Weekly Photo Challenge: Sea

bora

Bora Bora, Tahiti

Sea… it separates the world… it brings the world together… depending on how you look at it

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Kowloon, Hong Kong

provo

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

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Neavitt, USA

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Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia

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Buzios, Brazil

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Heron Island, Australia

 

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Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Taiwan

Tamsui, Taiwan

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Bermuda

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Santorini, Greece

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Baie Rouge, St. Martin

Huahine, Tahiti

Huahine, Tahiti

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Antigua

Antigua

hawaii

Ko Olina, Oahu, Hawaii

Cairns, Australia

Cairns, Australia

Mayan Riviera, Mexico

Mayan Riviera, Mexico

 

Villefranche, France

Villefranche, France

 

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Varadero, Cuba

aruba

Palm Beach, Aruba

vancouver

Vancouver, Canada

moorea

Moorea, Tahiti

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

virgin

US Virgin Island

Wilson Island, Australia

Wilson Island, Australia

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

GHC

Great Harbour Cay, Bahamas

I can only be grateful to the sea for bringing me all these beautiful memories

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Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands, Bahamas

When I decided on spending my birthday on an Out Island in the Bahamas, I was at a complete loss as to which island to go. I based my choice partly on the reviews on Tripadvisor.com, partly on the limited info I could find on the internet, and partly on my instincts.  Bingo! The island of Great Harbour Cay turned out to be the perfect  choice!

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Fly Fishing at Shark Creek

ABOUT THE ISLAND:

Great Harbour Cay is a secluded out-island 7 miles long by 1.5 miles wide, being part of the Berry Islands chain. Info on the island is scarce, which makes it not a popular destination, but that’s what makes it very attractive to me and my husband…you can walk miles on the sugar white sand beach and not see a soul.

There were private beach coves that we had all to ourselves during the week long trip. They have beaches with surf, calm shallow flats, secluded coves, dramatic beach caves…anything you ask for. The white sand was talcum soft and the water came in different hues of turquoise, green and blue. I would rate it as one of my top beach vacations, alongside Huahine in Tahiti and Provo in the Turks and Caicos.

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Great Harbour Cay was developed in the late 1960s  as an  exclusive haven for the rich and famous. The roads, airport and 18 hole Joe Lee golf course were built then. Celebrities like Cary Grant,  Brigitte Bardot , Margot Fonteyn , Ingrid Bergman, Earl Blackwell and Jack Nicklaus  were regular visitors.  Ten Years later, development stopped, and the original resort, Sugar Beach Hotel is now deserted. The island is now a simple and quiet paradise…the way I like it.  Here is a useful link on the history of Great Harbour Cay

ACCOMMODATION:

We stayed at Carriearl , a quaint little boutique hotel on the beach with one of the island’s few fresh water pools.  I found it on Tripadvisor.com with excellent reviews.

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This beautiful little hotel is just the right size for us. What also appealed to us is that no kids and no pets are allowed for the hotel stay. Presently there are 3 rooms that are rented out and all have ensuite baths and newly renovated.

This used to be the vacation home of Earl Blackwell, author of the celebrity best dressed list, and he used it to entertain stars here during the heydays of development.  But the house became neglected when development stopped.  A retired British couple, Angie and Marty, bought this property and spent years renovating and improving it. This boutique hotel is only 18 months new.  Marty used to be an engineer so he did most of the renovation by himself. Angie was a stewardess at British Airways and has decorated the place with all the lovely souvenirs she collected all over the world.

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We stayed in the Palm Room and loved it!  The hotel was kept spotlessly clean.  The owners set very strict rules so the 50 ft. fresh water pool was also kept sparkling clean!

We were the only guests at the hotel for the whole week except one night when another guest flew his private plane from Fort Lauderdale to check out the island and to test his plane’s system. Only hotel guests and members of their little private Brits Ritz Club could use the pool. So we essentially had the pool all to ourselves most of the time.

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Carriearl

Carriearl – Palm Room

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The great thing about staying at this hotel is that you can get all the privacy you want, but when you are sick and tired of talking only to your other half, you get to meet interesting people as well – we had very interesting and informative chats with the owners and other patrons of the onsite restaurant.

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Great Harbour Cay Beach in front of Carriearl Boutique Hotel

Great Harbour Cay Beach in front of Carriearl Boutique Hotel

GETTING THERE:

OK, now you must be wondering, where on earth is this paradise? It is about 50 miles NNW of Nassau, Bahamas. ( Coordinates:  25°45’50″N   77°51’35″W). Here is the >Wikimapia location link

The Berry Islands are a cluster of 30 cays, many of which are uninhabited. Great Harbour Cay is the largest one with about 700 inhabitants.  To the north are Coco Cay (Little Stirrup Cay) which is Royal Carribean’s private island for its cruise passengers, and Great Stirrup Cay which is used by Norwegian cruises.  These cays are separated by the ocean (thank God! ). To me, it is like heaven (Great Harbour Cay) and hell (the Stirrup Cays used by the cruises).  Imagine over 3000 cruise passengers being dumped on Coco Cay, sunbathing side by side, fighting for beach chairs and towels while my husband and I have a five mile beach all to ourselves.

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Now the tricky part –  getting there.  I couldn’t find any ferry service to this island.  If you are a sailor that would be easy.  Great Harbour Cay has one of the most protected harbours and a marina on the west side of the island.

For the American visitors, there are direct flights from Florida to Great Harbour Cay.  Many people also fly their private plane from Fort Lauderdale or Miami.

Great Harbour Cay Airport

Great Harbour Cay Airport

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For us, we flew direct from Toronto, Canada to Nassau and then flew to Great Harbour Cay from Nassau via Leair.

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The ride on this old little plane was quite an experience.  It felt more like riding on a packed bus with no air con.  The cabin was unpressurized and I felt a bit of decompression sickness.  There was no safety announcement on my flight to the island and I completely forgot to buckle my safety belt!  On the return flight, they did play the recording and only then did I realize that there was a functioning seat belt.


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We arrived after 17 minutes safe and sound.  I guess I shouldn’t complain since the flight was free : )  We took advantage of the Two Fly For Free offer from the Out Islands Promotion Board. As long as you stay 4 nights or more at one of the participating hotels during the promotion period, the hotel will refund you the entire amount of the two air tickets including tax. You can check it out at this link:  http://www.myoutislands.com/two-fly-free-promotion.cfm

One of the reasons why I decided against renting a villa and opted for a boutique hotel is partly because we got to fly free if we stayed at Carriearl Hotel.  Another reason why I stayed at a hotel is  because it is hard to get groceries to cook at a rental house on this remote island. The mail boat comes only every two weeks with the supplies and it didn’t arrive as scheduled the week we were there.

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our limo

This sleepy island is very safe…the safest one I have been to in all of the Caribbean. We didn’t even lock our hotel room. The hotel provided us with two hours of free use of the golf cart which we drove everyday to explore the island. We felt completely safe cruising around. All the locals were very friendly and helpful.

Carriearl had a sea kayak which we could have rented to cruise along the east coast but we’re not strong kayakers/swimmers and the waves were too strong the first couple of days, so we decided to play it safe. We simply used the golf cart for beach hopping.

THE BEACHES:

To the north are the Sugar Caves, great photo op but not really for safe swimming.  You can go further north of the caves to the deserted Sugar Beach Hotel for an adventure but the road was too bumpy for us from there onward and we didn’t go further.

Sugar Caves

Sugar Caves

Sugar Beach

Sugar Beach

Right in front of Carriearl is the crescent shaped Great Harbour Cay Beach which goes on for miles. It was windy the first two days and the sea was a bit too rough for us. When the wind died down the next few days, it was such a joy swimming in the calm water right in front of our hotel.

Great Harbour Cay Beach in front of Carriearl on a calm day

Great Harbour Cay Beach in front of Carriearl on a calm day

Great Harbour Cay Beach on a windy day

Great Harbour Cay Beach on a windy day

The north part of the cresecent is a sand spit, and behind it is a secluded paradise called Love Beach. It’s very private with secluded limestone caves that offer shade. The sand is super soft while the water is the loveliest turquoise blue and very calm.

Love Beach with its secluded caves

Love Beach with its secluded caves

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Love Beach Cave

Love Beach Cave

The Shelling Beach on the southern tip of the island was just as calm and the water sparkling clear. We went during high tide to swim in the shallow bay which is great if you have small kids.  My husband who once drowned and is just learning how to swim loved that beach.  The water was only knee to thigh deep. It was more like floating than swimming.

P1020285Shelling Beach at high tide

 During low tide, you can walk across the water to the opposite small island.  People come here during low tide to collect shells and sand dollars.  I didn’t see any sand dollars but did pick up a couple nice shells.

Low tide at Shelling Beach

Low tide at Shelling Beach

Right around the bend was Shark Creek.  I brought my fly fishing rod and waded in the flats. Didn’t catch any bonefish but did see some small fish , a couple baby nurse sharks and a stingray swim by.

Fly Fishing at Shark Creek

Fly Fishing at Shark Creek

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Most of the beaches are on the east coast of the island . To the west is Bullock Harbour where the locals’ village  and the marina are.

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 We did find a very calm and secluded beach cove on the southwest side of the island called Shipyard Beach. The locals call it Bardot Beach since Brigette Bardot used to go swimming there.

Shipyard Beach

Shipyard Beach

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Shipyard Beach also known as Bardot Beach

I brought along my snorkel and fins but since the beaches on GHC were all sandy bottom, there was literally nothing to see with the absence of rocks and coral. But how can I complain when you walk miles on the beach without seeing anybody, and swim in the ocean with a silky smooth sandy bottom where there’s not even a tiny piece of rock?

Snorkels and fins were not the only toys I brought. The owners of the boutique hotel were surprised everyday by what I pulled out from my suitcase.

I brought my salt water fly fishing rod,  spincast rod and tackle box..

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When Marty said we could bring the hotel’s portable beach chairs to the beach, I told him no need and showed him the portable beach tent I brought…yes a beach tent and a small cooler bag too!

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We even brought our own life jackets but didn’t get to use them.  My husband, the drowning victim, wouldn’t go on any beach vacation without his heavy duty life jacket. I normally bring an inflatable snorkeling vest but since there’s not much to see I didn’t use it.

One windy day, the owners  asked us what our plans were, and I told them “fly a kite”.  I brought a lightweight kite from home.  With the wide open beach and nobody around, flying a kite would be a lot of fun.

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Then they said they had two bigger ones which they got long time ago and forgot about them.  They loaned me the big dragon kite which was brand new.  Setting up took a while but boy did it look good!

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What else did we bring?  Golf tees and 9 golf balls.    The homeowners on the island have maintained 9 holes of the original Joe Lee golf course and is open for free play.  No, we didn’t bring our golf clubs since we could rent them from the hotel.  We also had use of the golf cart, so we just brought 9 balls for the 9 holes. Guess what? We still had 3 balls left after the 9 holes !DSC00412

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The most amazing experience was that the sixth hole was right by the beach.  I went down to the beach, jumped into the ocean for a swim before I continued onto the seventh hole.  Now where else in the world can you do that?

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Since the course is maintained just by homeowners, there are no signs for the holes. I went on Google map to find out where the tees were, and prepared the following map for myself.  It might be useful for you too.

MAPS AND LINKS:

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Info on the island was scarce while I was researching for my trip. I am uploading the map that Carriearl provided me with.  We used it on the second day to discover the island with our golf cart.

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The following are helpful links which I have found:

1. Wind, waves and weather forecast for Great Harbour Cay – the best site I have found on specific weather forecast for this island. It includes wind speed & direction, wave height & direction, cloud cover, precipitation, amount of sunshine and temperature. Very accurate !

2. Tide Watch for the Berry Islands – this is very useful. I printed it out before I left for my vacation, and used it for my beach combing.  I would go to Shelling Beach during low tide to look for sand dollars and shells, and during high tide to take a swim in the calm shallow bay.  It is also useful to check the tide table when venturing out to the Sugar Caves.

3. Guide to Great Harbour Cay – Ernie Martin’s page on GHC is the most informative on the net that I have found.

4. Getting Around –  Info on car, golf carts  rentals and getting around

5. Great Harbour Cay News and Events – updated photos of activities and events

THE FOOD:

Being foodies ourselves, how can this post not have any pics on the food we had.

There were very few restaurants on the island, and Carriearl was the only one on the east side, so we ate there the whole trip except for one night when we went to Coolie Mae to try local Bahamian cooking.

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Beautiful sunset at Coolie Mae

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Cracked conch ….yum

At Coolie Mae, we had cracked conch, fresh fish cooked in tomato sauce and deep fried lobster, all very good.

Carriearl has an onsite bar and restaurant which is open to hotel guests during their entire stay, and to the public Thursday to Sunday.

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Having their signature rum punch while chilling on the outdoor patio is a must.

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Our favourite table, overlooking the pool

Marty, one of the owners, is the chef. What can I say about his food? Wondrous! He is such a creative chef and cooks with his heart. We were so surprised that we would be treated to such gourmet food on this remote Caribbean island. He makes use of the fresh seafood and comes up with creative recipes and beautiful presentation. Totally deeeeelicious! Make sure you try his Eggs Benedict during Sunday brunch…the best I have ever had. Another must try is his Lobster in Thai Coconut Curry Sauce.

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My daily French pressed coffee

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Another must try, warm pear salad with blue cheese

The highlight of my trip was the steamed fish Marty cooked for me. I told him my favourite way of cooking fish was to steam it Chinese style which could best bring out the delicate sweetness and freshness of the fish. I briefly mentioned how to do it. His curious mind drove him to the marina to buy two live yellowtail snappers and steamed them for us that night. How was it? Heavenly!!! Angie even dug out the Chinese serving set she got during her British Airways days to match the theme!

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Tasty and spicy conch chowder by Angie

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Freshly steamed yellowtail, Marty style

My husband requested for a small birthday cake for me, and Angie got up 6:30 in the morning to make a whole cup cake tree of butterfly cakes…what a birthday treat! Angie must have read my mind…I LOVE cupcakes! Hers were the best!

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The island is certainly a private paradise and Carriearl is truly a hidden gem. We were so surprised that we could have this six star vacation at a very affordable cost.  Now that the secret is out, we hope we can still return to paradise in the future and find it the way we enjoyed it.

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Aruba

I vacationed in Aruba for the first time in mid January this year, and I must say this is one of the few Caribbean islands that I have visited that keeps calling me back for a revisit. My husband and I rented a beautiful villa with another couple near the hotel zone with a private pool, and rented a car from the airport. We had no problem navigating the new roundabout at the airport, and it was a smooth drive to our house rental.

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The house we rented was  in the Opal area on the north end of the island, just minutes from the beaches, restaurants, shopping, supermarkets and casinos. The private pool was wonderful and we spent a lot of time chilling there. We didn’t have to fight for beach chairs or umbrellas like at the hotels.  The washer and dryer also proved to be very helpful .

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We also made most of our breakfasts at the villa. The BBQ was very useful. We drove to Zeerover’s in Savaneta to buy fresh fish and prawns, and grilled them for dinner. SanNic44’s video on how to get to Zeerover’s was very helpful!

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There are several supermarkets that we could drive to:

  • More Dutch products: Super Foods– second traffic light as you leave the Marriott properties, heading towards the airport.This is the closest grocery store to Palm Beach area
  •  Ling and Sons  – near Druif Beach between airport and Opal
  • TIng Wei – within walking distance of our rental villa in the Opal area. Not big but very well stocked. Closest to the Marriott

One thing I must mention is the water in Aruba.  There is no need to buy bottled water in Aruba. Simply drink from the tap. It tastes delicious!   It actually is cleaner and tastes better than tap water in Ontario!  Aruba has the world’s second largest desalination plant and the tap water is produced by the reverse osmosis process.  If you buy bottled water in Aruba, it is from the tap anyway.   As a matter of fact Aruba water is sought after overseas as bottled water.  So this is one of the rare places in the Caribbean where you do not have to worry about ice in your drinks when you dine out.

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The first night we arrived in Aruba, we went to Le Bistro  because we figured it would be easy to find. Can’t fault the location of this restaurant, overlooking the courtyard of Paseo Herencia. I had booked a table at Le Bistro for dinner.  The tapas were delicious, especially the crab salad. We got to walk around the plaza after dinner, shopped a bit and bought cupcakes at the really cute cupcake stand.

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Pelican’s Nest was one of my favourite restaurants. I loved the casual, laid back atmosphere, the friendly service and the wonderful food there. The sunset dinner on the pier was wonderful! I believe I saw reviews on this site for Pelican’s Nest, and that’s why I went there. Loved their grouper sandwich and mahi mahi cerviche.

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Linda’s Dutch Pancakes & Pizza was conveniently located on Palm Beach Road near my rental. I loved their pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice. My favourite’s the pineapple-coconut-rum pancake. They also let you mix and match the toppings, and I also had the gouda-bacon-apple pancake for brunch.

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I must say the steamed grouper at New Wei Taai was the best meal I had on the island. They did it authentic Cantonese style with ginger, onion and soya sauce, and the price was very reasonable. With the 2 pound fish steamed whole, it brought out the freshness and delicate texture of the fish. Having had chinese steamed fish in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Toronto, I must say that New Wei Tai ranks up there with the restaurants in these chinese culinary centers! Deeeeelicious! Totally recommend!

Steamed Fish - yum

Steamed Fish – yum

We went to Zuzuroh but were very disappointed. We went in at around 6 pm when the small restaurant was empty. The 3 people working there were chatting at a table, saw us come in, and stood up. We said hi and asked for a table, then one of them said hi , and then turned to use the phone. The other two then kept talking to each other and totally ignored us. We stood there looking at them and waited for 5 minutes and felt we were not welcome. So we left, and once out of the door, one of the employees came out and asked us back in….strange ! The food was OK, but that first impression totally took away any pleasant dining experience we might have had at the restaurant.

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Being so close to Wacky Wahoo, we went one night for an early dinner. The lobster and wahoo that my husband and I had were really good, but our friends complained about the sword fish which they said tasted like gasoline. Just wondering…would the BP Gulf Oil Leak have anything to do with it?

OK. enough about food : ) So now about our activities….we swam in our private pool every day, and some times night. Thoroughly enjoyed it. DSC02878

We rented a car so we went beach hopping during the week.

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(Map courtesy of orangesmile.com)

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Our house rental was just 2 minutes’ drive to Hadicurari Beach where we tried Stand Up Paddling. Amazing!

We were also a couple minutes to Malmok Beach where the snorkeling was great. I even brought my own fishing rod and went fishing from shore at Malmok …after all the snorkelers had gotten out of the water : ) Malmok Beach

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Snorkeling at Malmok

Snorkeling at Malmok

There are Palapas at Malmok and Arashi Beaches that you can use for free.

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We also went to Arashi Beach but since all the palapas were taken and the waves too strong, we didn’t stay for too long.arashi2

Of course we had to check out Palm Beach. We tried beach tennis and rented chairs at Moomba’s. It was a great afternoon, but I wasn’t impressed with the sand at Palm Beach. Palm Beach

Palm Beach

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Also Palm Beach was a bit too crowded for my taste.  But then when compared to the sardine packed beaches of the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Mexico and the Mediterranean, Palm Beach is heaven.

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Eagle Beach had much nicer powder fine sand, especially in front of Amsterdam Manor and Oceania Condos. We parked near the famous divi trees, and we couldn’t believe our eyes …there was nobody under the divi tree!!! We grabbed our beach towels from our car and raced over there like little kids and had a very enjoyable afternoon under our own divi tree!

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Believe it or not, I went to the local supermarket and bought a play set (shown at the top left of this photo) for building the sand castle.

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The drive to Baby Beach at the southern tip of the island took about 45 minutes but was well worth it.  Baby Beach is at the southeast tip of the island. As the name suggests, it is so shallow that it is suitable for babies and kids to swim in.

This beach is very popular for tour excursions and also for locals, so it is not as quiet as Eagle Beach. We rented a cabana and beach chairs. Lounged a bit and went for a swim.
 
Baby Beach

Baby Beach

There were numerous drownings at Baby Beach. People were misled by the name, and ventured over to the inlet from the ocean, and were pulled out by the current.  I read about it on the internet, and so took the caution and stayed away from the inlets stayed way inside the bowl. The shallow water was perfect for my husband who was once a drowning victim and  still learning how to swim : )

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(above photo courtesy of threebestbeaches.com)

The snorkeling inside the bowl was not bad, but the water was murkier than Malmok.

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Having a rental car is a must. We rented via the internet an SUV for $399 excl taxes with Econo.  Their rental office is just across the road from the airport building.  This  interactive map of Aruba is very helpful.  I also found this very useful blog on driving instructions in Aruba including videos.

We mostly stayed in the north end of the island, except driving south to Baby Beach. We didn’t even have time to shop in Oranjestad. Maybe we will do that next time.
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As for the house, I rented from Aruba Happy Rentals.  Their service was great.  Geraldine is the especially helpful one.  I picked the Opal Villa for its location and the gorgeous pool. The villa was beautiful. The pool was cleaned twice a week, and the property itself was very clean as well. We were two couples so this house was perfect.  One problem with this house was that  off all the bathrooms, only one had window coverings. That made it very inconvenient for showering and using the toilets, especially when 2 of the bathrooms with no window coverings faced the front road.

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One pointer about renting a house in Aruba. I have read horror stories about break ins at vacation rentals in the Caribbean. Aruba is already one of the safest islands where I would dare to rent a house.  I also noticed that of the few break in reports in Aruba that I found on the net, the robbers returned the passports the next day by tossing them back into the house in a sealed plastic bag or pillow case, quite “considerate” compared to those in other islands who come in with a machete and attack the tourists.

So in choosing my rental, I tried my best to ensure a safe trip:
  1. I first asked the rental company in writing (via email) whether the rental has ever been burglarized before. (Since I read from one post that it is a recurring thing to the same property).
  2. I rented from a company with good reviews and not the manager of properties which I could find on the internet having been burglarized.
  3. I found a rental with a garage where the rental car can be parked inside. Since all Aruba visitor car rentals come with a licence that starts with V, any car with the V licence parked outside a home or condo will be indicating there are tourists staying there. By the way, car rental break ins are prevalent all over the Caribbean, no matter where, not that I want to alarm you further. We sometimes left our cars unlocked when in Grand Cayman, St. Martin and Turks and Caicos, so that the windows would not be smashed.
  4. I did not rent the car from the villa rental agency, and I did not disclose the address of the rental villa to the car rental company.  When filling in the address, I filled in the office address for the rental company and not the actual address of my rental house.
  5. I made sure we did not have a set schedule, e.g. going out for dinner every night at set times.  We would sometimes cook at home, sometimes go for an early bird dinner and sometimes later at night. I read that most break ins would occur between 7 and 10 pm.

I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Aruba…and hopefully I will be back. I also hope that the details I have posted will help you in planning your trip.

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