Arikok National Park, Aruba

Photo: Aruba National Park

It’s really hot. Despite your early departure and all the water you brought with you, you’re drenched in sweat. You’d been hoping to avoid the heat and the crowds, but you only got a head start on one of them. Now you’re paying for it. The hike up Sero Arikok is, thankfully, neither particularly long nor steep. You can already see the radio tower ahead. The payoff is gorgeous views of the island.

Sero Arikok is the second-highest peak on the island of Aruba. Sero Jamanota, directly to the south, beats it by only a couple of feet. Both mountains are in Arikok National Park. The park covers 18 percent—that’s nearly 1/5—of the island. It was created to protect lava and limestone formations, caves, natural pools, and early Arawak paintings. It’s home to unique species, including birds, snakes, and plants. More than 70 types of cacti grow here. Plus indigo water pounds the rocky coastline.

When you arrived at the visitor center, you were surprised by both the climate and the landscape in the national park. Aruba is famous for its white-sand beaches, turquoise water, and consistent 82-degree temperature. At least on the northwest coast, where most of the resorts are located. Most of the east coast is bordered by limestone cliffs. There are a few beaches, but they’re small with rough waves. While the cool breeze, which you found so refreshing on the beach yesterday, is nowhere to be found.

Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
But at least you’re heading downhill now. After pausing for a longer water break at the summit than you normally need, you begin your descent toward the coast. The trail connects with a wider dirt path at the base of the mountain. Twisted divi-divi trees, organ pipe cacti, and spiky aloe plants line the path. Florescent kododo blauws (Aruban whiptail lizards) dart in front of you every couple of hundred feet. A shoco (an Aruban burrowing owl) circles overhead as it hunts. It’s a rare owl that’s active during the day. While two green prikichis (Aruban parakeets) groom each other on the branch of a shady tree. Luckily, neither a cascabel nor a santanero—two snakes found in the park—cross the path.

Your ultimate destination is Conchi. The natural pool is protected from the rough sea by rocks and volcanic stones. Breaking waves spray over the top of them. The water inside is clear and calm, though. You untie your sneakers, peel off your sweaty layers, and apply more suntan lotion. Then you carefully climb into the cool water. Since you detoured up Sero Arikok, you don’t have the pool to yourself. But, given the vehicles parked nearby, you seem to be the only one who earned your dip. You smile, since that means you’re also the only one who took in the panoramic view of One Happy Island. You win big time.

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