The Natural Side of Aruba: Arikok Park

 


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Of Aruba’s many activities, a tour of Arikok Park may be the most unique. From sand dunes and cacti within the park’s desert interior to the limestone cliffs and hidden coves on the Caribbean shore, Arikok Park offers as much ecological diversity as any place you’ll ever visit. Unique historic sites within the park’s boundaries shed light on Aruba’s agricultural and mining past. Arikok Park is also home to numerous unique species, supported by the microclimates of the park’s geography. Several types of snakes, lizards and birds native to the park are found nowhere else on earth. With nearly 20% of the island devoted to this one-of-a-kind preserve, nature lovers won’t be disappointed by this Caribbean treasure. Arikok Park is simple to explore as the trails are well marked and informative signs and displays are placed along many routes. For a little extra direction, the park office offers a very detailed guidebook worth your investment if you plan to spend much time here. Try to arrive early in the morning, as the birds and animals are most active just after sunrise. It is also recommended that you pack food, water, sunscreen and comfortable shoes.

Our first stop inside the park’s boundaries is the farm known as Cunucu Arikok, an attraction recalling Aruba's agricultural history. Walking paths wind through natural vegetation and wildlife - land formerly used to grow beans, corn and peanuts. The adobe farmhouse has rarely-seen cactus roof beams, while cacti hedges still stand guard for the farmland. Additionally, several fine examples of Amerindian drawing exist on the rocks above the farm.

The Prins Plantation was the site of a coconut farm until the 1960s. Walking through the trails of the Prins Plantation, one will come upon a captivating ocean cove and plenty of wildlife. For a bit of history on Aruba’s aloe cultivation, visit the Masiduri, a unique garden complex featuring a wealth of eucalyptus trees and informative exhibits on the aloe industry. Miralamar, an abandoned group of gold mines and trenches, is another interesting location to explore.

Nearing the coastline, the vegetation and landscape change dramatically. On the beaches of the rocky northern coast, where the sea meets imposing limestone formations, you will see crabs darting across pristine stretches of sand and giant birds floating above the water. The beach of Boca Prins is a popular site to watch the hatching of baby sea turtles, while Fuente possesses the cinematic grandeur of crashing waves. For picnics and sunbathing, Dos Playa is the best option inside Arikok Park, though swimming is usually too dangerous. Here you will also find the only eating establishment inside the park, serving excellent local cuisine and fresh seafood.

Hiding on the coast northwest of Dos Playa, the Natural Pool - known to locals as Cura di Tortuga - is sheltered from the waves of the Caribbean by rock formations. It is believed that the pool once held sea turtles waiting to be sold (‘tortuga’ means turtle in the indigenous Papiamento language). Today, the pool serves as an exotic swimming hole for those lucky enough to discover it.

Just a short walk from Boca Prins lays the Fontein Cave, the most visited cave of Aruba’s northern coast. The walls of this cave are covered in Amerindian drawings and markings of early European colonizers. For your inner spelunker, the bizarrely-shaped stalagmites and stalactites are sure to impress. Just south of the Fontein Cave is the Hofi Fontein, or Fountain Garden, site of the only freshwater spring on Aruba’s northern coast. The site also features a charming museum with plant and animal displays, always staffed by friendly park rangers.

With two large chambers opening to the Caribbean sky, the Quadirikiri Cave allows visitors to explore its cavern without flashlights. Local myth has a strange explanation for the cave’s ceiling: it is said that the fiery daughter of a prominent Indian chief became trapped in the cave with her scorned suitor. In death, the spirits of the young couple burst through the top of the cave to heaven.

Also located on Aruba’s northern coast, the Baranca Sunu Cave, also known as the Tunnel of Love for its heart-shaped opening, is rumored to have been popular hiding place for pirates and their treasures. Though the stories haven’t been validated, the cave certainly possesses an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue. When you leave the caves and Arikok Park, consider following the coastal road to San Nicolas, a charming town with plenty of new activities for you and your family.

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