You want to see the world, but sometimes the world is an unfriendly place. That’s why HelloGiggles is bringing you Feminist Passport, a guide to all of the most inclusive hotels, restaurants, shops, bars, and sights to visit on your next big adventure. Because travel should be for everyone.
You know Aruba from the Beach Boys’ classic 1988 earworm “Kokomo.” The lyrics go, “Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya to Bermuda, Bahamas, come on pretty mama,” an ode to the leisurely Caribbean lifestyle. Love or hate the song, there’s a chance you’ve considered visiting one of its named destinations. And after spending four days in Aruba, I am happy to give a full-throated recommendation for the island nation.
Aruba is a desert island in the Caribbean Sea—yes, desert, so don’t expect to find lush tropical jungles à la Costa Rica—about 15 miles from Venezuela. It sits between Curaçao and Bonaire, known together as the ABC islands, and it is a Dutch colony. That means every citizen has a Dutch passport, all school lessons are taught in Dutch (though Arubans speak to each other almost exclusively in Papiamento, the local creole), and the Netherlands government provides universal health care for every Aruban.
The island is as laid back and easy-going as you might expect (it’s known as “One Happy Island” for a reason). It gets temperatures in the mid-80s year round with a perfect breeze from the trade winds, which makes for absolutely ideal conditions 100% of the time. I experienced a downpour that lasted about 30 seconds during my trip there, and even that was pleasant and refreshing.
As far as equality is concerned, Aruba isn’t exactly a feminist paradise. The country just elected its first female prime minister in 2017, Evelyn Wever-Croes, and women hold many top positions in government and industry (a fact women on the island seem generally thrilled about). But patriarchy still rules among citizens, who are majority Catholic, and traditional gender expectations keep progress from racing forward.
I spoke to a couple of women working at a shop in Oranjestad, the nation’s capital, and they told me that Aruban women are still expected to handle household and child-care duties (as is true for so many women around the world) and that it sometimes seems like men don’t take young women seriously. However, one of the women, Soraida Wever, mentioned that the introduction of Montessori education on the island about six years ago is one thing that has started to shift the culture. “You’re encouraged to pursue what interests you, and to be more assertive, outgoing, and to speak up for yourself,” she told me. When I asked about racial inequality, the pair said that Aruba is so ethnically diverse (there are 95 different nationalities represented on the island) that racism isn’t as prevalent “as it is in the U.S.,” but that discrimination still exists.
Life for LGBTQ locals and travelers is decent. Same-sex couples and individuals can safely be out in Aruba, and there are clubs—like @7—and hotels that are especially friendly to queer people. While Aruba doesn’t perform same-sex marriages, it recognizes same-sex unions performed elsewhere and offers registered partnerships, though without the full legal protections of a heterosexual marriage.
A few things to note about Aruba: First of all, it’s expensive. Flights there aren’t cheap, and you can expect to pay the same price for meals and shopping in the touristy part of the island that you would in a big American city. Plus, a cab from the “high-rise hotels” to downtown Oranjestad will cost you about $20. Second, American dollars are widely accepted. The florin is the local currency, but you can easily get by if you have only U.S. dollars on you. Do carry a bit of cash, though, as things like taxis and small food stands often don’t accept credit cards. Finally, Arubans are generally multi-lingual and most speak fluent Dutch, Spanish, Papiamento, and English. In general, I’d highly recommend talking to as many Arubans as you possibly can because you’ll never meet a lovelier human as long as you live.
Okay, onto the good stuff. Here’s your feminist travel guide to Aruba.
1Stay at the Hyatt Regency or any other TAG-approved hotel
If you’ve never heard of TAG and you’re an ethical traveler, it’s an organization that’s worth getting to know. TAG certifies hotels around the world as “LGBTQ welcoming” and has a host of requirements any feminist will appreciate: staff must reflect the diversity of the community; hotel must have an explicit and enforced non-discrimination policy; company must give back to the community; and more. The Hyatt Regency hosted me while I was in town, but there are also three other TAG-approved places to stay: Amsterdam Manor Beach Resort, Aruba Mariott, and Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort.
I had a truly delicious stay at the Hyatt. The hotel recently completed phase one of a massive renovation, and it was in tip-top shape when I arrived. From the open-air lobby overlooking the sea to the swim-up bar, this is vacationing in the truest sense of the word.
During my stay, I took in an early-morning beach yoga class near the palapas on the sand (those are the big palm-frond umbrellas you’ll see all over the island) and then inhaled an açai bowl from Kadushi Juice Bar just a few steps away. I also went on a snorkeling adventure with Red Sail Sports, which has a desk at the Hyatt, and caught a glimpse of a deep-sea ship wreck (OMG, terrifying).
2Take a class at Island Yoga
If you’re an Instagram yoga devotee, you may know Rachel Brathen, known as Yoga Girl on IG. She’s a Swedish native, but she opened Island Yoga, located about a 20-minute walk from the Hyatt, in 2016 after marrying her Aruban husband and moving to the island. On the Yoga Girl website, she identifies as an activist and feminist, stating that “a Yoga Girl knows the importance of speaking up when faced with injustice, and that ‘love and light’ means very little if it does not come accompanied by real action,” so the whole Island Yoga/Yoga Girl outfit has a decidedly feminist feel.
I took a Vinyasa Flow class with New Jersey-born Traci Andrushko, and it was truly the best class I’ve taken in a long time. I live in Los Angeles, and I often find yoga classes here to be a bit competitive—who’s skinnier, more flexible, or looks better in a bra top are questions that, for me, buzz around the room nonstop, making it hard to focus on my own practice. At Island Yoga, though, I was wrapped in a warm, welcoming embrace. I would go back in a heartbeat.
3Shop for art and crafts by women at Cosecha
Throughout history, women’s creative labors have contributed both to the home (think clothing, quilting, and needlework) and the larger economic sphere. The word “craft,” though, has historically been used to devalue women’s art, but at Cosecha craft is celebrated.
The vast majority of the Aruban artisans whose work is for sale at Cosecha are female, and the board of the foundation that runs the shop is made up entirely of women. Most of its everyday sales staff are women, too. Basically, I’m recommending that you give these women all your money. You’ll have everything from jewelry to home goods to paintings to choose from.
Cosecha has two outposts, one in Oranjestad and one at the south end of the island in San Nicolas. I visited the Oranjestad location and picked up a pair of copper earrings for $35 and chatted with the store’s associates. With dozens of artists’ work on display, it’s a place where you can happily get lost.
Bonus rec: If you’re shopping at Cosecha in Oranjestad, grab lunch at Yemanja next door—it’s run by a Dutch woman, chef Joyce de Cuba-Hüsken, and the menu is mouthwatering.
4Catch a group show by Love4Art Studio
I was lucky enough to catch an installation of work by the all-women art collective Love4Art Studio at the Biblioteca Nacional Aruba in Oranjestad. It’s on display at the library though December 21st, but even if you don’t make it south before then, this group show seems to be an annual event.
Love4Art Studio is a group of 11 women artists who connected a few years ago and “decided to stay together, inspire each other, and continue pursuing their artistic goals,” according to Aruba Today. The show featured a variety of media, including painting and sculpture, and themes such as women’s representation and the erasure of indigenous Aruban culture by Dutch and other colonizers.
5Do a little shopping at Lindy Lifestyle Boutique
Y’all, I loved Lindy Lifestyle Boutique. Like, a lot. The clothes and accessories were crazy cute, it carries Korean skin care products and nice makeup, it’s run by a fabulously chic woman named Lindy Croes, and—best part—it stocks sizes from XS to 6XL, a rare feat for a small “modern fashion” boutique. Prices were as expected for Aruba—I had my eye on a two-piece set in a baroque print, but it was priced around $130, and I just didn’t have that much room in my travel budget. But if I were searching for something super special and one of a kind, I know where I’d stop first. Croes has a creative eye and adventurous taste, exactly what I look for in a clothing store.
6Explore the street art in San Nicolas
After an oil refinery in San Nicolas shut down years ago, the city became a bit of a ghost town. Workers lost their jobs, and Arubans from the north end of the island no longer had a reason to make their way south. Now, though, San Nicolas is emerging as Aruba’s cultural capital. In 2016, an enterprising group of young artists hosted the first Aruba Art Fair, exhibiting work by locals and creators from around the world and inviting muralists to leave their mark on the homes and businesses in San Nicolas. The Aruba Art Fair has continued annually since, and more murals are painted each year, many by women.
Bonus rec: While you’re on the south end of the island, grab a bite to eat at Kamini’s Kitchen. Owned and operated by chef Kamini Parsan Kurvink, alongside her husband and two daughters, the Caribbean restaurant gets rave reviews from Arubans and travelers alike, and is not to be missed. Between the local restaurants, the district’s walkability, and the increasing number of shops and galleries in the area—not to mention the impeccable white sandy shores of Baby Beach—San Nicolas may be your favorite destination in Aruba.