While this Dutch Caribbean island also stages a major annual carnival celebration – this year culminating on February 12 – it also offers a weekly appetiser in the form of a Carubbian Festival, staged every Thursday in its second city of San Nicolas.
Running from 6pm to 10pm, this family-friendly festival showcases the multi-cultural charms of Aruba’s ‘Sunrise City’. Launched in 2011 and going from strength to strength ever since, the Carubbian Festival was designed to give visitors a taste of the island’s character and its enduring carnival spirit.
San Nicolas, on the southern tip of Aruba, dates back to the late 19th century when it was a peaceful settlement of a few fishermen. It saw significant development in the 1920s, when an oil refinery was built nearby following the discovery of oil off the coast of nearby Venezuela.
Now, although only 12 miles from island capital Oranjestad, San Nicolas seems a world away, featuring quaint promenades, an art gallery, restaurants, bars and shops, as well as a number of historic buildings, many reflecting Aruba’s Dutch heritage. There are also delightful safe and sandy beaches nearby, making the area an ideal trip away from the more developed areas of Aruba.
But back to the fun of the Carubbian Festival: San Nicolas’ main street is closed to traffic, becoming a pedestrian area filled with colourful booths offering local food and handicrafts.
Central point for the evening is a stage area, where the audience relaxes at tables with drinks from an adjoining bar and views a parade of local entertainers and amazing carnival costumes.
Entertainment continues with stilt walkers, dancers steel bands and other live music. After the show, visitors are encouraged to stroll the main street to meet the locals and enjoy traditional cuisine and drinks. The evening culminates in an explosion of noise and colour, as a carnival procession – including visitors keen to join in – makes its way back down the road.
Many of Aruba’s key hotels offer packages to the Carubbian Festival. Typically priced at US$50 (approximately £33) these include return transport, entry wristband, food and drink vouchers, one’s own carnival mask and entry to the stage area.
On a much larger scale, Aruba’s biggest part of the year is its annual carnival, a month-long celebration of street parties and spectacular parades. Said to rival that of carnivals in Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, Aruba’s carnival is a thrilling show of over-the top pageantry, 57 years in the making.
There’s powerful music, too, with competitions for top songs – some of which include social commentary calypsos – the best road march and, of course, those extravagant costumes.
There are Grand Parades in both Oranjestad and San Nicolas, which close the centre of both cities.
Aruba elects its Carnival Queen on February 1, with a children’s parade the following day. Further events are held regular from then, including an evening steel band and costume show in Oranjestad on February 5.
The Grand Carnival Parade in Oranjestad is on February 10 this year and ensures an exhausting but exhilarating weekend. This is the largest and longest of all the parades with the most spectators and participants. Do not expect to get too much sleep!
The end of carnival season is signalled on February 12, with the midnight burning of King Momo, a life-size effigy of the spirit of carnival.
For more information on the Carubbian Festival, carnival and other events and attractions in Aruba, please visit www.aruba.co.uk