnival, the highlight of the show, and there are live musicians that play for the dancers. The M.C. also squeezes in some poetry, and a Papiamento language lesson.
Tickets are sold at the door at 6, and the show starts at 6:30, and goes 'til about 8:30, at least it is supposed to, but they started about 30 minutes late, which seems to be quite common.
There is a steel drum band who is supposed to open the show. They usually play in the courtyard, but for some reason, they were playing on the street. There was calypso music drowning them out, so I had no idea they were out there, until later, so I missed most of the performance. They should bring the band inside.
There was food for sale, but we didn't try any. I read it has made people sick.
They charge $3 for a small cup of juice. That is a bit much.
The M.C. was okay. He over did it a little, but he was funny, and easy to understand, and did a good job explaining everything. Took a bit too long though.
The band was good, but the poet and solo singers were not necessary, and wasted a lot of time. I came here to watch the dances.
The dances were very interesting, and the costumes were beautiful. The waltz went on way too long though. They brought 2 people on stage and were dancing with them for 10 minutes. I was starting to fall asleep. Than they kept bringing the same guy from the audience on stage.
The ending was the best part! The carnival dancers were beautiful. There was one cute, young dancer, who was dancing in front of me the whole time. I asked her if I could dance with her, and she let me. It felt like it was actually carnival time. The atmosphere was just unbelievable! The carnival performance was the highlight of the show. I really liked how they let the audience get involved.
I really wish there would've been more age variety. There was only one young carnival dancer about my age, the rest were all women in their 50s. It would’ve been nice to see some younger dancers, and some kids. It also would've been nice to see some more male dancers. It was basically the same dancers, just in different costumes. I wish they would’ve mixed it up a bit.
I really wish they would've left the poetry and singing out, and performed some more dances instead. I mainly came here to watch the dances, so got a little bored during the singing and poetry. It took up too much time. Papiamento lesson was okay, and the band was great, but they could've done without the singing, and the poetry.
I would've preferred if this was an actual festival, instead of a show, but it's still worth seeing. Finding "culture" in Aruba, is a bit difficult, so festivals like this are a great way to experience the island's culture.
Definitely recommend it.
It would be cool to return to the island, and see the actual festivals they showcased, especially St. John's Night and Carnival.
- Arts and Culture
Plaza Daniel Leo
Considered to be the most beautiful part of the city, Plaza Daniel Leo, is the main shopping area in Oranjestad. One of our cab drivers actually told us, that the shops here are much cheaper than in other parts of the city, and suggested that this is where we do our shopping, so we did some of it here.
I was mainly interested in this plaza for the architecture, but it's worth checking out the shops too, as they do have some nice souvenirs, clothes, and jewelry.
The only disappointment was that someone covered the plaza's beautiful fountain, with an ugly shed. Hopefully they were just redoing the fountain, and it is only temporary.
The Yellow House
This town-country house was built by a Frenchman in 1860. The year 1908 above the central access point, refers to the year the house was purchased, by Richard John Eman.
In 1998 the bad news was received that Aruba Bank at the Caya Betico Croes, wanted to demolish this town country house on the forecourt of the bank building. This was a huge disappointment to monuments conservation institutes. The building was one of the last town-country houses on the busy shopping street. At the time, the possibility of prior protection of monuments have not been approved yet, by the Parliament.. In August of 2000, the monument board decided to move the property, to its current location on the Weststraat.
The Yellow House currently houses an Arena, which is open to the public.
- Historical Travel
Most people don't come to Oranjestad for its museums, but this one is worth a visit. The museum is housed in a series of beautiful 19th colonial buildings, and showcases the entire history of the island, from the first inhabitants, the Arawak, all the way up to Dutch Colonialism.
The museum's main focus, however, is the island's pre-European culture. The museum mainly focuses on the Arawak culture, but also explains how European settlers interacted with them, and helped move them forward, by giving them things, they did not have. It also talks about the not so good things they did.
The museum mainly displays Arawak pottery, crafts, jewelry, and tools, mostly from the ceramic period, but also displays artifacts that were brought over by the Europeans. It also displays a replica of an Arawak hut, ceremonial costumes, petrogylphs, and colorful canoe, as well as sea shells from the island, and even a small exhibit devoted to the people who discovered these artifacts, the archaeologists.
My personal favorite were the burial, and stone figure exhibit. The stone figures were really interesting, and reminded me a lot of carvings made by meso-American tribes. Makes you wonder if they ever had contact with each other.
Information is in English and Papiamento.
This museum is free, so I would definitely pay a visit. You will learn about a part of the island's history, that's virtually forgotten.
Make sure you get there early, because it closes at 2. The first time we went, it was closing in 10 minutes, so we just rushed through and took pictures of the exhibits. We returned another day, and explored the museum more thouroughly. The museum is not very big, and does not have as many artifacts as I thought it would, but still allow yourself at least an hour, if you want to explore the exhibits thouroughly.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
The complex that houses the city's archaeology museum, is actually a series of historic 19th and 20th century buildings, each with some historical significance.
I decided to just mention all of them in one tip.
Also known as the "Green House", this protected monument in the center of Oranjestad was built in 1929 by Architect Merdardo ‘Dada’ Picus. The property got the nickname "Cas Ecury", because it had been the home of the S.N. Ecury family, for many years. The restoration was conducted on the initiative of the Archaeological Museum, and Monument Office Aruba, and was funded by the European Union.
The building is currently part of the Archaeological Museum.
This picturesque merchant’s home, was built at the end of the 19th century, and completed in the first half of the 20th century.
Abelardo Henriquez was the owner of the property. He was a tailor, ship owner, and merchant. This building used to be called “la casa de la municipal dad”, (the municipality house), because Henriquez did a lot of good deeds for the community.
The house has the characteristics of a warehouse, but it is known that, the upper floor was used as a dwelling. On April 17, 1997 the Monuments Fund of Aruba managed to purchase the complex from Abelardo Jr. Restorations of the building were complete in 2002.
The building currently houses the Aruba Monument office, and is not open to the public.
This stately red building in the Schelpstraat, has been designated as a monument. It was built in 1910, and the floor was added in 1917. The Ecury family was the initiator for building it, however, it is not known who the architect was at the time.
For many years the building was the home of the Ecury family, and it is the birthplace of Aruban War Hero, Segundo Jorge Adel Berto (Boy) Ecury.
The restoration was conducted on the initiative of the Archaeological Museum and Monument Office Aruba, and was funded by the European Union.
The property is currently being used as the office and library of the Archaeological Museum, and is not open to the public.
This merchant’s house was most likely built in the second half of the 19th century. Maximiliano Francisco Arends sold this house in 1913 to the sailor Victor Wild for 600 florins. The house was half the size it is now.
The house has been expanded a few times.
The Monuments Fund of Aruba bought the house from the descendants of Wild, and had it renovated and modernized in 2006.
The Wild House currently houses the Utilities Aruba N.V., and is not open to the public.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
Old Presbyterian Church
Located right next to the New Presbyterian Church, is the Old Presbyterian Church, which is much nicer, and more interesting. This lovely church dates back to 1846, and is the island's oldest house of worship.
Today, the church houses the Bible Museum.
Unfortunately, the entire area was fenced off for construction, so we couldn't get inside. It is a shame. We had no interest in the bible museum, but one of our cab drivers told us, the church looks really beautiful on the inside. I read that it's closed anyways, except for mass.
The exterior is also very pretty, but there were some trees in the way, and as I said the area was fenced off, so I couldn't get a good shot of it. It is a shame, because it is a lovely building.
The new church is nothing interesting, but the old church is definitely worth a visit, when the area is open.
- Religious Travel
- Historical Travel
Stadhuis(Eloy Arends House)
This beautiful building was constructed in 1925.
The house is built by the late Dr. Jacobo Eloy Maria Arends. Eloy Arends was married to Maria Lacle. During their engagement time in 1922, the construction of the Arends residence began, and was completed in 1925. Tradition in Aruba at the time stipulated that on the day of his marriage, a man had to present to his wife, a new and fully furnished house.
Dr. Eloy Arends passed away in 1960, and his son, dentist Jesus Eloy Arends took up the ownership of the house.
In 1986 the estate was sold to the government of Aruba, by Jeus Eloy Arends, as he couldn’t afford to maintain the building. The building was restored in 1997, and today it serves as the Oranjestad town hall.
I read that this building is actually open to the public, but unfortunately the entire building was closed and fenced off for renovations, so there was no access. Too bad, I didn't get to see it from all sides. It looks beautiful.
- Historical Travel
Located inside Fort Zoutman, is the Museo Arubano, also called, the Museum of Aruban Culture.
This museum is not very well known, but it is an interesting one, so it is worth a visit.
I read that this museum focuses on the early, pre-European development of Aruba, but I think people confused it with the Archeological Museum.
This museum focuses mainly on the island's Dutch Colonial Period, showcasing dozens of Dutch artifacts, such as fishing supplies, tools, tea pots, dolls, instruments, sandals, and much more.
It is possible there was stuff from other cultures too, but it is impossible to know, since nothing was labeled. That’s right. The museum was very interesting, but there was one major problem, the exhibits weren't labeled at all. We had to pretty much guess what we were looking at, and what period it was from. We were familiar with most of the items, since they used the same stuff in Poland, but there were some that we had no idea what they were.
There were a few small plaques on the wall, that described the Dutch colonial period, but nothing specific relating to the artifacts, or exhibits. They really need to label the exhibits, so people know what they are looking at.
I guess they didn't bother, since the museum is not very popular. We were the only tourists there.
There is a $5 fee which covers the fort and the museum. If you're visiting the fort, it's worth checking out the museum, as they have some interesting items on display.
The M.C. at the Bon Bini Festival, said the museum is open every day. This is not true. I was there on Saturday, and it was closed, and from the reviews I've read online, it is rarely open.
We later went back on Tuesday, and it was open. The fort hosts the Bon Bini Festival every Tuesday, so the museum is usually open during the day. That would be the best day to visit.
In the yellow building, located in the courtyard of Fort Zoutman.
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
Willem III Tower
The colorful Willem III Tower, is part of the city's historic, Fort Zoutman.
The tower was constructed between 1866 and 1868, much later than the fort, and was originally a lighthouse. The tower is named after King Willem III, of the Netherlands, because it was lit on his birthday.
The tower ceased function as a lighthouse in 1963. Over the years, it has functioned as a clock tower, watchtower, courtroom, library, post and tax office, and even a police station.
Today, it is part of the Fort Zoutman museum.
Unfortunately, you cannot climb the tower, but it is still a nice site to look at.
- Historical Travel
One of the island's most visited sites, Fort Zoutman was built by the Dutch army between 1796 and 1798, to defend against pirates, and other enemies.
Built from stone, coral, and concrete, the fort is the oldest structure on the island.
It is named after Dutch Real Admiral Johan Arnold Zoutman, who fought in the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, and the American Revolutionary War, though he never actually lived on the island.
The fort was only used in battle once, to repel a British attack in 1799.
The fort was renovated in 1826, and was not garrisoned from 1830 to 1834. It was occupied by a small colonial constabulary brigade in 1859.
The present day walls were restored in 1936, using concrete.
The most recent restoration took place from 1974 to 1980.
In 1983, the fort and tower were opened to the public, as a museum.
Today, the fort houses the Aruban Culture Museum, and hosts the Bon Bini Festival, every Tuesday night.
There is a $5 fee to enter the fort and museum.
The M.C. at the Bon Bini festival said, the fort is open every day. This is not true. We went on Saturday, and it was closed. There was actually a wedding taking place, and they had scheduled a photo shoot inside the fort, and it was closed. In fact, from what I read, it is almost always closed.
If you want to see the inside of the fort, and the museum, go on a Tuesday. The Bon Bini Festival takes place on Tuesday, so the fort is open during the day. We went back on Tuesday, and it was open.
The fort is small, but nice, and worth a visit. You cannot climb the tower unfortunately.
On the site of the fort, there are plaques with information, stating the entire history of the island. Also interesting to see.
The staff that collected the fee were very rude. One of the ladies started yelling at us, when we tried to pay in florins. There was only one nice lady, who opened the museum for us, and told us where to buy tickets for the festival, the rest of the staff was very rude.
The lady told us we can buy tickets for the festival up front, but when we tried, they would not sell them to us, and told us to come back at 6:00. It probably had something to do with the little argument we had earlier.
The staff really needs to work on their people skills. We normally would’ve walked away, but we really wanted to see the fort and museum.
- Museum Visits
- Historical Travel
Queen Wilhelmina Park
If you've had enough of the noisey and crowded streets, you can relax at the Queen Wilhelmina Park. The park is named after the longest ruling Dutch monarch in history, 58 years, from 1890-1948. The park has a large statue of her, along with Anne Frank, and other important Dutch and Aruban figures.
The park is small, but nice. This is where locals as well as tourists, come to relax, and watch the iguanas. It's a really good place to bring your kids. They really enjoy the iguanas.
The park is located on the mouth of a small lagoon.
- Family Travel
- Hiking and Walking
Atlantis Submarine Tour
If you have some time to kill in Oranjestad, I would recommend doing the Atlantis Submarine tour. The hour, 45 minute tour costs around $100 per person, and sails out of Oranjestad every day at 11 AM.
You can buy tickets at their office upon arrival. You meet at the marina 15 minutes before the tour starts for a short orientation. They than put you in a boat, and take you out to the submarine, which takes you past coral reefs, shipwrecks, and lands 150 ft., on the bottom of the sea.
We actually found out about this tour when we arrived in Aruba, and it sounded interesting, so we took it. It is worth it for the experience, but don't expect too much. The visibility is poor. The water was a bit dark and murky, so the colors didn't come out properly on the pictures or video I took.
There wasn't much species diversity. Mostly small Angel, Sergeant Major Fish, and some larger fish I don't know the name of. But we also saw a barracuda, a trumpet fish, some scuba divers, some hawksbill sea turtles. The turtles were moving along the ocean floor, and the water was murky. You can see them pretty well with your eye, but they won't come out on camera. I was surprised there weren’t any sharks. A cab driver later told us they are rare here.
It was worth it for the experience, but I was expecting better. There wasn't much species diversity, and the coral was dull. I thought it would be more colorful. You can't really blame the guides for that.
The lady said her favorite part is when the sub lands on the ocean floor, but that was the worst part. The best part is the shipwreck. I just wish it wouldn't sail right next to it, because you can't get a picture of the whole thing.
There was a guide who was explaining everything we were seeing, but it was hard to hear. And I didn't like when the submarine was going down at an angle. People almost fell over.
Again, it is worth it for the experience of being in a submarine, but don't expect too much. To be honest, I felt like I was in an aquarium the whole time.
One plus is, you see stuff you would never see just by snorkeling.
Our island safari guide later told us, to go when the water is calm, as it is clearer then.
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Family Travel
Watch The Iguanas
Oranjestad is a great place to come, if you want to see some iguanas.
They like to hang out at the waterfront, in front of the Renaissance Shopping Center, and in Queen Wilhelmina Park. I knew they were there, I just didn't know where exactly, or that there would be so many.
A full grown adult male can reach as long as 6 feet, from head to tail.
Should an iguana sense danger, its initial reaction is to change color, then it tries to find a place where it can camouflage better and blend in with its surroundings. Often its ideal place is hiding in a tree. Still sensing trouble, it peeks gingerly with one eye to see what threat is causing it to hide. Once the iguana notices that it has been detected, the reptile has no other choice than to fall to the ground and run as fast as possible
An adult iguana's color normally is a grayish green, while a young iguana is a bright neon green, which can become darker as soon as it feels threatened. Another defense mechanism they use, is they release this large floppy dulap, to make them look more intimidating. it is also used to attract mates.
You used to be able to see them all over the island, but because of hunting, there are no longer as many, as there once were. They are mostly relished in soups. A popular notion is that iguana soup gives strength and virility. This comes from the belief that males have two penises (actually it is one split in two). Some people therefore believe that the iguana is a fountain of strength and potency. It has even been claimed that iguana soup helped a wheel-chaired man to walk again.
In 1995 a prohibition to kill iguanas was established, out of fear that the local population of these animals was being wiped out. For example, any restaurant found with iguana in their menu receives a fine of 500 to 3000 florins, and can face being shut down.
Sadly, despite these regulations these precious animals are still being hunted today, and many restaurants on the island, still serve iguana soup. If you see it on the menu, don't order it. Do not encourage these people. We don't need to make this problem any worse, than it already is.
Sadly, the island's iguana population will never return to the numbers it was once at.
I wanted to catch one, but changed my mind when I saw how sharp their bodies are.
PLEASE DO NOT FEED THEM!
- Family Travel
One of the largest shopping centers in the Caribbean, the Royal Plaza Mall, is that star attraction of Oranjestad, and is considered by many, to be the most beautiful building on the island.
Built in the style of a Dutch castle, the Royal Plaza houses several restaurants, and department stores, selling mostly high end clothing and jewelry, the most expensive on the island.
We didn't actually go inside the stores, because they were still closed when we arrived, but we did climb the stairs, and walked around the entire building, and got some nice views of the marina.
Even if you aren't interested in shopping, you can still visit for the architecture, and the views.
The area is really nice at night, when it's all lit up, and they are blasting local music.
In 1790 it was renamed Oranjestad Aruba's capital, Oranjestad, because this has a deeper channel for larger ships than the previous capital. Oranjestad therefore has the transit port of Aruba. Almost all goods coming through the port of Oranjestad in from South America, the Netherlands and the United States.
- Family Travel
- Luxury Travel
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