Flat, arid, and outside the hurricane belt, this Dutch island off the coast of Venezuela is the "A" island of the so-called ABC Islands (Bonaire and Curacao complete the trio). A true paradise, Aruba enjoys low humidity and breezy blue vistas year-round. The island's not much for tropical foliage -- instead, you'll find rocky deserts, silky sand, and the trademark divi-divi tree (bent at a 45-degree angle by strong trade winds). It's tough to miss the ka-ching of casinos on the wind, and you'll be rocking to the infectious steel band beat of beach barbecues and fish fries. This is, as car license-plates proclaim, "one happy island."
Before You Go: Need-to-Know Info
Dutch, English, Spanish, Papiamento
4.5 hours from NYC, 11 hours from LA, 9 hours from Chicago, 8 hours from Dallas
Taxi, bus, rental car (follow the southwestern-pointing divi-divi trees if you get lost)
Passport, return ticket
Currency: Aruban florin (AFl), US dollars
When to Go: Aruba at Its Best
Aruba enjoys a mean temperature of 82 degrees Fahrenheit, a fairly constant 10 mph to 20 mph breeze, and blissfully low humidity year-round. July and August are less windy, and short showers occur more often from mid-October through December.
Mid-April to mid-December; exact dates vary by hotel
Colorful Carnival events whirl through the streets each winter (during the two months preceding Ash Wednesday)
What to Do
Sunken ships include the eye-popping, bombed-in-half German freighter Antilla
-- its shallow wreckage is easily and eerily visible in the clear ocean waters -- and the Jane Sea
, a freighter lying in an almost vertical position. Baby Beach is best for shore diving, while Mangel Halto Reef offers fascinating night dives.
Hit the Jackpot:
Feeling lucky? Aruba has the games for you: blackjack, poker, craps, roulette, baccarat, slot machines, and an island original, Caribbean Stud Poker, invented in 1988. This high-stakes game is like blackjack, but tempts players with a progressive jackpot that can skyrocket!