A Triathlete’s Guide To Aruba

 

Aruba

Oct. 23 saw the inaugural running of the Challenge Aruba half-iron distance triathlon (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run), where professional power couple Yvonne Van Vlerken and Per Bittner secured solid victories and which attracted the likes of Heather Jackson, Linsey Corbin, Lisa Norden and Chris McDonald, to name a few. The race itself – the first long course triathlon to take place on the island, which also included a sprint distance and relay divisions—was only one of many highlights enjoyed by the athletes, family members and friends visiting the Caribbean retreat. Here, we explore Aruba’s swim, bike and run options, plus numerous carefree pastimes and culinary delights, with our top tips for what to see and do on this tiny tropical outpost that understandably earns the moniker “One Happy Island.” Challenge Aruba 2017 will take place on Oct. 22 and registration is now open.

Swim Here

There is an Olympic-sized swimming pool in Aruba (Piscina Olimpica Roly Bislik, 13 miles from the main tourist resorts). But why swim there when the sea outside your hotel door is calm and clear, with water temperatures averaging in the 80s? The sea’s shallow depth and gradual sloping white sand bottom make for a safe feeling swim, even when solo—which you’re almost guaranteed to be in the early morning hours before the majority of tourists are awake. Each beachfront hotel has a roped off swim area (the Aruba Marriott Resort’s is pictured above), perfect for guiding your laps back and forth. The Challenge Aruba swim course consists of one diamond-shaped loop, starting on the beach at the Hyatt Regency Resort and ending at the nearby Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort. The course is ideal for athletes normally spooked by open water, as the sea is virtually swell-free with near perfect clarity and the bottom visible the entire 1.2 miles.

Bike Here

Challenge Aruba’s bike course consists of three loops along the island’s northwest shore, stretching from Eagle Beach in the south to the California Lighthouse in the north. The northern portion of the course (a five-mile stretch from the end of the high rise hotels to the lighthouse) is best for training as there’s little traffic on this section of road, plus you’ll get a taste of the constant trade winds (guaranteed to help you in one direction and hinder you in the other) as you cycle along, gawking at the gorgeous view. The lighthouse serves as a beacon, not only for ships but also for cyclists as the northernmost point of each race loop. One of Challenge Aruba’s two “climbs” (this one around 100 meters) leads up to an aid station at the base of the lighthouse; the other break in the otherwise flat course is the sloping drive leading to the Tierra Del Sol Resort and Golf Course. Should mechanical issues strike when on the island, Aruba has two well-equipped bike shops: FX Sports Co. and Tri-Bike Aruba.

Run Here

The road leading to Aruba’s lighthouse is also ideal for an early morning run, when you’ll enjoy the cooling comfort of the trade winds and before the heat becomes tough to bear. The Challenge Aruba run course does not venture this far north; instead, athletes complete a three-loop circuit around the high rise hotels, alternating between asphalt road and a mostly-paved beach path (a few short stretches require running through the sand). Triathlon fans, tourists and hotel staff come out in force to cheer, and children playing in hotel pools will often shoot cooling sprays from super soaker water guns.

Trade Winds

Wonder which way the wind blows in Aruba? Just ask the trees! The trade winds are a constant factor here, and you can expect that each of the three laps on the Challenge Aruba bike course will be progressively windier than the last. The upside? The stronger the wind, the lower the humidity. (The 2016 event was uncharacteristically humid due to slightly diminished winds in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. While Aruba lies outside the hurricane belt and is spared the damage that often impacts other islands, it can be affected by weather changes related to tropical storms.)

What To Eat

A typical at-home Aruban dinner consists of stew with meat (beef, chicken, goat or even iguana), rice and vegetables. For an evening out, Yemnanja Woodfired Grill in the center of capital city Oranjestad offers exceptional and creative healthy fare, such as the Power Bowl with grilled organic chicken breast (pictured top left). For a healthy snack or pre-race lunch in the resort area, try Eduardo’s Beach Shack (on the beach in front of Playa Linda Resort) for an overflowing acai and fresh fruit bowl (top right), or nearby Garden Fresh Café (on the street side of the resort) for a create-your-own wrap (bottom left), smoothie or fresh juice. Post-race, feast at your hotel buffet and be sure to try local breakfast favorite pastechi (bottom right), an empanada-like fried pastry filled with Dutch Gouda and any variety of meat. Pastechi pairs perfectly with Aruba’s local hot sauce (and we do mean spicy), pica di papaya.

A Day At The Beach

It’s hard to beat a day at the beach in Aruba. The island’s western shore is where you’ll want to relax, as the eastern shore’s rocky beaches and rough currents are not safe for swimming. But along the northwest shore’s Palm Beach (the high rise hotel area), Eagle Beach and Arashi Beach (pictured) you’ll find perfectly calm water and pristine white sand. All of Aruba’s beaches are open to the public.

Where To Stay

All accommodations in the high-rise hotel area along Palm Beach are within walking distance of the race venue via the beachfront path. The Aruba Marriott Resort boasts two pools—one which is adult only and suitable for lap swimming if a dip in the sea isn’t your style, the other with a swim-up bar for your post-race shenanigans. A bonus for any athlete? The Marriott’s clean, green water refill stations located near the pool and beach. Aruba’s tap water is also perfectly safe to drink and rated among the best in the world, thanks to the island’s large saltwater desalinization plant.

Where To Play: Natural Pool

As a pre-race distraction or a post-race thrill, book a jeep tour with ABC Tours. The highlight of the half-day tour is a snorkeling stop at the Natural Pool in Arikok National Park on the island’s eastern shore, after a rugged ride up and over rock-strewn terrain reminiscent of Kona’s lava fields. Don’t even think of attempting the drive in a rental car, as a 4×4 is an absolute requirement. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, the tour operator will turn over the wheel of the Land Rover and allow you to drive.

Where To Play: Natural Bridge

Your island tour also includes visits to the Bushiribana Gold Mill Ruins (where gold was discovered in 1824) and Aruba’s famous Natural Bridge. The main bridge (a natural coral limestone arch) actually collapsed in 2005 (the fallen down remains can be seen in the upper right of the image above) but the smaller and aptly dubbed “Son of a Bridge” still stands strong.

Where To Play: Snorkeling

Another touring must is a sailing trip to two of Aruba’s prime snorkeling spots, Boca Catalina reef and the SS Antilla shipwreck. Boca Catalina, just offshore from Arashi Beach, offers 10 feet of bright blue water and a wide variety of ocean life. The uppermost remains of the SS Antilla, a WWII German cargo ship purposefully sunk by its captain and crew in 1940 to avoid capture and now nestled in 60 feet of water, are close enough for snorkelers to touch. Aruba’s De Palm Tours offers a fun-filled afternoon trip to both spots, complete with open bar for anyone needing liquid courage to snorkel in the open sea.

Where To Play: Sunset Sail

A sunset sail is a perfect way to wrap your race-cation in Aruba. Step aboard Pelican Adventures’ catamaran for a few perfect hours on the water, with brilliant hues, pumpin’ tunes, soothing sea spray, complimentary snacks and (again) an open bar to wash away any lingering post-race pain.

The Climate And Culture

The island of Aruba, which enjoys a dry climate, is tiny—only 19.6 miles long and 6 miles at its widest point. Aruba is a former Dutch colony, independent since 1986 but remaining part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Arubans hold Dutch passports). The local language, Papiamento, which most Arubans speak at home, is a blend of Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, French, English and the South American Arawak language. Nearly all Aruban schoolchildren are fluent in English, Dutch and Spanish by the time they reach high school and most head to Holland for university studies. Ninety percent of Aruba’s workforce from its population of 110,000 is employed in the tourism industry. American dollars are widely accepted throughout the island (as is the local currency, the florin). Aruba lies just 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela and is accessible from the U.S. via a short three-hour flight from Miami or a four-hour flight from Atlanta.