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The Natural Side of Aruba: Arikok Park
Among Aruba’s many activities, a tour of Arikok Park may be the most unique. From sand dunes and cacti in the park’s desert interior to the limestone cliffs and hidden coves of the Caribbean coast, Arikok Park offers as much ecological diversity as you’ll ever visit. Unique historical sites within the park’s boundaries highlight Aruba’s agricultural and mining past. Arikok Park is home to numerous unique species, supported by the microclimate of the park’s geography. Many species of snakes, lizards and birds inhabiting this park are found nowhere else on earth. With nearly 20% of the island dedicated to this one type of preserve, nature lovers won’t be disappointed with this Caribbean treasure. Arikok Park is easy to find as the trails are well marked and informative signs and displays are placed along many routes. For a little extra direction if you plan to spend more time here, the park office offers a very detailed guidebook for your investment. Try to arrive early in the morning, as birds and animals are most active after sunrise. It is also recommended that you pack food, water, sunscreen and comfortable shoes.
Our first stop within the park’s boundaries is a farm known as Kunuku Arikok, an attraction reminiscent of Aruba’s agricultural history. Walking paths meander through natural flora and fauna – land formerly used to grow beans, corn and peanuts. Cactus roof beams are rarely seen in adobe farmhouses, while cactus hedges still protect farmland. Additionally, many fine examples of Amerindian drawings exist on the rocks above the field.
Until the 1960s, Prince Plantation was the site of a coconut plantation. While walking the trails of Prince Plantation, see a charming ocean bay and abundant wildlife. For the history of Aruba’s aloe cultivation, visit the Masiduri, a unique garden complex with eucalyptus trees and informative exhibits on the aloe industry. Miralamar, an abandoned group of gold mines and moats, is another interesting place to explore.
Near the coast, the vegetation and landscape change dramatically. On the beaches of the rocky north coast, where the sea takes on a limestone formation, you’ll see crabs on ancient sandbars and giant birds floating on the water. Boca Prince’s beach is a popular spot to see baby sea turtles hatch, while Fuente has the cinematic grandeur of huge waves. For picnics and sunbathing, Dos Playa is the best option in Aricoque Park, although swimming is usually very dangerous. Here you will also find the only food and beverage establishment inside the park, which serves excellent local cuisine and fresh seafood.
Hidden on the northwest coast of Dos Playas, the natural lagoon – known to locals as Cura de Tortuga – is sheltered by rock formations from the waves of the Caribbean. It is believed that the lake once housed sea turtles waiting to be sold (‘tortuga’ means turtle in the local Papiamento language). Today, it’s an exotic swimming hole for those lucky enough to find a pool.
A short drive from Boca Prince is Fontaine Cave, the most visited cave on Aruba’s north coast. The walls of this cave are covered in Amerindian drawings and traces of early European settlers. For your inner spelunker, the oddly shaped stalagmites and stalactites are sure to impress. Just south of Fontaine Cave is the Hofi Fontaine, or Fountain Garden, the only freshwater spring on Aruba’s north coast. There is also a fascinating museum with flora and fauna exhibits on site, which is always staffed by friendly park rangers.
With two large chambers opening to the Caribbean sky, Quadirikiri Cave allows visitors to explore its caverns without flashlights. Local legend has a strange explanation for the cave’s ceiling: it is said that the flamboyant daughter of a prominent Indian chief became trapped in the cave with her disgraced companion. In death, the souls of the young couple ascend to heaven from the top of the cave.
Located on the northern coast of Aruba, Baranca Sunu Cave, also known as the Tunnel of Love for its heart-shaped opening, is rumored to be a popular hideout for pirates and their treasure. Although the stories have not been authenticated, the cave certainly has an air of mystery and intrigue. When you leave the caves and Arikok Park, consider the coastal road to San Nicolas, a charming town with plenty of new activities for you and your family.
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