To look at a map of the Caribbean Basin is to see what makes Aruba unique: you trace a long chain of islands stretching in a wide arc east and south, then you squint to spot Aruba, a dot barely (18 miles) off South America (Venezuela). This extreme southerly position helped the island prosper by trading with the nearby continent, and its location below the hurricane belt ensured that travelers wanting reliable weather would keep coming, month after month. So with the hurricane season not yet over in the rest of the Caribbean, it’s a great time to soak up rays on Aruba before prices spike during the holiday season.
A lack of precipitation means that you’re not going to find the tropical lushness of more northerly Caribbean islands. In fact, without rivers or verdant peaks to speak of, the landscape looks more like Tucson than St. Lucia. When I visited the Arikok National Park, it and the drive to it were so replete with organ pipe cacti that I felt as if we were heading deep into the Sonoran Desert.
But the raison d'être of the island (excuse the French expression; Aruba is proudly Dutch) is its gorgeously swimmable beaches. Palm Beach and Eagle Beach rank among the best in the Caribbean, and the latter widens sublimely as you venture south toward Manchebo Beach.
For access to nightlife, dining and even a first-run movie theater, the mid-range option of the Renaissance Aruba Resort & Casino in Oranjestad can’t be beat. It even boasts a sandy private island—inhabited by pink flamingos—with boat launches every 15 minutes. Meanwhile, luxury watchers are anxiously awaiting the late-November debut of the 322-room Ritz-Carlton on Palm Beach.