One Sustainable Island

The happy island of Aruba is a paradise for clean eating and clean oceans.

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Arikok National Park, Aruba Photo: Colleen Murphy

You never know what you will encounter when you travel. Food options can be limited. Local practices can differ wildly from what you are used to. Not every culture is kind to foreigners who enter not speaking the language or understanding the culture. None of which is the case in Aruba. I love the variety that only travel can provide but I want to feel good about the choices I am making.

My travels on this little paradise have taken me from coast to coast. Starting with the first promotional magazine I was handed as I boarded our flight, I was presented with healthy, sustainable options in food and materials. I was very impressed.

I recently eliminated dairy from my diet. When eating out, I need to look for vegan options to avoid any milk, eggs, cheese and the like. It is not always easy to navigate. Sandwiched between the ads there was an entire section of the magazine dedicated to vegan dining options complete with an incredible website to guide you through your options. This island is getting it right.

I have eaten in every kind of restaurant and spoken to countless people, starting with my first cab driver. He directed us to a local joint for locally caught fish. The place was packed with native islanders. Great sign. They only serve two main dishes and a couple of sides. What they do, they do perfectly. The entire restaurant is a deck over the water with picnic tables. You order at the counter and are given a wood block with a number marked with sharpie. The waves crash under your feet as you sit in a covered oasis from the sun, feeling the cool breeze and watching the guys cook. The low key presentation is dumped on your table unceremoniously in a paper liner in a basket with plastic utensils. But not plastic. Compostable utensils. I have not seen one plastic fork since I have been here.

Paper straws are becoming the norm in many places. And here is no exception. I order ice coffee everywhere I go and have have seen not one plastic straw yet.

The beaches are clean, everywhere, not just by the resorts. The only exception I found is the untamed side of the island where a steady stream of garbage seems to wash up on shore.

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Photo: Colleen Murphy

People here take pride in their island. Sharing their culture through friendly conversation is the daily grind here. They are proudly protecting their beaches and land. They are promoting their cultural pride. Children must learn 4 languages in school, English, Spanish, Dutch and the creole language of Papiamento. Customer service goes above and beyond here. You can feel the genuine love that they islanders have for visitors. It isn’t some fake customer service role, they are genuinely interested in a shared conversation.

I visited the caves in Arikok National Park. Aruba has taken great care to stop the destruction of the caves by visitors scratching graffiti on the walls. The ceilings are decorated by drawings and handprints done by indigenous people thousands of years ago.

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Arikok National Park, Aruba Photo: Colleen Murphy

The depths of the caves unlock the secret to Aruba’s explosive beginning. Sedimentary evidence shows the volcanic activity that created this island paradise. You see the cross section of the earths layers, telling the story of its birth. Waves are petrified on the ground, frozen in place where molten lava met the cool water.

Aruba has declared the area a national park and protected it with rangers and locked gates. Years of an open door policy have left serious damage at these sites. The park employees take great care to make sure everyone stays on the path to avoid trampling the stalagmites. The natural beauty and history being preserved is precious.

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Arikok National Park, Aruba Photo: Colleen Murphy

There are a huge amount of normal tourist options if you enjoy the comforts of a Hard Rock Cafe and a Starbucks. I am not here to judge. But it is easy to find a real cultural experience in food, history and natural beauty on this island. Even the ads for souveniers include entire stores dedicated to handmade works by local artisans. So I get to take a sustainable piece of this rich island with me when I go.

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