NOORD, Aruba — Hanging upside-down, secured only by my legs wrapped into the fabric of an anti-gravity yoga hammock, I had to laugh at the travel disruptions, small and large, that 2020 seems intent on delivering.
In the latest twist, a relentless hurricane season in the Caribbean zapped the island’s usually reliable trade winds and thus my plans for getting back on a windsurfing board for the first time in 15 years.
But instead of dwelling on the disappointing news, I was reminded again of that one word that has become almost synonymous with the Covid-19 pandemic: pivoting. In this case, it meant going beyond the beaches to explore a new focus Aruba is promoting with health and wellness activities and more local experiences.
The trip also opened my eyes to the different ways of traveling during the pandemic, with its widely varying rules and restrictions that can create new stresses and additional costs that can also dramatically impact one’s comfort level.
When I began planning my trip with the Aruba Tourism Authority, the first question was whether I’d be able to get a PCR test within 72 hours of departure as required for entry. No problem, I figured, as I was recently able to get one at my local CVS, with results back in 24 hours.
As the mid-November trip came closer, however, Covid-19 had begun its latest surge, and the lag time for tests was growing. While Aruba does allow travelers to test upon arrival, a positive result sends a traveler into a two-week quarantine — a risk I didn’t want to take.
After a little research, and panic, I was able to secure test results on time for $175 at Passport Health. And so I was off, eager to see Aruba for the first time in 20 years and happy to be headed to a place with minimal cases and stringent health and safety standards.
While we all know that a pretravel Covid-19 test is far from fool-proof, there is something reassuring about getting on a plane when you know pretty much everyone else has tested negative for the virus in the last few days. And once on the island, the commitment to health and safety was clear, without being intrusive or compromising on service.
Protocols were similar to those I experienced on a trip to Mexico at the end of September. The key difference: the attitudes of fellow travelers.
Unlike in Mexico, where most Americans I encountered went unmasked indoors and out, fellow guests at the Hyatt Regency Aruba Resort, Spa & Casino for the most part were masked anytime they were in public beyond the beach and pool, even in open-air public spaces.
Like my hurricane-shortened trip to Mexico, though, I discovered shortly after checking into my suite that my plans would again be disrupted by weather, the view out my window of white sand beaches and clear blue water notwithstanding.
To the north, Hurricane Iota was spinning, her southern tendrils bringing rain but no wind.
So I turned my attention to the other activities arranged by Aruba tourism, which is looking to capitalize on its low case numbers and ease of reach from major U.S. airports to expand its appeal to more young and first-time visitors who may be interested in more than shopping and sitting on the beach.
And after relaxing in a private cabana at the Hyatt’s new beachside adult pool, taking a mixology class at the outdoor bar and having an outdoor massage, I discovered there is indeed plenty more to do.
First was a guided hike through a section of the nearly 8,000-acre Arikok National Park, known for its xeric landscape and Aruba’s most famous natural attraction, a “natural pool” formed by lava rock along a remote stretch of coastline.
From there, my tourism authority guide, Jonathan, drove me away from the tourist zone to a residential neighborhood where the Moreu Facilitation & Healing Center is located. Once there, I got a glimpse of everyday Arubian life and a sampling of the surprisingly effective positive energy-focused meditation techniques the center’s founder and “happiness coach,” Belquis Moreu, uses to help clients deal with everyday stress and fear.
The next day, it was off to the San Nicolas neighborhood, a former red-light district that is being transformed into a street art mecca of sorts, thanks to the efforts of Tito Bolivar, who founded Aruba’s annual art fair and gives walking tours to showcase the many murals and the international artists who created them.