We typically spend a minimum of several weeks when visiting a place for the first time. This practice was solidified when we spent almost 15 months in Grenada during the height of the Covid pandemic. Only time and experiences can truly give you a sense of a new island’s or country’s culture, cuisine, people, and marvels. We have also adopted the practice of renting a car for a portion of the time we spend in a new destination.
The Southern-Most End of Aruba
Aruba is the smallest of the ABC islands. Despite its size, the island has much to enjoy beyond the areas most frequently visited by cruisers and other tourists. The southern most end of Aruba needs to be included in your visit to the island.
San Nicolas is the second largest city in Aruba. It initially grew in size and population following the opening of an oil refinery there in 1924. The oil refinery changed hands several times, and ultimately closed in 2009. Vestiges of the refinery still stand just beside Rogers Beach. The closure of this refinery, as well as, refinery closures on Bonaire and Curaçao, were due to environmental concerns which cannot be resolved without costly modernization of the old refineries.
In more recent years, the stark utilitarian architecture of many of San Nicolas’s Buildings have been transformed by beautiful murals depicting life and culture of Aruba, and the artistry of its people. San Nicolas is a treasure not to be missed.
After touring the town and marveling at the murals we proceeded to exploring the southern beaches. I’ve already mentioned Roger’s Beach beside the remnants of the old oil refinery and will add it is a clean, uncrowded, sandy beach with crystal clear water. We enjoyed a good soak there without concern about Duhkxy joining us. The next beach traveling south is Baby Beach. Baby Beach is replete with refreshments, as well as chairs, lounges and shady open tents to rent. Baby Beach was clearly the favorite that day, but far from crowded.
Last but not least was a vast expanse of dunes and waterfront beach that serves and a pet cemetery. Hundreds, upon hundreds of graves with simple to elaborate headstones memorialized beloved pets, primarily dogs. We have found dogs to be considerably more well treated and loved in Aruba than on some islands where they are primarily kept as guard dogs, more than pets.
We ended our day’s visit to Aruba’s southern end with a delicious, traditional dinner at O’Niel’s Caribbean Kitchen.
Of the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao) Aruba is not the most frequently visited by the sailing community. Last April we began to explore putting Ice Floe on the hard in the Varadero Aruba Boatyard for a number of very practical reasons. We knew very little more about the Varadero Aruba Varedaro Boatyard other than that it accommodates both motor and sailing yachts.
First and foremost, we have been flying Jet Blue since we began cruising in the Caribbean and our experience traveling with our miniature poodle, Duhkxy, has never been questioned. While Jet Blue has joined most airlines in no longer recognizing emotional support animals to accompany passengers on flights, having Duhkxy join us in his carrier, under a seat has never been an issue. Duhkxy is our steadfast companion.
Beside the comfort of knowing Duhkxy would be accommodated, Jet Blue Flights to the US are very affordable in comparison to flights on any carrier from Bonaire or Curaçao and Jet Blue flies direct from Aruba to JFK, one of the only airports clear a dog into the United States from another country.
We knew very little more about the Varadero Aruba Marina and Boatyard other than that it accommodates both motor and sailing yachts. We can now say, with no reservation, that the Marina and Boatyard provide outstanding service and safety for routine boat work and to store a sailing vessel on the hard. Rishi manages the boatyard and he rivals the efficiencies we enjoyed with Judith, the office manager. Captain Paul, the dockmaster is charming, available, and knowledgable.
Approach to the Marina
Facificiously, George commented, “Aruba is the only island, in my experience, that uses sunken boats as navigational aids for both customs and the Marina”. There are few channel markers, but the charts are an accurate guide to the marina entrance.
Upon arrival following a two and a half day sail from Bonaire, we anchored immediately south of the entrance to the boatyard to take sails down in the unprecedented high winds being experienced at the time. Since that time, several sailboats have anchored in the same area for weeks. We too, anchored there when we returned this spring while waiting for a boat part. Good holding and calm waters.
Boat Storage and Services
Rishi manages the boatyard and he gets the highest marks for the reliability, timeliness, and quality of services. He is almost always available and he and his team are collegial, responsive, and competent. The yard did a fine job checking on Ice Floe through the summer months, removing and replacing a boat cover if a storm approached and making sure no mildew, insects or critters found their way aboard. When we arrived, her cover was off and the outside of the boat washed and before we left the dock we got a fantastic waxing by hand.
The haul out and launch of Ice Floe was completed with very capable staff showing up on time and without issue. Once in the water, stiff winds presented some challenge to docking and the Dock Master – Captain Paul, left nothing to chance with a well articulated plan and two men and himself on the dock to assist. Good thing too, as George who is especially expert in dicey wind forgot to put our dagger board down and once Ice Floe turned broadside to the wind she was off like a kite.
We like to stay at the dock a day or two before Ice Floe is hauled out and after she is launched. If you want a slip upon arrival or before departure, be sure to book a good time ahead. There are very few slips that are not taken and unless you have secured a reservation, the few open ones may not be available. A reservation will guarantee that a slip will be open for you when you need it.
Should you elect to visit here, don’t be put off that the marina is located very close to the airport. Flights in and out stop shortly after dark. Also, initially disconcerting was that the garbage dump (mountain/landfill) was on fire when we arrived and continued to smoke for several days. However, prevailing winds carried smoke swiftly away from the Marina).
We routinely take a room for several days upon arrival and before departure and Judith booked us into a very affordable, comfortable, and convenient room across the street from the yard. The air-conditioned room is equipped with a comfortable bed, very nice bathroom including shower and hot water, small fridge, coffee pot and microwave.
The Fish House is a very pleasant dockside restaurant on site with very good food and free internet. We enjoyed fish tacos, fish and chips, wings, shrimp linguine, and of course, happy hour. Their menu is quite extensive.
The staff is collegial and efficient and presented George with a complementary flan desert on his birthday.
There is a lovely beachside restaurant just a dinghy ride away that we enjoyed on several occasions. We have it on the authority of Captain Paul that it serves the best pizza on the island. We can attest to the fact that the pizza is very good, as is the service and atmosphere. Happy hour is from 5 to 6, just be sure not to order a minute early or late.
Showers are available, but they are in the boatyard with a locked gate after dark. When requested, you can usually get a key or make sure you shower in the daylight hours.
This boatyard may not provide some of the services you often enjoy such as a small market or laundry machines. Speak to Judith, at the front desk for anything you need. She is a treasure and the marina’s orchestra leader. Nothing escapes or fails to get her attention. She, Rishi, and Captain Paul work in synchrony.
Judith, at the reception desk, arranged taxi rides to and from the airport, as well as car rentals. You will need a car for any shopping or sightseeing as the boatyard is not within a short walking distance to much of anything.
There are many well-equipped supermarkets. Ling and Sons turned out to be our overall favorite.