By Sascha Zuger

Having lived in the Caribbean for years and visited most of its tropical glory, I wasn’t expecting my first visit to the island of Aruba to not only wow me, but make the tiny 20-mile spit of breezy white sand, swaying palms and friendly islanders a frontrunner on my “Favorite Island” list.

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1 – ABC Tour Jeep Safari of Arikok National Park
One of the highlights of the trip was an incredibly wild and truly off-road Land Rover adventure through the arid landscape and craggy shores of Airkok National Park. Our expert and entertaining driver Raul made stops to jump off mini-cliffs into natural pools bodysurf the crashing waves and explore ruins of an abandoned gold mine. There’s a reason these guys have a perfect five-star rating with over 2,000 reviews. ABC-Aruba.com

2 Radisson Sunset

2 – Beach Barbecue at Radisson Aruba Resort, Casino & Spa
Fresh grilled lobster and local delicacies were nicely paired with award-winning cocktails. The festive night might have started with a firedancer and dancing in the sand with Aruban carnival performers, but it ended with a romantic stroll along the soft sand and swim under the stars. Radisson.com/Palm-Beach-Hotel-aw/AruAruba

3 Armando's Kiteshack

3 – Hadicurari Kiteboarding at Armando’s Kiteshack
Like your hammocks swinging in the breeze? Aruba gets wind 341 days of 365, making it the ideal locale to try your hand at kitesurfing. This has always looked intimidating, but a two-hour lesson with Yana at Armando’s had me not only controlling my trainer kite on land, but belly-tugging me across the surface of the sea with the real deal, ready to step on a board. KiteSurfingAruba.com

4 Stand Up Paddleboarding

4 – Mangel Halto Stand Up Paddleboarding
My bud Bethany shows off her yoga paddleboarding skills off the beach at the Radisson. SUP’ers (what stand up paddleboarders call themselves) can also belly glide under a bridge to access the tranquil mangroves to spot birdlife and swimming iguanas. Aruba.com

1 Raul, driver Airkok 5 Kukoo Kanuku

5 – Kukoo Kunuku
Many of us have fond, if a little foggy, memories of crazy spring break-esque days in our past. This rolling party brings you and your 40 new best friends (sans the drunken teen set), from hotspot to hotspot, marking each arrival with a shot and free drink and blasting music as you dance en route and cut loose amongst those you’ll never see again. Is it slightly touristy and obnoxious? Maybe. Is it the most fun you’ve had in years? Definitely! KukooKunuku.com

6 Zeerover's basket

6 – Zeerover’s
It doesn’t get much fresher than this charming mom & pop hole in the wall, built over the turquoise and aqua water. Grab a cold Balashi beer and watch your lunch brought right from the sea and prepped as you sip. Platters of fresh fried snapper, just netted shrimp, pan bati (Aruban cornbread) and plantains with a spicy papaya hot sauce satisfy after an afternoon at the beach. Aruba.com/Things-To-Do/Zeerover

7 Seabob Underwater

7 – SeaBob
This wild ride might be the most unique experience I’ve had on an island. This uber-pricy luxury techie toy (they’re $28,000 each!) lets you fly through – and under! – the water at your own speed. Our surprisingly affordable tour ($149 for a two-hour tour) brought us along the coastline to the lighthouse and Arashi Beach, splashing along the surface and dipping under to glide alongside sea turtles (we saw six!). It also let us  do underwater barrel rolls over coral reefs while our guide taught us about the island and its sealife. SeaBobAruba.com

8 De Palm Island

8 – De Palm Island 
As a divemaster, I’ve gotten several thousand dives under my belt, but for those without certification, SNUBA (diving attached to a 20-foot air hose) and Seatrek (think Jules Verne-air helmet as you stroll along the ocean floor) give a nice taste of life below the surface at this family-friendly, all-inclusive mini island. DePalmTours.com/De-Palm-Island

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