Viva Aruba

Article excerpt

Byline: LAURIE MARGOLIS

THERE'S one travel rule I've found pretty reliable.

If the Americans like it, there's good reason. Yes, we may laugh at their 'if it's Tuesday, it must be Rome' mentality.

But, unlike we British who, even these days, will make the most of it when the rooms are small and the food lousy, Americans demand quality and value.

Hotels must be comfortable and clean, the food good and pleasantly served.

Beaches have to be immaculate, the water safe, and streets secure. Fail, and the dollar goes somewhere else.

Thus, I've long been intrigued by a favourite American destination that is barely a blip on the British holiday radar.

Mention Aruba, even to quite welltravelled Britons, and there will be a furrowing of brows.

Say Aruba to an American, and you hit the travellers' G-spot. The Americans love Aruba.

There's the weather. Even the best hotspots have periods when a brolly is more use than sun lotion. The Mediterranean summer is highly unreliable. Or else southern Europe gets furnace hot, with Greece and Turkey hitting 105f plus.

The Caribbean in our summer gets hurricanes. So does Florida. The Maldives are wet and humid. So are Thailand and Kenya.

In winter, you have to go a long way south to guarantee good weather.

Nowhere in Europe is certain to be fine, and even the medium-distance resorts such as the Canaries or Florida are tricky.

But there is a place where the weather, at any time of year, is guaranteed perfect; 90f during the day, 75f at night, reasonable humidity, and brisk but benign breezes; virtually no rain, no hurricanes, and nonstop sunshine. All year. Aruba.

Like us, the Dutch had an empire.

Fragments remain, with three bits on the southern fringes of the Caribbean, just north of Venezuela. Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao - the ABC islands - remain closely tied to Holland, though Aruba is now largely independent.

The island is safe - unusually so for the sometimes troublesome Caribbean.

Our Trinidadian waitress, Aneela, said she hadn't locked her door in the nine years she'd lived on Aruba. 'I wanted to bring my children up here,' she said, 'because it's safe.' Quite a compliment from one islander to another island, in a region of fierce rivalries.

So far, Aruba has been for the lucky Americans. But come next spring, it will be easy to fly there from Britain.

For now, getting to Aruba means a flight to Amsterdam and then a ten-hour direct service on Dutch carrier KLM. It's the best part of 14 hours by the time you allow for the flight to Holland and the transfer.

Next May, however, Air 2000 begins fortnightly charters from Manchester and Gatwick. First Choice and Eclipse are packaging these flights with hotels on Aruba.

The island, in truth, is not startlingly beautiful, and certainly not in the same league as more familiar Caribbean destinations such as Grenada or St Lucia.

The landscape is dry, hilly in part and covered with cactus. In the interior, it looks a bit like the scrubby back regions of southern Spain or Arizona. There's a moderately dramatic northern coastline.

But there is one glory that is the making of Aruba. …