Easter Beach Camping in Aruba

Easter Camping in Aruba

or Los Locos Felices (The Happy Crazies)

by Mira Nencheva

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Palm Beach, Aruba

We sailed to Aruba in the middle of March and dropped anchor in front of Palm Beach, Aruba’s most popular white sand beach with tall palm trees and a strip of big sparkling hotels all lined up along the west coast, facing the Caribbean Sea and the spectacular sunsets. Radisson, Holiday Inn, Marriott’s, Global Suite, The Ritz, and the all-inclusive Riu Palace- the Caribbean Taj Mahal. With marble floors and crystal chandeliers, infinity swimming pools, artificial waterfalls and tropical gardens, restaurants surrounded by goldfish ponds with black swans, beach bars and every comfort and luxury the tourist might dream for, these resorts offer the ultimate beach experience for somewhere between 200 and 500 dollars per person per night. Maybe even more.

Hotel Riu, Aruba

Hotel Riu Palace, Aruba

Aruba is a world famous vacation destination for the rich and tourism is the country’s main industry. It is “Heaven on Earth” for those who can afford it…

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But imagine if you can fly to Aruba and pitch a tent on the beach, next to Marriott’s Resort, at a very low cost. Wouldn’t that be something! If you are a backpacker or a student, or anyone with limited financial means traveling on a budget and you still want to enjoy the same island, the same beach, and the same sun and sea as the rich and the privileged, why not camping for a week or two in Aruba? You just have to time it well and plan your Arubian camping trip around Easter.

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Tents in front of Marriott Hotel, Palm Beach, Aruba

Actually, camping in Aruba is a very popular activity among the locals. It is a decade old tradition which transforms the coastline of the island, especially the western side, into a huge camping ground but only for a couple of weeks in March or April, whenever Easter happens to be that year.

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Easter is among the most important holidays for the Arubans and “Easter Beach Camping” is a highly anticipated and very well organized event taking place every year since forever, even since before the first hotel in Aruba was built. Families gather on previously determined big camping sites on one of Aruba’s many beaches during the kids’ Easter vacation and pitch their tents and tarpaulins. But first, they have to apply for a special camping permit -one for one camping site which may include many tents, issued by the local police for 5 $US per tent. The biggest camping site I saw this year included 11 brothers and sisters and their families- about 70 people in total, of which 30% were children. The permit holder becomes the “president” of the camping site and has to ensure that everyone respects the strict rules, otherwise he might lose the permit: no excessive noise after 10 p.m., no littering, no fire, no BBQ, no driving and no animals on the beach.

Playing dominos

Playing dominos

Normally, they apply for a permit by filling in a form and paying the fee at the local police station a month before the event, to make sure they will get the desired spot on one of the many beaches all around Aruba: Arashi Beach, Eagle Beach, Baby Beach, and Palm Beach among others.

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The camping is perfectly organized with portable toilets and small open kitchens. Every compound includes many tents and a large common area where everyone gathers to eat and celebrate together. Every meal for the next two weeks is transformed into a party.

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I met and talked to a few of the campers. They were super welcoming and happy to share a beer and a nice meal with me, while telling me all about Easter camping in Aruba. And I must say, the chicken was fabulous!

We are “locos felices” (happy crazies), they said proudly. We have been getting together every year for Easter in this same spot for twenty years now. We are a big family, about 30-40 people. The children love it, and this activity is mainly for them! The little cousins play together on the beach all day long and sleep in the tents at night. On Easter morning we do Egg Hunt on the beach. The grown-ups, we don’t sleep in the tents, they are for the kids. We sleep all under this tarpaulin in hammocks, all together, in open air. It’s all about spending time together, as a family, living as one with the peaceful nature.

Maria, 85 with four of her children

Maria, 85 (right) with her three daughters and a son

At age 85 Maria is the oldest camper. She only spends the days in the camp and returns to sleep in her house at night. But in her younger days, 20 years ago when she was only 65, she used to stay overnight as well.

This year, she has four out of five of her children, as well as many of her grand and great-grandchildren camping together just north of hotel Marriott on Palm Beach. Her son is the “president”, or the “chief”.

 

Maria and her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Maria and two of her daughters in the common area. Behind Maria is the area where the adults spread their hammocks and sleep at night together.

Marriott is the newest hotel on Palm Beach and was finished just months ago. Before, the campers used the beach area which is now reserved for the hotel, and they got pushed away. Their grounds are becoming smaller because of the large resorts which are taking over.

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When I asked them if visitors to the island can also apply for a permit and camp in Aruba on Easter, some told me sure, but others replied it is just for the locals.

And even if it was permitted, they said, we wouldn’t like it for tourists to do it. Imagine everyone instead of going in the hotels, pitching a tent on the beach. There wouldn’t be space left for us!

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Yet, as confirmed by VisitAuba.com, everyone is allowed to apply for a camping permit from the local Police Station in Noord (Call+297 587-0009) for two week around Holy Week on Easter, locals and tourists alike, and as long as there is space available and the permit is granted 10 days in advance, you can camp in Aruba! The cost of the permit is $5 per tent for the entire period (1-2 weeks).

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The problem is, you have to apply for a permit in person in the police station and preferably one month in advance… So I guess, Easter camping in Aruba will remain predominantly a local tradition.

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Author: Mira Nencheva, her husband Ivo and 11-years-old daughter Maya are sailing around the world and living off the grid full-time aboard their 38 feet Leopard catamaran Fata Morgana since July 2013. Their journey is documented in a travel-adventure blog www.thelifenomadik.com and in their Facebook page Facebook/The Life Nomadik where Mira is publishing stories and pictures.

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Tobago

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Tobago is the smaller of the two main islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is located in the southern Caribbean, northeast of the island of Trinidad and southeast of Grenada, outside the hurricane belt. Tobago has a land area of 300 km² and is approximately 40 km long and 10 km wide.

 

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Sailing to Tobago from Trinidad proves slower than we expected, heading northeast, very close to wind. We have calculated that if we leave on Thursday in the afternoon from Chacachacare and sail all night we should arrive in time on Friday and check-in before 4 p.m., as we thought there will be an overtime charge for late checking-in if we arrive after 4 p.m. or on the weekend. We are not sure if the overtime charge is 100 $US per boat, or per person, but it is an amount of money we would rather avoid paying. But we are sailing too slow and it looks like we will be late.

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Maya aboard Fata Morgana

Our friends on S/V Passages, Mel and Caryn, who have been with us every day for the past 4 months and sailing about a mile behind us, agree on the VHF radio that we don’t have many options. We have to motor-sail the last 16 miles if we want to make it on time. The fuel will cost not more than 5$. Yet, Ivo doesn’t like the idea of motoring. A dark cloud of shame and misery envelopes him. Finally he tells me: “Do what you want…” Like an old dictator defeated by circumstances, yet proud, he cannot make the shameful decision and give the order. He wants me to do it. I turn on the engines. He sits alone on the bow of the boat, the farthest point away from the unbearable sound of the propellers, bursting from inside.It has been over one year now since we motored for so long, and it was because of a storm.

We get in the anchorage at Store Bay around 3 p.m., but we need to take a taxi and literally run to the Customs and then to Immigration in order to make it before 4. We do all this running like a small heard on the streets of Scarborough together with Mel and Caryn for the sheer amazement of the locals, only to realize at the end, that there isn’t any overtime fee when sailing between Trinidad and Tobago…The fee is when you are arriving from another country… Anyway…

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We spend only a few days in Tobago, a small island invaded by bamboo trees and vary loud annoying birds called Cocrico, Tobago’s national bird, which serenade us in the mornings. The first time we heard them we thought some weird construction machines are invading the shores.

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Here we found the most beautiful beach, not far from the anchorage at Store Bay- Pigeon Point. Pink sand and palm trees leaning over delicious blue water.

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

Ivo chilling on a palm tree

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We also share a car with our friends Mel and Caryn and tour the entire island, stopping here and there, visiting many fishermen villages, beaches and bays, a small waterfall, enjoying a nice day on the road, even though it is raining most of the time.

 

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Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Mel, Caryn, Mira, Maya and Ivo , Tobago waterfall

Many fishermen in Tobago still use traditional long bamboo fishing poles, one hung from each side of their boats. They show us how to clean fish. We learn something every day…

 

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In Tobago, like in Trinidad, the bamboo imported from Asia during the colonial period, has invaded the entire island. Beautiful bamboo forests are everywhere and people use the tree for construction, art, and to make fishing poles and all sorts of other useful things.

Bamboo in Tobago

Bamboo in Tobago

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The economy of Tobago is heavily dependent on Trinidad’s booming natural gas and oil economy. Locally, tourism and fishing are most important.

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Tobago is a much smaller much quieter island than Trinidad and we appreciated its authentic Caribbean atmosphere and tranquility, friendly people, and beautiful nature.

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Our journey in Tobago ended with a nice dinner in the small beach restaurant near the anchorage, where Mel and Caryn invited us for dinner. They had too many of the local Trinidad and Tobago dollars left, and needed to liquidate them before leaving the country and heading to Barbados. We were happy to help with the liquidation of Mel and Caryn’s TT$ and enjoyed some local fish and beers. Thank you guys!

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