This small coastal town was once at the center of the island’s oil industry. Free from resorts and crowds, the town retains a refreshingly authentic atmosphere.
Located on the south coast of Aruba, laid-back San Nicolas offers a down-to-earth slice of everyday Aruban life. Stretch out on its beautiful beaches, see the sprawling metal refinery that acts as a reminder of the island’s big oil industry and experience the vibrant weekly festival.
Following the decline of the gold and aloe industries on the island, the first oil refinery was set up here in San Nicolas in the 1920s. Soon oil became Aruba’s chief economic driver. But as the oil industry began to decline in the mid-20th century, the refinery operations were scaled down and local governments turned their attention to tourism to help the economy prosper.
Spend a day lolling around on the sands of one of San Nicolas’ pristine beaches. Baby Beach is probably the most popular and arguably the most beautiful, while smaller Rodger’s Beach is more peaceful. Both are overlooked by the looming metal stacks of the refinery, which contrast with the idyllic natural views. To watch kitesurfers performing tricks on the waves, head to Boca Grandi.
Be sure to call into Charlie’s Bar, a family-run institution that has been in operation since 1941. Order a cold beer and peruse the assortment of memorabilia on display inside, which ranges from business cards and old photographs to license plates and signs. Don’t miss the town’s Anchor in Memory of All Seamen, a red sculpture honoring sailors who lost their lives at sea.
If you’re in town on Thursday evenings, be sure to attend the Carubbian Festival, a colorful party that spills across the main street, evoking the fun spirit of Aruba’s Carnival. Watch glitzy parades and tottering stilt walkers, listen to the beat of live steel drums and taste traditional Caribbean dishes, like curried goat or coconut shrimp.
San Nicolas is small and can be easily explored on foot. To get there from Oranjestad, ride Arubus public buses or take a taxi.