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Island scene

Island scene

Oranjestad Rising by Susan Campbell Aruba’s founding city is in the midst of an amazing metamorphosis designed to seriously enhance both the visitor and local experience of the island’s charming capital.

The colorful little city named after Dutch royalty was once the crown jewel of this island, and when revitalization efforts are completed, there’s no question that it will be once again. Exciting modern developments and an infusion of fresh new energy are working in harmony with its signature character and historic charm to reveal a unique new vibe here. Redefining “Downtown”

Aruba’s amazing beaches have always been the island’s biggest tourist draw. As a result, the “action” has always tended to migrate over to the strip directly across from the hotels and resorts of the highrise area. Fine dining, great shopping, and a pulsing nightlife cemented the appeal of this part of the island, but Arubans know that this is not where the true heartbeat of the island resides. That has always been Oranjestad, and it’s a big reason why the 26 Nights

gov­ernment has embarked on this plan that will transform the entire downtown area. Existing delights

There is already much to enjoy and discover in Oranjestad: scads of worldclass shopping for designer fashions and luxury items like gold, silver, diamonds, and watches; glitzy casinos; fine dining emporiums and trendy nightspots with international cuisine and lively music; free live entertainment every Friday night at the Renaissance Marketplace; exciting cultural events like the Bon Bini Festival; modern interactive museums; air-conditioned cinemas with first-run movies; and beautifully restored heritage buildings. Downtown is also the departure point for many of the best excursions that explore the island. Thrilling helicopter tours depart from the Renaissance Mall helipad, and a real submarine from the marina! And the

private island just offshore is worth exploring. There are also many artisanal shops and authentic snack spots. Enjoy local fare like pastechis (deep fried turnovers filled with meat or cheese), raspao (shaved ice with exotic syrups), and batidos (delicious fresh fruit milkshakes). Unfortunately, because many of these attractions, enjoyable pastimes, malls, and shops are situated in isolated pockets, with no cohesive street­ scapes or well-marked pedestrian passages to connect them, they are often missed. Inadequate signage and a lack of open sightlines and area information have often discouraged visitors (especially firsttimers) seeking to explore the city beyond the lively marina area. And Mainstreet (a.k.a. Caya G.F. Betico Croes and located two streets back from the road lining the wharf) has not been the “main street” of town for many decades. All that is about to change. E

Photos clockwise from top left by Adrian Beesley, iStockphoto, Roy Maduro, Steven Robertson, Phil Evaul, and Paul van Driel

Photo by Bill Franklin

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Island scene Reconnecting the waterfront

Plans to open up and reconnect the waterfront to the city have already resulted in the relocation of the container oper­ ations that once greeted disembarking cruise passengers. A new waterfront park and green spaces will tie this area in with the new linear park – the longest of its kind in the Caribbean – thus welcoming visitors in style and properly showcasing the city. It will all make for much better first impressions than the industrialized zone that once marred the view of the charming city waiting behind it. Rediscovery by rail

Aruba is the first Caribbean island to introduce an exciting new form of transportation for visitors and locals. An openair, energy-efficient tram that runs on a re­chargeable battery is about to begin trans­porting passengers in Oranjestad. It is free of charge and connects to strate­­ gi­cally placed stops throughout the city where new malls, green spaces, attractions, parks, and plazas are being developed. The tram will be especially helpful for first-time visitors because they can see all the city has to offer without having to walk for miles and then backtrack via the continuous loop to explore further on foot the areas that interest them most. At press time the first tram was just about to begin running with another two trolleys on order to handle increased traffic this year. E

New Cruise Terminal Exit

ex DOW complex

Welcome Plaza

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Port of Call

Museo Arkeologico Aruba Plaza Daniel Leo

Royal Plaza

Renaissance Complex

"Mango" Plaza




Plaza Bon Bini

Plaza Comercio

Top photo by Jo Ann Snover. Middle left photo by Jane Saltoun. Middle right photo by Veer. Bottom photos and tram plan courtesy of Infra Adviesgroep

Island scene

Island scene

A comprehensive facelift

This grand dame of a city has been in dire need of a facelift for some time now, but take heart, the plans are not designed to make her entirely unrecognizable! The colorful Dutch colonial buildings, unique architecture, and indigenous flora and fau­ na of this island will all be incorporated into the mosaic, ensuring that heritage and tradition intertwine with modern new developments in harmony. New islandwide infrastructure that incorporates as much green energy as possible is also well underway. In fact, a general greening of the entire area, including the creation of new parks and open spaces, community connection centers, plazas, fountains, and even an amphitheater for special events, is all part of the comprehensive plan. This approach will ensure that the revitalized Oranjestad has a more suburban and natural feel as opposed to a sterile creation of concrete and steel. Additional attractions

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like a restaurant row, a mangrove-lined lagoon with eco-walkways and woonerfs (Dutch for areas where pedestrians and cyclists take precedence) are also planned. And diversion of car traffic plus improved parking structures and thoroughfares will make navigation by many modes of transport easier than ever. The big picture

The Aruban government’s vision of a citywide and island-wide revitalization is comprehensive and ambitious and will take some time to complete. But the wheels are already in motion, and you are lucky to witness this exciting time in Aruba’s history. The far-reaching vision encompasses not only Oranjestad, but the entire island, with towns like San Nicolas on the other side of the island also earmarked for improvement and modernization, plus more rural towns and older inhabited areas.

Once all projects are finalized, this little capital will shine brighter than ever and serve as a blueprint for other islands seeking to face the future in style without sacrificing heritage, history, and nature. It will also encourage further local gentrification, which will infuse the area with dynamism and a more vibrant and forward-thinking energy. Enjoy the new and improved Oranjestad and come back soon to see even more of the transformation as it progresses. K

Daniel Leo Plein rendering courtesy of Infra Adviesgroep. Right photo by K.J. Schraa. Bottom photo by Valeriy Tretyakov

My Downtown by Douglass Markus, Publisher To raise a child you need a village. Imagine then what it takes to raise and maintain an island country? In Aruba’s case that village is the entire downtown of Oranjestad. All of us, islanders and tourists alike, have been witnessing the decay of our downtown with great sadness and concern. After all, “Downtown” has historically and traditionally been the hub of all social and economic activity on the island, and to lose it would mean losing our soul, our roots, our identity, and our vision. But there is a revival – a true renaissance – taking place, brought on by Aruba’s government, which has had the foresight and commitment to bring out the best of our merchant culture, our architecture, and our civility. It just seems to make everyone happier to know we are all committed to its revival, and that our “little train that could” will be taking all of us on a tour of our progressive “little island that would”, and to never give up. That’s Aruba.

Photos courtesy of Archivo Historico Nacional

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Oranjestad Rising Aruba Nights Magazine by Sue Campbell  
Oranjestad Rising Aruba Nights Magazine by Sue Campbell