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Aruba: One Happy (and Gay) Island by
   
Although regional battles for GLBT rights have met little success, Aruba remains one of the few Caribbean islands embracing a same-sex lifestyle. This tropical maverick also differentiates itself from its counterparts by offering much more than barefoot escapades and beautiful beaches. The internationally branded “one happy island” also offers first-class cultural opportunities, charming historical sights, and spectacles of natural grandeur.
   
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Aruba: One Happy (and Gay) Island
by Paul Rubio
 
The Caribbean teems with handsome islands, but less than a handful can wholeheartedly play the “gay card.” While the region hosts hundreds of sophisticated resorts classified as gay welcoming, this sentiment often dissipates when leaving resort grounds. Thankfully, the crown jewel of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Aruba (www.aruba.com), is one exception to the rule.

Although regional battles for GLBT rights have met little success, Aruba remains one of the few Caribbean islands embracing a same-sex lifestyle. This tropical maverick also differentiates itself from its counterparts by offering much more than barefoot escapades and beautiful beaches. The internationally branded “one happy island” also offers first-class cultural opportunities, charming historical sights, and spectacles of natural grandeur.



Aruba first-timers have a field day completing their island checklist. Most island tours traverse a remarkable percentage of Aruba’s 69 square miles, hitting one postcard perfect sight after the next. Snap your first Twit-pic at the hilltop Alto Vista Chapel built on the site of the island’s first Catholic church circa 1750. Strike a pose in front of the stone California Lighthouse, towering over picturesque sand dunes. Spread your limbs like Leo, as a Titanic-esque “King of the World” atop the stacked boulders of the Ayo Rock Formation, reminiscent of the granite towers that make Virgin Gorda’s Baths and the Seychelles so famous. Repeat visitors might want to head even further to Arikok National Park on the island’s uninhabited north side, where Aruba’s natural flora and fauna rule. Near the entrance, park rangers lead groups through lush nature trails while those with their own vehicle can traverse the park’s desolate, dirt roads passing by dramatic coastline, colorful herds of wild goats, magical caves, and random dog cemeteries and windmills!



Photo-worthy attractions notwithstanding, it’s the island’s powdery white sands, crystalline waters, and signature fruity “Aruba Ariba” cocktails that make “One Happy Island” so damn happy (and buzzed)! In fact, by day most visitors find it hard to break away from the incredible chillaxation sanctuaries along world famous Eagle and Palm Beaches. Point in case: Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts (www.bucuti.com) on Eagle Beach. Heavily involved in the International Gay & Lesbian Tourism Association (IGLTA), these sister hotels are beachfront havens for the GLBT traveler. Adults-only and boutique in style, the dynamic resort duo hosts an even mix of gay and straight couples, as well as the occasional singles, searching for unapologetic fun-in-the-sun and endless panoramas of turquoise along the downy sands of Eagle Beach. Naturally, romance, libations, and blissful R & R are high on the agenda at Bucuti & Tara Beach. Further north on neighboring Palm Beach, size queens gravitate towards the mammoth 357-room Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort & Casino (www.aruba.hyatt.com), the island’s most upscale resort. With six restaurants, a colossal spa, nightly entertainment, and multiple pools, the Hyatt Regency is a self-contained world of leisure and pleasure.



To shake up the sun-kissed festivities, set sail on a half-day snorkel trip on the Palm Pleasure (www.depalm.com), which includes a fabulous lunch, and stops at three snorkeling hotspots, including a mysterious shipwreck -- all while keeping the alcohol flowing. For a true locals experience, hop in a taxi to the tiny southern town of Savaneta and feast on the freshest fish, seafood, and beer at Zeerovers, a typical outdoor Aruban fisherman’s bar. This might be the only time in your life you’ll gorge on barracuda!

Come nightfall Aruba showcases its party-heavy personality, with no shortage of hot locales to get your drink on! While the night often begins at one of the many Palm Beach lounges or festive Oranjestad bars, the night always ends at Jimmy’s (www.jimmysaruba.com), Aruba’s stylish gay bar. Unlike the Caribbean’s few dodgy gay bars on the “DL,” Jimmy’s is a trendy and respectable place, packing the house late night, especially on the weekends. The crowd is easy-on-the-eyes to say the least and an ideal mix of locals and tourists. On Sundays, you’ll want to get your pre-Jimmy’s groove on at Moomba Beach (www.moombabeach.com), a beachfront, al fresco restaurant and bar that hosts Aruba’s ultimate throwdown under its palapas after sunset. This weekly party swells to such proportions that, at times, it feels as if the entire island is partying at Moomba, kicking off the week in drunken style. Now that’s definitely “one happy island!”
 
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