Oranjestad Museums and Churches
Archaeological Museum of Aruba
J.E. Irausquinplein 2A. Free admission. Mon-Fri 8am-Noon and 1-4pm
Squeezed between St. Franciscus Roman Catholic Church and the parish rectory, this small museum highlights the island's Amerindian heritage. Pottery vessels, shell and stone tools, burial urns, and skulls and bones are among the artifacts on display. Pick up the museum's booklet The Indians of Aruba ($3) for a concise history of the island's original inhabitants. A must for archaeology and history buffs. The adjacent lab is ground zero for the study of Aruba's archaeological treasures.
Fort Zoutman, Willem III Tower, and Museo Arubano
Zoutmanstraat z/n. Admission $1.25 Mon-Fri 9am-Noon and 1-4pm
During the 18th century, Oranjestad's harbor was menaced by pirates who raided horses and anything else of value. To defend the island, the Dutch erected Fort Zoutman in 1796. Aruba's oldest example of Dutch architecture, the bastion is situated on what was once the shoreline (landfill construction in 1930 altered the coastline). In 1867, Willem III Tower, named after the then-reigning Dutch monarch, was added. Over the years, the site has served as an aloe garden, jail, courthouse, junk room, and tax office. The fort was restored in 1974, the tower in 1983. Since 1992, the complex has housed the modest Museo Arubano, which displays prehistoric Caiquetio artifacts and remnants from theDutch colonial period. On Tuesdays, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, the museum hosts the Bon Bini Festival, a fair with local arts and crafts, food, music, and dance.
Cas di Cultura
Vondellaan 2 (at the traffic circle off L.G. Smith Blvd. between the airport and downtown Oranjestad). Free admission. Mon-Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 10am-2pm
This architectural melding of futuristic and Caribbean tropical elements is Aruba's cultural center. Programs include film screenings, lectures, dance performances, folkloric shows, and art exhibits.
Numismatic Museum of Aruba
Zuidstraat 7 (a block northeast of Fort Zoutman). Free admission, donations appreciated. Mon-Fri 7:30am-3:30pm
This small museum looks un promising from the outside, but its meticulous, homemade exhibits tell the history of the world through coins. Dedicated numismatists can spend the better part of the morning perusing the 35,000 specimens from more than 400 countries, but anyone with a passing interest in coins or history will appreciate this labor of love. The amazing collection was compiled by a single Aruban, who also researched and wrote the detailed historical notes for each item.
Beth Israel Synagogue
Adriaan Lacle Blvd. 2. Friday service 8pm
Jews, mostly merchants, arrived in Aruba at the beginning of the 20th century, when the oil refinery drew people from the Caribbean and Europe. The Jewish population today is small, but this synagogue endures with a membership of about 35 families. Most congregants at Friday night services are visitors on vacation. The temple is Conservative in style with full participation of both men and women. The small gift shop has one of a kind Aruban judaica. If the temple's closed, knock next door at the cantor's home.
Wilhelminastraat 1 (behind the Sonesta) Mon-Fri 10am-Noon
Built in 1846, Oranjestad's Protestant Church is Aruba's oldest house of worship. Looming above a terracotta tile roof, the square tower, decorated with stars, hearts, and wooden shutters, looks like something out of Pennsylvania Dutch country. The church is usually locked, but its tiny Bible Museum is open Monday through Friday from 10am till noon. Sunday services, in Dutch and English, begin at 10am.
Saint Franciscus Church
Irausquinplein 3, Oranjestad. Always open. Masses on Sunday at 6:30am, 10am, and 7pm in both Papiamento and English
The largest Roman Catholic church in Aruba, modern Saint Franciscus boasts several architectural details that make it worth a visit. The barnlike ceiling soars heavenward, and a series of beautiful arches changes shades of blue gradually to frame the altar, where the central crucifix stands in front of simple but elegant trompe l'oeil clouds and sky.