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Aruba's diverse cultural heritage makes it a fascinating place to visit and explore.
The island was originally inhabited by a tribe of Arawak Indians who migrated here from Venezuela. Many sites on Aruba still bear the original Indian names, and many of today's Arubans still reflect the faces of their native ancestors. You might want to take a glimpse of the collection of Indian artifacts at the Archeology Museum at Zoutmanstraat 1 in Oranjestad.
Spanish explorers arrived in Aruba in the 15th century and eventually colonized the island. But in 1636 the Dutch took over, and Aruba has remained Dutch ever since. In 1986, Aruba became a separate entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, while prior to 1986, Aruba was a member of the Netherland Antilles.
Oranjestad, named after the Dutch Royal House of Orange, has been the island's charming capital since 1797. Dutch and Spanish architecture co-mingle in Oranjestad, as did the town's early settlers. Fine examples are found on Wilhelminastraat in the center of town.
While in Oranjestad, don't miss Fort Zoutman, which was once a lighthouse and is now a historical museum offering centuries' worth of Aruban artifacts. It was built in 1796, and its Willem III Tower was added in 1868 in honor of the Dutch monarch at that time. The fort's courtyard is the setting for the Bonbini Festival each Tuesday starting at 6:30. This "Welcome" party features local food, crafts, music and folkloric entertainment.
On Oranjestad's waterfront, across the boulevard from the Tourist Board, is the Schooner Market, a colorful bazaar featuring exotic fish, fruits and vegetables from neighboring Venezuela.
If you've had enough of town, head out to the countryside where you will find the traditional, wild beauty of Aruba - including locals' colorful houses, tropical plants and the famous divi-divi tree. In the center of the island, the impressive peak of 541-foot-high Hooiberg (Haystack Hill) offers a great view of the city if you have the energy for the 562-step climb. Ayo and Casibari, northeast of Hooiberg, are rocks weighing several tons where you can view ancient drawing and climb around the boulders' natural carvings.