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Oranjestad

Named in honor of the Dutch Royal House of Orange, Oranjestad has been Aruba's capital since 1797 and has served as the island's main port ever since. Today, the small harbor continues to attract schooners, fishing boats and cruise ships from all over the world. The tiny capital on the southwest shore bustles with activity as thousands of visitors descend upon it each day to shop, dine or try their luck at one of the many casinos.

The streets that make up the downtown core are lined with modern imitations of pastel-colored Dutch colonial houses adorned with ornate gabled roofs; a good number of them have been renovated into shopping complexes, administrative buildings, museums and restaurants. A handful of older buildings, including Fort Zoutman and the lofty King Willem III Tower, offer reminders of Aruba's past. Just a hop and a skip away from the city is the island's main beach strip and resort area.

Small harbor in Oranjestad Shopping in Oranjestad Downtown Oranjestad

In this town architecture reminds of the colonial Dutch history, although the Dutch probably never used the colors in which a lot of the buildings are painted now. During the past ten years people are working very hard to renew and upgrade the town. A lot of hotels and shopping malls were build. For shopping Oranjestad is the place to be, with its covered malls and lots of small shops just behind the boulevard. This boulevard (L.G. Smith boulevard) is the main road from the east to the west of the island.

 

The mainstreet Dutch architecture Seaport shopping mall

For many tourists, the first glimpse of Oranjestad is along the busy palm-fringed thoroughfare of L.G. Smith Boulevard , the island's main artery connecting the capital with the hotel district and the northwest and with San Nicolas in the southeast. Running parallel to the harbor, the downtown stretch of the road is lined with shopping malls, boutiques, casinos, government offices and parliament buildings. Unless you plan to shop 'til you drop or while away the hours gambling, the city's sights won't occupy too much of your time. There are, however, a number of interesting cultural attractions, best explored, like the city itself, on foot, as everything you'll want to see is concentrated in a small area.

Wandering in Oranjestad
Willem III TowerThe picturesque harbor is a good place to begin your wanderings. Starting from the white tourist information booth adjacent to the Atlantis Pier, head east on L.G. Smith Boulevard. Turning left onto Oranjestraat, you'll reach the beautifully preserved Fort Zoutman , the oldest building on the island and perhaps the town's most important landmark. The fort was built in 1796 and played a vital role in securing Dutch interests on the island. Armed with four cannons, it was originally sited along the coast; centuries of shifting currents have changed the coastline so that today the fort now sits some 300m away from the water. The adjoining Willem III Tower was added in 1868 to serve as a lighthouse and the town's first public clock. The fort houses a small historical museum (Mon-Fri 9am-noon & 1.30-4.30pm; US$1.15) displaying an interesting collection of artifacts that trace Aruba's history. Its open-air courtyard also hosts the weekly folkloric Bon Bini Festival (Tues 6.30-8.30pm; US$3), which features traditional music and dance, and is the best place to try local dishes.  

One block east of the fort, on Zuidstraat 27, is the fascinating Numismatic Museum (Mon-Fri 7.30am-noon & 1-4pm; free), home to over 30,000 historical coins from Aruba and around the world dating back to 220 BC. Some of the many highlights include a display of Aruban Indian shells used for barter, beads used as money by North American Indians and bills made of silk and linen.

Oranjestad has three museums. The first is the archeological museum. Its a small one and hard to find (at the left hand side of the church at Bernhard square  is a small parking lot. Cross the parking lot, enter the small gate and walk to the right side of the inner square , J.E. Irausquin Blvd 2-A (Mon-Fri 8am-noon & 1-4pm; free), has an impressive array of local artifacts and pottery. The most important exhibits include stone tools from 2000 BC, pottery from the ceramic period (500 AD) and the skeletal remains excavated from an Indian burial site.  If the first door of the museum is closed, try the second one). Once you're inside you can see how the native Indians of Aruba lived and how the were buried (in pots). The historical museum, about Aruba's history and culture, is situated in Fort Zoutman, near the boulevard. Fort Zoutman, a fortification tower, is the oldest remaining building on the island.

Wilhelmina Park Queen Wilhelmina Sightseeing in Oranjestad

Back near the harbor, around the corner from the Seaport Casino, is the quiet Wilhelmina Park , honoring the 1955 visit of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, a white marble statue of whom dominates the plaza. The park is especially striking when tropical plants are in bloom between June and October. Benches set amongst the shady grove of trees makes this an ideal place to rest after sightseeing or a long day of shopping. 

One block east of the fort, on Zuidstraat 27, is the fascinating Numismatic Museum (Mon-Fri 7.30am-noon & 1-4pm; free), home to over 30,000 historical coins from Aruba and around the world dating back to 220 BC. Some of the many highlights include a display of Aruban Indian shells used for barter, beads used as money by North American Indians and bills made of silk and linen.

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