Aruba, the smallest of the so-called ABC Islands, lies a mere 15 miles north of Venezuela. Like its sister islands, Bonaire and Curacao, Aruba has scant vegetation. Its landscape consists mainly of scruffy bits of foliage, including cacti and the curious wind-bent divi divi trees, huge boulders and interesting caves. The chief attractions, however, are the magnificent beaches, turquoise waters and spectacular marine life, which lure scores of visitors each year to the island. Along Palm Beach, which is said to be one of the ten best in the world, is a string of hotels with glitzy casinos, restaurants and exotic boutiques that line this stretch of white sand for several miles. The crystal-clear waters are ideal for swimming and all kinds of watersports. If you prefer to stay dry, you may enjoy Aruba's exotic underwater world from glass bottom boats or on a submarine excursion.
Gold was discovered on the island in 1825, but by 1916 mining was no longer economical. In 1929 it was oil that brought prosperity to Aruba. A large refinery was built at the island's eastern end, employing at that time over 8,000 people. When the refinery was closed in 1985, Arubans were forced to look for other sources of income, concentrating their efforts on the development of tourism. Today, education, housing and health care are largely financed by an economy based on tourism. Recognizing this fact, the island's residents truly mean it when they extend to visitors the greeting 'Bonbini', the native Papiamento word for 'welcome'.