Mountains in Aruba
I went on a little adventure a few days ago, climbing Hooiberg Mountain near the center of Aruba. It's the 3rd highest peak on the island at 168m and is featured on the Aruban flag.
When you land at the airport in Aruba, Hooiberg looks very close, but it is about a 20 minute drive inland. Aruba is a pretty flat island, so finding the base of the mountain is easy despite the fact that there are no road signs that point the way. Once you get in the vicinity, just drive around the residential neighborhood at base of the mountain until you find the dirt parking lot.
From the parking lot there is a concrete staircase with 562 steps that leads to the top of the mountain. It's a pretty unexciting climb unless you like to train by running stadium steps. On the way up, you pass some interesting rock formations, cacti, and lizards but once you get to the summit you're confronted by a gaggle of microwave and cell towers, a lot of unshielded electrical lines, and the smell of ozone.
My guess is that this particular ocean liner attraction went south because people had to sweat to reach the summit. However, if you do brave the climb and the heat, it is still a great viewpoint. You can see the entire island from north to south, including the Caribbean and Atlantic coasts at the same time.
In addition, the geology of Hooiberg is somewhat unique when compared to the surrounding area. The mountain itself is built out of a volcanic rock called Hoobergite, which is a blend of granite, green hornblend and quartz formed by volcanic activity, and is only found on this spot on the island.
Parks and Recreation in Aruba
Arikok, the Arban National Park, is a short drive from Hooiberg. You still need a 4-wheel drive vehicle to drive in the park, but it does have hiking trails if you are so inclined. A new visitor center is set to open in a few months, which for better or worse, will improve the accessibility of this area. The park itself is extremely picturesque, with rolling hills covered in cactus, and runs along the wild Atlantic coast.
My wife and I took a full moon hike a few years back with a naturalist that was pretty awesome, although I felt like I was walking on the moon. Ask your hotel concierge about how to contact Eddy, if this is something that appeals to you. It involves riding in the back of a Land Rover for an hour each way on rough roads in the dark, late at night.
The Donkey Sanctuary, on the border of Arikok is also worth a visit. This is a preserve that has been set up to save the wild donkeys who roam through the national park. As the tourist population on the island has grown, the number of donkeys being killed in road accidents has increased and the sanctuary was started to help stabilize the population.
There are plenty of other places on Aruba to hike but you need to use your imagination to find ones that are not completely overrun by tourists. Given the sun and heat on the island, make sure to wear a hat and bring plenty of water with you. You might also consider wearing long pants if you expect to walk through grassy areas. I got some nasty bug bites this year. Enjoy.